Tag Archives: thoughts

things to keep you sane while querying

20 Apr

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I have a theory: you can query agents with your manuscript and not go crazy at the same time.

Crazy, right?

I’m currently in the querying trenches for the third time in my writing career, and, given that, I think this is a topic I am arguably qualified to weigh in on. I’ve maintained a relative level of sanity during my querying bouts (you know, more or less) and I’m still standing (don’t mind my hunch).

Here’s how I’m doing it:

  1. Let yourself go a little crazy – Yeah, forget about staying completely sane. The title was a lie to lure you in. But no worries! A little crazy isn’t bad, right? You’re only human, and this reaction is only natural. Fighting it means fighting yourself, and you’re not going to do that because–well, because it’s mean. You cannot expect yourself to stay calm, and rational, and with perfectly styled hair. Not at a time like this. The sooner your come to terms with losing your shit a bit, the sooner you’ll be able to survive this process.
  2. Be kind to yourself – This one first and foremost. You are doing a ridiculously difficult thing by putting your work out there. You will have to wait a lot, and the waiting will make you feel like your brain is being picked away at by a toothpick. You’ll also get rejections — lots of rejections. Those will make you go all greyscale, and people will wonder why you’re no longer in color, and you’ll wonder why your heart feels so swollen and sad. This is the time to be kind. Don’t beat yourself up because you spent all day obsessively refreshing your inbox. That’s normal. Don’t insult yourself because you found a typo in your query. Join the club instead. We have snacks. The best thing you can do while querying is to practice empathy towards yourself. Imagine a beloved friend being in your shoes. The kindness that you would dish out for them is the same kindness you should give to yourself.
  3. Get creative – This is the best time you could possible pick to throw yourself at another creative endeavor. Start writing a new book. Take a painting class. Plant a garden. Restore an old Model A. Do that granny graffiti thing where you cover your town with knitting. As much as you can, obsess about something new and shiny. Your brain wants to create. Give it an outlet, and let it go.
  4. Don’t rush your process – If you’ve set a goal to have a literary agent by some date or a published book before you turn whatever age, take it back this instant, so help me God. You can’t control any of that, and if you can’t control it then it has no business on your list of goals. You can control how many words you write a day, when you finish your book by, and how many agents you’re going to query in a week, but you can’t control the publishing industry. You will do yourself a disservice if you try. There’s not time limit here. Focus on controlling the things you can control, and let the rest come when it comes.
  5. Enjoy your freedom – You have no deadlines right now. Editors aren’t breathing down your neck for your work. There is no drama unfolding on your Goodreads’ page about what a piece of crap you are. The Twitter trolls aren’t after you, you’re not burnt out from book tours, and you have no stress about your series being canceled before you can wrap it up. At this moment, it’s just you and your work. And I bet one day you’ll miss this.

The truth is, your mind is going to run itself into the ground. Your going to feel all the feels, sometimes every single one in the course of a single day. Your going to question yourself at every turn, and you may even consider giving up.

Just like each and every one of your favorite authors before you.

This is it, friends. You’re doing it, and you’re doing great.

 

a dozen things i’d tell my younger self

14 Oct
Ronald and me, circa 2010, Thailand

Thailand, 2008

1. Go ahead. Hang up on those telemarketers.

2. Don’t sweat the mess. Keeping a tidy house is not how you want to be spending you time, trust me. Did someone see it? Don’t sweat that either. IT’S FINE. So you’re not going to be remembered for how orderly you were. So what?

3. The world is a wildly confusing place. Form your opinions, but don’t expect to be right all the time.

4. Don’t rush your plans. Think slowly and carefully about where you’re going with your life. At the same time…

5. Make decisions! Yeah, you’re going to make bad ones, but picking a path and walking down it is better than being in limbo all the time.

6. Mistakes are great. Mistakes are the best teachers.

7. Rejection will help to refine your art and transform you into a badass. Don’t shy away from it.

8. Let the kids flip the pancakes, even though they suck at it.

9. Wake up early. You actually like it. No joke.

10. This is not a perfect little world so drop the perfect little facade. Things getting real? Well, get real with them. Don’t be embarrassed for you or anyone else. You’re not putting on a play. Besides, if you were putting on a play then you’d need all of that emotional and awkward  and messed up stuff or else it’d just be boring.

11. Don’t take yourself too seriously.

12. Persistence is key. Forget about easy. Easy gets you nothing.

Anyone else feeling any of these? I missed a lot. Anything you would add?

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productivity & perspective

7 Mar

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If someone had stopped by my house two days ago at around three o’clock in the afternoon, it would have been easy for them to make a few unsavory judgments about me.

I was still in my pajamas, the sink behind me was full of dirty dishes, and I had a towel slung over my arm because I was just heading into the bathroom to take my shower.

Again, this was at three in the afternoon.

Here are some of the things that could have gone through their mind:

“She’s lazy.”

“Lucky stay-at-home moms.”

“Gee, I wonder when she finally rolled out of bed…”

“I wish I didn’t have a job and responsibilities to show up for every day.”

“Doesn’t she want to do anything with her life?”

