“…With a Little Help from my Friends”

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Recently, I sent two of my amazing fellow writer friends the first three chapters of my sequel manuscript I am currently working on.

…At least, that’s what I thought I did, when in actuality, I sent them the first three chapters of the first installment instead. *face palm* Yeah. That happened. Sure, it doesn’t sound too bad, because I had to have caught the mistake within a day or two, right? Wrong. I realized it a couple weeks later — after one of said friends sent me long and in-depth feedback for the incorrect pages. Sheesh.

Of course, I apologized for the mix-up, and both of them forgave me (because they’re awesome like that) and I sent them the right chapters. And hey, the upside is I have more feedback for the first book, too. These two ladies’ comments and suggestions are invaluable to me, as we have been writing alongside each other now since our first year in grad school. I’m so grateful to them for their feedback, and even more so for feedback on pages I didn’t even mean to send them this time.

This whole mix-up got me thinking about my writing and how it’s really similar. Sometimes, after I’ve written a chunk of chapters and read back through them, I realize several scenes or even whole chapters are “wrong,” i.e., don’t fit and/or don’t help move the story along at the pace I want them to. Just as I re-sent the pages to my friends, I have to re-write pages, too. Writing a manuscript is truly a long, slow process, just like riding a unicycle up a huge hill. (Random metaphor, I know. Let me explain.)

Riding a unicycle is hard enough as it is. (I’m guessing. I’ve never had the pleasure of riding one. If I’m being honest, I suck at even riding bicycles now.) But then throw in a super steep hill, and you’ve got yourself quite a task. But if you’re lucky like me, you have friends who will be there to help you — to keep your balance steady — so the hill seems smaller and smaller.

That’s how it feels for me with my writing weasels. The hill I have to climb feels so much less scary as it would if I didn’t have them.

Some writers may prefer to create alone, and I get that. But me? I’d rather pedal my unicycle with help. So to Jess and Rach, thank you for helping me keep my balance (i.e., sanity) steady through this writing process, as you always have in the past. Love you girls!

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Looking From a Distance

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A couple nights ago, I joined some friends at a Paint Nite event, where a group of people all paint the same example painting, while sipping a drink if they so choose. One of my friends and I split a half-price bottle of wine (score!) and went to town. As the artist instructing us pointed out when we first started, no two paintings would look alike. That’s the beauty of art; we all have different interpretations, even of the exact same piece.

As we were going along, the same thought kept popping in my mind over and over: wow, this sucks. I probably had a permanent scowl on my face for about 75% of the night, feeling more and more discouraged by my painting with each brush stroke. This doesn’t look like the artist’s at all, I found myself thinking. But after the wine started working its magic, my opinion began to shift little by little. And as I was leaving, I even thought, hey…maybe it’s not that bad after all.

About midway through, the instructor gave some encouraging words that if we weren’t pleased with our paintings at the moment, to just wait until we can look at them from a distance. And she was exactly right; when I got home, I placed my painting across the room, and my opinion of it improved more and more. Sure, the alcohol could’ve pumped me up a little, but even the next morning when I came downstairs, I still found myself pleased with the finished product. Not that I’m a stellar painter by any means, but I do think it’s something to be proud of.

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And here I am while painting (after the wine kicked in, of course), clearly blown away by my natural talent:

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All kidding aside, the whole painting experience reminded me a lot of my love/hate relationship with writing. Take, for instance, the manuscript I’m working on now. I’m wrapping up a quick round of edits for the first 50 pages (it is impossible for me to write an entire draft without a quick revision session, at least of the beginning), and as expected, the first couple chapters made me cringe. I made several notes, even contemplating scrapping them and starting over. But the more I read, the better I felt about it. And since I let it sit for a couple days to digest what I’d written, I feel even better. What I’m trying to say is that writing is a very frustrating form of art, and that some days I think, over and over, wow, this really sucks. But just like with my painting, the negative feelings float away by thinking about them from a distance.

And as was said in (I believe) season 1 of the amazing TV series, Gossip Girl: “You can’t rush art.”

Though I believe the characters were talking about sex at the time, but that’s neither here nor there.

Broken Eggs in Writing

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During undergrad, I took a detective fiction class to fulfill a requirement for my minor. At that time, I was a newbie to the genre, but after reading an Agatha Christie mystery or two, I was hooked. For me, starting a murder mystery is the same as seeing the opening scene to an episode of Law & Order: SVU: I gotta know what happened and who did it and why!

Recently, I blew through Gillian Flynn’s three novels, beginning with Gone Girl, then Sharp Objects, and finally Dark Places. While they all have mystery elements, Dark Places was my favorite. The main character, Libby, is trying to solve the mysteries surrounding the murders of two sisters and her mother when she was a small child. Soon after the murders, Libby ID’s her brother as the killer, presumably because the lawyers coached her into saying so. Now, several years later, she discovers she might have been completely wrong. I don’t want to give anything else away plot-wise (because you need to read this book ASAP–yes, you!), but I will say Gillian Flynn blew me away with not only her stellar writing, but also the way she weaved so many subplots together, tying them in a neat bow at the end that truly shocked me. I did not see the conclusion coming at all. But once I finished the novel, I thought back on the tiny breadcrumbs of hints she subtly sprinkled throughout. Though I didn’t put it together as I was reading, I loved how I could go back and see Flynn did show what happened, even if I hadn’t picked up on it.

