Pep Talk: New Year, New You

“New year, new you.” Facebook reminded me that a few years ago, this phrase was very important to me. Each new year brings with it a chance to start fresh and turn your life into whatever you want it to be. For me, it’s usually a time of year filled with hope for the future.

This year, I don’t have that hope, at least not the way I’ve had it in the past. The idea of writing out a big list of goals makes me want to curl up in a ball and cry. So instead of telling myself how many projects to complete or making a year long chart to track my progress with stickers, I’m going to simply meet myself where I am.

What does that mean? It means I’m going to forgive myself for not being ready for some arbitrary timeline in my head. It means I’m not setting big goals, but instead focusing on the areas of my life I want to flourish and setting small, attainable goals that I can revisit often. It means letting myself have some quick wins instead of a slow-moving progress bar.

I can’t handle the big picture right now. But I can handle the first step in the right direction. I’m going to stick with those steps until I have the energy to look up to the horizon and see those big lofty goals that I’ve been carrying around in my heart.

That’s my wish for you, too, if you feel beaten down or overwhelmed, that you find the strength and courage to take one step, no matter how small, and then another. Whether you’re trudging along with me, relying on those quick, small victories to motivate you, or focused on something bigger in the future, we can all keep moving forward. For now, let that be enough.

On Poinsettias, Faith, and Writing

Among my very favorite stories of the holiday season is a book about faith: The Legend of the Poinsettia.

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This retelling of an old Mexican folk tale, by Tomie dePaola, is simply lovely. It’s the story of Lucida, a young girl helping her mother weave a new blanket for the Baby Jesus, to be used at the Christmas Eve procession for their church.

When her mother falls ill, Lucida tries to finish the blanket by herself, but the threads get hopelessly tangled. She is bereft, certain she has failed the Baby Jesus now that she has nothing to offer him. On Christmas Eve, she lingers outside the church, afraid to show her face. She meets an old woman who assures her that “any gift is beautiful because it is given. Whatever you give, the Baby Jesus will love because it comes from you.”

Lucida looks around her and sees nothing but a bunch of green weeds. She gathers them up, goes into the church, and places them at the manger.

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Where they transform into the glowing red stars we know today as the poinsettia, also known as la Flor de Nochebuena.

I read this book to my children every year – and every year, the first time I read it, my heart fills with joy, and I can’t keep from crying.

I offer it to you this holiday season because I believe there’s a message of hope in it for everyone, and certainly for writers. (And also because if you need a good cry, this will do the trick.)

We often get down on ourselves along our paths to publication. Whether we’re unagented and in the query trenches or agented and on sub or sold our debut novel and waiting to see whether people will buy the book, it happens. And also when we’re waiting to see whether reviewers will love us. Or whether we’ll sell another book.

In the depths of our worry, our own words can seem like weeds to us, ugly and without value.

But in the spirit of the season and our own inner peace, I urge us all to remember that in fact our words do have value. They are gifts, which we give to the world with love. Whether we write space operas or historical romances, noir crime, contemporary, or tween detectives, we dig deep within our souls to find our stories. We find the courage to keep doing it over and over again because we have faith. Some of us have faith in a higher power. All of us have, at some level, faith in the power of story to heal, build and create.

In this uncertain time, on the cusp of a new year, my wish for all of you is la Flor de Nochebuena. The miracle of love, peace and good will, courage, faith, joy, and stories.

Pocketing the Power-ups from Your Writing, Gratefully

manuscript-picI ran into an old friend at our town’s fall festival a few weeks ago. You might already be guessing how it went: how are you, how are the kids, what are you up to nowadays. Then, the writing question. “Hey, weren’t you going to write books or something?”

I nodded and smiled. “Still writing.”

Usually that’s the end of that, but this person looked like I’d announced tragic news about myself. “Oh, no. Jeez, I’m so sorry.”

Ummm. I laughed to show this was not a topic to be mourned. “No, it’s okay. I like writing.”

The person shook her head sympathetically. I turned to other subjects.

Years ago I might have been exasperated by that person’s reaction. But it’s good to be here now, in a place where I can say I like writing and really mean it. The trying is the thing, now.  Always with an eye toward the career goals, yes. But you can’t forget to find fulfillment in the trying. In the writing itself.

And what you take away from the writing itself can be reason for gratitude. It’s the time of year for giving thanks, so this is a bit of a think piece on what we as writers might count as blessings.

