Friday, October 29, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Go With The Flow

Okay, fast meeting today! I have like 30 mins before I have to go see Dino Boy in his preschool Halloween parade. After that I have pies to bake for a party tonight and costumes to finalize. You know, life.

So here's the thing: Life did not go according to plan this week. Boy, did it not go according to plan. Remember my goal of finishing this revision by mid-November? Ha. I laugh at my ambition. It's so not happening.

I got nothing done this week. Okay, I rewrote a page. Woot.

Do I feel guilty? Is it frustrating that I will definitely NOT finish revisions in two weeks? NO.

A year or so ago, I would have felt that way, but you know what? I'm so over it. Writing and publishing rarely ever go according to plan or schedule. There is so much unpredictability written into the process that sometimes you just can't know for sure when things will get done or when stuff will happen.

This is okay. This is how publishing goes. Chill out.

It kills me when I see people who have goals like "I will have an agent by 2011" or "I will have a deal by 2012." You are setting yourself up for disappointment! Sure, it could happen, but what if it doesn't? Well, you feel like crap for no reason, that's what.

I know because I used to do that. "I want an agent by the time I turn 25" was one of mine. Well, when I turned 25, I was pretty depressed that I didn't make it happen. Which is down right silly because so much of it was out of my control! (And I did manage to snag an agent that year, so the self-deprecation I put myself through was seriously unnecessary.)

It's so easy to feel like time is running out. That books will somehow disappear and no one will ever read stories again. It's so easy to feel like you have to get out there NOW. That you are missing your chance. Blah blah blah.

You aren't.

Stuff happens. Sometimes it's really sucky stuff. But that in no way devalues your work or you as a writer. You'll get back on track. You'll figure it out. Just go with the flow and try to enjoy the ride.

Thursday, October 28, 2010


Anxiety runs in my family. And it turns out that Dino Boy (my 4-yr-old) has always been a rather anxious kid. When he was a baby, he would rarely smile at family members, let alone strangers. Oh, he would stare strangers down! It was like he was saying "Back off, buddy." You know, in baby speak.

He was a chronically cautious toddler (not as much now, but still is in many ways). The first time he tried to walk? Of course he fell. He didn't try again for a few months, and I just knew it was because he didn't want to fall. He wouldn't go down the slide at two. He'd scream on the swing, even if he was in my lap.

Oh, Dino Boy, how I love you and your anxious way of being.

Let's just say that Dino Boy is prone to...freak outs. Changes in his routine. New situations I haven't prepared him for. Dude, you should see him in a movie theater! Those folding chairs freak him out because he thinks they're going to squash him. And he's scared of the dark. I can't help laughing at how terrifying my son finds a common movie theater. If it weren't for the popcorn, I'd never be able to get him in the door.

So there's my set up. I have an anxious kid, and therefore as a mom I am constantly trying to make things look like they're no big deal. I'm constantly trying to help Dino Boy cope with nerves that will likely follow him the rest of his life.

One of the things I've been super worried about with the start of school is how easy he gets embarrassed...and how bad he freaks out when he does. It breaks my heart, honestly, when he forgets to grab his backpack after preschool and bawls the whole way home because he feels stupid. Nobody else forgot. Nobody else had to go back. Yes, these things already bother him!

Well, sometimes my "no big deal" attempts backfire. Sometimes I'm so chill about an issue that Dino Boy doesn't learn, um, proper etiquette. We've gotten over the backpack fiasco, but now we have an extreme...farting issue.

I know, all that set up just to talk about farts! I suppose I wanted it to be clear that I had no intention of turning my Dino Boy into that kid. You know the one I'm talking about—the one who farts on purpose and then laughs his head off about it. And not only does he laugh about his farts, but he laughs about Ninja Girl's farts. So now I have my beautiful little girl farting on purpose too! And they get in, like, farting BATTLES. Fart. Giggle. Fart. Snicker. Fart. Raging Cackles.

I've created two little MONSTERS! Originally, I was all "Okay, if I treat the fart like it's no big deal and everyone does it, then we can avoid a freak out at school if he accidentally farts and people laugh at him."

I was very well intentioned. I swear. Now I have to attempt to rectify my very well intentioned parenting, because it's totally backfired (which I just realized is a hilarious word to use in this post...I suppose that means the apple doesn't fall far from the tree). I have to admit I never saw this coming, though maybe I should have. This is what happens with first kids, isn't it? I hate admitting it's kind of like a big experiment with really huge consequences. But, well, it is.

Of course I was thinking about this in relation to writing, too. I've had some big old backfires in writing as well. I have written a first draft (or fourth) thinking I was doing the absolute best possible thing. It's only after I see the outcome that I can truly determine where I messed up. Some mistakes are small, but they have big repercussions. Some are big, but easily chopped out. The problems are always in places I never expected.

We always try our best. I truly believe that. But sometimes things backfire and that's okay too. All you have to do is re-teach your manuscript when and when not to fart...

Oh man, it's so wrong that I'm laughing. That was an epically horrible mix of comparisons. I'm pretty proud of that.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Snow & Promises

I really appreciate when the weather reflects my mood. It almost makes me feel like I have some special power, or as if the Universe is acknowledging me, tipping its hat as it meets my eyes directly. I know it knows, and even though it doesn't make it easier, it's nice that it at least sees and understands that it has hurt my feelings.

And sometimes, I feel like there's this glint in that old Universe's eye. Like it knows something I don't. Like it's promising me that someday it will make things right.

This morning I woke up to a healthy helping of snow. It always happens in Utah this time of year, right before Halloween, ruining all the beautiful fall colors. Then it melts, leaving soggy fronds and chilly temps for trick-or-treaters, their costumes hidden under great big coats.

The snow always makes me feel many things. While it's clean, fresh, and even pretty, it also ruins the beauty and brilliance of fall. New slate? Sure. Except that it killed what came before, which was just lovely, thank you. And yet I can't help but look out at the quiet streets and feel...peace. I know how quiet it will sound if I step outside, how my footsteps crunching through the snow will feel like I'm trampling on something special.

Clean, peaceful, and yet bleak. This is snow to me. Something melancholy, with a dash of hope thrown in just to keep things interesting.

There's always a point in winter where I wonder if spring will ever come, when it seems like the world can't possibly warm up again after being frozen for so long. And yet every year, it comes. It's easy to remember that on the first snow of the year—it gets harder with each storm, though in the back of your head you know spring will come.

You start to go mad. Come, spring! Just hurry up! I can't take one more day of this snow. The closer you get, the further away it seems. But then one day it gets a little warm, and you know all that restlessness will soon end.

Thank you, Universe, for the snow, for painting my mood on the world today. It was the least you could do, really. I will look forward to the promise of spring.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

My NaNoReaMo List

You'd be surprised how nervous it makes me to reveal my reading list. It's like...I'm just asking to be judged. Do I have good taste? Bad? Will you guys wince when you see what I like? Finally realize I'm totally lame?

It's silly, but true. I don't know why I feel like I have to defend my tastes or hide them. I like what I like, and I know for the most part people respect that. But at the same time I know there are people out there who who might be all "She likes THAT series? REALLY? Is she stupid?"

Well, I guess it's time for me to get over that. My taste varies widely, and if you like it, too, awesome. If not, fine. That's the beauty of books—there's one out there for everyone. In the end, it's about connecting with a story. Flaws are forgiven if you connect. What makes someone connect to a story? I don't know. That's the magical part.