They would have had quite a bit of evidence at their disposal for making those kinds of judgments too, but they’d still be lacking one important thing: Perspective.

Two days ago, come three in the afternoon, I was overjoyed with all I had accomplished. I’d been on  a consistent diet of 5:30 wake-ups for awhile, but that particular morning saw me up at 5:00. I had a hefty list of edits to make on my middle grade novel and a plan to get the story polished for literary agents. Long before the sun came up in the sky, I was at my kitchen table giving all I had in the form of a Word document. I worked until the kids woke up at 8:00 and paused long enough to get them ready for the day and fed. When they went off to play, I hit my edits even harder until it was time for the kids and I to get busy with their homeschool work. I cleared my computer and my mountains of notes off of the table, and we pulled out their papers and books. Letters, math, reading, and endless questions – we made a time of it, and soon we were clearing the table off again. I whipped together some grub for lunch, we ate, I cleared the table again, and, when the kids were settled in front of a movie, I got back to my novel. I worked until three o’clock, seven hours at my keyboard spent fixing, figuring, writing, and rewriting.

The kid’s movie was over and they were hungry for snack. Half in a daze, I got them food and told them how proud I was that they had been so good for me and let me get so much accomplished. Then I told them that I required a shower if I was going to be able to get my mind straight and have fun with them for the rest of the day. I took a shower, beaming and blushing with how close I was to my goal of querying agents, and got dressed.

Then it hit me: it was 3:30 before I’d gotten dressed.

Wouldn’t it be so easy for someone to assume I’d done little to nothing with my day had they only seen pieces of evidence with none of the perspective?

I’m a writer and a mom. Work for people like me looks a bit… odd. Productivity is difficult, when even possible, to measure.

As a writer, I can announce that I wrote 5,000 words in a single day, but only my fellow writers are going to see that number for what it’s worth. And there are many more days when I go backwards in word count, editing the heck out of my manuscript, yet those days are often just as productive and necessary.

As a mom, there are days when just keeping the kids fed and attended to is all I can manage. You moms with your teething babies know what I’m talking about. And if I take a much needed day to clean, organize, and revamp the basement, it might look amazing down there come 5:30, but the rest of the house is going to be in shambles and dinner is going to be a frozen pizza. And the neighbor will likely stop by and think I did nothing but scroll Facebook.

A farmer can bale X acres of hay, a teacher can go through so many lessons with so many kids, an IT guy can get his eight hours, and a mason can lay block for a whole basement.

But not all forms of work lend themselves to being measured this easily. And not all forms of work require pants.

I guess what I’m trying to say is, pajamas can be perfectly acceptable work attire.

Oh, and judging productivity accurately requires perspective. 

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on writing & enjoying the process

19 Feb
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Morning edits with my writing partner who is, in fact, sitting on my edits.

Writing desperation. There was once a time when it looked like this for me: putting the kids to bed, kissing the husband good night, and making a pot of coffee. Come four in the morning the coffee pot would be empty and I’d be just crashing on the couch with many, many words under my belt.

I’m still desperate, but these days it looks like me setting an alarm and waking up at the buttcrack of dawn instead. As it turns out, sleep + coffee makes for more productivity than just coffee. Go figure.

Writers are desperate people. Desperate for time, for inspirations, for massive stokes of luck that shoot from the sky like lightning. And we’re desperate to make sense of things, namely, the stories that come to us. They’re always so enticing. And they’re always so dang flawed.

I will be done with my edits soon, and I will move onto querying. Soon, but not yet.

And, as I am at my least favorite stage of the writing process (the perfecting stage), I find myself growing increasingly antsy. Increasingly desperate. I want to query, query, query, and I want to open up that other story of mine and write, write, write, because querying and writing are such hopeful and fun endeavors while editing feels a bit like beating dead horses.

Desperate. I can get so desperate to be in a different place than I am.

When it gets me out of bed at 5:30, it’s a good thing; when it keeps me from enjoying the process, it becomes troublesome.

Being a writer is a joy. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do and the only thing I want to do. If this is going to be my “thing” than I want to savor it, even when it sucks, just like I want to savor being a mother to my kids. Talk about two difficult jobs. And two jobs that you don’t want to squander and miss the joy of.

I’m at a trying stage in the writing process and getting desperate, but I want to enjoy it, even so. Writing is a joy. It’s miserably difficult and it’s a joy.

It’d be a shame to miss either, don’t you think?

“For those who can do it and who keep their nerve, writing for a living still beats most real, grown-up jobs hands down.”

– Terence Blacker

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the thing about gratitude

15 Feb

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This is our family’s gratitude garland. We started it at the end of last December with just a couple of tags and a Sharpie. I was the one who insisted on it. I could feel my gratefulness slipping through my fingers, and it wasn’t a feeling I enjoyed.

The thing is, gratitude isn’t just a mindset I can switch into; it’s not sitting there for me to grab anytime I want it.

Gratitude – the kind that sticks to me whether my circumstances are rosy or not – that kind of gratitude takes practice.