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Depending on the individual, a writer these days might be grateful for these kinds of things:

  • helpful critique partners, supportive writing groups, and online contests;
  • how-to resources, online message boards of info, and writers’ sites and blogs;
  • awesome published writers and books, both in and out of your genre, both contemporary and classic;
  • the internet as a research tool; libraries of all types and sizes
  • the internet in general, especially for its use as a rapid-fire communication tool (I still remember the days—quite clearly—when email wasn’t a thing.)

I’m grateful for all of these. But when you dig a little deeper,

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you might be even more grateful for what the writing itself gives you.

By “the writing,” I mean the work: the drafting, revising, editing, stopping, starting, sending, receiving, rejoicing, venting, rebelling, re-starting. The quitting and rebooting, because that’s part of trying too. The asking and looking and finding, and giving and taking. The planning and plotting and tossing and deleting. The writing and rewriting. And then, more writing; starting again.

I think the work of writing gives new or improved traits to every writer. These traits are like Power-ups as you cross a rough landscape in an epic journey game, and when effectively used, they impact every part of the writer’s identity. Best, when these traits grow strong, we in turn become stronger writers.

Not to mention, it can take a while to get agented and published…like, years. And years. And then more years to situate yourself into a real-deal writing career. This is where an understanding of and a gratitude for these traits is a balm for impatience and frustration. Don’t forget to pocket the Power-ups that the work of writing is leaving for you along the uneven terrain, and don’t be afraid to use them to get over obstacles. They’re only going to help you achieve.

Here’s a Top-Five-style list of examples of Power-up traits. Just examples—so many others!—but ones I’m gratefully learning over time.

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  1. An ability to take note of everyday Muses—the people, events, sights, and sounds that incite construction of whole plotlines in the heads of writers. (As an example, did you hear “Hallelujah” last week, with the passing of Leonard Cohen? What’s up with those lyrics? How many stories might have been inspired by those words last week alone?)
  2. A continually refreshed appreciation of time. Might it be one need that every writer has in common?
  3. Refined skills in plot analysis of books, film, theater, even music. Not just comprehending plot triangle points, but grasping the tone and texture of plot, too.
  4. A higher degree of empathy for others, from the practice of designing natural motivations and actions for the characters we create, who, often, are nothing like ourselves.
  5. The capacity for teaching others, whether you’ve been at the head of a classroom or not. Writers teach through theme. Themes can be subtle or whop-you-over-the-head, and the really amazing thing is, you’re probably never going to know how many people were affected to action or change from what you taught them in your writing.

Of course, every writer’s list of what he or she gratefully takes away from the writing is different! So even if you didn’t see something here that rings at least partly true to you, I hope the work of writing is gifting you with Power-ups for which you are grateful, and that you get some time this holiday season to reflect and recharge with them.

September Pep Talk: Lose the Timeline

Future I'm Ready

I’m going to tell you a secret.

When I got my agent back in January, I got this idea in my head. Not an idea that I really put into words to anyone except my husband. But an idea that ended up eating away at me all the same. Want to hear it?

BOOK DEAL BY FALL.

That’s what I thought to myself. After all, hadn’t I proven that I was a “good writer?” I’d scored the amazing agent, she loved my manuscript, I was going to rock revisions. It was all going to be perfect from here on out.

In the last seven months since then I’ve written and perfected a picture book, written and nearly finished revising a verse novel, drafted half of another book, read craft books, attended a writing conference, learned a ton, and become a Pitch Wars mentor.

But it’s fall now…and I haven’t sold that book yet.

And sometimes that little voice in my head that said, “Book deal by fall!” is now saying, “You’re a failure.”

But can you see how ridiculous that is?

I know I’m not alone in this. I’ve heard other people say things like, “I really wanted an agent by the time I turned thirty .” Or, “I had a goal to have a book deal within a year of Pitch Wars.” Or, “I’ve been writing for ten years and I really thought I’d be farther by now.”

It’s hard isn’t it? To work in this industry where we set goals and timelines for our projects, (write a novel in a month, finish revising by summer, beta read in a week.) but can’t do the same for the results of our work. The hard truth of publishing is that you can work and work and work but you have no control over how that work will be received.

You can’t force an agent to take you on, you can’t make an editor buy your book, and you can’t spend an hour every night making sure you only get good reviews.