So, now that I've disclaimered myself to death, to the reading list! In alphabetical order by author:

1. The Reckoning, by Kelley Armstrong
2. Mockingjay, by Suzanne Collins
3. Nightshade, by Andrea Creamer
4. The Body Finder, by Kimberly Derting
5. The Truth About Forever, by Sarah Dessen
6. Hourglass, by Claudia Gray
7. Hex Hall, by Rachel Hawkins
8. Scarlett Fever, by Maureen Johnson
9. Dramarama, by E. Lockhart
10. Perchance To Dream, by Lisa Mantchev
11. Radiant Shadows, by Melissa Marr
12. Gone, by Lisa McMann

I'm pretty excited, since many of these books are part of series I love. I still haven't planned reading order, but I usually like to pair fatty books with shorter ones, so I have a more even reading load each week. I also like to pair darker books with funny ones, since sad books really affect my mood. I guess you'll just have to wait for my usual "What I Read This Week" posts during November to see how the list gets tackled.

There were so many books I wanted to add, but alas, I think this is fairly rounded. That, and I'm not allowed to buy more books until I get through what I have on my shelves. I promised Nick.

Now, I better go finish Flash Burnout by L.K. Madigan (which is freaking incredible thus far), so I can be ready to start next week!

Monday, October 25, 2010


November is next week, guys. Seriously, where did this year go? I feel it slipping out of my hands, and I still have so much to do before it's over. *cue panic*

But I am still determined to do my little NaNoReaMo (Natalie's Novel Reading Month, hehe). While everyone else is slaving away writing a novel in a month for NaNoWriMo, I've decided to once again READ as many novels as I can in November. It's like my own way of catching up, since I'm such a slow reader and what little time I have usually goes to my own projects.

So the goal is 3 books a week, making that 12 books in November. I must admit I'm a little terrified this time. Last year, it was hard even when I put away all my writing. This year? Yeah, I have a deadline to finish edits on Transparent in mid-November. So what if it's self-imposed? I still want to meet it. I need to get this book done (or at least done for now).

I think it might take a miracle. Or begging my little sister to watch my kids in the afternoons here and there (ahem, every day I can get).

One sec, I need to take a few deep, cleansing breaths...




Okay, I can do this, right? I mean, that's like three weeks for the rest of this edit...and there's got to be at least a little cyborg left in me somewhere. *gulp* You know, I wouldn't mind some peer pressure, if anyone else wants to participate in NaNoReaMo. I'll be posting my roster of books sometime this week, and if you join in, let me know! We can talk books and stuff together when we're not reading.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Writing Slow

Hey guys, I'm hanging out in the VIP treehouse, which just got some sweet hand-me-down curtains from some dude driving by in a VW van. They're orange and brown. You know I can't pass up orange and brown. I'd invite you up for some lime Kool-Aid, but, well, it's VIP only. Hey, I don't make the rules...oh wait. Nevermind.

Anyway, my friend Adam Heine is heading up this meeting today. If you haven't met him, there are a few things you need to know. 1) He writes about air pirates. Air pirates who have a fantastic vocabularly. 2) He lives in Thailand, where he and his incredible wife foster children. They currently have NINE. 3) If it wasn't obvious from the first two, Adam is freaking awesome.

Okay, take it away, Adam!

J. K. Rowling took five years to write the first Harry Potter.

It's okay to write slow.

Those of us who take a year or more to draft a novel are tempted to
believe we're doing something wrong. Like we're too lazy, managing our
time wrong, editing our words too much, or (God forbid) not meant to
be writers at all. Some of those things might be true, but slow
writing doesn't prove it.

(Terry Pratchett wrote his first novel at 400 words a day.)

You might be climbing a learning curve. My first novel took me
5 years to draft and 2 to edit. My second took me two years total. I'm
still slow, but I'm getting better. You will too. That's what practice

(The Harry Potter series took an average of 2 years per book to write.)

You might be a planner. Natalie herself will tell you that fast
drafts don't mean finished products
. They need a lot of editing
after they're "done." Not that slow drafts are perfect, but sometimes
slow can mean cleaner.

(George R. R. Martin has been working for 5 years on his next Ice and
Fire novel. He's still not finished, but I'll buy it when he is.)

You might be unpublished. There are really only two reasons you
have to write fast: (1) you signed a contract with a deadline
or (2) you write to put food on the table. The rest of us have the
freedom to write at whatever pace we want, learning as we go.

(Susanna Clarke took 10 years to finish her debut novel, which won
some awards
and got
optioned for a lot of money

You might have a life. Maybe you have a full-time job, a
family, and an X-Box. Kids are a full-time job on their own (I know, I
have nine) and worth more than a publishing contract. Not that you
shouldn't go for the contract too, but if you're sacrificing writing
speed to play Guitar Hero with your daughter, I call that a win.

There are reasons writing can take a long time, many of them good.

Live life. Write slow.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What You Can Bring To The Next Book

When I started writing, I was under the impression that every consecutive book would be easier to write. It was a logical assumption. I mean, the more you write, the better you get. And the better you get, the easier it should be, right?

Or...not. Getting better does not necessarily correlate with having an easier time writing. Well, not entirely, at least. There are some things that do get easier, but there are some that continue to remain wild cards.

Writing is weird that way! Because no matter how much you learned from this book, it's not The Next Book. And The Next Book will come with its own problems, ones you never had in the last book. It will likely confound you just as much as your last book, to the point that you'll wonder if you learned anything at all about writing in that last year or however long.

But never fear. I think most writers experience this. Some books just come easier than others, and you never know when a tough cookie will hit, or why.

Today I want to point out the things that do translate from book to book, and those that will likely continue to give you trouble for the rest of your writing career. SO exciting, I'm sure.

What You Can Bring To The Next Book
• Prose Craft: The more you write, the easier it is to pump out "clean" prose. You know not to go crazy with the adverbs. You know how to avoid passive constructions. You can catch your overuse of gerunds before it takes over the manuscript. At least, you better be able to. If not, work on that craft. It's important!

• Story Craft: The more you write, the easier it is to see where your story might be going off course. You notice the infodump mid-dump (ha, awkward). You spot that cliché. You avoid that trope or twist it up. You can sense when your plot might be derailing, even if you can't figure out how to get it right yet.

• Planning: Your planning/outlining becomes more clear. You know how to brainstorm. You know what to look for in a good plot. You know what makes a compelling character. With all your practice, you can easily line up core conflicts and motivations—the things that drive your plot forward.

What You're Stuck Dealing With On Every. Single. New. Idea.
• That Thing Called Writing: Yes, you still have to write the dang words in your novel. Sometimes they won't want to come out, even if you know the story and you know you can do it. You'll still have days where it seems impossible to write even a sentence. But you will still have to write. At least until they create a machine that can directly download our thoughts, rearrange them perfectly, and send them out to others. (Forget flying cars, I want that machine.)

• Doubt: So what if you've finished 12 novels? There will still be a point where you'll wonder if this will be the one that fails. Maybe this book is the one you should give up on because it really does suck—you have to be out of good ideas by now, right? You'll still have to battle this monster, sorry.

• Imperfect Execution:
No matter how much you've improved, you still have to write a first draft. And a first draft will always be flawed because it is full of assumptions. This is your first go at the story, and it might not be exactly what you thought it would be. The characters might not be who you thought they were. This is inevitable. In some ways you can't know what your story is supposed to be until after that first draft.

• Ticks: You know for a fact that you overuse "just," so you avoid it like the plague in this book. But instead of using "just" you notice that you've apparently fallen in love with "even" this time, and it appears in the text a whopping 697 times! New ticks always crop up—whether it's a word, an action (like smiling or lip pursing or heart pounding), or the overuse of metaphor. You have to watch out even if you've quelled your old habits.

