Tuesday, February 28, 2012

10 Things I Wish I Would Have Done Differently

I know the PC thing to say is that I don't have regrets when it comes to my publishing journey. I'm not sure "regrets" is the right word, but if I'm being honest there are things I wish I would have done differently (That's kind of the definition of "regret," right?). I thought I would share those with you today, even if they were things I couldn't have possibly known at the time.

So, in no particular order:

1. I wish I didn't query so soon. While I learned a lot from querying four novels, I also think I caused myself more pain and rejection than necessary. The thing is, deep down I knew my work wasn't really ready, but I'd hoped to get in anyway. I was being lazy, trying to do as little as possible.

2. I wish I didn't spend so much time online. I have made great connections and learned a TON from being part of the online community, but at the same time it distracted me from the most important aspect of being a writer—writing. I did it the wrong way. I networked first, focused on my writing second. It should be the other way around.

3. I wish I hadn't cared so much about getting published. That probably sounds weird, but it's one of my biggest regrets. I spent more time trying to be a Published Author than trying to be a Good Writer. It was only when I put being a Good Writer first that the whole Published Author part followed.

4. I wish I'd spent more time studying the craft. I used to think my natural talent would get me through the gate. I would write stories without much thought to if the plot worked or not, if the characters were real or not, if the world made sense or not. I feel like I squandered my talent for a long time because I relied solely on talent instead of pushing myself to get better.

5. I wish I took editing seriously. I spent way too long doing edits that did not cut it. Sadly, it wasn't until my 8th book that I really learned how to revise. Before that, I would do as little as humanly possible to satisfy my crit partners' concerns. I never made big enough changes, never believed I NEEDED to make bigger changes. It was only when I really dug in, saw my story as malleable, that I truly improved.

6. I wish I didn't follow publishing news so closely. Learning about major deals and tours and cover reveals and all that only made me antsy and frustrated. I could have used my time obsessing over those things to write a stellar book. Or five. And I would have had more confidence to do it, too.

7. I wish I spent more time living and less time waiting. Sitting around refreshing my inbox got me nowhere. It sounds harsh, but I wasted a lot of time letting The Wait torture me. I could have been living, doing new things, gaining experiences that would create new stories for me to write. Writing, while it is a lot of work, also requires inspiration, and I let myself get low on that.

8. I wish I read more. I'm a slow reader, but I'm also a bit lazy there, if I'm being honest. I would rather write than read. I wasn't that passionate reader growing up—even then I preferred to tell my own stories. But I could have been learning a lot from reading more. And I always get inspired or learn something new about the craft when I read the work of others.

9. I wish I spent more time with my family. I'm not proud of it, but there was a time that I seriously lost track of my priorities. I let the pursuit of publication take over my life, and well, it made me miserable. No matter what my goals are, I should have never let it jeopardize the rest of my life.

10. I wish I would have focused on being a better writer sooner. It always comes back to your writing. That's one of the biggest lessons I've learned the past five years. Everything goes well when I stop freaking out and just get back to my writing. Becoming a good writer, always seeking improvement, writing stories that challenge my ability, this is the foundation for everything else. When I work on my craft, the rest falls into place. It may not seem like it, but all the other stuff (yes, book deals included) comes second.

Monday, February 27, 2012

I'm A Fish Killer. For Now.

So I've inadvertently become an amateur aquarist. I decided to get Dino Boy a fish, because he had always wanted a pet and we live in an apartment so, yeah, I figured a gold fish would be easy. They are, after all, your standard first pet. You see them in bowls all growing up. You hear they die, but eh, may as well roll the dice for a fairly cheap and easy pet.

Ha. Oh, my naivety.

Turns out taking care of fish is a lot like learning how to write. The first point being that most people *think* writing a book is easy, but they are sorely mistaken. They open up that fresh Word doc with much the same attitude I had bringing home my son's new goldfish. "This will be easy. I know what I'm doing. It can't be that bad." And then there's a dead fish in a month. Or an abandoned, mangled manuscript.