Wdartboarde may make these arbitrary goals for ourselves. But in reality, you can’t put a timeline on success.
And so today I’m going to give you this pep talk.

 

There is no timeline for success. No date that if you don’t hit your goals by, you become a failure or a disappointment. Not the Pitch Wars mentee reveal date.

Not turning thirty or fifty or seventy. Not even dying. Because what you are doing right now? Creating and putting yourself out there and getting back up after you get knocked down. Learning, improving, trying again. It’s so much more than so many people ever do in their lifetime.

To pursue a dream so out of your control. And pursue it with passion and persistence. To open your heart and be vulnerable. How many people go a whole lifetime never experiencing that?

There is no deadline for success. You are not a failure or a disappointment. You are traversing a hard road. You are living a life where chasing dreams is not just something talked about in poems.

Writing requires being open and vulnerable. It requires you to pour your heart into something and then put it in front of the world to be ripped apart. It takes bravery and courage. It requires empathy and compassion. In short, it makes you a better human being. You’ve been writing for another year and feel like you have nothing to show for it? I beg to differ. Chances are you are now a better person than you were a year ago. Because that is what writing does. It changes us. It pulls us out of our comfort zone and challenges us. That may not be something you can put in your bio, but it matters.

So let go of expectations that you have no control over. By all means hope. Hope with all you have. But put away the measuring stick and the hourglass and step into that ocean of vulnerability and openness that comes with living a creative life and enjoy the swim.

Pitch Wars: What will you give up?

I love television. I miss television.

As much as I adore Pitch Wars, no one should underestimate the amount of time and dedication it takes, both on the part of mentors and mentees. Pitch Wars hammered home a lesson that others may have learned sooner: Writing doesn’t magically flow through your fingertips through breaks in your life.

Throughout most of my 20s, inspired by my love of Jennifer Weiner and other funny women’s fiction writers, I had a vague idea of a book I wanted to write. I had this idea that at some point I would sit down and Dedicate Time to My Book, perhaps once I broke a leg or needed bed rest after surgery. Tip: If you are mentally scheduling catastrophic events as a way to find time to Do Your Thing, you may need to reevaluate your life.

Instead, between 2010 and 2012, I helped raise a second puppy for the Guide Dog Foundation for the Blind, puppyhelped rescue 30 cats from a hoarding situation, got a new job in a new city, and moved to Chicago. We bought a house. I dedicated many hours to trying to be a success in my new job as a magazine editor. I watched my favorite television programs.

Suffice to say, I did not work on my book for about two years.

I went back to it in late 2012 and began plugging away. But even then, I prioritized a lot over writing. It came after magazine editing, work travel, social commitments, family obligations and vacations.

My book was finally ready, after several drafts, in spring 2015. I entered Pitch Wars and, miraculously, was chosen by the awesome Laura Heffernan. Recently, I looked back and realized one of the questions she asked was about my other commitments.

I promised to her that, apart from a work trip to London in September and obligation to my day job, that I was willing to give up any spare time to her and her edits. I kept that agreement. I spent most of the time between the end of August and the end of November on the couch, rewriting and editing. I’m not going to lie: I barely saw my husband, who was dealing with a family member’s medical emergency far away. I stopped going to the gym. A three-day holiday weekend was spent with my fictional characters. I skipped having an October birthday party. I put all the television and movies I wanted to watch on hold.

I wouldn’t change any of it. Not because of how much I learned, the agent experience, or even becoming a part of Pitch Wars community. That was all fantastic. But a year later, the main lesson I took away from Pitch Wars was that it reinforced what it means to put your writing first. That habit stuck with me once I shelved my Pitch Wars book. It took me four years to complete a draft of that book. It took me six months to draft Book 2 earlier this year.

Whether or not you get into Pitch Wars, there are very few of us who are allowed to write creatively all day. Many mentees have children, and most had (or still have) day jobs. Some were students, some had major mental health or physical challenges, some had emergency family crisis.

A lot of those situations reflect how, at the end of the day, you are still a person. By all means, live your life. Trust me, Brenda Drake does not want your marriage to fall apart because of Pitch Wars.

goodenoughBut. Pitch Wars reminds me of something one of the authors of “Good Enough is the New Perfect” said at an event many years ago. I don’t remember whether it was Becky Beaupre Gillespie or Hollee Schwartz Temple, but one of them said, essentially, to stop trying to achieve work-life balance.