• Edits: No matter how good your book is, it can always get better. Sure, I always hope my betas readers will have nothing bad to say about that new project, but I'm always wrong. Because every story can be better. There will always be something you miss. But hey, we're human! And books are big and long, so it's okay to miss a few (or many) things.

So there you have it. Writing is always an adventure. Sometimes that really stresses me out, but I think, in the end, that's what makes it so interesting and rewarding.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

The "Strong Female Character"

I've been seeing a lot of talk about "strong female characters" online, and I figured it was about time I got my rant on again.

You might have seen statements such as this: "Since when did strong female characters become needy, man-obsessed, wet noodles?" Or perhaps not as harsh, but you get the point. People are saying a "strong female character" has to be THIS WAY or she is not, in fact, strong.

I have to admit this kind of irks me. Not that I personally view a needy, man-obsessed, wet noodle as a strong female character, but I hate the way "weak female characters" (for lack of a better phrase) are being belittled.

First, it implies that writers should only be writing strong female characters if they want to write GOOD female characters. As a woman, I feel particular pressure to write this character, and I constantly fear that someone will criticize my female characters for being...well, feminine and weak and two-dimensional.

Yes, I want girls to be strong. Yes, I think women should stand up for themselves and follow their dreams. But at the same time I know that not every women does. Are they unworthy of stories because of that? And besides, what is more interesting than writing about a "weak" character becoming "strong"?

More than that, I find this idea of the "strong female" implies that there is only one way to be strong. I mean, take a look at this flow chart I found on twitter yesterday (via @sarahlapolla):

While it is comical, I also find this drawing sad in way. It's basically saying anyone who falls into any other category is NOT strong. And by saying that it implies they are weak. I'm not sure that's fair. It personally makes me feel a little horrible, because I don't think I'm a strong woman either! Nor do I think I write strong females, apparently.

Does that mean I'm bad? I'm weak? Lesser? I know that's not what this is trying to say, but it kind of feels that way.

I don't think there's one single, exact way for a woman to be strong. I also think your view of strong has a lot to do with your own preferences and beliefs in what strong is.

For example, I personally don't feel like an "over self-sacrificing" female is a weak character, though I know many people do. I think it takes a strong person to sacrifice their own needs for the good of others. Of course there's a line. Of course it can be crossed. But overall this character is someone (male or female) that I usually admire and think is strong.

Of course this is coming from a female who got married at 21, already has 2 kids, and chooses to stay home to take care of them. I know there are people out there who would think I "threw my life away" or that "I'm weak for playing into such blah traditions." But this is what I wanted, and I love my life and don't feel like I missed a thing.

I would never tell someone they should make the same decisions as I did, that the only way to be happy is to do what I did. There are so many ways to live life, and it's up to you to decide how yours will go.

Similarly, there are many ways to be strong, and I hope that we can respect that some of those ways may not be our cup of tea. I don't think that makes them wrong, as long as a person is happy and chooses that path for themselves. I think we should respect the individual strengths in every female character, instead of idealizing the so-called "strong female character."

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

ARCs Are Wasted On Me

I am a slow reader. I finish maybe 5-6 novels a year save November (when I do my own NaNoReaMo and read 3 books a week). It's embarrassing, especially when I seem to be surrounded with people who can read a book in a day like it's nothing.

This year my guilt has only increased, thanks to ARCs. Before, they didn't matter because I didn't really have access to them. But a few have crossed my path lately—from contests, from friends who have hook-ups—and I feel really, really bad that I haven't read them yet.

Especially since the books are, um, OUT IN STORES NOW.

I look at the ARCS on my shelf and feel like a total heel. There was someone out there who probably would have read that before the book came out, someone who would have gobbled it up and passed it on like they were supposed to. And here I am, not knowing when I'll get to them.

Talk about ARC fail.

But it's not that I don't want to read! It's just that reading takes time for me. It really does. And it's hard for me to concentrate with my crazy loud kids. I don't naturally gobble up books, though I do love them. I know I will be woefully behind on reading my whole life.

That probably sounds like a long list of excuses, but I promise it's not. What I'm really saying is that despite everything I still make an effort to read. I have to be more choosy, since I can't read 100 books a year, but I do believe in reading and making time for stories. Even if I can't read fast and I don't have a lot of time, I still finish books and try to read more.

At least November is coming up, so I will make a dent then. Do you have any books I should consider for my NaNoReaMo roster?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Get It Right

So I rewrote a whole book. Yeah yeah, you've heard that from me. But what you don't know about this book is that before then I'd rewritten the ending about four times.

I just could not get it right! First it was too fast. Then it was too slow. Then it was too freaking complicated. THEN is was down right lame. I kept messing with it, but I was never, ever completely happy with it. I knew, deep in my gut, that it still wasn't right.

And then came the rewrite. My chance to finally get this ending down perfectly! I had it all planned out, and it finally made sense and seemed to work. Except for when I got there and it absolutely, totally DIDN'T work. So I tried something else.

Which, you guessed it, didn't work either!

So here I am, at least a dozen drafts in, and I'm about to rewrite my blasted ending AGAIN. Hopefully it will be closer, but at this point I certainly don't trust that I really have it in the bag! Maybe? We'll see.

Yeah, sometimes it's frustrating, but that's how it goes. You rewrite until you get it right. Sometimes that's on the second pass, sometimes it's the fourteenth. I really hope it's not on the thirtieth draft, but at the same time I'm willing to keeping working until it's right.

That's what you do as a writer. You have to get the story right. Sometimes (okay, always) that's the hardest part, but it's the best feeling in the world when you know you finally got it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Daydreaming

Welcome to yet another installment of Happy Writers Society! The club house is so busy these days that I've considered building a tree house in the giant oak outside. There would be old carpet stolen from the neighbors who are remodeling, and some of those lawn chairs that fold in on you if you sit in them wrong. It would be VIP only, though, so don't get too excited.

I'd also like to invite any HWS members to guest post here on Fridays! If you have a happy writing message to give, please, relieve me of my club president duties and take over the mic. You can e-mail (see sidebar) your articles and I will let you know if you get to host.

Also, I'm having serious difficulties with my informercial, mostly because I've been, uh, busy. I've been waist-deep in daydreaming, and I'm starting paper edits next week on Transparent! This is why I should never, ever promise to vlog. Did you know making videos takes a lot of time? Because I have so much of that to spare.

But today I want to talk about this daydreaming thing.

You know how it is. You get this idea and think about it all day. And then you dream about it. All week you can't stop thinking about it. You can't help but float around, smiling like a fool because this idea is just so awesome! And it's all yours, perfect and shiny and wonderful.

I think we underestimate the power of that daydreaming phase. We scramble to write things down so we don't forget them. We rush into outlining or figuring out this nebulous, sparkly idea blob. But sometimes I wonder if that's such a good thing, making that idea tangible with words and chapters and rules. It means you don't have to keep it in your mind constantly anymore—you have it written down, so your mind is free to wander off onto other things.

I'm currently in the middle of an experiment. All I've done for the last two weeks is...daydream. I had this huge, incredible idea for a rewrite of one my very first books. Instead of tossing it out as crazy or writing it down as genius, I've let it stay there in my head.

And guess what? It keeps growing. The characters keep talking. The world keeps filling out. The plot is slowly coming together.

And I haven't done a thing but think.

