Saturday, December 31, 2011

New Year, New Phase

So 2011 was pretty good to me. After five years of flopping around in the publishing waters, I finally sold a novel. There were other lovely things, but I'll always remember this year for that one event.

2011. The year I sold my first book.

The year I reached a lifelong goal.

The year that one phase ended, and another began.

Funnily enough, 2012 is probably going to be my quietest year in the publishing business in a long time. It's so weird, to think I really have no major goals for myself on the writing front this year. Mostly, I get to chill out as all these amazing people at HarperTeen put my book together. I can't wait to see how it all turns out!

So what will I be doing in 2012? My biggest goal is to make a point to be happy every day. I spent most of 2010 miserable, and even a fair part of 2011 has been coming to terms with all the emotions left over from 2010. This year—this year is a year for good things.

I get to be a mom again. I'm pretty excited about that. Nervous, of course, since it's been four years since we've had a baby in the house, but very excited.

I really hope at least one story will sweep me away, cart me off into its world and chain me there until the book is done. But if it doesn't happen, I have plenty of editing and work to keep me busy. I'm okay with that.

With how extremely ill I've been with this baby, I'm really, really looking forward to getting healthy again. I never thought I'd say that, but I miss the strength and stamina my body used to have. I miss the energy it gave me. I miss feeling like I could totally out run the zombies in the apocalypse.

2012. It's gonna be a quiet year. A wonderful year. I just know it. I'm saving all the debut freak out for 2013;)

Monday, December 26, 2011

When You're Bad At Something

I am genuinely bad at things. And don't give me that, "Oh, come now, you're really good at _____," stuff. I'm not looking for compliments here. I just feel like it's important for people (especially kids and teens) to know that most things don't come naturally, and just because you're bad at something doesn't mean you always will be.

I still remember my first endeavor to cook solo—I was around eleven, and I was going to make myself a grilled cheese sandwich. Well, it was the saddest sandwich ever. I put the butter on the inside. I cut the cheese too thick. I had the stove on too high, so it burnt before the cheese even got warm.

I wasn't a great writer growing up. I enjoyed writing, for sure, but my writing was hit and miss. I was a terrible speller (I even wrote "I'm a good speler" in a list of attributes about myself in 2nd grade, ha.) (I'm still a really shaky speller, even after my minor in editing). I never got my paper read in front of the class by the teacher, etc. and so forth.

Art was the same way. I was never the best in my class. I never got first place in a show. To this day I am not strong with any kind of paint. Me and paint don't get along at all. And even when I try realism it still looks like a cartoon.

I could go on, but I think that's enough. The truth is that I don't really have any natural talent. I've tried a lot of things, and it's never been one of those moments where I just magically had skill. Not with the flute. Not on the swim team. Not singing. Not running. Not acting. Not gymnastics. Not playing Go. Not blogging. Nothing. And yet I've always had this dream or hope or whatever that there's something out there I'm "meant to do." You know what I mean—that thing that is so entwined with my destiny I know immediately that this is my future and I will be amazing at it.

This probably sounds totally ridiculous, but I remember very vividly how it seemed like that growing up. I'd see my peers doing amazing things, and it seemed that talent sprouted out of their very being with no effort whatsoever. I thought maybe if I found my own talent I'd be amazing like that, too.

But everything was hard. I have a suspicion it was hard for most of the people I admired as well, though it didn't seem like it back then. It felt like all I did was fall on my face a lot. Some things I stuck with because I just loved them so much, like art. Drawing was, oftentimes, my refuge. I got better only because I drew literally every single day. I have the 13+ notebooks to prove it, not to mention all the portfolios from classes still taking up space in my parents' storage.

Shockingly enough, I didn't make leaping improvements in my writing until I started working on it everyday either. Take a guess on what made me a better cook—I'm sure it's obvious.

The things that I am good at now are a result of loving that thing and then working really hard to do it well. Actually, not entirely true. I didn't like to cook, but had to because there's no way we could afford to eat out often. If I wanted good food, I had to learn to make it myself. It was a skill that came out of necessity and then turned into something I really love. But anyway, the common denominator here is work.

Work sucks sometimes. I can't tell you that if you work harder than anyone else you'll be on top. If that were true, I would be way further ahead than I am. But alas, I'm still up against some people who have honest-to-goodness talent. It's hard to deal with sometimes. I won't lie and say I'm totally fine when someone who has put in half the work and time I have gets twice the reward I do. It's hard to accept—important to accept—but hard. It's hard to have to start so far behind the pack at times. It's hard to face so much failure, to not be able to learn and improve as quickly as others. And it's especially frustrating when a Natural Talent doesn't even TRY and still does better than you, and worse, doesn't even care or appreciate the thing they're so good at.

When I think about how hard it can be sometimes, it isn't any wonder I keep looking for that Magical Thing I'm Good At.