Even after much googling, Petsmart trips, buying a bigger tank, learning how to test water conditions, and buying medication, we lost two poor fish, and the third had a seriously close call, just finally responding to medication. As I've lost these poor guys, due solely to my inexperience and lack of research, I can't help thinking about how I was as an amateur writer. How I am as an amateur anything, really.

I tend to bite off more than I can handle. I get really excited by whatever new thing I'm doing without stopping to think about how it *should* be done. Then, of course, I fail miserably.

Sometimes my failure leads to abandoning a hobby. Like dancing. I was horribly uncoordinated and had no problem saying goodbye without much effort past a few classes. But then there have been other things, like art and writing, where my failures don't seem to stop me from trying and learning more. For some strange reason, fish keeping has been the same way. Despite killing two fish thus far and making just about every rookie mistake, I'm still determined to get this thing down.

It's been weirdly fun to be an amateur again. The fish killing, of course, was horrible, but learning a new thing has been invigorating. And finally garnering some type of success has had me on cloud nine all day. My fish is eating again! I did something right! I saved the poor thing from the fate of his earlier companions! It's like I'm getting somewhere, and I remember those same excited feelings when I began to make progress as a writer as well. That's the fun thing about starting as an amateur—you can usually SEE your progress clearly. The better you get, the harder it is to tell you're improving at all.

Sometimes, I feel like I've peaked as a writer, or maybe not so much peaked...more like, it's become a little stagnant. My improvements are small tweaks, where they used to be huge leaps. While I wouldn't want to go back, and I'm definitely proud of how far I've come, that newness is kind of gone. The victories are quieter. My routine has settled. I know what to expect when I go into a project. None of this is bad—just a different kind of enjoyment that you have to get used to.

I have no idea how far I'll take my newfound enjoyment for aquariums, but I'm happy to have found a New Thing that brings me not only enjoyment, but lessons to learn from. I may have saved one fish, but I'm still far from knowing my stuff. I look forward to the adventure, and this new one has reminded me that my writing road isn't over yet, that there's still excitement and newness and victories to come.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Freshman Fifteen. Or Whatever.

I've been thinking about how selling a book is a lot like going to college. This may be because I write YA, so of course I always think in terms of teen-like transitions. But my emotions seem to be following a freakishly similar path.

Going to college is exciting and new and fun. It's also scary and different and never just as you expect it to be. And that's true no matter what college you go to, no matter how big or small, how prestigious, whatever. In a lot of ways, it's like starting all over again.

Selling a book, it's like I went from a senior in high school to a freshman in college. I'm a newb again. I was comfortable in my old school, over about four years I worked my way "to the top," you could say. Now? So at the bottom. Not in a bad way, just in a "Whoa, so I still have a lot to learn about this publishing thing" way.

I look at the seniors and wonder how I'm ever gonna get there. They seem so cool and chill and experienced, and I feel like I'm fumbling and awkward. Even though I researched college and prepared and packed and went to orientation, it's not the same as experiencing college.

I feel like I've been sitting in a whole set of new classes—Editing For An Editor 101, Contracts 101, Self-Employment Taxes 101. I'm freaking out over my grades, wondering if my professors like me, and all that fun stuff. And then there's the whole making friends thing, learning the line between getting to know people and trying too hard, between "getting your name out there" and pummeling people with your name, between good marketing and marketing that turns people off. There are so many new rules, and I still feel like a fish out of water.

Then comes the whole emotional side. Some things are super exciting, for sure. Like when you DO make new friends or when your editor says she loves your revision. I still can't wait for the moment I get to see my cover. There are so many highs in the growing process, but that doesn't mean there aren't lows, too. I remember feeling like I wasn't anything special when I went to college and saw all these people who were SO talented and hard working and experienced. I feel that way a lot these days, too, wondering how I fit in publishing, marveling at how I even got in when there are so many people brimming with talent. I feel lucky and undeserving all at once.