For Christmas, my mom gave me another riveting murder mystery novel. I’m not going to reveal the title because I don’t want to spoil it for anyone, but it surrounds two dual murder mysteries: one that takes place in the present, and one that took place twenty years prior in the same place. What tied the two cases together was one of the detectives. When he was twelve, two of his friends vanished while the three of them were playing. He was found alive, with no memory what-so-ever of what happened. Now, going by his middle name, he’s on the murder squad, trying to solve the murder of a young girl while also trying to conjure up memories of what happened all those years ago. The stories are so intriguing, and the characters are so compelling that when it’s revealed who’s behind the present day murder, I realized there’s so much more to the story than I originally thought. But my beef with this novel is that, while one of the murder cases is solved, one remains a mystery. Even when I was down to the last three pages, I held out hope the detective would discover the truth surrounding the other one. But this, unfortunately, didn’t happen. As a reader, my initial reaction was anger with the author. I couldn’t believe it! How could this writer not reveal this? How could she just leave me hanging?

But then, I remembered what one of my thesis advisors told me once: don’t be afraid to leave some broken eggs. She was referring to my thesis at the time, explaining that I didn’t have to conclude every single plot point of my novel. In fact, doing so would be boring. And this is exactly what my mom told me while we discussed the ending to this novel: sure, it made me mad not to know what happened, but on the flip side, I’ll probably always remember it. And now that I’ve had more time to think about it, I’m not so angry anymore. I’m not thrilled, mind you, but I can appreciate the author’s decision to leave this case unsolved.

It’s not as if detectives always solve murders anyway. Except if you’re Detective Olivia Benson, of course.

“Writing is SUPER easy!” said no writer ever.

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I stumbled upon this Ernest Hemingway quote the other day, and it really got me thinking about the time period when writers *gasp!* didn’t have snazzy MacBook Airs (and other less stylish computers) to compose their stories on. As many times as I write out a sentence, make a face, delete it, and write it over, I can’t imagine how different my writing process would be if I had to do it on a typewriter. I would think it would take quite a bit longer to write even a single sentence, because you can’t exactly delete it if you’re not satisfied. So, every sentence, every paragraph, and every page would need to be thought out before your fingers even tap the keys. Sure, you could go back and correct a single letter typo pretty easily, but a whole sentence, let alone a word? What a pain.

When I was little, when we’d visit my grandparents’ house, at some point I’d always find my way into their office so that I could type something on their typewriter. It wasn’t always plugged in when I played on it, or sometimes it would be plugged in, but I wouldn’t actually slip a piece of paper into it. But there were times I typed on it for real. And I remember typing so slowly, trying so hard not to even misspell something.

Of course, I think the quote goes beyond whether or not you’re using a typewriter or a computer to write. Hemingway was answering the question, isn’t it easy to be a writer? I’ve heard this myself before, especially when it comes to writing children’s books. And I think his quote sums it up perfectly.

As I’m writing a first draft right now, I admit I’m guilty of editing in my head (and sometimes on the Word document) as I go along. I can’t help it; I’m addicted to revising. But it’s more than that.

I’m addicted to molding what I write into the absolute best version it can be. I’ve had to chill out a little, of course, so that I can get several chapters written and actually have something to revise. But if I can take away anything from this Hemingway quote, it’s this: write the story. Get it all out of you. Give it everything you have inside of you.

Not everyone can do this for a living. If they could, every single person would be a writer. Only those that are prepared to lose it* for their characters will succeed. And I strive to lose it*. I strive to “bleed.” To any fellow writers reading this, ask yourself: do you?

“it” more likely being a bit of your mind, not your blood, unless you’re partial to paper cuts.

“It’s not you. It’s me.”

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A couple days ago, my mom sent me the link to a wonderful article entitled, “How I’ve learned to embrace rejection,” which you can find here.

It was a wonderful reminder of one very simple fact: art, of every kind, is completely subjective. This, of course, includes writing. I’ve recently begun querying my latest manuscript, and I sent out my first batch of five in November. Of those five, I received a request to read the full manuscript. When I sent the file to this agent, I remained both optimistic and realistic while I waited for her response. What I mean is, I was hopeful and tried to be positive about the possibility this might be it for me — that this could’ve been the agent who would welcome my duology idea with open arms. But at the same time, I reminded myself this might not be the right fit for my novel. And, unfortunately, it wasn’t. However, when she rejected me, she began the email with this: “While I do think you’re a skilled writer…” I know what you’re probably thinking; she might say that to everyone she rejects. She goes on to say she liked the story, but didn’t connect with it enough to take it on.

