Thursday, March 29, 2012

Can I Be Done Now?

There's a point in every journey where you just stand there, wondering how you got into this mess, and say, "Can I be done now?"

I experience these points all the time. There are small ones that happen daily or weekly, like doing the dishes—the point where I've dug through the mound of cups, bowls, plates and the nasty pots remain. That's the point where I just want to stop and be done, where I feel like I've worked enough.

I remember this point well in college, too. The point when I'd gotten too far in to back out, but not far enough to see the end, and I just wanted to hide in a hole and not face my plight. And of course there's that point in pregnancy, where you just want to be done but you have 3 months left and WHY? Or when running, when you hit that wall where it feels like you want to die rather than take another step.

Of course, there are many of these points in writing as well. I feel this way frequently when I write a first draft or revise, when I must wait for whatever comes next.

And the sad thing is? This point is usually more near the middle than the end.

This is the truth, and yet I always want to think this feeling means I'm almost done. Perhaps because when I get a case of "Can I be done now?" I start to rush. I get antsy and careless and try my hardest to convince myself there's not as much work as there is. I begin to look for short cuts. But short cuts always come at a price, and that price is usually more work in the next phase. You can never escape the work.

One of the hardest lessons I've learned is to resist the "Can I be done now?" feeling. It's hard to do, especially when you have been working so hard for so long, and all you want is to be done but the REAL done is so far away. I have to stop myself from getting hasty, accept that I still have a bunch of work ahead of me, and then find a way to do it with some measure of cheer. In the end, when I've done this instead of rushing forward in an overwhelmed, maddened flurry, I've seen the result I'd hoped for. When I haven't, people usually tell me I have more work to do. Go figure.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Quick Hello

Do you know how long it's been since I got to write in earnest? Not since last June. I've written here and there, but editing has taken over my life to the point that I'm not sure I remember how to draft.

Hopefully, this will end in...two days.

That's when I'll be done with a certain project (Not TRANSPARENT, which is in copy edits! Yay!). That's when I will hopefully be able to breathe for a little bit before the next deluge. And, if I'm lucky, I may even get to write. I hope. I hope. I hope.

I'm starting to think my life will never slow down again, because it seems to be speeding up with every month. Suffice it to say, the blog will be on Sparse Mode until I finish work and get used to having a baby in the house again. It's just one of those things that has to go first, sadly. Not that I won't be blogging, but clearly I can't promise a schedule at this point. I am just hoping I will remember to breathe amongst all the busy.

Friday, March 23, 2012


To make up for my severe lack of posting, I've decided to make my monthly Q&A an entire weekend affair. So between your fourth viewing of The Hunger Games movie and whatever else is happening this weekend, feel free to ask me questions! I will answer everything posted before Monday.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Perfect Days

Some days are just too wonderful to put into words. Not because extraordinary things happen. Not because of anything life-changing. Simply because to anyone else that perfect day would seem...boring.

Yesterday I went to Ikea with my husband.

I picked up my punk kids from school and fed them lunch.

We assembled the baby's dresser as a family.

The room is finally starting to come together, and that fills me with the weirdest sense of joy. I have pictures to paint for the walls. A quilt to sew for the spare bed. Small stuff. Lovely stuff.

I spent the afternoon cleaning my living room and kitchen and playing little games with Ninja Girl on my iPod.

I went out to dinner with close friends to celebrate their good news and birthdays.

We got dessert after.

We talked late into the night.

It was a simple day. A perfect day. Filled with family and friends, work and play. I find it interesting that these are the days that are hardest to write about. Of course it's because there isn't really any conflict in these days. They unfold beautifully, becoming everything you hoped for. They are the best part of life for those experiencing it, and yet the most "uninteresting" to those on the outside. It's days like yesterday that remind me to keep the story, the drama, and the conflict on the page where it belongs. I'll keep the boring "happily ever afters" for myself.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

I Drew Something!

Okay, I've actually drawn a lot, but I haven't been able to post them because my scanner hates me. I don't sketch half as much on the computer, so yeah, no pictures for you. But I thought tonight I'd whip out the old tablet and sketch something up. This is Sonnie, she is the character I wish I were writing while I continue my marathon editing (nine months straight now!).