But on the flip side, there are some comforts in all this sucking at stuff. For one, I do believe with all my heart that anyone can improve in something if they want to. It doesn't matter what it is—you can go after it and do it well. It might take twice as long. You may never be as good as a prodigy. But you as a human being have the potential to succeed. It is part of all of us.

Work, practice, determination—these things put us on an even playing field. Of course, the field might not look even (it often doesn't to me), but it is, because those who have to work harder often gain secondary skills the naturals don't. I mean, I don't love that I know how to work out of pure necessity, but it comes in handy. When the going gets tough, I don't stop. Sometimes those who've had it easier do. When you are naturally bad at stuff, you are also more likely to continue pushing yourself, never quite trusting that's you've "made it." Whereas someone with natural talent runs the risk of resting on their laurels and not going outside their comfort zone.

Basically, I'm saying my extra experience in the Field of Sucking helps me come out on top at times. Who knew?

Eventually, all the work you do starts to look a lot like talent to people on the outside. Lots of people tell me I'm talented at certain things now, but I know the truth and am mostly proud of that truth. There was very little talent involved, and nor is there likely to be a random sprouting of it in the future. If I want to be good at something, the only way for me to get it is through hard work and endurance.

At this point you might want to say work is my true talent, but even working hard took me a long time to learn. I used to give up rather quickly, until I realized that the things I did often were the things I was best at. The "doing often" brought on the "best at," not the other way around.

So if you're bad at stuff, take heart and realize you're actually in the majority. The older I've gotten, the more I've realized that "natural talent" is kind of a myth. And even if it isn't, talent is nothing without the work part. Better to put in the effort at something than spend your life waiting for that one magical talent.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Edits! More Edits!

There's nothing quite like your book showing up on the doorstep, all marked up with edits. Like most things in publishing it is a strange cocktail of feelings.

At this point it kinda feels like a countdown—one more task closer to that publication date. Right now my book being "out there" still feels pretty far away, but I hear stuff speeds up the closer you get.

It's weird, this post-book-deal thing. I don't think I was really prepared for the...waiting. Ironic, I know. I've done a lot of waiting! But I guess I just pictured all that "fun publishing stuff" happening fairly soon—you know, the new stuff like a cover or blurbs or selling foreign and what not—when really there's this whole editing pipeline you have to go through first. And frankly, that editing pipeline is a lot like what I've been doing for my crit partners and my agents for the last few years, except with even higher stakes.

Maybe that's why it still doesn't quite feel real yet. I don't know. It's kind of like watching a picture develop. The image of me as Author Person is slowly showing up on the paper, and I'm squinting to try and make out what I (and my work) looks like. Except I still can't quite see it. The darkest spots are coming in. There's certainly something there, but I still have to wait to see the whole picture.

I really should be better at waiting by now!

Anyway, I am excited for these edits! Excited to be making some kind of progress. I am hoping it'll help me see yet another facet of this developing picture.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monday, December 19, 2011

What's For Dinner: Bleu Cheese Salad

It's time for another recipe! As you may have seen on Twitter, I officially have gestational diabetes again. Third time. I'm a veteran here. What that means is that I basically have diabetes until the baby is born, and I manage my glucose levels through my diet (The goal is not to have insulin if you can, and so far I've been able to do that). Managing through diet simply means that I eat a measured amount of carbs in each meal, so my levels stay even. I can still eat whatever I want, just so long as I stay within my limits.

So for instance, tonight I really wanted to eat some clementines. Because that's how I wanted to get my carbs, I needed a low carb dinner. Salad is great for that! And there are so many ways to make a salad filling. This is definitely NOT the healthiest salad calorie-wise, but it's packed with protein and veggies which equal nutrients. That's how I think of healthy. Here's the simple recipe, which you can adjust to the amount of people you're making it for:

Bleu Cheese Salad

• Romaine Lettuce, chopped
• Red cabbage, chopped
• Carrot, shredded
• Cucumber, sliced
• Tomato, sliced
• Red onion, sliced
• Black olives, sliced
• Almond slices
• Cubed grilled chicken or chopped bacon (or both!)
• Bleu cheese crumbles
• Balsamic vinegar reduction
• Your choice Bleu cheese dressing

• Clean, cut, chop, and slice all vegetables and place in a large bowl and toss.

• Cook bacon/chicken as desired. For the chicken, I do a simple grill with olive oil. I season the chicken with garlic salt, pepper, and italian seasoning.

• In a small pot, pour balsamic vinegar and set on medium heat. Bring to a boil and let it reduce until the liquid is syrup-like (a good indicator is if it nicely coats a spoon). Let reduction cool while assembling the rest of the salad.

• Divide salad into desired portions, add almonds, chicken/bacon, bleu cheese crumbles as you'd like. (You can also add croutons, but I don't because of the diabetes thing, obviously.)

• Lightly drizzle dressing and a couple spoons of the balsamic reduction over the salad. Serve and enjoy.

Simple, right? I'm all for simple. Cooking doesn't have to be complex to be good.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

Think, Think, Think

I wrote a novel earlier this year called House of Ivy and Sorrow. I'm quite fond of it, as are my crit partners who've read it, but there has always been an...issue.