“It doesn’t exist,” she said. “Instead, think of seasons.” She said that there will be seasons in your life where you are focused on your family, or on your career, or your book.

Pitch Wars is going to be your season. It’s not to say you can forgo all obligations. But it will teach you an incredible, invaluable lesson in what it means to be selfish about your art and to make your writing a priority.

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Pep Talk: You Are More Than This Moment

This pep talk was intentionally kept until after the Pitch War window closed. You’re all Pitch Warriors. Good luck. -The TTS Team

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 So. You entered Pitch Wars, and you didn’t get in.

Maybe you got some requests from mentors who ultimately turned you down, or maybe you waited through the decision period with the crickets in your inbox growing ever louder. Maybe you got feedback from the mentors who passed you by, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you’ve had to sign off Twitter for awhile to focus on some self-care. Maybe just seeing the words “Pitch Wars” is making you mad.

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Pull up a chair, my friend. I’d like to tell you a story of someone—several someones, actually, who were all in your same place once.

Many of us 2015 Pitch Wars mentees had applied for Pitch Wars in previous years without getting picked. I first heard about Pitch Wars in 2014, not terribly long before the submission window opened. I had started querying for the first time a few months before, without a single agent request or other promising occurrence. I was thrilled at the prospect of getting to work with a mentor on the book that I loved, but which clearly wasn’t grabbing agent attention. And (duh), I was thrilled at the prospect of getting that revised work in front of tons of top-tier agents in a contest that had already resulted in agent matches and book deals for so many people.

I was a serious writer and felt like I had a serious chance. I talked up Pitch Wars to my best friend, and together, we sent in our submissions when the window opened.

She got in. I didn’t.

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I was pretty crushed. I’d been so secretly confident, and then, boom. I didn’t have a single request from any of the four mentors who I submitted to. I signed out of my newly-created-just-for-Pitch-Wars Twitter account and took a good long look at my true potential. I wondered, deep down, if this was the end of the road for me. I recently found a series of emails I sent to that same best friend after I didn’t get into PW, wondering anxiously if I’d ever have it in me to write more than “pretty words” (my specialty).

As the days passed, I did get feedback from two of the mentors I’d subbed to, both saying similar things. I knew, deep down, that that feedback echoed the feedback I’d gotten from the publishing industry as a whole: that the book I’d subbed was never going to go anywhere.

Eventually, I stopped querying that book and moved on to a new project. And the next summer, that new book DID get me into Pitch Wars, as well as landing me a lot of requests both through the contest and through the regular query trenches. That book didn’t ultimately get me an agent, though; I had to start querying yet another project before I finally, finally got The Call.

Want to know the two biggest things I’ve learned from all of these experiences?

1. I may be good at some stuff, but I’ve still got a long way to go.

I am a lover of lyrical, literary word-smithing. Prose that sings its way across the page is what I love to read and write. And by the time I applied to Pitch Wars in ’14, I was pretty good at that. But there were a lot of other things—reading the market, plot structures, deep characterization—that I wasn’t that good at. Getting rejected from Pitch Wars was a tough, but necessary, wake-up call, reminding me that although there were a lot of things I’d gotten good at, I still had a long way to go. Once I got over the sting of the not getting in, I was able to pull up my big-girl pants and get to work. The next manuscript still wasn’t perfect (obviously!), but it was much, much closer.

This wasn’t only my experience, either—I’ve talked with several writers in the 2015 mentee group who also applied in previous years and got rejected, but the rejection experience or feedback they received from mentors they applied to gave them the courage they needed to do the hard thing and beef up their weak spots before applying again.

2. I am more than this moment, and I am more than this book.

Remember how I said I loved the book I entered PW ’14 with? And remember how I said that even the book I got into PW ’15 with didn’t land me an agent? Both of those things were hard to swallow. My PW ’15 book was, really, the book of my heart; it’s still a book I think about almost daily, and one that I intend to go back to and rewrite again in the future in hopes of someday making it marketable.

But not getting into Pitch Wars in 2014—and my later experiences with rejection, as well—taught me a second important lesson: As a writer, I am more than any one moment, and I am also more than any one book. Although shelving my previous manuscripts was one of the toughest things I’ve had to do, it also taught me resilience and courage, and it taught me to place my long-term goals (have a writing career creating books that I love) over my short-term goals (sell this particular book).