If you've been around awhile, you've actually read an itty bit of Sonnie's story. It's just for fun right now, and how I long to work on it before I get cold feet!

Monday, March 12, 2012

Alternate Reality

Yesterday at Sunday dinner my younger brother told me he was always surprised I never pursued any sports. He said I probably would have been a good dancer, because I was so coordinated and seemed to catch on to choreography quickly (Yes, I totally rule at Just Dance 3).

I laughed, but at the same time it made me a little...sad? That's not quite the right word. That feeling when you wonder how your life could have been if you'd taken another path. Not out of regret but just out of curiosity. Whatever that word is.

Because the truth is, I wasn't so bad at sports as a kid. I was fast, always in the top five running the mile. My single season on swim team, I went from horrible to one of the best backstrokers my age on the team. I liked to win...really, really hated to lose. I was pretty coordinated, and with more practice I might have been an athlete.

But then boobs (and not small ones). I'm not even kidding. That's why I stopped doing sports. I got SO self-conscious because of my changing figure—and boys noticing—that I couldn't stand to move more than necessary. I stopped running and swimming, refused to dance in public, and never stepped foot on a trampoline again. I was just soooo embarrassed all the time, and it didn't help that I did get crap about the way I looked.

I do wonder sometimes what my life would have been like if things had been different. If I wasn't teased. If I didn't feel so self-conscious. If I just would have kept practicing. Not that I feel like I missed out in any way, but it makes me acutely aware that every little choice in my life has led to where I'm at now. And if I had made different ones, I could be a totally different person. I could have been a high school athlete instead of the girl who spent all extra hours in the art room. Who knows?

It's interesting to think about, and it reminds me of just how intricate a character can be. Every little choice we make in a book changes it. That is both cool and scary. Our stories aren't set in stone, and it's important to explore all the options as we write. Unlike life, we can explore all the paths and see which one makes for the most compelling read.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Happy Writers: You Can't Read The Future

It's an unfortunate truth that none of us really know what tomorrow brings. The funny thing is that, despite all of us understanding this, we all seem to try anyway.

I do this far more than I want to admit, and it usually comes in the form of assuming NOTHING will EVER CHANGE. I use all caps because I tend to think this falsehood with a ridiculous amount of drama. And it applies to my whole life, even when I know it's not true. Like if I have a cold, on day two of sore throat and cough and sniffles I'm always like, "This will NEVER end! I will be sick FOREVER and I hate being sick WHY is the universe doing this to ME????"

Sounds pretty stupid, right? It totally is. And yet every time I get sick, I do this. Even when I know I won't be sick forever. Even when I know it's not that bad. Even when I know 100% that I'm being irrational.

Here's a few things I've said to myself over my years in pursuit of publication that were equally as silly:

"I will never finish this book."

"I will never get this book right."

"No one will ever notice me or care about my writing."

"I will never get an agent."

"I will never sell a book."

"I will never get another book deal."

"I will never win awards or hit the list or make back my advance or get blurbs or good reviews or fan sites or whatever-else-I-feel-like-whining-about-currently."

Why do I always base the future on my present circumstances? I don't know the answer to that question, but I do it pretty frequently.

I remember vividly when I was querying and then going through submissions to publishing houses. My outlook was directly influenced by the last few responses I'd gotten. If I had a couple requests from my query, I'd be all, "I AM GOING TO BE A BESTSELLER THEY LOVE ME." Two rejections later it would be, "I AM NEVER GOING TO SELL ANYTHING I SUCK." When I was on sub, if an editor rejected because "they didn't connect with the characters" or "they didn't see a place for it in the market" or "it started too slow" or "it started too fast," I would automatically assume every other editor out there thought the same thing. I was doomed. FOREVER.

But the truth is—You do not know what's going to happen in the future.