In the end, I am happy that I ended up in this college, and the lessons I've learned as I approach my first year post-book deal have been rewarding and lots of work. I still have a long way to go, but I feel like I can handle it as long as I focus on what matters most.

I really did gain the Freshman Fifteen again, though. So not cool.

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Spare Room: Or What It's Like To Be In A Black Hole

So we have this spare room. Since Ninja Girl moved into Dino Boy's room about 2 years ago, it's been my office (which didn't last long), a guest room, and most recently a dumping ground for all the things we don't really use much. I mean dumping ground, too. Like, throw the junk in there and shut the door before you see just how bad it's gotten kind of room. Well, now it needs to be a baby room again, and this has proven no small task.

I've spent the majority of the weekend (Thursday AND Friday included) fighting my way through all the stuff. Seven bags for the local donation center (plus other larger objects) and four garbage bags later, it kind of looks like a room. Well, you can see some of the floor now at least. Still a ways to go before it's CLEAN. It's amazing how much STUFF families accumulate. And we're not even a large family or one with a house. I can't imagine if I even had more space. It keep cleaning, and yet the room never seems to get cleaner! It feels like it'll never be done. There's probably a writing analogy in there, but I'm too tired to pull it out.

Anyway, I'm now in bed trying to rest after a four-hour stint in my black hole room, but I thought I'd share some of the more interesting things I came across in my digging. You know, for kicks. (Hey, it's my blog. Deal.)

• All the brochures, receipts, and tickets from my honeymoon in Monterey.

• Old slides I developed myself in high school.

• One of my sketchbooks, sadly water damaged. Can't remember how that happened.

• My husband's school-assigned journal from 1997—seriously hilarious reading.

• Fushigi Yuugi pictures I printed out from online and LAMINATED. I believe I once had them in my high school locker.

• Pictures from my husband's Seijin No Hi (Coming of Age Day.) He turned 20 while he was living in Japan, so there he is this blond, tall dude among all these beautiful girls in kimono, ha.

• A pack of oil pastels, still good! *score*

• A quilt I really need to finish. Forgot how much I loved the fabric.

• The one and only poem I ever got for Valentine's Day, written by a mystery person and left on my door step when I was in college. Still don't know who did it.

• A fairly large spider carcass. Really, really glad it was dead already.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Happy Writers: Being Honest With Yourself

I think what brought me the most UNhappiness the past three or four years writing has been lying to myself about where I was at. I always wanted to be more and never appreciated the place I was, and to be honest, I kind of regret that.

As I've dug myself out the depression that was 2010, I've found the thing that has helped most is being honest with myself and my capabilities and my time. I didn't take care of myself like I should have, instead opting to sacrifice my own mental well-being for career. It wasn't good, and I've learned now that there are some things that I shouldn't have given up in the pursuit of publishing.

I can't tell you what you need to change in your life, but I highly recommend taking a step back and being honest with yourself and what might be making you unhappy.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

All Day Q&A!

It's about that time again. I will take questions all day, answering them right in comments as immediately as I can. Feel free to ask whatever you'd like. I will dispense all the wisdom I have.

You might want to ask early, because my wisdom runs out fast...

Monday, February 13, 2012

LTUE, Pinterest, and a Contest

I got to spend my weekend with some of my favorite people in the world, thanks to the LTUE (Life, The Universe, and Everything) conference. It was such a blast to hang out with my writer friends and to meet new friends! I even ended up doing a reading of TRANSPARENT (Thank you Jared and Lynn and Megan for coming to listen!) and subbed in on a panel with Kasie West, James Dashner, and Bree Despain. I felt so not qualified, but it was awesome all the same. I guess I'm really going to have to get used to being seen as an author person. Weird.

In other news, I have finally decided to join another social-ish networking type site—Pinterest. You can find me here if you're on there. I actually first heard of this site through my mom. She's totally up on the tech stuff, and she's been using it for awhile now to organize her quilting ideas and to find other cool things. So far it's been really user-friendly and fun. Also, it seems like a cool way to organize inspiration and thoughts, like an online filing cabinet or something. Basically, it's something I can manage, and it's been quite a long time since I felt that way about a new "social networking" site.