And that lesson has been, and continues to be, an invaluable one, because in many ways, rejection in this industry never stops. Sure, I have an agent, but now I’ve faced editor rejections; once my book baby is out in the world in a real, hardcover form, I’ll be opening myself up to rejection from reviewers, readers, and critics. Sometimes, all of that potential down-the-line rejection can feel overwhelming, until I repeat to myself: I am more than this one book.

So, those of you who are reading this in the wake of not making it into Pitch Wars, take heart. You’re not alone. And though you’re hurting, you won’t always be hurting. Allow yourself some time to grieve, to focus on self-care and whatever that looks like in your life. Take whatever time you need.

And then buckle down and take a hard look at your long-term goals, and always remember:

You, my friend, are more than this one moment.

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Find Your Tribe

“Why don’t you go on and tell me everything about yourself, so I can see you with my heart.”

  • Kate DiCamillo, BECAUSE OF WINN-DIXIE

I’m a careful person. I don’t trust quickly, don’t easily make true friends. Don’t get me wrong, I am an extrovert, thus, am friendly and enjoy talking to people on a social, casual level. But real, raw, tell-you-everything-so-you-can-see-me-with-your-heart? Not so much. Takes some time for me to feel safe enough for that.

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I wasn’t always like that, but that’s another story.

The people with whom I do feel that safe are those in my tribe.

We all have a tribe. Some of us have more than one. I have a husband and two children, they are my tribe. I am still unusually close to the friends I grew up with in Minnesota even though we are all spread out. We’ve literally grown up and are now growing middle aged together. They’re my tribe too. And in my first career, television news, I had a tribe. The folks who understood the vagaries of our business, the excitement and agony, what personal sacrifices it took to succeed.

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But it wasn’t until PitchWars that I finally found my writing tribe.

Before that, I had joined Twitter and spent time trying to figure out this talkative, funny, opinionated, and brilliant community of writers. I flailed about, trying to figure out how to interact with other writers in ways that are professional and not stalkery.

And then I was chosen for PitchWars 2015. And the angels sang. My mentor, the amazing Kendra Young, took my manuscript, deftly identified its (many) problems, and set me to work reconstructing a better story.

The pressure was both searing and exhilarating. It was the first time I’d ever revised an entire manuscript with the actual help of an actual real writer – and my changes were significant. Structural overhaul, eliminating characters, deleting some scenes and reimagining others. Plus getting rid of about nine hundred gajillion filter words.

And in the middle of all of it, I had to have surgery. Not like landed-in-the-ER kind of stuff, but critical to my health nonetheless.

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So I was pressed for time, a little foggy, and suffering from the same insecurity that dogs us all.

But. There was a saving grace.

The other warriors. On a secret, members-only Facebook page where we could bare our tortured writer’s souls.

And I’ll be honest – I didn’t bare a lot at first. In fact, I barely contributed. (Sorry. Pun. Couldn’t help it.) Remember how I said I’m careful? I was. I read everything and sometimes commented. I even asked for advice sometimes. But mostly, I just watched. Because that’s what I do.

And as I watched, here’s what I found: funny, kind, thoughtful, brilliant, trustworthy writers, all of whom wanted the best for each other, all of whom were unfailingly willing to give time, advice, perspective, beta reads, encouragement, sympathy, jokes, GIFs, and so much more. Plus, bonus, some of them were fond of bourbon and/or red wine.

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My people. My tribe.

Nearly a year later, I still don’t contribute the most to our little group. But now when I get quiet it’s only because life is too busy to play or because I don’t always have something fresh to say.

But when I do say something, I know these are people to whom I have told maybe not everything, but a whole lot of things. And they’ve seen me with their hearts. And I trust them.

Enter PitchWars. And while you’re sweating the selection process, reach out. Find the people who could be in your tribe. Even if you’re not selected, you’ve got something you didn’t have before. People you can reach out to for advice, encouragement, support, and GIFs. People who can suggest a new brand of bourbon you’ve never tried or help you celebrate every moment of exhilaration or offer hugs for all the frustrations we endure on the path to publication.

Good luck.

How to Sabotage Your Writing AND Your Health at the SAME TIME!

You can’t write if you’re dead. Obviously.

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What might not be so obvious? You can’t write when you’re miserable or unhealthy, either.