My book is debuting in paperback. Does that mean all of my books will? I don't know. My book is a standalone. Will all my books be standalones? Will I only write in one genre? Will I stay with the same publisher? Will I sell more books? Will people even LIKE my books? Will I be in this pre-debut stasis forever and ever? No, of course not. Things can change overnight. OR, in most people's cases, they change gradually, until you're looking back and wondering how you even got to where you are when it felt like you never would.

I feel that way a lot now, remembering the long hard journey that was my five years querying and being on sub. I look back and wonder how I even survived. How I got here. But there's one thing I know for sure—I never would have guessed it would turn out like it did.

We all want to find reasons for why things happen the way they do. I think writers especially want to, since stories are built on such things. But sometimes there aren't reasons. Why did it take me five years and another author only two? Why is that book being published and not mine? Why did that agent love this book but rejected mine? Sometimes the frustrating truth is the good ol', "Just because."

Try not to let the whys and the what-ifs get you down. They are so far out of your control it will only drive you crazy to try and answer those questions. Just remember that the future, no matter how bleak today seems, can still be bright. A rejection today doesn't mean one tomorrow. Failure now doesn't mean failure always. And good things work the same way—they can go away, too. None of that means your dreams won't happen. If you keep going, one day you'll be looking back at the long road you've traveled, marveling at how far you've come...

...and how far you still have to go.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Back Up Your Work

I confess, I haven't been super great at backing up my work. I do it about every month, and I figured that was good enough. Then last night my computer just stopped working—right before my usual monthly back up.

Let me tell you, it was one of the scariest things I'd experienced professionally, even though I wouldn't have lost "that much" because I did back up a month ago. BUT. I would have lost the entirety of the edit I just finished, which I'd been working on for the last three weeks. It was my first full edit of House of Ivy and Sorrow, and the thought of going back to my first draft was terrifying.

Usually I have a copy of my work in gmail, either from sending chapters to crit partners or manuscripts to my agent/editor. This is probably why I haven't stressed much about backing up my stuff—I know I have a copy elsewhere that I can access not only on my computer.

This time I didn't. The second draft I've been working my butt off on didn't exist anywhere but my computer (that has since changed), and the thought of losing it sent me into a fit of panic. Not only was I possibly going to lose a month's worth of work, but it was work I had a deadline for. I didn't have TIME to lose it when I'm already on a tight schedule (aka: baby due in about 10 weeks). It would have been a huge problem if I lost that one single file.

Luckily (very, VERY luckily), the end of this scenario is happy, because I happen to be married to a computer guy, who was able to resolve everything by the end of the night. No waiting on pins and needles until Monday morning to take it to a store and find out whether or not I lost all that work (I might have gone crazy.). Nick was even able to repair my computer, which at first we thought was dead. It felt like a miracle, and the first thing I did was back up all my stuff (Then I kissed him, because seriously.).

As I lay in bed last night thinking about it all, a strange realization hit me: I can't be flippant with my backups anymore. This is my JOB now (Such a weird thought!). Every draft I write is potentially something I could sell, and setbacks have bigger consequences than ever.

I know, I'm slow coming to this realization. But I really never thought of it that way! Before having an agent or editor, I wrote a lot of stuff. Sure, I didn't want to lose it, but if I did I had the time to recreate it. The deadlines were all my own, even if I took them seriously. Now I have people expecting my work at certain times. Real, live people who make part of their living off my words. That is a huge responsibility (And kinda scary at times, gotta say). I can't afford to lose a month's worth of work because I am forgetful about backing up my computer.

So get in the habit now. It's not hard to back up files, and you never want to be in a situation where you've lost work. I've certainly been scared straight.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy Writers: Pity Parties

First, go check out my vlog for Friday The Thirteeners today! I rarely vlog, so it's not like you can see my acne ridden face all the time. I also talk about how gray characters can get in YA, with examples! I even tried to sound smart. "Try" being the operative word.

For Happy Writers today I want to talk about the undeniable fact that it is impossible to be happy all the time. I know this very well, since despite my best efforts to remain positive there have been moments where I am beyond UNhappy with my journey.

And that's okay!