But more important than that, daydreaming has helped me with something I haven't been able to feel for a long time—passion. Passion for writing, for this story, for the journey that is creating a book. I haven't felt this excited to write in a very long time, and I'm holding on to that for dear life.

Writing should be magical. Letting yourself live and explore a new world, new characters, is just as important as the writing and editing that comes after. I know we're often told we need to work hard to get published, but it can't be done at the expense of creativity and imagination. If you snuff that out, everything else suffers.

So if you feel like you've lost the passion for writing, I highly recommend some good ol' daydreaming.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Considering A Rewrite?

When I was a...greener writer, the idea of big revisions or a full rewrite terrified me. It wasn't just the work, but I worried all that work wouldn't be worth it. I worried I would ruin my story rather than improve it. And why rewrite a whole book when you could just write another one better?

Well, let's just say I was wrong about that.

Having done a rewrite, I've learned that it can be worth it. It's certainly hard—I won't sugarcoat that—but the results can be amazing. But how do you decide if it's something you want to do? Of course any idea/book can be re-imagined and rewritten, but what tips the scale in favor of such an undertaking?

Of course it's a personal decision, but here are a few things to think about:

How much do you love the story? Because you're going to have to really, really love it. Like, love in a practically unhealthy way, where you are willing to possibly suffer a great deal before it's finished. If you don't, then move on. It's okay to move on! I've done so many times. Or maybe you just need a break from that book. That's fine, too.

Are you committed? It's going to get hard, harder than you expect. Sure, it'll be fun and exciting at first—you'll feel like you're making it better. But that will change. At some point the New Shiny Ideas will start calling. You'll decide the book won't fit the market anyway. Why waste time? Well, a half-done rewrite is more a waste of time than finishing. You have to be committed to actually finishing, to taking the risk.

Can you see and accept the big changes? Sure, maybe you could rewrite your book into a dystopian, but is that really what you want? Does the idea of changing big things make you excited or sad? If it makes you sad, then maybe this isn't right for you. You have to stick to your guns no matter what. Maybe an agent suggests a rewrite and would like to see it again if you do, but if you are not comfortable with the suggested changes then don't do it. Yeah, I just said that. Stay true to your stories. Believe in them. Rewrite when you can get excited about it, not for other people.

Are the changes substantial enough to merit the work? A rewrite should be huge. We're not talking just making your villain meaner or making it yetis instead of unicorns. A rewrite should involve serious plot, character, and world changes. It should be a different manuscript—a better, stronger, more cohesive one—and yet it should still contain the heart of your story. You'd be surprised how much you can change and still keep that.

If you decide to rewrite, I can promise that you'll eventually be happy with the work you do. It will be a better book. A different book, but better. That's just how it goes. Writers are always improving, so of course your next book will always be better. But that doesn't make your old IDEAS bad. Sometimes your ideas were good and you just didn't have the skill to get it out right the first time.

I've already had enough ideas to last me a lifetime, and I'm starting to think it's not such a bad thing to revisit some of them. Even a year ago I wasn't ready to, but now I think I am. And I'm freaking excited about it.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Notebook Obsession

These were the notebooks just within reaching distance from where I was sitting. And you'd think I'd feel bad about that, but rounding them up and taking a picture made me smile.

I'm pretty sure that makes me a notebook addict.

But I need them! Each one of those contains different projects (from top to bottom: Technical Difficulties, Hammered [mostly, plus some old school Transparent], brand new for a Top Sekrit Rewrite, Transparent rewrite, Relax, I'm a Ninja [plus a little Spork], and some aliens and contemporary stuff).

I love to make notes by hand. I don't know what it is, but there's something in actually scribbling with a pen that gets my brain going. Though I mostly type my story out, much of the "behind the scenes" work happens on paper. I outline better on paper, edit better, brainstorm better.

I know it's not for everyone, and I'm not telling you to do the same. I'm just saying there's something about paper for me. Maybe it's the artist thing—pen and paper put me in that creative mode almost automatically, while typing puts me in a work mode. Both are good, but sometimes I just need to be creative and save the work for later. I suppose it's my way of finding that balance in writing.

Also, it let's me draw while making notes. I know, so fancy. It helps me figure out what things might look like in my world (yeah, they are blurry and backwards on purpose—sekrits abound!):
A character sketch/sheet. I like to explore characters, see if they'll open up a stalled plot.

My first map from Spork. I've since revised a bunch, but there it is.

Airship! Also from Spork. It was fun playing with a fantasy story because there was so much more to imagine and draw.

So yeah, there's a little glimpse into part of my writing process. I think a lot of non-writers don't realize how much planning happens behind the words. It's like putting on a stage production. Hopefully the reader focuses only on the actors, and ideally no one sees the techies back there making all the magic. But without the techies? No show.

Now, excuse me while I go play with my new notebook. It has colored sections so I can categorize my notes! *Squee*

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Triage: A Life Principle

As a mom/writer/wife/gamer/blogger/amatuer cook, one of the most frequent questions I get is "How do you do it all?" Or the ever-so-close "How do you find time?"

In fact, Becky Wallace commented just today on my last post:
I'm amazed that you can crank out so much work with all that you have going on in your life (ie children, husband, housework).

Will you do a post titled "A Day in the Life of Natalie" so that I can pattern my day after yours? Do you sleep? Eat? Shower? You look healthy and normal and so not greasy!
To which I say "HA!" Oh, Becky, you sweetheart. You really, really wouldn't want to pattern your day after mine. It would mostly consist of bickering kids, poopy diapers, messes, trying to fit in a blog post, and the occasional pithy tweet. Okay, not pithy, more like borderline asinine (hehe, asinine). Oh, and then there's that writing thing...

I know that picture of me in the sidebar is very pretty—I blame that on Michelle. She even photoshopped all my zits and smoothed out my back fat! Thank goodness for photographers—but I promise I don't roll out of bed with that charming smile and perfect lighting. (In all seriousness, sometimes I wonder how much Photoshop has altered our view of humans and the world in general. Normal humanity seems to have become rather...visually disappointing in comparison to over-edited everything.)

But anyway, as completely imperfect as I am, I do have something to say in the way of "How do you do it all?" It's simply this:

I don't.

We all know how emergency rooms work. You go in, some dudes at the front assess how much trouble you're in, and then you sit around forever (or are admitted immediately if you're bleeding on the cheap-looking-yet-expensive carpet). Well, life is basically an emergency room, too, except with less vomiting and blood (hopefully).

And no emergency room would be complete without triage. It's an age-old strategy, but if you're not familiar let's do that definition thing:

Triage: 1. The action of sorting according to quality. 2. (in medical use) the assignment of degrees of urgency to wounds or illnesses to decide the order of treament of a large number of patients or casualties.

So while triage can sometimes sound or be brutal, it is designed to keep as many people living as possible. It is designed for the greater good, though sometimes it might not be in your favor (or fun). Yes, sometimes triage fails. Sometimes people are misdiagnosed or prioritized wrong. It is certainly not a perfect system, but it works and there's a lot to learn from it. Because really, triage is about priorities.

I am not always productive. Heck, I haven't been super productive for at least six weeks, honestly. But I find that the times I am productive are usually also the times I am prioritizing—the times I'm applying triage to my life. Which is precisely what I'm trying to do right now.

Let's face it, there are some things in life that come before others. For me, my mental, physical, and spiritual well-being are absolutely #1. I know it may sound selfish, but when I don't take care of myself in those ways everything else suffers because I don't have the stamina or emotional strength to face life.