But at the end of the email, she said, “Of course, publishing is a very subjective business — you’re clearly talented, and I think it’s likely another agent will snap this up.” After the initial read-over of the email and the initial onset of pessimistic feelings and thoughts, I reread it a few hours later, stopping on this last sentence. I’ve been rejected before, but never had I received one that was this positive. She basically gave me the agent/writer equivalent of, “it’s not you, it’s me.” Although, in this case, I think she was being sincere in her break-up line. She thought my project has the potential to get “snapped up” by someone else, it just wasn’t meant to be with her.

No matter if you’re a writer, artist, sculptor, or anything else along those lines, you’ll run into those who just don’t get your art. It’s not for them. But that doesn’t mean someone else won’t come along and think, “this is amazing!”

Sure, you can be realistic like me and understand it might take time. But that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t also be optimistic as well.

The article I mentioned above reminded me of one very important fact: to find an agent to believe in my story, I have to first believe in it myself.

And I do. I really, really do.

So, cheers to you other “starving” artists out there. May your wine glass always be at least half full.

Mine, on the other hand? From now on, I’m going to keep mine filled to the brim.*

*(This is a metaphor. I promise I’m not an alcoholic.)

It’s Sequel Time! (Note to Self: Don’t be Afraid.)

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Recently, I have ventured into unknown writing territory. I am writing a sequel to the manuscript I poured my heart, soul, and sometimes even tears into, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.

I also couldn’t be more nervous.

It seems that when it comes to movie sequels, the most common review is something along the lines of, “It wasn’t as good as the original.” And for the most part, I’d have to agree. “Ghostbusters II” is good, but the first is much better. (My brother was a HUGE fan of this series growing up, which made me one, too.) I haven’t seen “Dumb & Dumber To,” but I’d bet money that the original is far superior. Don’t even get me started on “Halloween II” (or 3, 4, 5, 6…) And the list goes on & on. Of course, there are some exceptions to the rule. For instance, in my humble opinion, I thought “Catching Fire” was a bit better than “Hunger Games.” And honestly, my favorite of the HP movies would be “Prisoner of Azkaban” & “The Deathly Hallows” (1 & 2).

When it comes to books, though, it’s hard for me to think of a sequel I preferred over the original. In YA, I’m drawn to a fair share of stand-alones, but give me a interesting, thought-provoking trilogy any day. Over the past few years, I’ve swam alongside the dystopian wave, and most of those, if not all, tend to be trilogies. Three particular series really stuck with me, and I was sucked in from the first installments through their conclusions. I have to say, in each of these three series, the first books were my favorites, the second books held my attention and were good but not quite the same, and the final installments felt satisfying for the most part, though I usually found myself disappointed the author didn’t explain or wrap up subplots X, Y & Z. Of course, I would imagine most readers might feel this way with conclusions to series, and authors shouldn’t have to explain every little thing. Maybe sometimes they want us to think between the lines and make up our own minds about certain aspects of their stories. Maybe they want to leave us with permanent question marks floating above our heads. This, I believe, is one of the reasons I prefer the first parts of series — nothing is concluded yet, and most of them even end with a surprise twist or cliff-hanger I really didn’t see coming!

As far as the manuscript I just completed goes, my hope is that I ended it with the kind of hook that would have readers dying to read the sequel to find out what happens next. And since it’s a duology, the second installment will also be the conclusion. I can’t help but feel anxious about it, knowing the original will probably remain my favorite of the two. But at the same time, I’m excited to try something new, and I plan to give it my all just like I did with the first one. Who knows, maybe it’ll be like Empire Strikes Back and will be better than the first! It could happen, right? (My brother was a Star Wars fan, too. And I may or may not own a Wicket stuffed animal.)

“Every Baby is Different.”

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I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard this saying (or how many times I’ve found myself uttering these words since my daughter was born). And it’s very true – every baby is different.

The same, I’ve come to find, can be said about manuscripts as well. Recently, one of my Facebook friends posted that she participated in a NaNoWriMo challenge and had passed her goal of writing 60,000 words in a month’s time. My first thought was, WOW, that’s amazing! My second was, Oh, Dear God. I’ve been working on the same manuscript, in some form or another, for two years. But then I had to remind myself that completing a first draft, while it’s an awesome accomplishment in and of itself, isn’t the end of the road trip. It’s actually just the beginning. Sort of like after you haven’t been in the car that long and you can’t hold your pee in any longer. You have to stop somewhere, and then hop right back on the road again. To me, that’s the same with finishing a first draft and then working on your second. (And then third…and then fourth…let’s just say this is a cross-country road trip.)  And just like with driving, each of us moves at our own speed. Some will make it to their destination faster, and that’s a-okay.

Some babies crawl first, walk first, talk first, you name it. But guess what? In the end, all babies will catch up with each other.

I believe the same goes for us writers out there. We all have the same goal in mind. We can ALL do this! But even if you cross the finish line and complete your editing rounds last, you still made it. In sum, keep on truckin’. Full steam ahead. Keep on keepin’ on.

And any other corny saying to encourage you to stay on course.

But if you need to take a pit stop every now and then, be my guest. Speaking of which…

 

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