That's the thing with first drafts, of course. They can't be perfect. I'm well aware. But the thing about this issue was that it was pretty important to the book, and I knew I hadn't hit the notes I wanted to. I knew there was something missing. I knew that the biggest revisions would be surrounding this one thing.

Problem was, I didn't actually know how to FIX it.

I could have gone in there and tinkered around, edited it a few times to see if I got closer. This time I didn't do that. House of Ivy, seven months later, is still essentially a first draft. I've cleaned up about 50 pages of it, but that's all before the Big Stuff that needs to change more drastically. For the first time in like...okay, ever...I just let the project sit, having faith that it would reveal itself eventually.

And it did! This month I've been thinking a lot about the book. Not making notes. Not rereading. Just thinking about it, about the issue, about all the different ways to fix it. Time is an amazing thing, because the perfect solution has presented itself, one I'm sure I wouldn't have thought of seven months ago.

I used to be afraid of time. If I let a project sit, the opportunities would pass me by. Or I wouldn't like it much when I came back. Or my voice would have changed too much to keep working on it. Well, I was wrong. My voice and writing always improves, but that's a good thing, and bringing that extra skill to a manuscript never hurts. When I take the time a book needs, I've never been disappointed by the results. Only when I've rushed have I found myself cursing hindsight.

I am SO excited about House of Ivy and Sorrow, especially now that I have those puzzle pieces I felt were missing before. I feel like I won't be going into the revision blind. I feel like I finally know how to make this book what I wanted it to be. And I'm so very glad I waited for that spark of inspiration, even if it took longer than usual to find.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

All Day Q&A

It's that time again! Ask me anything you'd like. It can be about writing or my books, but it definitely doesn't have to be. I know you are all dying to know which Korean dramas I'm watching and what I'm doing for my upcoming birthday, too. Or not. Whatevs. I'll be here all day. All questions asked before I wake up tomorrow (usually like 10 Mountain Time) will be answered.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Writing Beginnings Part 3: World Building

Okay! Sorry for the little time gap in posting the rest of the series, but here we are! I think this might be the last one, unless I decide I have more to say. Who knows?

I think one of the hardest things to do in the beginning is get a reader settled in a world. Even writing contemporary, you still have to lay down a setting and world that makes sense and feels real, not like we're watching people on stage. The faster you can make a reader feel comfortable with your world, the easier it will be for them to get sucked into a story.

No matter what type of book you are writing, there's probably a setting. Maybe it doesn't play a huge role, or maybe the setting is almost a character itself. Either way, you need to make sure the setting is understood. Readers don't like to float in the nether too long—grounding a reader in your novel is essential.

So how do you do that? Well, there are lots of ways. There are also lots of way to confuse a reader, too. As with most things in writing, there needs to be a balance (which is why we spend so much time editing).

Focus on setting details that are "important." As a writer, we tend to know most everything about our novels, right down to what things look like. But that can also mean we might go over board in description. Now, don't get me wrong, having a lot of description isn't necessarily bad, but you have to think about what matters most. When you choose to describe something, you're saying that it has significance in some way. Be mindful of that. Describe what matters most to your characters, what stands out in the scene, what might foreshadow future events in the book.

Let's try a random example. Say you're describing a street lamp. This description can be either important or superfluous depending on your story. If it's just your ordinary street lamp, maybe it doesn't merit extra description, but what if it's your character's first time in a new city? What if she notices how bright the lights are in comparison to the country? Or how strange the craftsmanship is compared to where she is from? Then it might be something to signify to the reader that this place is foreign, a setting detail worth talking about.

Another major thing to always consider is what I call "immediate relevancy." (I will likely be repeating this in the other sections because it is that important.) When building a world, the information you give must always be needed at that moment, otherwise it has great potential to confuse or bore a reader. Like say you're talking about these weird street lamps when the MC has not seen one yet—instead of being interesting, it'll be, "Uh, what's with the street lamp conversation? Weird." You don't need to "prep" your reader for these uber weird street lamps, just mention them when they get there. In fact, you'd be surprised how littler prep a reader needs—trust that they will follow you just fine.

World Rules
Writers of fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal, etc. have a special task in building a world that is different from our own, and that world comes with rules the reader must understand, and hopefully understand quickly. If there is magic, the guidelines must be explained. If there are flying ships, there must be a feasible reason. If there's time travel, it has to be believable in that world. It can be a challenge to have a reader buy your world, to believe in it.

Again, here it's important to give information as it becomes immediately relevant. Listing off all the rules to the magic system in the first chapter just isn't going to cut it. First, it'll be boring, and second those rules will be forgotten because they'll have no significance to the reader yet. Not to say you can't have rules in the first chapter, but just like introducing characters, it should be a gradual thing.

If possible, showing the rules and world should be the go to. Don't just say "These are the penalties for using this type of magic." Show your MC losing her eyesight for a day because she cast a certain curse. That makes the world memorable and the rules clear.