Second for me is family, or at least I know it should be. I try very hard to care for them first, to make sure they are happy and healthy. Third is church. Fourth is writing. Fifth is blogging...notice I haven't mentioned cleaning yet.

What happens when you let your triage get out of order? What happens when you're treating all the fever patients and letting that girl with the bullet wound bleed out corner?

Well, people die, that's what. And in your life it's kind of the same thing. Not death, per se, but if you don't tend to the most important things first, then your well-being suffers. I know because I've been there. I constantly have to put my priorities back in order. It's shocking how easy it is to start thinking the smaller things are more important.

So let's take a look at a hypothetical day in the life of me, and I will decide how it should ideally get triage (though I must admit some days I suck at it):

To Do:
Drop Dino Boy off at preschool
Make Breakfast
Spiritual Routine
Pick Dino Boy up from preschool
Make Lunch
Do laundry
Make Dinner
Attend church actvity
Attend writing activity
Play WoW with Nick
Watch Anime
Critique manuscripts
Take library books back

Okay, I think that's a decent list. Also, please imagine that I must tackle all this while entertaining children/stopping them from killing each other/changing diapers. Now, when I'm on my game, I would organize my day like this:

Early Morning:
Spiritual Routine
Make Breakfast
Drop Dino Boy off at preschool
Take library books back

Late Morning (with Dino Boy gone):
Write/edit (once I get Ninja Girl settled with a movie)
Crit Manuscripts
Blog (if I have time)

Early Afternoon:
Pick Dino Boy up from preschool
Make lunch (so the Dino Boy doesn't whine me to death)
Dishes and other cleaning

Late Afternoon:
Crit manuscripts (if I haven't finished my daily goal and I can get the kids to behave long enough)
Blog (if I didn't get it in earlier and I can get the kids to behave long enough)
Make dinner (so it's ready when Nick gets home)

Attend church activity (foregoing writing activity, sadly)
Play WoW with Nick

So there's a pretty decent day, right? I fit almost everything on the list in—and it even sounds fairly doable. But let's imagine for a second that I decided to play WoW in the morning...and then it was so fun I kept playing through half the afternoon. And then I'm like, "Crap! I didn't blog or write! But writing with both the kids...yeah right." So I blog, but I didn't do my writing, and then I get on Twitter and watch some YouTube videos and, bam, it's almost time for Nick to get home and I haven't started dinner!

That's what happens when you don't triage your life—it gets all crazy and chaotic. I mean, life is always that way, but triage helps control it. When I put my priorities in line, I'm always shocked at how much I do and how much extra time I have! And then at the end of the day, I can sit down and do something fun like movies or games without feeling guilty for the things I didn't do.

I wish I did this more. I mean, it feels great and it honestly makes life simpler. But I'm lazy. I don't always want to wake up and do everything I should. It's a lesson I've had to learn over and over. Triage works.

If you are feeling stress over getting stuff done, I highly recommend stepping back and taking stock of where your time is going. Likely, a little triage will put things back in order.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Three Years Blogging

Yup, yesterday was my official third "blogaversary" or whatever. I know, I sound so excited. But this year has been different for me, and this time I want to celebrate by just acknowledging how much I've learned and grown through this blog. So sorry, no contests or wild flailing dance parties here.

When I first started this blog, it was totally lame. No, really. It was my own place to talk about my writing, since I figured my family was getting tired of hearing all my rambling. I had a hard time keeping my goals, and somehow announcing them to the internet made me more accountable. It's not for everyone, but I'm pretty sure my first year of blogging taught me how to finish books.

Hi, I did write like 6.5 novels that year. Crazy, right? Each time it was like a miracle. I finished a book. The high of that accomplishment filled me with giddiness and motivation. If I could reliably finish books—surely I could get books published!

Of course it wasn't that easy. I was still a total noob. A noob who queried at least six months of that first year. A noob who sent out over 200 queries spanning four different projects. A noob who didn't quite understand what editing was or how much you actually had to do to make a book shine.

The first year left me realizing how far I had to go, though I learned a lot from reading writer and agent blogs. I knew I was lacking technical knowledge. I was trying to learn it. Luckily, Blogland also connected me with some amazing writers who are now close friends. We all grew together, worked hard, encouraged each other to keep going.

Then came year two. Oh, year two. Year two, curiously enough, was made up of two parts: Mad Querying and Revising My Rear Off.

The querying part was even more frustrating than year one, since I had far more interest that ultimately led to rejection. The rejections made it clear that I was still missing something on the technical side of writing, but of course didn't give me enough to actually help. I tried to figure out what was wrong, but I couldn't see it then. I was blind, in need of assistance.

And then I won a contest.

I got to send my partial to a real live agent (now my agent) for a critique, just what I needed to finally learn what was wrong with my writing! To my complete disbelief, that led to my first full request off a partial...and it's eventual rejection, heh.

But I got the crit, and, oh, was it brilliant. I totally had a light bulb moment. The book had a lot of problems, but for the first time I had a clear, positive direction for improvement, not just a vague list of things to avoid in general.

I can follow directions, and I worked my tail off, resubmitted as invited, and was given more directions. And more. And then even more.

It turned out though, because while year two was hard it ended in me signing with an awesome agent. The work paid off. It actually happened. Of course I wanted it, but part of me also worried it would never happen. I'm not going to lie, it was huge validation and still is. On hard days I cling to that knowledge, try to remember what I have instead of what I'm lacking.

Year three has been...many things.

I thought nothing could be tougher than year two—I thought I finally knew how to work hard and revise. Oh, was I wrong. Year three has been even more revision. A full rewrite of one book. Intense revisions and high hopes on another project. That point where you think you will DIE if you have to read your book again? Turns out you can read it like three or four more times after that. Sure, you lose a little bit of your soul, but the book looks really shiny.

I also learned how to officially slow down my writing process. Even through all the revisions in year two, I managed to pump out four new books. This year? Um, I haven't even finished a new project. Heck, I haven't even gotten half way through one! Sure, I rewrote a book, so I kind of wrote one, but it feels very strange to be at ZERO new books in October with little chance of finishing one by the end of the year (and practically no desire, honestly).

I'm still trying to figure out if that's a bad thing or not. In comparison to my previous years, I do feel like a bit of a failure, but at the same time I have a freaking pile of old books/ideas to fix. Why add more, you know?

And then there's been the blog explosion. Holy crap, I never expected to have so many people reading my blog! It's really only been in this last year, and I'm not sure I can express how gratefully overwhelmed I am about it. Thank you for reading, all of you, whether you've read one post or every single one since the beginning (seriously, those poor souls deserve medals).

In all honestly, you guys have kept me going this year. This has been one of the most difficult years of my life thus far, and some days it truly felt like my blog was the only thing I had going for me. Each comment made me smile, helped me remember that I had good things in my life too, even when it didn't seem like it. So thank you for reading, for commenting, for being there for me virtually. And thank you to all my real life friends I've met through blogging—you know how much I need you guys.

Part of me looks at year three and sees a big fat load of failure. I mean, if you knew the details there would be no denying that there was a lot. Like, if you were a negative person you could even say my whole year has been kind of a waste. In some darker moments I felt that way, at least.

But then another part of me stands tall. I faced a lot of those things. You know, those ones writers DREAD happening, the things you hear and then immediately pray they don't happen to you, the ones you hope to bypass with the miracle dream publishing stories, complete with double rainbows and diamond encrusted unicorns.

This year I learned that, despite it being hard, I can survive. Even when I'm emotionally spent. Even when hard work doesn't pay off. Even when I have nothing to show. I'm still standing. Still working, albeit it much slower. I still want to do this. I still think I can.