Despite that, the trope of the Tortured Artist prevails. Our literature textbooks are packed with romanticized tales of famous authors who were alcoholics, who were severely depressed, who lived fast, died young, or committed suicide. The tale is that their creativity somehow stemmed from their suffering, that they created works of such depth and beauty through the inspiration of pain.

Personally, I’d rather not be one of them.

Im gonna live

We have our own milder version of this in the online writing community today. We tweet about consuming crazy amounts of caffeine to fuel our marathon writing sprees, pouring a whiskey to muster the courage to hit ‘send’, and binging on cookies and ice cream to mourn our rejections. In a way, we celebrate these things, romanticize the struggle to create art and get published. It’s a coping mechanism. It makes the process seem sexy and heroic. It creates camaraderie. It’s something we all bond over, something we can shoot a knowing smile over and think, yep, I know how it is.

I get it. I’m guilty of it. So very, very guilty.

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For me, it’s the combination of small bads that make a big bad. Back problems from sitting in a chair writing all the time. Caffeine addiction and levels of coffee consumption that are kind of scary. Unhealthy eating habits that may involve consuming massive amounts of cake and/or nachos. All of these things chip away at my mental and physical health. My system is always flying between highs and crashes from caffeine and sugar, so how can I possibly expect my brain to operate at peak writing performance?

I’m not saying don’t drink caffeine or eat sweets, or trying to demonize those who do. I’m not your mamma. I’m saying I don’t want to be one of those writers who romanticizes unhealthy habits or ties them intrinsically to the process of writing. Yes, they’re things I do on occasion, but I need to divorce them from my identity as a writer, lest my writing become dependent on unsustainable habits. Being a writer is a risky profession. There’s already a high correlation between being a writer and things like depression, and I deal with those problems with or without my writing. I need to take the best care of my body and my mind possible so I can continue to create throughout my entire life. A functioning body is essential for a functioning brain, so I’m committing right now to taking better care of my brain’s vessel.

I’m probably going to fail for a while, because look—I really love cake and coffee and rum.

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And you better believe you’ll see me at big celebrations with my third rum and coke in one hand and a slice of cake in the other. But I want to be writing for a long, long time. To make that happen, I have to get my day-to-day habits back on track. Maybe one cup of coffee in the morning is enough. Maybe I don’t need that sixth cup at 10:00pm, right?

Don’t sabotage your health or your writing. Set yourself up for success. Care for your body and brain. Make your writing a positive force in your life, not one that puts you at risk.

What sorts of habits are you seeking to change, and how do you think they could improve your writing life? Let us know in the comments!

July Pep Talk: Staring Down Yet Another Round of Revisions

Pep Talk: Staring Down Yet Another Round of Revisions | To the Shelves

At the moment, I’m in the middle of my fourth round of revisions, and I’ve been repeating these words to myself for the past five months.

You have the endurance. You have the ambition.

Six years ago I began writing a book. This wasn’t the first book I’d ever written. It was the second. The first one had taken me a year and a half to write. I didn’t do any revisions. Didn’t let a single soul read it. Nope. When it was finished, I sent it straight off to six agents. My dream agents.

At this point, my life had one purpose and one purpose only—to become a published writer. I knew it would happen. I had zero doubts in myself. My heart beat the truest and the steadiest in the words I wrote, and I believed this wild dream of mine would come true. It had to. Because it was more than a dream. It was a destiny.

Of course, in my absolute desire to get this result, I ignored all the advice that told me to wait, to revise, to put in more work, and I thereby cultivated a 100% rejection rate on the first novel I ever tried to get published.

This was quite a blow. But, still, my ambition and belief in self spurred me on, and a few months later, I started something new.

I’m still working on that book today.

Perhaps because I was so hasty with that first story, I’ve been extremely cautious and protective of this second one. I’ve taken my time. I’ve written other things on the side (about 400K-words-worth of other things on the side). I’ve given myself long months of absolutely no words. I’ve allowed the story percolate and coagulate into something solid. I’ve allowed myself to grow, to experience things, to play and be weird and make mistakes. Even though I started the book in 2011, I didn’t finish a first draft until July of 2014. After that, it took me a year to go through the first round of revisions and a couple more months to go through the second round. For the third round, I got into Pitch Wars. So then, there I was, allowing someone to read my book for the first time ever. My mentor, Summer Spence, gave me wonderful, beautiful ideas and cheered me on and pushed me and helped carry the weight of this story that had been burning so strongly inside me and only me for the past five and a half years.