But in this showing, you have to be careful to avoid the "As you know, Bob" pitfall. This is when characters explain things they should already know, and it's pretty obvious that it's being explained for the reader's sake only. It can be tricky to avoid these moments (and you'll notice a lot of characters are novices at something because it makes things easier to explain since you learn along with them), but doing so makes for a stronger beginning and a more authentic world/character set.

Lots of people are afraid of backstory (Thanks to the criticism of the flashback, I think.), but no story is complete without at least a little. Stories don't happen in a vacuum, and no matter what your world is like, something happened before your story and something will happen after. Sometimes the things that happened before are a surprisingly vital part of the characters' current struggles, and you need back story to get across the full impact of your novel.

Again, I will repeat the importance of immediate relevancy. With backstory it is most important, otherwise readers will ask, "Why are you telling me this?" It has to be clear why, and usually then the reader won't even notice that you've stopped the forward motion to tell them about the past. I've seen very long passages of backstory that work just fine in novels because that information was essential to understanding either the plot or the characters' motivations.

But like most anything in a story, backstory can go awry as well. It's one of those things that we as writers can get carried away with if we're not careful. I personally try to use it sparingly; usually if you only use it when absolutely necessary, you won't go overboard. It shouldn't be an excuse to add extra detail—it should be used as a tool to move the story forward.

Ultimately, world building in the beginning should make a reader "comfortable" with your world. That's not to say that the story has to start off calm, only that world details should always be clear and concise and helpful to a reader. Confusion can be not only frustrating, but it can cause distrust in you as an author. If something doesn't make sense, or if an obvious question isn't answered, a reader loses faith. I wish it weren't true, but it is. Having a solid world, whether it's on a magical plane or in Clovis, CA, is an essential part to a solid beginning.

Now, that ends the series, but if you have any questions feel free to ask in comments. I'll be checking often.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Writing Beginnings Part 2: Introducing Characters

Yesterday I talked about the bare bones plot every beginning has, and today I thought I'd go on to characters because I like them the best. For me, characters are what make a book unique, and they are a big factor in hooking your reader from the gate. As you saw, beginning plot is basically variations on a theme (event/choice that changes character's life), but that plot may not strike the right chord if the reader lacks sympathy for your main character (MC).

Tips & Pitfalls:

• TIP: When helping the reader get to know your MC, focus on what I like to call "universal human characteristics." This might sound boring up front, but what I mean is—focus on helping the reader understand your MC's fears, hopes, desires, etc. Desires can be especially endearing/sympathetic. If we know your character has always wanted to be a pilot, and that something is keeping them from that goal—bam—we're instantly rooting for them (and notice that will make for good future plot elements). These characters traits are what suck readers in because they can relate.

• PITFALL: Be careful not to give unnecessary information about your characters. If the MC has always wanted to be a pilot, but it has NO bearing on your story whatsoever, it will misguide the reader to care about something that doesn't get answered. Frustration will ensue.

• TIP: Save some information for later. Sometimes we feel like readers need to know everything about our characters the first time we meet them (Because how could a reader understand our story otherwise?). But really readers just need to know enough not to get lost. Trust them—readers are smart. Personally, when introducing new characters, I try to pick a few memorable things and leave the rest to the character's actions. Much more is said through how your characters interact than what you can say about them in an intro. Plus, saving info makes for great future plot twists. The beginning is for laying a foundation, not giving a full picture.

• PITFALL: The dreaded character soup. I tend to have large casts in my novels, and it can be tricky when introducing all the characters. The key is to do it gradually. Of course there isn't a right or wrong number, but personally I feel it gets confusing if you have more than three intros in one scene. Even then, they have to be very distinct characters so people don't lose track.

• TIP: Make characters stand out with specific, yet succinct, details. And not only in appearance, but in motives, beliefs, and attitudes. If your MC has three best friends and they all like cheerleading and watching the CW, I can guarantee you no one will really remember them. If you make one of them a raging environmentalist who constantly complains that they should have "green" pompoms and 100% cotton uniforms, I bet you every reader will remember her over the others.

• PITFALL: Don't get carried away in character building. This can be an issue for me, at least. While it's fun to have characters bantering back and forth and being funny, it's important that they are also always moving the plot forward. Characters shouldn't just be "hanging out." They need to be doing. Acting and reacting. Their conversations, interactions, and choices should contribute to a general forward motion and purpose.

Now, those are character specific tips/pitfalls, now I'll try to relate this to the plot information of last post. Every character has an arc just like the plot, and ideally the plot arc and MC arc are really quite intertwined. That's why your hero/heroine is the MC, after all. When talking about that "changing moment" and resulting choice all beginnings have, I'm talking about the MC.

But don't forget the other characters! If you want to breathe real life into your novel, take a look at those other characters. Do they exist for the sake of the MC alone? Are they plot devices? Or do they have their own lives? Of course their arcs aren't as large as the MC, but every character in a novel should be growing and making their own choices—not just choices that are convenient for the story, but real, logical choices. The events of your novel should have just as much impact on those characters (and their relationships with each other), and that impact should vary as much as people do.