Maybe that doesn't seem like much, but it's a lot to me.

Here's to year four and whatever awaits. Hope to see you around here now an then! I will leave the porch light on, just in case.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Happy Writers Society: In Pursuit of Praise

I remember the first long book I started writing. I was thirteen, and it was based off a drawing I did of a girl with wings. I loved that drawing so much I turned that blue-haired girl into my main character, and I made friends for her and a story (one that was much like Sailor Moon and a few other anime shows smashed together).

For a while I didn't tell anyone about trying to write a whole book. I would just go down to the old Mac my dad gave to me (since it was woefully out of date by then), sit down, and type for hours. It was fun for me, a way to purge all that teen angst.

Then one day I finally decided to admit to a friend that I was writing a book. Her face lit up, and she immediately begged me to read it. I was unsure at first, but secretly I wanted to give it to her to see if she thought it was as awesome as I did. I mustered up the courage to print out the first chapter for her.

And guess what? She gobbled it up! And not only that, she gave it to some of our other friends to read and they loved it too! Suddenly I had a little pack constantly asking me for more chapters. My parents complained about how much paper I kept printing on and then giving away, but I was so amazed!

Someone loved my story. Someone was out there dying to know what happened next.

It was like this drug. My fingers would fly through angsty, dramatic awesomeness. I couldn't wait for that next hit of "That was amazing! Ohmygoshwhathappensnext!?!?"

And then I made the mistake of giving my stories to a more...discerning eye, let's say. She thought they weren't very good. I mean, she tried to be nice, but I could tell. It was not even close to the excited reaction I was used to.

Everything changed at that point. I lost faith in my ability. I still wrote for a while, but instead of sending my chapters off to confirm that they were as good as I thought, I sent them off to confirm they weren't as horrible as I thought.

It's a fine line, but it makes all the difference.

I gave up writing stories that year, at fifteen. I'd stopped having fun, and worse than that I thought I wasn't very good at it. So I put away the words and concentrated on drawing. Oh, I still wrote, but it was never stories. I wrote papers and news articles and training manuals.

In college I took one creative writing class with this sick hope that my teacher would read my stuff and laud over it like my friends once did. I thought to myself, "If she thinks I'm good, then maybe I'll try again." Well, she didn't say anything. I took it as a sign—non-fiction for me. If that.

I didn't try to write a story until I got pregnant. I don't know, maybe it was the crazy hormones that made me courageous. But I started REwriting that one book I wrote as a teen. And I was having fun again! I thought the story was MUCH better than the first time I wrote it, and of course I'd grown as a writer, even if I was only writing short non-fiction.

The only person who read the book at first was Nick, and he was so supportive and excited it was just like it was before! That high of someone else loving my story was unmistakable and addicting. He was confirming what I had hoped—it was good. Maybe I wasn't so hopeless after all. I decided this time I would keep going no matter what. When the criticism eventually came, I wouldn't let it get to me.

Well, I try not to let it get to me. But let's face it, sometimes it's freaking hard to have faith in your work when you hear over and over that it's not enough. You work more, and then you get told again that it's not enough. And again.

But then you get a bite. Someone who LOVES it, and that boost of praise is like writer's crack. You can't stop smiling, and you just feel soooo good. It's a rush to think you reeled a reader in, that they are begging for more, that you're not just a crazy person who thinks they can be a writer but actually has no chance.

Here comes the warning, though: Praise really can be like a drug. And if you're not careful you could fall into the trap of praise-seeking instead of having confidence in your own work.

Like the young me who gave up writing, when you seek praise to prove that you don't suck, it doesn't actually help. Sure, it gives you a little boost, maybe enough confidence to pull out another chapter. But in the end the feeling fades and you have to hurry and get another hit before the darkness and doubt consumes you. Soon writing is just not fun. Who cares if others like it? You don't. And so you stop. You give up. You move on. You decide everyone who says you're good is wrong, because you know better and you know that you suck and they're just pandering.

Praise is no substitute for faith in your own work. You have to believe in your writing, that there is something there that has potential. You have to be okay with some people not seeing that potential, and you have to be grateful for those who do. But in the end the only praise that will keep you going permanently is your own.

Yes, I just told you to be a raging narcissist. Well, not raging, but a little bit of a narcissist. A squitch.

Now that I've given you permission to like your writing, I would like to inform those that volunteered for the infomercial that they should be receiving an email from me soon. I really thought this process would be faster, but you would be surprised how hard it is to coordinate a full film crew without any cash.

Luckily, I have ninjas.

Thursday, October 7, 2010


You know how sometimes everything you write sounds totally stupid? Yeah, that's today. I've tried to write like three posts and holy guacamole I sound like an idiot. I know you won't think that, but I can't bring myself to post anything! Arg.

I feel so bad for having basically nothing interesting to say. There's gotta be some way to make it up to you.


A song?

Uhhhh, an excerpt of something?

Bah, I don't know. I can't exactly send you all cookies, though they're definitely tasty enough to make up for this. And I can't sing, so that would be more punishment. Excerpts are boring though, right? I always feel kind of vain when I post writing now, like I'm looking for compliments or something.

But heck, I ain't got nothin'. If you want something like that let me know and I will provide. Otherwise, head out to the next, more entertaining blog while I try to figure out how to break through the blogger block before HWS tomorrow. Ack.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

In Which I Answer Kiersten's Q&A For Her

So my dear friend Kiersten White just got back from her book tour. I am very happy for this because holy crap I missed her virtual presence. I mean, yeah, I got to see her twice, but still.

At The King's English. Aren't we cute? (That hot dude is my husband Nick, so back off, ladies:P)

Anyway, Kiersten is tired. I do not like when Kiersten is tired (and overwhelmed by all the life and emails that happened while she was away) because that lessens the chance that I will get to read her writing. And when I don't get the next exciting installment of her work I get very antsy.

I NEED her to write, guys.

So I'm taking over the rest of her Q&A. You know, to help her out (for totally selfish reasons). From here on out, please imagine this is Kiersten. I will do my best to imitate her wit and copious parenthetical statements, but I cannot replicate her typo-less, impeccable writing. Sorry.

Karen Rose asked: Are able to have conversations about gross things while eating? I"m a mom and animal owned(4 horses, 2 cats and my son:) so find it rarely bothers me to eat and talk about gross things.

My son Dojo barfs a lot. Like, a lot (Imagine the most barfy thing you know and then multiply it by the most adorable thing you know and that's him [No, really, he's the cutest barfer, but not cute WHILE he's barfing.]).

Also, you may remember how often I talk about fallopian tubes. I even draw pictures of them.

So gross things while eating? Nah, no problem. Unless we're talking about Glenn Beck.

How do you perceive your characters? Are they like friends to you, or just random people living in your head?

Definitely not random people, but maybe not exactly friends either (Let's face it, who would actually want to be friends with Reth? I mean he's nice to look at and fun to write, but really not friend material. Unless you like your friend to be constantly ruining your life and giving you cryptic, threatening warnings. Then by all means.) It's more like a parental relationship, maybe. You know these people really well and you love them, and you have to mold them and help them along in their story. But sometimes you don't get along or understand each other at the same time.

Does it bother you, hmmmm... feel very intense to write in first person rather than 2nd or 3rd?