We are all human after all. Being able to purge yourself of all sadness, guilt, frustration, and jealousy is not something many of us will be able to accomplish in this lifetime. And I personally believe it can be very damaging to keep those feelings bottled up. Sometimes you have to allow yourself to feel them, acknowledge them, and then let them go.

This is why I am a big fan of the Pity Party. Yes, I actually hold my own personal pity parties on occasion. They last a day, in which I am allowed to feel as miserable as I'd like. I say to myself—and sometimes even friends—all those things that scare me or frustrate me. I usually cry. I most always eat poorly. And when the day is over I move on with my life.

Yesterday was one such pity party. I just felt down, and honestly it has been awhile since I felt so cruddy about my writing. I've actually been feeling great about where I'm at, so it really threw me off for these feelings to come out of seemingly nowhere. So I took a day. I whined and worried and listened to the dark whispers of my heart.

It wasn't very fun.

But it's a good reminder that I can let myself hang out in misery or pick myself up and determine to get on with my work and my life. Sometimes you have to feel the sadness to remember that seeking happiness is far more productive and enjoyable.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

My Love/Hate Relationship With Revisions

I hate revising. No, seriously. It's torturous to me. Every time I have to sit down to revise, I get this pit in my stomach and an urge to put it off as long as possible. Heck, for a long time I did as little editing as possible, even when I knew my work needed it. I just hoped to slide by. It's something I have to force myself to do, to take seriously, to spend the amount of time I really need. I envy those who love revisions. If I never had to revise again I'd be a happy person.

But there's just one problem with that—I LOVE what revising does to my books. When it comes down to it, revision is what makes my books worth reading. They might have potential in draft form, but without a serious commitment to making that book better? Yeah, it's just not enough. It's like deciding to bake a cake, but getting tired after you make the batter and just deciding to serve it as is. Which, hey, batter is yummy, but that whole raw egg thing is an issue. It's not finished. You can't serve batter to people and expect them to compliment you on your excellent baking skills. Nor can you serve a half-baked cake. Or one without frosting. And hey, people will love it even more if it's pretty and decorated.

Great, now I want cake.

Anyway, while I don't think I will ever LOVE editing, I have come to respect it as a big part of the process. A big part of the reason I was able to sell a book. I used to see revision as The Enemy. It was this thing meant to tear down me and my work; it made me feel bad about my abilities as a writer; it was a roadblock in my path to publication. Even now, it reminds me I'm not perfect, and that is not something a perfectionist likes to hear.

There was a point where my mentality changed. And I know the exact point. I used to revise because I HAD to. That's what everyone told me I should do, but my heart was never in it. I revised for my crit partners. And, yes, I even revised for my agent. I grit my teeth and did what I was told, and unfortunately my lack of passion showed. My book was failing on sub when I sent my agent another...

...and that agent told me to rewrite the whole thing.

Basically, I was told the book was not well conceived. It didn't work, and the only thing that could save it was if I restarted at page one. My first reaction was shock. It wasn't as if I handed over a first draft—I'd spent half a year "revising" it. Then I got angry. How could my agent demand so much? Then I just crashed, wondered why I was even writing in the first place.

After a month of thinking about my book, I decided to rewrite. I came to some very important conclusions: First, yes, my agent was right. The book wasn't enough as it was. And secondly, this story deserved my best effort.

It was probably the first time I ever thought about my story separate from what I wanted. It was the first time I committed to doing what it took for a novel to truly be its best. Maybe I hated revisions. Maybe I didn't want to rewrite or admit I got it wrong the first time, but for some reason I felt like I owed it to that story, those characters. My goal changed from getting a book published to making that book what it deserved to be, and the only way to do that was to revise the crap out it. And there was A LOT of crap.

Well, that book was TRANSPARENT, and I don't think it's a coincidence that it's also the first novel I was able to sell. It was my 10th novel, and maybe it's sad that it took me so long to figure out the real purpose of revision but I'm glad I eventually got there.

I've finally learned that, while I will never like revision, it's what turns my good idea into an actual book. I've learned that I have to treat my first drafts with respect, and the only way to do that is to make them what they deserve to be. Alas, that means I have to do what it takes to make my drafts into novels.