Let's take a quick look at Harry Potter again. How does the beginning change the characters? Of course Harry is empowered—he's a wizard and feels important, though probably apprehensive and curious, etc. The Dursleys? Well, they change, too. They continue their cruelty and hatred of him, but they are more frightened of Harry and that alters things—he eventually gets a real room and everything. That event not only changed Harry, but them as well.

The web of characters and their reactions, motives, and relationships can get pretty overwhelming to keep track of, especially as you go along in a story, but that's part of what makes a novel sing. Real live characters—not just a vibrant main character—bring a story to life. Establishing those characters throughout the beginning is essential to building a story that readers can get behind.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Writing Beginnings: Part 1

It's been a while since I've given out some writing advice, but recently I've been thinking a lot about beginnings. If there was one part of writing I would say I'm okay at, I would say it was beginnings. Not that I write a perfect beginning every time, it's just that "setting up a story" seems to be something my brain understands. Everything after that? Well, it gets a little shaky from there.

But I figured maybe I could share some of the ways I approach the beginning of a novel, some of the common threads in all beginnings, and also some of the pitfalls. Today I'll cover the plot aspect.

Part 1: Getting The Plot Moving
I've been told some writers get ideas for super awesome endings, and they have to write the rest of the book to get there, not really knowing what the rest might be. Well, I'm the opposite. I rarely know the climax of my books when I start. What I get is, essentially, a beginning. Something happens to my character that is like that first domino—it sets off a chain reaction.

This is a common denominator in every beginning ever written. Something changes for the main character. Some call it the Inciting Incident, but I'm not going to get too technical here. Look at any book and you will be able to find this change somewhere in the first, oh, 100 pages (though I personally think it should be WAY sooner than that, but I'm gonna be generous and consider genres with much bigger word counts).

I'll name a few that might ring a bell:

• A boy gets a curious letter from a giant.

• A boy gets a curious ring from an uncle.

• A girl falls down a rabbit hole.

• A group of siblings walk through a wardrobe into a strange world.

• A girl sees a beautiful, mysterious hot guy across the cafeteria.

• A girl watches her sister be picked for a horrible game.

Of course, the thing about that life-changing event is that a lot can be debated. I've seen actual fights over what the true Inciting Incident of Harry Potter is. Not even kidding. So maybe you don't agree with the changes I chose, but that's not really the point. The point is that there IS a change in your character's life—a significant one that puts them outside their comfort zone. Maybe an old lover shows up in town after ten years. Maybe an army burns down their home and kills their parents. Or maybe it's as simple as moving to a new place.

Stories are inherently a string of conflicts and choices, so when you're thinking of how or where to start a story, think of that moment where the dominos start toppling. That moment that takes your character from stasis to action.

Now, the changing moment is only half of the basic beginning plot equation. The other half is your character's choice. No beginning is complete until your character not just blindly reacts to the moment of change, but decides to DO something about it.

• Harry Potter decides to go to Hogwarts.

• Alice decides to eat/drink and goes through the door.

• Katniss decides to take Prim's place.

That decision, in my opinion, is the marker for the end of the beginning. It can happen a chapter in. It can happen 50 pages in. This is when you enter the middle territory, where your character goes through a series of try/fail as they live with their decision and try to accomplish their new goals. (This is usually where I stop writing and go, "Well crap, what now?" It never fails.)

Pitfalls in the plotting category are pretty straightforward—either you start too soon or too late. While it is important to establish the character's normal life pre-change, there is such a thing as too much. Of course, that depends on the story, and there isn't really a formula. But in TRANSPARENT, for example, I wrote a new first chapter because I started a little too late and had a bunch of backstory that could have been better explained in a scene than the way I did it. I've also started too early and had to cut first chapters.

You also have to be mindful of the gap between that changing moment and when your character makes their decision. Again, every story is different, but you can only drag out that choice so long. There's a point where it runs the risk of stagnating or frustrating the reader. On the other hand, a decision can be too hasty as well. Basically, it has to fit your story just right, and that can take some tweaking for maximum impact.

It sounds simple enough, right? Something big happens to your main character, and they make a choice about what to do. Well, let's not forget you have to do that while establishing setting, character, and backstory, not to mention laying the foundation for future conflict. SO EASY. Ha. I'll be talking about these issues throughout the rest of the week, so be sure to stay tuned!

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

I Have A Raging Inferiority Complex. Not Surprising, Right?

I'm thinking it's about time for me to go on what my friend Renee calls a "Philosophical Journey." Like most people, I have some issues to resolve, and they need to be resolved before my book debuts.

Because if I'm being honest, I have a lot of very mixed feelings about TRANSPARENT.