I like writing in first—it gives me a chance to beat people over the head with my awesome voice skills (Okay, Kiersten would never say "awesome voice skills," but let's face it—she has awesome voice skills. She also has awesome plotting skills and humor skills and she works really hard and crap.). I think the intensity of 1st person lends very well to the YA genre, which is why we see so many YA books written that way.

yllektra asked: Are there plans of any tour/promotion in Europe...possibly around December 2nd, because erm.. I will be in Manchester! (hee, wow, how self-serving of me) *g*

Nope, sorry. Authors don't decide where they will go on tour, and overseas tours are even more expensive for a publisher. Only if I do really well in the UK (as in bestseller list and a raging fan base) could it be a possibility. Which is to say I will totally be there someday (Okay, I added that, Kiersten wouldn't say that either, unless she's kidding. So maybe she would have added like a big disclaimer here—hey! That's what I did! Ha. Awesome.).

And a strange question...Hmm, I know you celebrate Halloween, so what is the strangest incident that has happened WHILE you were in a costume...or the strangest costume that has "happened" in a normal incident! lol

I don't dress up anymore. If I do people think I'm actually a little kid—that's what happens when you can fit the children's costumes. Of course, being able to trick-or-treat forever is cool, but when they start asking you who did your fantastic "old hag" make-up you feel kind of lame when saying you're not wearing any...

lora96 asked: YA book recommendation? I haven't read a lot of YA until last year...Hunger Games, Graceling, A Great and Terrible Beauty...what's good? (I am not into vampires/werelions/zombie lovers)

If you like contemporary, check out John Green, Julie Halpern, Gayle Forman, Sarah Dessen, E. Lockhart, L.K. Madigan, Stephanie Perkins, and Sara Zarr. (I love me some contemporary these days ["me" as in Natalie, though Kiersten reads a ton and would likely back me up on most of these.].)

As for other recs, I recently read and adored WHITE CAT by Holly Black (and Kiersten did, too, since she was the one who recommended it to me). It's got a mafia vibe plus magic (cursing); it's on the darker side, but not *too* dark. For something light and fun, MY FAIR GODMOTHER by Janette Rallison was a hilarious and topsy-turvy fairy-tale adventure. For a really cool steampunk adventure, try LEVIATHAN by Scott Westerfeld. And if you aren't super into pararomance but want to try something different, I hear there's this book called PARANORMALCY by Kiersten White that is a really fresh take on the genre. Just sayin'.

Also, you cannot go wrong with anything by Ally Carter. I have a raging author crush on her.

Lotusgirl asked: If you were a constellation, what would you be called? and What kind of stars would be found in you?

I would be called The Sleeping Author, and I would be in the shape of a woman passed out at her kitchen counter with laptop open and children clawing at her legs. I would be made up of those really tired stars that are about to go out, and the laptop would be a black hole.

Gjertrud asked: What's your favorite language/languages of the ones you don't speak?
Arabic, because Hot Stuff speaks it and there is nothing like having epic poetry recited to you in a foreign language. It actually makes epic poetry less boring.

Mandy asked: As for weird questions... if you could be a food, which one would you be?

I would be cabbage, because then no one in their right mind would eat me.

Also, what would you say to a country who voted for a clown into the politics (yeah, an actual clown. You know... circus; juggling...)

Wait...are you saying the people we do vote for AREN'T clowns? Huh. No, I think clowns would be refreshing. They could do juggling acts in between all the hoopla.

Ashley asked: If you didn't have to worry about price or have to make it yourself what would you be for Halloween?

Neil Gaiman.

Katelyn Burton asked: Question One: Do you own a laser printer?
No. But now that you mention it maybe I should get one. Of course, it would take up like all my kitchen counter space...

Question Two: How do you choose which point of view to write in? I know for PARANORMALCY it was first, which is very popular for YA these days, but did you have to think about which point of view you wanted to write in? Would you feel weird writing in third point of view with Evie now, or do you think you could do it?

Evie came with her voice. I actually wrote all my novels in third before that, but her voice was so strong I couldn't imagine writing it any other way. POV and tense usually comes organically with the character for me, but I do tend to prefer first person now and how much I can play with the voice.

It might feel weird to go back to third at this point, but if a story called for it I would. (At this point I feel like I need to add more parentheticals, so here it is.)

Melissa asked: 1. Seems from some of your recent posts that you love a good accent, but would you be able to tell an Australian accent from a New Zealand one?

No, I doubt it, but Natalie might be able to since her grandma came from New Zealand and her new sister-in-law grew up there. Either one is awesome though.

2. If by some miracle you were to embark on a trip to Australia, which particular place in Australia would you most like to visit?

I think a city would be good, since that's probably where a bookstore would be for me to sign at. I can't imagine people swimming out to the Great Coral Reef for a signing. And books, last I checked, are not waterproof. Sadly.

Lauren asked: My question is: when do you write? I am sure that with two small children you need to be rather creative. Can you write even if you have 5-10 min, or do you need a longer stretch of time to get back into your story?

Umm, I don't know? I get it in when I can, but it's freaking hard. Lately I need a longer stretch to get focused, so I head to the library and pound out as much as I can (And then Natalie says she wants more and whines a lot about how I never write enough and can you PLEASE write more because I need to know what happens before next week DANGIT.).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Proof of My Nerdiness

When I was 14 my parents decided to move from California to Utah. It was basically the most devastating thing they could have done in my teenage mind. I was just about to start high school. I finally had friends. I was excited for my life. And then they go and pull it right out from under me.

To make matters worse, many school districts in Utah keep 9th graders in junior high. Yes, I had to go BACK to junior high for another whole year. According to me, it was the end of my life.

I remember going to that claustrophobic building to register. Schools in California are open, the halls are outside instead of boxed-in and drenched in fluorescent light. I sat in the office choosing classes, while a mob of students ate in the dark, cramped commons. I watched them with their weird hair styles and clothing, wondering how I was ever going to fit in. It took me forever just to find my old friends—and now I'd have to do it all over again.

I started school the next week. In each class I had to hand my schedule to the teacher and explain that I was new, which was embarrassing enough. Some teachers then made me introduce myself. I didn't like those teachers.

Fourth period was the strangest because I had Seminary. In California, mormons attended Seminary early in the morning before school, but in Utah there are so many mormons that they have it during school. There was a Seminary building just off the school campus, and as I headed up there I couldn't help but wonder what I'd face.

My teacher was this nice, very tall man named Brother Brown. Instead of introducing me to the class, he did something really weird. To this day I still wonder what he was thinking.

"Gabe," he called.

A guy looked up from his desk, and my stomach went to my toes. He had popular written all over his dimpled smile and fancy clothes. "Yes, Brother Brown?"

"This is Natalie. She's fresh in from California. Will you make sure she feels comfortable here?"

Gabe smiled wide, looking at me in a way I was not accustomed to being looked at by popular boys. "Sure."

Brother Brown pointed me to a desk. "You sit there next to Gabe. He'll take care of you."

I did as I was told, but I couldn't quite grasp what was going on. Was it not obvious that pairing me with Gabe was wrong? Did I not look like the nerd I clearly was in California? Or maybe this was some kind of act of mercy. Maybe Brother Brown could tell I was a huge dork and he was trying to turn me into a charity case.

Gabe leaned over. "So you're from Cali? Bet you spent all day on the beaches."

"Um, I lived in Northern California, surrounded by corn. And I don't like the beach."

"Oh, so what do you like?" he continued.


He gave me this funny look, which I expected. "Like Pokémon?"

"No, well, Pokémon is fine but there's way cooler anime out there. Like Dragonball Z—that's hecca tight."


My cheeks felt too warm. "Oh, never mind."