After I finished my Pitch Wars revisions, I thought. This is it! I finally have a story I’m ready to share with agents. I’m finally ready to try this again.

Alas, sometimes we think we are ready, but we are not ready.

In January, I came to terms with the fact that my book needed one more round of revisions (at least) before I’d feel comfortable sending it out to agents. This would be my fourth round, I whined to myself. I can’t do a fourth round! I stared at my stupid book title and my stupid main character’s name and all the other stupid words I’d put together. I hated every single one of them.

My brain said, Nope. We’re not doing this. Absolutely not. I refuse to care about this book and I refuse to let you think about it.

I kept trying to spark my mind into revision mode, but my mind was having none of it. Instead, I started plotting a new story, completely different and beautiful in its own way. I wrote fifty pages of this very pretty, very seductive thing. But deep in my heart, I knew I couldn’t commit to it fully. I had to give the original WIP one more decent round of revisions.

In March, I opened up the Word doc that contained my story and stared at it.

You have the endurance. You have the ambition, I reminded myself. But still, I couldn’t drum up the motivation to do anything. I couldn’t even read it. So I put it away.

In April, I didn’t write a single word. I watched Dancing with the Stars. I read tons of YA novels and a few nonfiction books too. I played some shows with my band. All the while I’d think about my book sitting there, waiting for its next round of revisions, and I’d say to myself, You have the endurance. You have the ambition.

In May, I went to the beach. I went to a wedding and danced my heart out. I watched The Bachelorette for the first time ever with my best friend. I trained for a 5K. I started taking self-defense classes. I opened up my book. You have the endurance. You have the ambition. But I put it away again.

At the beginning of June, I watched season six of Pretty Little Liars in its entirety over the course of one weekend. Lying on my couch and drinking wine, staring at the ceiling, I listened to Six of Crows on audiobook. I learned how to play “Silver Springs” on my guitar. I opened up my book. You have the endurance. You have the ambition.

This time my stomach didn’t turn. This time I read the first sentence, then the first paragraph, then the first page, then the first chapter. I kept reading after that. I had some ideas and I wrote them down. I left notes for myself in the margin. This pigeon part is weird, Courtney. Take it out. And She doesn’t have to be so mean ALL the time. I wrote a brand-new outline. I got a little bit excited about the changes I wanted to make.

Now I’m in the thick of my fourth round—which when you think about it, isn’t even that bad—and every day that I manage to open up the doc, I tell myself, You have the endurance. You have the ambition.

If you’ve written a book, if you’re struggling, if you don’t know if you can stand the thought of writing one more word, I promise that you can. You have the endurance. You have the ambition. You wouldn’t have started such a gargantuan task in the first place if you didn’t. The books we’re working on now may never find an agent, may never find a publisher, may never find an audience, may never, may never, may never…

But stories are complex things that take work and time and patience. You have the endurance for this. You also have the ambition to see it through, no matter how many rounds of revisions it goes through. Your ambition will push you, will keep your fires lit, will drive you forward.

I will repeat it, as many times as you need to hear it. I will say it again and again until it’s real. Until it’s true. Until you believe it with everything. You have the endurance. You have the ambition.

June Pep Talk: A Letter to Myself

Pep Talk June 2016

Dear Steph,

It’s okay if you get overwhelmed at work and take a break from writing. Lots of people make it work, but that doesn’t mean you can stay healthy trying to force it. Gather ideas, fill your creative tank with books and music and movies, and be ready for when you can physically and emotionally return to writing. Don’t let the idea of how you are “supposed to write” spoil and become a poison.

It is not a betrayal of your friends to feel sad that you aren’t where you want to be right now. Remember that the success of other’s has absolutely nothing to do with you. It doesn’t mean you are an awful writer, it doesn’t mean that you will never be successful, it doesn’t mean anything at all except that your friend’s hard work met some good timing. Your sadness may be irrational, but it is okay to feel it. But just for a moment. Then, get lost in your happiness for other’s.

Most importantly, give yourself some grace. You are allowed to fail. You are allowed to succeed. Neither of these options reflects on you as a person. Be honest, keep writing, and take care of yourself.

Love,

Steph

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