But let's start way back in my life. Put simply, I was bullied. The reasons weren't always clear to me as a child. Sometimes it seemed to do with my being Mormon. Sometimes it was that I was smart. Sometimes it was that I wore my aunt's hand-me-downs and looked poor and scraggly. At one point it was because I liked a certain guy. Whatever the reasons, the message I got very early on from people was that I wasn't good enough. I was lesser. And because of that I didn't deserve friendship or kindness.

It hurt. I couldn't show that it hurt, of course, so I had to over compensate. I worked harder in school and became smarter. I poured myself into the few things I did feel like I was good at. I held on to my few friends with a death grip (though they always eventually left or I moved or whatnot). I acted like the toughest, strongest person I could in hopes that no one else would hurt me.

But I was already damaged. Nothing I did was ever good enough. If I didn't get the top score, I was humiliated. If I didn't get the award, it was proof that I still wasn't enough. I was second best. Below. Lesser.

This feeling was so intense that I couldn't even participate in sports. Losing made me feel more horrible than you can imagine—out of control, irrationally horrible. I had nothing resembling sportsmanship, and I was incapable of having fun doing something that could result in my losing. Thus, even though I was a pretty active child, I ended up gravitating to the arts. No clear cut winners or losers, for the most part. It was easier on my damaged mind to remind myself that the art show or essay contest was subjective.

All this to say I had a pretty healthy, if not thriving, inferiority complex growing up.

And every time I wasn't the best—which was often because of course you're not always the best—I fed that complex. "See? Second again. Never first. You will always be below. Why even bother trying?"

I stopped really trying. Not that I was failing classes, but by high school I never put my all into anything anymore. It was easier that way. Then I could say I didn't do my best, so of course I didn't win. I still did well. I even enjoyed with great humor that I was #29 in the top 30 of my class. That was me—the bottom of the overachievers. Good, but not good enough.

I'm not sure I ever really got over my inferiority complex, but it did lessen in college when I was on a bigger campus and it felt like everyone had their own thing. And it lessened again when I met my husband, who loved me so completely and unconditionally that I'd never felt like a more worthy human being. And once again when I had my first baby, and I marveled at what my body, which I had always taken for subpar, was capable of. I felt powerful after that. I really did.

I'm guessing that's why I started writing in earnest again after that. I'd stopped writing stories when I was 15, after a friend of mine read my stuff and gave me a look I knew said, "How do I put it nicely that I didn't like it?" Yes, it hurt so much I didn't try to write creatively until I was 22.

But I did start again, determined this time to keep going because it had always been a dream of mine since I was a little girl. I thought it was only fair to give that dream a try.

It all started out okay. I was stuck in my habits of not really trying, but I was learning and improving every day. And what was even cooler? The MORE I tried, the MORE success I saw. I think it was one of the first experiences in a long time where I saw marked improvement when I put in effort. Each book I wrote got better, and in turn got me more requests, which eventually led to an agent and being on sub.

Everything up to that point was kind of like healing for me. If I put in the work, I saw that I would get results. Maybe I wasn't the best, but I was getting better and maybe I could get there eventually.

Then 2010 happened. TRANSPARENT happened. I started writing the book in 2009, and I was determined to make this thing super, SUPER clean so my poor agent didn't have to go through so many revisions like he had to for my book on sub. Honestly, I probably fell into my over compensating ways again (aka: perfect way to set yourself up for failure). I went through at least four rounds of beta readers. I even asked a writer whom I greatly admired to read my work for the first time, and she agreed. I printed it out, went line by line. I read it out loud. I did absolutely everything in my power to make this book "perfect." I tried. Really, truly tried.

And my agent told me it should be completely rewritten.

I was devastated. Shocked. You mean all that work I did? It was that bad? My full effort still led to a complete failure?

Not to mention this all happened while my other book was failing on sub. TRANSPARENT was supposed to be my back up book, the one I could switch to quickly if my other book died. Now it was the book that was so bad I didn't even have a safety net. And worse, if it was that flawed, then surely all my other books were even WORSE. I felt like I had nothing. Was nothing. And back came the inferiority complex with a vengeance.

For reasons I still can't quite pin down, I did decide to rewrite TRANSPARENT completely, to the extent that at least 95% of the book was new words. I think maybe I felt like I couldn't write something new, because I'd probably just screw that up. I was obviously incapable of writing anything decent on my own (this is what my complex told me, at least).

Well, every page was...kind of torture. Each moment of rewriting that book was a reminder of my failure, of my inferiority. That year I watched friends debut while my book on sub finally bit the dust, thus cementing my failure more. I watched writers get agents, sell their books, AND come out in the time I was on sub. I had to say goodbye to my agent, who surely had to leave the business because he didn't sell my book and it was ALL MY FAULT FOR SUCKING SO MUCH. Literally the only thing that kept me going were my friends Kiersten White and Kasie West, who read each chapter as I wrote it and professed that it was really good, better than before.

I didn't believe them, but I knew I was messed up enough that I had absolutely no gauge of my own ability. All I could see was how horrible I was. How inferior. But I had to finish the "stupid book" because I had absolutely nothing to sub and a new agent waiting on me.