Obviously I didn't know how to talk to cute guys who were just trying to be nice. All I wanted was for him to turn back to the front, that way I could focus on my notes and stop my heart from frantically fluttering at my ribcage.

This was so stupid. Why did Brother Brown do this to me? And why did I have to totally blow it by sounding like a dork? I hated to admit that part of me wanted to impress Gabe. I wasn't supposed to care about the popular kids—I was an independent, punk anime chick who looked down on popular culture. At least I was in California. I didn't know who I was in Utah. Was I supposed to be popular here?

When the bell rang, I packed up my stuff, dreading lunch. I didn't know where to sit or who I would sit with. I figured maybe I would go by my locker, since I brought my lunch anyway.

"Hey Natalie, do you want to eat lunch with me and my friends?" Gabe said.

I froze. Could this actually be happening? This was starting to sound way too much like a Disney movie. Was I supposed to be the loser Cinderella waiting to transform into someone cool and accepted? "Uh, sure."

Gabe took me to the cafeteria, where he introduced me to some of his friends. The boys were all on the basketball team. And the girls were either dancers or cheerleaders. Or both. They were all beautiful and thin. They talked about sports while the girls ate their salads without dressing.

They were nice to me. They really were, even if they obviously thought my interests were strange. The girls didn't do that evil glare, like I was invading their space. The boys didn't make fun of me. In fact, I'd face worse treatment from other crowds than I ever got from them.

As I sat there, I could see how easy it would be to be like they were. I could start eating salads and learn about sports. I could paint my nails and take off my upper ear clasp. I could dress like them. I could take dance and meld in just fine.

And yet I couldn't. The thought of giving up what I had made me feel sick inside. I couldn't spend the next four years of my life pretending I liked that stuff. Not that it was bad stuff, but it wasn't me. So I stood up early, and they asked where I was going.

"Oh, I need to get something from my locker," I said. "I'll be right back."

I didn't go back. I sat by my locker and finished my lunch by myself. But I didn't feel bad or lonely or crazy from walking away from such a group. I felt like myself again, like I could breathe. I decided that day that I'd wait to find a place I felt like I fit in, a group where I didn't feel like I had to change myself to belong.

As I've grown, I've often wondered if "nerds" are just people who are incapable of being anyone but themselves. I paid for it sometimes, but never having to pretend has been worth it. I know the people who like me actually like the real me, and I never have to wonder if people see through my cover since I don't have one. I've found many kindred spirits over the years, and I'm so glad I waited to find them. I could never hide myself—I never wanted to.

Monday, October 4, 2010


When I was younger, I remember the German Chocolate Cake frenzy (What? You don't?). I remember it at every church event. For holidays. For birthdays. Everyone was head over heels for this German Chocolate Cake.

I remember because I wasn't much of a fan. I mean, it was alright, but it was so rich and sweet I could only stand a few bites. At one point I was so sick of seeing this cake everywhere that I wished the Germans would take it back. No, I wish they'd never brought it to America in the first place.

Many years passed before I ran into the German Chocolate Cake again. I was watching the Food Network (as I am wont to do), and they had this piece on the history of my German nemesis.

I watched, flabbergasted, as the host explained that German Chocolate Cake is named after an Englishman named Sam German, who created a dark baking chocolate—German Baking Chocolate. The chocolate became popular in the 1950s, at which point the recipe for German Chocolate Cake was created in AMERICA. If you don't believe my television recount, Wikipedia agrees.

And here I was blaming the Germans all these years.

We all know assumptions are bad, but today I want to relate them to our characters. Working on my new Sekrit Project (aka: Squishy), I've been thinking a lot about the process of getting to know those fake people we write so much about.

It's kind of like getting know real people, at least it is for me. Sometimes I think they're one way, and it takes a long time for me to truly see what's going on with them. Because of that sometimes story elements or character choices don't ring true, and I have to go back and figure out what my sneaky characters were hiding.

As an example, I thought my current MC didn't care about popularity. That's what they told me at first, but having written about 70 pages now I see that they were either lying or they don't realize how much they care. I know this is something I will need to go back and smooth out—it is something I couldn't have foreseen or managed because I just didn't know that much about my MC yet. They told me one thing—I assumed it was true.

That's why you always have to dig deeper into your characters. That's why you just can't avoid editing. That first draft is basically full of assumptions—about how the story should go, how the characters should act, what you're trying to say. You don't actually know until you've written it, and editing is like going through and erasing all those false assumptions.

German Chocolate Cake is not from Germany. And my MC really does care about popularity, though they don't want anyone to find out. Good to know.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Happy Writers Society: Respecting Your Own Work

First things first—I have contest winners to announce! The random number generator has spoken. The winner of the hardcopy of Get Well Soon by Julie Halpern is K. Marie Criddle! And the winner of the audio book of Get Well Soon is KT! Congrats, guys, please contact me at natalie (at) nataliewhipple (dot) com and I will get you your prize.

Now, in other business, I need some volunteers (like two or three). These volunteers must be willing to film themselves giving a fake testimonial for a fake infomercial. Yes, you read that right. This fake infomercial may or may not be for fake club funding, just so you know. If you're interested, shoot me an email (I really want it shot to me, no boring "send").

And with that, I'd say it's about time for our weekly pep talk, no?

There's nothing quite like the feeling of a new, brilliant idea invading your mind. It might be my favorite part of the whole writing process. At that point, everything is perfect. You know how amazing this story will be. All the emotions and characters and plot lines are so exciting and fresh. You just know that this book will be incredible.

And then you start writing.

For me, it usually hits between 20-50 pages (aka: the end of Act I)—that dread, that doubt, that oh-my-gosh-I'm-going-to-screw-this-up-BAD.

From there on out, my idea doesn't look so brilliant anymore, but I keep on truckin'. I trust my alphas when they say it's good. By the time I get to edits—and the more I edit—the dumber and dumber the book seems until I start thinking "Why did I ever think this was GOOD? I'm an IDIOT!"

This would be an example of what not to do, or at least a queue to snap yourself out of that kind of thinking.

Our stories, while perfect in our heads, rarely turn out like that on paper. Okay, I'm willing to bet they never turn out like that the first time around. That does not mean the book is worthless or stupid or unsalvageable—it only means it needs more time to grow.

When a child makes mistakes, do we call them stupid or worthless? I hope not. That doesn't help a child improve. It's a rare child who has the drive to overcome those harsh words and prove them wrong. In fact, harsh criticism usually makes the child believe that they are stupid and worthless. It's not the best way to improvement.

We teach that child, don't we? We respect that they are still learning. We show that child how to correct their mistakes. We give them more productive activities. We're patient. We're forgiving. We encourage them to try and try until they get it right. At least we should.

I think we should treat our writing similarly. Sometimes I call my books stupid or worthless. Sometimes I worry they have zero potential before they're even finished. I compare them to polished, published books. To books that are totally different from them. It's not very fair. It's kind of like deciding your child will never graduate high school before they're even done with preschool.

We need to be more forgiving of our work. We need to respect it—whatever stage it's at. It's much easier to improve something when we believe in it, when we see the good in it and seek to bring that out.

If you're at a place where you can't see anything good in your book, I encourage you to sit down and try to remember what made you want to write it in the first place. Write those things down and keep them somewhere you can see. It's extremely helpful—doing just that saved one of my own projects from ridiculously high expectations and criticism.

Because really, if you don't love and respect your work, then who else will? And even if they do, I promise it's no replacement for your own feelings. The bitterness and discontentment will always come back—no matter how much praise you get—if you can't learn to appreciate and respect your stories.