I used to keep a gratitude journal. Everyday I’d scribble in it the things I didn’t want to take for granted. Mostly they were little things: The sound of Piper’s giggle, the smell of coffee, the way the kids had woken up happy and not grumpy. A haiku my dad had sent to me and my mom. The haiku reply my mom sent back.

Little things. The light on the kitchen table kinds of things.

Over time I grew more joyful and content. I was blessed. I’d recorded the blessings and they looked back at me, proving it.

IMGP0240 (2)Then I slowed down in my record keeping. Life got hectic. Occasionally I’d type out a quick list on Twitter using the hashtag #gratitudes. I fell out of the practice of a grateful heart.

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I don’t enjoy my life near as much when I find myself ungrateful for it. So the garland went up and is still going up, piece by piece. And my art journal/planner now doubles as a place where I keep the list going (an email from Clayton, cilantro in the pasta, kind words from one of the kids) so that my mind is constantly brought back to how blessed I am.

I’m not trying to sugar-coat anything; Life is often times downright awful.

But I find I can latch onto small gratitudes, even in those miserable times, so long as I’m well practiced in it.

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So, that’s it. That’s all I wanted to say.

Oh, and I gave the ol’ blog a little makeover. Do you like it? There are still some things that need adding and tweaking (Twitter feed, anyone?), but I’ve only had small bits of time to work on it. Hopefully I’ll be done with the revamp in another week or so.

Winter’s getting a bit long, and the edits on my book are getting more and more difficult. Maybe I’ll get on here a bit more often 😉

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do it scared

5 Jun

The phone was ringing, so I checked the caller I.D.

WIRELESS, NY

It only took a moment for my mind to put together that ‘N’ and ‘Y’, and as soon as the realization hit, fear took over. I went from just fine to sick-to-my-stomach-with-dread.

NY. New York. It could only mean one thing.

A call from New York might not strike you as fear-inducing, but then you might not be in the process of querying agents either. I am, and I’m not above confessing that I’ve been petrified for most of it. When I hit the ‘send’ button on my first query… I freaked. When I had an agent tell me that she liked my premise and first chapter then request the whole manuscript… I fell on the ground and wanted nothing more than a deep hole to crawl into. When I saw that ‘N’ and that ‘Y’ on my caller I.D…. I wished to myself that I’d never EVER sent out a query letter to begin with.

My hands were shaking. I took the phone. As much as I didn’t want to, I hit the green button.

“Hello?”

It was my mother-in-law. She was calling from her home phone. In Minnesota.

I mean, is God getting bored or what?

It took me a good fifteen minutes to recover from my mother-in-law’s phone call, and I realized just how afraid I was to move forward with my book. In church last Sunday we had a guest speaker. He told us that he was once horribly afraid of public speaking. You know what he said he did? He did it scared. His advice to us when we need to do something but are afraid: Do it scared.

Do it scared.

I want an agent. I want a book deal. I love telling stories and want a career in writing books.

Writing comforts me; it also pushes me to do things I’ve never done before.

So, I’m going to do it scared. And you know what? I queried another agent this morning and didn’t freak out at all. Querying no longer feels new or scary. I’m comfortable with it. And I’m trusting that one day I’ll be comfortable on the phone with an agent, an editor, even Harper-freaking-Collins!

Right now I just need to do it scared.

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a few thoughts on the muse

29 May

“Every time I hear writers talk about ‘the muse,’ I just want to bitch-slap them. It’s a job. Do your job.” -Nora Roberts

She has a point. And I get it. It’s easy for writers, who tend to be imaginative, and whimsical, and, well… whiny, to dwell too much on fantastic mythical creatures who could come along at any moment and finish all of their work for them.

It’s a job. Do your job.

But I’ve felt that other thing too. Those moments when the ideas and words are flowing so brightly and easily, and you feel like you can hardly take credit for any of it. It’s being given to you somehow, made without your even trying. You’re shocked, surprised, running for a pen, and feeling a little bit like your mind has been invaded. And you wouldn’t mind if it were invaded again.

There’s something poetic about it which, of course, attracts the writer’s mind. A muse. Wouldn’t that be lovely.

I think Nora’s point is that thoughts of a muse could be unhealthy for a writer. Cause you to leave work undone simply because you weren’t feeling inspired enough. It’s a good topic to address.

But Elizabeth Gilbert argues that the opposite is true as well in her wildly popular TED Talk, “Your Elusive Creative Genius”. She discusses artists of all kinds, their often self-destructive lives, and the pressures creators face at the hands of their critics. Our common thinking has a way of pushing artists to the brink (in case you didn’t notice), and she suggests a new way of thinking, one in which artists are free to succeed or fail, both of which are inevitable if you lead a creative life, then move on to the next project.

I like the idea of a muse. A friend in your head whose both a little manic and a little depressive and who you get to put up with if you want to harness your creative side. But here’s the trick: when she’s off getting into trouble, and she will, you better buckle down and get your writing done anyway. Because it is, after all, your job. Do your job

I have more to say, but I’ll leave it for another post. In parting, here is Elizabeth’s TED talk. I hope you’ll find the 20 minutes to watch it. It’s not one to miss.

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