Well, this is epically long, so I'll cut the part where I had to go on medication for anxiety and depression. But it did get that bad. My inferiority complex almost consumed me whole, and I'm still healing from it.

So, truth be told, every time I get a crit for TRANSPARENT I have a panic attack. I have to fight these overwhelming feelings of pain and loss and inferiority. And yet at the same time, somewhere in all this I do know the book is good. I mean, it did sell, for goodness gracious! The work I did, like all the work I did before, ultimately paid off.

But it's still so very muddled. Even though I've had very positive feedback from my editor and from new readers, I still struggle seeing the book or myself as a writer as having merit. Heck, I can't even call myself an author and I don't know if I'll ever be able to. I find myself reading into things to MAKE them sound like others think the book is inferior, too. Sometimes, I'm so scared for this book to come out that I wish I never did this. Or I decide not to have a launch party. I just want to hide, hide, hide and not give anyone else the chance to decide I'm a loser and a horrible writer. I'm pretty good at doing that to myself.

I've been fighting back, baby step by tiny baby step. I know I can find the strength I once had again, hence the need for a Philosophical Journey. Writing hasn't been very easy since all this went down, but I have been writing. And you know what? Writing has been healing. Writing SIDEKICK in particular was my first step on the path back out of this.

I still have a lot of steps to go, but my goal is to be able to stand up at my launch and honestly say that I'm proud of TRANSPARENT, that it's a good book I love. I have like a year and a half to do that, and I think it can be done.

I guess today I wanted to tell you this because people often say bullying isn't that big of an issue. Well, I'm not proud of it, but I've dealt with the repercussions of others' cruel words my whole life. It did shape part of the way I see myself, and I have to fight to change that perception constantly.

Also, people always say you have to be a tough person to be a writer. Clearly, I'm not so tough. I cry a lot. You don't have to be tough to be a writer or any kind of successful person—you have to have endurance. In Japanese they say "Seven times down, eight times up," meaning you always get back up no matter how many times you get knocked down. You can't be so tough you won't get knocked down sometimes. Getting back up is what matters.

Monday, December 5, 2011

What You'll Really Get Out Of Blogging

Lately I've seen several veteran bloggers come out of the woodworks with honest posts about how they're feeling these days. To sum up: A little fatigued, a little lost, and perhaps a bit disenchanted.

I so get this.

I have been at this blogging/online networking thing for over four years now (which is longer than Ninja Girl has even been alive), and I can certainly say that things have changed a lot in those years. Not necessarily in bad ways,'s different and change takes adjusting to. Let me try and give a little picture to what blogging was like back then (I say this as if it were eons ago, but hey, four years is a while in technology time):

• There was no followers icon.

• Google Reader and the like were fairly new and under used.

• The only way you could really tell that someone read your post was if they commented.

• You could guess your readership by one, slightly inaccurate method—Sitemeter (or similar services). (Now even Blogger gives you detailed stats of most-visited posts and keyword searches by week, day, month, and all time.)

• Twitter was practically brand new, and not very popular yet. Tumblr? Yeah, not around really.

• The easiest way to see if your favorite bloggers had updated was to have a link list on your site and click them obsessively all day in hopes of new content.

• The writers' corner of Blogland was much, much smaller, and most everyone was fairly new to it all.

• No one really knew what blogging would do for us or for our careers (Okay, hopeful future careers).

• But we all had very high hopes anyway.

I honestly get a little nostalgic for the "old days" of blogging. And I have high hopes that new bloggers out there are experiencing that high I did in meeting new people and learning new things. I know that they say blogging has taken a hit, since Twitter and other, shorter media outlets make it seem old and long-winded, but I still think there is a place for blogging. And I think it can be a huge help to writers.

But. There's always a "but," isn't there? For me, I think some of my blogging fatigue has come from facing the reality of what blogging can really do for you. Because while blogging has given me so much, it's not some magic wand that can give you all the things you want out of publishing. It can't give you the control over your career that we all so desperately crave. And now I think it's really important to be realistic about what a blog will do for you.

First of all, blogging can't make you a bestseller. It can't. Yes, there are popular bloggers that have become bestsellers, but it's not all or even much related to the fact that they have a blog. I know, I can't know this for sure, but as I've learned more about this business I've found that there's a lot that is completely out of an author's hand.

In reality, becoming a bestseller is a crazy lucky mash of things, especially for a debut. First it requires at minimum that your publisher labels you a lead title—which means they will print enough of your book to even get close to bestsellerdom. Throw in a perfect cover, good sales to chains and independents, not to mention big backing from their sales force, marketing on a national scale and probably tours, good reviews in visible outlets, high Amazon presales, Rick Riordan/another mega-bestseller not taking up 5 spots on the list, and on and on. Even then? Not often is it guaranteed.

