“…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.

“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.)

The Survival Guide to Editing

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Writing a first draft of a novel is what I would deem the honeymoon period. Everything is great, wonderful, and spectacular, not to mention you are positive you are writing the next great American novel. Or at least one of the next great American novels. (Or at least a novel.)

But once the dust settles and the newness wears off and you have to actually reread and then revise the extraordinary piece of literature you created… well, let’s just say you might not feel so strongly about it anymore. Which leads me to the point of this blog entry: every writer needs her own personalized survival guide to editing to keep her sanity (and optimism) intact.

If you don’t have your own just yet, feel free to borrow from mine.

1. First, above all else, a writer needs motivators, aka, a cheering section. You know, the kind of person that constantly asks, “Did you edit today?” and stays on you. The kind of person that reminds you if getting published is going to happen for you, then you have to work at it and never stop! I saw a meme the other day that changed the old saying, “Good things come to those who wait,” to a much more appropriate, “Good things come to those who work hard.” To be a successful writer, if you can’t give it your all, there’s no point in trying. Thankfully, I have two motivators in my corner, cheering me on daily – my mom and my husband. I’m more grateful for their constant support and encouragement than I could probably ever express.

2. I get by with a little help from my friends. To be more accurate, my writing weasels, Jess & Rach. When you’re a writer, it pays to be friends with other writers who will read your work and give you honest feedback. Both of these fabulous ladies do this for me, and thank God, because having not one, but two extra pairs of eyes reading over my stories helps me tremendously. You see, they’re able to pick up on issues that, a lot of times, I don’t even notice are there. In other words, they’re awesome, which means my stories become more awesome by proximity.

3. Every girl needs her accessories. Pretty sure that’s a random quote from a Katherine Heigl movie, but let’s move on. For me, the accessories I need to edit are pictured below:

I know what you’re thinking. This girl needs a few more pens. I know, right? Anyway, besides my collection of colorful writing utensils (and believe it or not, I use different colors to distinguish categories of revision), also pictured is a copy of my manuscript (I cannot edit well just staring at my computer screen), “Hold that thought” stickies (which are also color-coded), a colorful pencil case, and a fun Vera Bradley notebook gifted by Jess, which I use to record what revisions I make when and what needs to be done next.

Wow, I’m a nerd.

4. Treat yo’ self. I find that rewarding myself with sweets or wine (or both!) at the end of a successful day of revising really helps motivate me. Today’s treat: cinnamon rolls.*

But anyway, there you have it – my survival guide to the dreaded task of editing a manuscript. If you’re about to embark on your own editing adventure, make up your own. It may seem like colorful pens and stickies won’t make it any less daunting, but I assure you, they will! (And if not, you can always skip to #4 and try again tomorrow.)

*Cinnamon rolls aren’t pictured because I ate them.

Quickly.

 

How Good Books are Like Tasty Buffets

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I know I’m pretty late to the party, but I just finished reading Divergent by Veronica Roth and I have to say, I thoroughly enjoyed it! In fact, I blew through the almost 500 page book in just a handful of days. It really grabbed my attention from the beginning and didn’t loosen its grip until the end. I can’t remember the last book I read that I just couldn’t put down. It’s been quite a while since that happened!
Yesterday, my hubby and I took Arya to our local Indian restaurant for their yummy buffet lunch. While we were stuffing our faces and stomachs with way too much food, it occurred to me that tearing through a gripping novel is a lot like chowing down at a buffet: even when you think you’ve made it to a proper stopping point, you can’t stop. Even though you know you should, it’s as if you lose all your will power. That’s what always happens at India Garden, and that’s exactly what happened while I was reading Divergent.
In one of my classes in grad school, our professor said she’d rather write novels that are considered good writing that aren’t necessarily super popular or best sellers. While I completely understand what she means, I don’t think I can agree 100% with her. Though I strive with my own writing to make it as good as I possibly can, I still want my manuscripts to one day be the kind of novels readers treat like a delicious lunch buffet they can’t stop devouring. A girl can dream, right?
That being said, I don’t expect to ever sell as many copies as Veronica Roth has sold of her Divergent trilogy. A reported 10 million copies of it have been sold! That’s a LOT of hungry readers…

Climbing Over the Brick Wall

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For those that didn’t watch last night’s episode of “Girls,” the main character, Hannah, started a new job at GQ. Her first day was fabulous – one of her colleagues showed her their “snack room” where all the food and drinks are free! Apart from one coworker who tells her on her second day he hates her face, her other coworkers love her and rave about the great work she’s already doing. Her reaction was priceless to me: though flattered, she tells them no offense, but that she’s a real writer. They each inform her they, too, are “real writers”; one even had something published in The NY Times. But the reality of it crushes her: none of them have time to do the writing they set out to do anymore because of their job.

This part really spoke to me, as I’m sure it did most viewers. I consider myself a “real writer” with unwavering dreams of publication. But in life, there will always be things that keep me away from my office, hammering out a new story, especially now that I’m a mother. Along with the fictitious character of Hannah on “Girls,” I’ve come upon my own brick wall of other responsibilities pulling me in other directions.

But then, one of her coworkers – the one that showed her the amazing snack room – gives her some wise words of advice: she can still write. She just has to make time for it when she’s not working, such as on nights and weekends. Hannah asks him if that’s what he does, too, in which he replies yes, that he did…he’s let it slip, but wants to get back into it. For me personally as a writer, these are the two different phases you can be in at one time: either writing religiously or, well, not at all.

And now, at this stage of the game, I’m choosing the first one. I’m making a pact with myself to write as often as I can, whenever I can. Because if it’s going to happen for me, I can’t let myself get comfortable in the stalled position. I have to keep going… and going… and going.

Did anyone else picture the Energizer bunny just now? No? Just me?

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