“…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.)

“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…

 

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…

A New Skill I’ve Learned: Juggling

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3d Penguin jugglesAnd no, unfortunately I don’t mean that kind of juggling. (But how cool would that be?)

I’m actually referring to juggling when it comes to writing. Not only am I juggling two different novel ideas (one, I’m editing and the other I’ve only written a few chapters on that I’ve set aside for now), but lately I’m learning more and more about how to juggle revision ideas. Focusing in on the manuscript I’m trying to polish/edit/change, I’ve slowly become accustomed to figuring out what parts of my last draft are usable and what needs to be redone from scratch. For example, the beginning (save for a quick scene at school), has been overhauled completely. I think I’ve mentioned this in previous posts, too.

But now that I’m close to 50 pages in, I’m tapping the brakes and shifting my writing brain into reverse so to speak, to try my best to weave in sections and scenes from my last draft. This is where the juggling gets more tricky.

There was an author that came to speak at Hollins one summer while I was still in school that said once she finishes a first draft of any manuscript, she locks it away in a drawer, doesn’t look at it again, and starts completely over. This, to me, always sounded insane. I mean, seriously? You spent all that time writing these characters, creating their story, wrapping up the conflict, etc., and now you’re not going to use any of it?

But now that I’m in a somewhat similar boat, I’m starting to see the point a little more. Don’t get me wrong, any of my last draft I can still use, I plan to – although I also plan to edit each section reused, too, so maybe that cancels each other out. But to me, what I couldn’t wrap my brain around until now is how I felt the author simply wasted the time she spent crafting a first draft. Those countless hours, days, weeks, months – BOOM – gone.

Last year around this time, I was finishing my first round of edits for the manuscript I’m re-doing now. I was confident then that it didn’t need that much work anymore, which I think is the white lie we as writers have to always tell ourselves: This novel is amaze-balls. Seriously, bravo. Expect only teeny tiny minor edits from here on out!

Because think about it: if we didn’t tell ourselves this lie – if we actually realized the editing process has really just begun and we’ve only taken the first step – wouldn’t that be so much more daunting?

So, even though it does sadden me that a huge chunk of my last draft won’t make the cut into my new one – including all of the beginning, a good deal of the middle, and probably not even the same ending – I’ve made peace with it. I know my novel is only going to get better than it was with each juggle session of revising and writing I change. So all that time I spent last year writing and revising this manuscript wasn’t for nothing at all; it was just the beginning of what lies ahead with these characters.

Who, in my humble opinion, are still pretty damn amaze-balls.

Slacking: Contagious as the Common Cold

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Last week, I got a sore throat. For the first couple days, it would only hurt for a few hours then go away. At that point, I chalked it up to some sort of allergic reaction. But then, that sore throat decided to set up camp for good. Of course, this had to happen during my Weasel reunion with two of my very favorite people, Jess & Rach, but I sucked it up and dealt because I hadn’t seen them in forever and it was so great to catch up, get pedicures, eat, and most importantly, chat about writing. But once they were both gone, my attention refocused on my throat situation, who decided at that point to bring its friend, congestion, into the mix as well.

Now, the sore throat’s gone, but congestion is hanging around like the unwelcome guest it always is. And being sick for the past few days served as the perfect excuse to lie around, watch TV, and not do what I should always be doing: writing and revising.

Which brings me to slacking. Today I got to thinking how it’s not so different from a cold in that it’s easy to be lazy and procrastinate, even though deep down you know you should get your butt off that couch and into your computer chair. But sometimes, it’s impossible to make that argument against slacking, when you’re so comfy and hey, you don’t even remember the last time you saw that rerun of “Seinfield” and oh, a snack might be nice and ooh, this Snuggie is so toasty and…

You get the gist. But fellow slackers, I’m here to tell you that you can break out of this sickness. All it takes is a little push.

And in my case, that push came today from my lovely friend, Jess, who served as the reminder I needed that if I want to finish revising my manuscript, it’s time to get off my butt and do it. I’m proud to say I got back to work today, and I have some ideas on what I want to work on tomorrow, too.

Now, if I could just convince my pal congestion to get lost, everything would be peachy.

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