Blogging and online presence is a drop in that bucket, but if you don't have the "big things" you can't magically make it happen (Of course there is still the luck factor, but it's rare as most luck is). There is, truthfully, a lot that is out of your control. And that goes for any writer, no matter what publishing path they take.

You may not be able to turn yourself into a huge seller, even if you are a fairly popular blogger, but that doesn't mean you have no impact. It's important to be realistic about this impact, though, so as not to be disappointed. Meeting people, putting yourself out there even if it is just online, surely will grab you at least a few more readers. That number is hard to nail down, but it will be MORE, and more is always good, right?

I honestly assume that less than half my blog readers will buy my book. Not because I think you are disloyal people who secretly hate me or anything, but come on—there are a lot of books out there! And mine is not for everyone. And money is tight these days. And and and. I will never be offended by someone not buying my book, because I also have to make that choice when purchasing and I can't buy or read all the ones I'd like to. That's just how it goes.

Visibility, not sales, is what we need to remember when we approach online activities, I think. We need to be aware that not every reader will buy our book, but maybe at some point they will. Or maybe someone that person knows will be looking for a book like ours, and they'll be able to recommend it because they KNOW about it.

If someone wants to know about me or my book, I'm here, you know? Just a Google search away. If not? Okay, that's fine. I feel like I'm doing my part at least, but I also know (now) that it's not necessarily integral to my overall success as a writer. (Which is why it's a myth that you HAVE TO blog to be a successful writer, and why I think you should do what's best for you and always make sure your writing comes first.)

So if you're here for sales, I'm afraid you might find blogging a little frustrating, as it is hard to gauge its impact. And honestly, I guess I can't say just how much my blog will impact mine, since my book is still a year and half or so from debuting.

But there are better treasures in this online community, I think, and going after those is what has made all this worth it to me.

Blogging didn't make me friends with John Green or Cassandra Clare or Sarah Dessen, alas. And the truth is, they'd probably still find me a little creepy if I sent them emails about how we should be best friends (No one likes to be told they should be friends with someone, it turns out.). But I have made a lot of friends over the past four years, and watching those friends find success has been one of the most rewarding parts of this process. I mean, if I can't have good news (and I did have a 2-year Good News dry spell), it's fabulous to be able to celebrate the triumphs of your friends. Friends that started out just as green as you. Friends that you've grown with as a writer. Their success is as sweet as my own, if not more (because I didn't have to go through their hard parts).

And the wealth of knowledge online! Man, it's insane what you can learn about writing and this business with just a few clicks. I can tell you that the majority of my writing "education" happened right here, through this blog and the blogs of others smarter than me. People frequently ask me if they should invest in writing classes, and I usually say no because there is SO MUCH right at your finger tips for free. Not that writing classes are bad, but if you're strapped for cash (as I am and might always be), this community is so helpful. The resources are everywhere. Crits are available at so many venues.

To me, this community has always been a place of learning, and I hope it continues to be so because that has been one of the most valuable things I've taken away from this experience. It's why I've tried to give back and hope to continue giving back, because I am grateful to all of you who taught me. I've put those lessons into my writing, and I can safely say that I found success through learning to be a better writer, and I couldn't have done that without you.

That's the true value of blogging right there. It's not the sales or the possible blurb connections or whatever—being online, participating in this community, finding crit partners, can make you a better writer. And that is the best and most lasting kind of success. What comes after that is all gravy.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Out Of Habit

I'm extremely rusty on this whole working thing. After about 6 weeks of intense morning sickness, it's like I've completely forgotten how to be a productive human being. But I was feeling better earlier this week, so I started the edits I need to finish for my agent.

And then Ninja Girl and I got food poisoning. That was fun.

I don't know, I have a feeling it was like some kind of subliminal message my body was trying to send. "Don't work. Working sucks. Just keep being lazy and take many more naps. Forget the writing and housework and cooking. Sleeeeeeep."

It's so easy to continue being lazy. At least for me. This is why I try to continue working on something at all times. Sometimes people call me crazy or too driven or, heaven forbid, dedicated. But the truth is that I know the second I stop it's all downhill. Three months will go by and I'll have nothing to show for it.

I'm really not dedicated at all—quite the opposite. Now that I've taken such a long break, I guarantee you it'll take me a good 3-6 months to get back some momentum in the work department. If not more. Because I'm going to have to battle against the full force of my extreme laziness. I'll have to start with baby step goals, slowly building up my tolerance for lots of work. I feel like I'm back at the beginning of...something.

So I guess what I'm saying is that good habits are priceless, they don't take long to lose, and I hate that I lost mine. They sure take a long time to redevelop, that's for sure. It's the same with writing and cleaning and exercising and eating well, etc.

At least I know from past experience that it's worth it to get back in the habit. I always feel better when I have accomplished things, when I'm full of energy and life. Sadly, I've been weakened in just about every way in the last six weeks, but I'm looking forward to reclaiming some amount of strength and productivity. Heck, maybe I'll even find more things to blog about, now that I'm starting to be more coherent and stuff. Just what you hoped for, right?