And finally, Kiersten White is having a Valentine's contest for the ENTIRE PARANORMALCY SERIES. I highly encourage checking it out, since it's still several months before you can officially buy the last in the series.

Okay, back to wasting time on Pinterest:)

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Believing People Like You

Quite some time back, a friend and I were talking about how we grew up and such. I was bullied a lot. She was the social butterfly type. But it was fun to share some of our common and not-so-common experiences.

One thing she said has stuck with me since then. She said, "I generally assume people like me until proven otherwise."

This honestly stopped me in my tracks. I was kinda of flabbergasted at the thought. I have never, ever, even once walked into a social situation thinking that people would like me. In fact, it's almost exactly the opposite in my case. I most always assume people won't like me. That they won't talk to me. Or worse, they'll be openly mean to me.

This feeling even crops up sometimes when I'm about to meet up with my FRIENDS. Yes, it's true. Some days I'm terrified that maybe my friends don't like me (They know this about me, poor things, and try to take care of me as best they can.). I always worry they'll get tired of me and disappear. It's happened before, after all. Those many years of being left out come flooding back occasionally, and I think, "Maybe this will be the day it happens again. Maybe this person or that one will finally admit they don't like me."

So you can imagine my first reaction to this friend's statement was a considerable measure of envy. This friend of mine is beyond likable, the kind of infectious personality that can make just about anyone smile (I'm pretty sure the power lies in her dimples.). She has that ease of being in public that someone like me (hi, social anxiety) could never hope to have. But it still seemed a little audacious, if not cocky, to even think that people would just LIKE you upfront.

That envy quickly became admiration though. I wish I had that kind of confidence. Okay, HALF that confidence. Try as I might, I still can't even begin to think that way. Oh, how I want to. Sometimes I wonder if I would be more likable just by adopting that mentality, or if I would still stumble over my words and blush like a fool in public. I wonder if people like my friend because she believes they will, and if I hold myself back by not trusting the world to be kind to me.

I don't know the answer, all I know is I can't forget what she said. I can never go back to thinking that everyone is like me, that everyone just assumes people won't like them. I try to think differently. When I get scared of social things, I even think of my friend who can charm a whole room and try to tell myself I can do the same if I just believe people will like me. But honestly? It hasn't worked yet. I still can't sleep the night before a conference or a signing (And not even my OWN signing!) because I worry about talking to people. I worry about what they think of me—what they'll say about me when I'm not around. I am terrified to death of offending someone unintentionally. Gosh, I'm panicking just writing about this stuff.

As bad as I fail at this concept, I want so much to succeed at it. Even if it's in a small way. Gosh, if I could get to the point that I didn't question my own friends', uh, friendship, I'd be overjoyed.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Let's Play Catch Up!

1. I'm going to LTUE this week! If you're in Utah, I highly recommend trying to attend. Not only is the schedule packed with talent, but the price is the most affordable I've seen for a conference. If you are there and see me, please say hi! Sadly, I do not look like my picture currently, as I am pregnant and getting quite...round. So you know.

2. Speaking of the baby stuff, just thought I'd mention that I'm having a boy! I think some people may have missed that when I mentioned it on Twitter. Also, I am pregnant, in case you missed that (some people have!). I try not to talk about it too much. Like you need a constant stream of updates on my uterus, right? Anyway, all's well.

3. Publishing news! ...None of which I can actually TELL you. I know. Lame. But stuff is happening! It's cool, because honestly up until now not much has been going on since my deal back in April 2011 (minus edits). Wheels are starting to move. It's fun. I feel like the plane is just about to take off. Or some other cheesy comparison.

4. I'm, uh, kinda writing a new book. I should be editing, but after about 8 months of editing my brain rebelled and here I am 11k words into a book I shouldn't be writing. Not gonna lie—it's fun. Turns out writing is still enjoyable fourteen books in, thank goodness. And I figure I got here writing books I shouldn't have written, so why not have a little fun? (Don't worry, Editor Erica, if you read this. I am starting edits next Monday. Promise. Cross my heart. All that good stuff. [Please don't yell at me.])

5. Taxes Suck. It's my first time ever doing self-employment taxes! It's really only cool when you think about it. There is nothing cool in the actual process of doing them. But anyway, all good things come at a price, right?

6. I recently discovered Kasie West is my TV watching soulmate. Seriously. I've known her for like 3 years? I did NOT know we had such similar taste in television. This brings me great joy, since now I can discuss all the evil of Conda with someone who truly gets it. Instead of, you know, bugging my husband about it and him giving me confused glares.

7. Book-A-Week goal is roughly on schedule! Uhh, if you count manga and crit partner manuscripts, which I think should count! Especially because my friends write amazing novels that will so be published at some point. I seriously don't know why they took pity on me, because their writing makes me weep with insufficiency. But at least I get to enjoy raw brilliance, so I'm not gonna ask questions.

So what about you? Anything fun going on I should know about?

Friday, February 3, 2012

Gratitude, Opposition, & Perspective

The truth is, I've been terribly sick this pregnancy. At least four times sicker than my other two pregnancies combined. I have no idea why. Pregnancy is weird that way—you'd think it'd be the same each time but it's just not. I don't know if it's that I'm four years older, if it's because I started at a much lighter weight, if it has something to do with my anxiety issues, if it's all of the above or none.

All I know is that I've been sick. I was so sick this fall that I was barely functioning, barely capable of giving my children the very basics of nurturing, and entirely unable to work or give attention to anything that wasn't immediately in my face begging for it. Of course I've tried to put on a brave face, but for a person who has never been ill for longer than a cold lasts, I can tell you I was a little scared, and a lot frustrated, with my inability to just DO things. The smallest things—the things you never think of as being hard—became these huge obstacles.

Living in the very basic sense of living has been difficult for me, but it's been an interesting time. It's taught me a lot about what life is and what's important. It's been a HUGE reminder that having your health is truly a gift, one we often forget to treasure.

As January rolled around, I finally started to feel like a human being again. I could, like, stand without the urge to vomit, which was awesome, and I started to get back some energy. I could finally get out of bed and DO things. I could play with my kids instead of just being in the house with them. I could interact with my husband past, "How was your day? Okay, I'm going back to bed now." I could cook and clean and think clearly. I could finally write and edit again.

And all those things? Suddenly I saw the joy in them that much more. Being unable to do anything but survive for four months, now even the mundane parts of my life seem great to me. It's funny, how the hard times put stuff in perspective like that.

I'm just grateful for everything right now, even this stupid cold I have because at least I know it won't last four months.

I mean, I hate going through crap as much as the next person, but there's no denying that it has some kind of role to play in our lives. Yeah, it sucks that it took me five years to sell a book, and it'll be a whopping seven before I see it published. But at the same time I have to acknowledge that I don't think I'd appreciate or value my accomplishment as much if it weren't so difficult to attain. Being so utterly sick this fall reminded me just how great my life is, even the "boring" parts. It's like, the more pain you experience, the more capacity you have to experience and treasure happiness.

It's not an easy thing to accept, I suppose, especially when you're really going through crap. I've lost hope. There've been days when I just wanted to be done. But I've found that gratitude has an amazing power to get us through the rough patches. Not that it makes stuff go away, but it always improves my attitude (I have lots of attitude problems.). I know it can be hard sometimes, but being positive and having hope makes the road easier. It might not always feel like that. It might feel like hope is the enemy, but as someone who almost lost all hope a couple years back, I promise you hope is a good, good thing. Life never gets easier, I don't think, but our capacity for joy increases when we let the opposition improve us rather than embitter us.

I don't really know how to finish this. As I've been sick again this week, I've just been thinking a lot about this stuff, about the times I beat opposition and the times I let it beat me. So yeah, rambling.