So You Haven’t Been Writing

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Confession: I haven’t been writing everyday.

I haven’t been showing up. I haven’t been sitting at my desk or in a café or in my window seat at Barnes & Noble. My laptop has been dead for days. I literally had to dig my backpack out from under laundry and empty candle packages.

Honestly, my mind is a little cluttered these days:

  • Will George R.R. Martin finish A Dream of Spring?
  • I can totally go one more day without washing my hair
  • We’re short-staffed again.
  • I’m sorry, but your story became too passive.
  • They won’t loan you money to open a bookstore with this much student loan debt
  • He’s not good for you anyway
  • Don’t let them see you angry
  • Why, yes, that is a cheese stain on the page of my book
  • Maybe if I just add a dragon to this story, it’ll be more exciting
  • I’ll just eat my feelings today
  • I’ll write tomorrow

And on and on it goes. Sometimes I find it hard to cut through all of the noise in my head. Halfway through Camp Nano, I’ve lost almost all of my steam. I’m not even a quarter of the way through this draft and I don’t know what it is, but something’s not right.

I have this problem: when I give myself to something (someone), I give it all without a second though. I fall madly in love with that project, that place, that person, that book, that idea, and usually, by the time it’s finished, there’s nothing left of me at the end. But it only occurs to me after everything’s said and done that I somehow lost myself along the way. And writing usually helps me discover who I’m supposed to be now, to get back those pieces that I threw to the wind.

It hasn’t happened with this project yet. I think it might be because my brain hasn’t wrapped entirely around the plot. Contemporaries are so hard to write because they rely so heavily on the characters and the emotional pay-off. And recent feedback on my last novel really has me frozen because all I can think about is agency. But maybe I’m thinking too hard about the plot, about the characters, about what I want the final draft to look like.

But maybe it’s also exhaustion and frustration and staying up late after working on my feet all day and not getting enough sleep even when I’m not staying up to read (or write) and drinking too much coffee and worrying too much about the future and feeling like a constant disappointment and a failure and like I can’t take care of myself because of a) my anxiety and b) there are just so many life things I have to do that writing can’t always come first.

Not writing makes me feel guilty. It’s self-inflicted and hard to put aside.

I honestly thought that maybe I would write an inspirational post about how you shouldn’t be too hard on yourself when you step away from the page. Like maybe I would say things like: life gets in the way, you can take a break to breathe, it’s better to focus on yourself than the story in your head, let it come naturally, you will write again, you will achieve your dreams, you’ll find your way through this roadblock. I even thought I’d mention at least once that it’s not worth it to hold it against yourself, that living is apart of writing, as is reading and exploring and falling in love with yourself and the world and others. It’s okay to step back and let life run its course and the story to draw you back in at a later time.

But the truth is, I suffer for my art. I hold it against myself when I remember to just live, when my thoughts are more on friendships that are beginning to crack, how to not hold on so tightly to people who will never stay, how to just ask him to stay, how there is too much comparison happening, how things don’t just happen at your will, how dreams take time.

The thing is, there will come a point in the future when I sit down and write. I won’t think much of it then, probably not until after I’ve returned to the finish draft. Those months will feel like magic, a breeze against my cheek in a room with all of the windows closed as I reread those scenes: a guy in a bookstore with his hands on her face, a conversation she had with her father at the kitchen table, an elderly man paying for a cup of coffee with pennies, looking at a summer sky through a moonroof, fireflies in the yard, Google searches that lead to rabbit holes, late-night conversations with him about his favorite author and the book he hoped to one day write, fighting with friends via text, losing yourself in a job you don’t enjoy, crying in a Starbucks bathroom.

And it might take a few moments or months or years before I understand where those all came from and why they took me so long to write in the first place.

5 Essentials to Surviving Camp Nanowrimo

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I’ve embarked on a new WIP for Camp Nanowrimo 2019. Every time I think about this new one, I’m not sure I understand it yet. Which is part of the fun, because first drafts are for mistakes and too much dialogue and too little description and INSERT CHARACTER NAME HERE moments and plot holes and being continuously surprised by your characters and where they take you.

However, first drafts are daunting. And when you’re doing something like Camp Nanowrimo, it can be intimidating staring down a new project and not knowing what to write next. For me, there is fear of failure, of not meeting word counts, of writing myself into a corner.

Believe me when I say I worry about this a lot. During November 2018, I failed Nanowrimo. The official novel writing month challenges asks you to write at least 50k in thirty days. You’re supposed to sit down every day and write at least 1,666 words. You’re supposed to make a dent in that story that’s been weighing on your mind. You’re supposed to let go of self-control and perfectionism and just write.

That is hard.

Which is why Camp Nano is one of my favorite times of the year. Because there is more flexibility (of course, you’re not signing away your soul or your firstborn during November and can loosely cheat if that’s your style) with the camp version. You can declare whether you’re editing or writing or rewriting or whatever it is you need to do to finish the current draft. You get to pick your ow word count goal, meaning you can aim high or low and make it easier or harder on yourself.

No matter what, showing up every day to write can be difficult. I decided that I still wanted to write at least 50k this month. My current draft was sitting at a meager 8,377 words before I started, which means it’ll be around the 60k word count by the end of April.

We’re eleven days in and I have no idea if I’ll actually reach my goal. I’ve been wavering around 1k words per day now (but I’m hoping that once I catch up on my GOT re-watch and season 8 premieres, I’ll be back on track).

But I’m still writing every day. And here’s how:

5 ESSENTIALS TO SURVIVING CAMP NANOWRIMO

1. A Pre-Existing Idea

I’ve found that in previous years when I went into Nanowrimo without any solid idea of what I was going to write that month, I always failed. So, this year, I decided to return to a partial draft that’s been sitting in my .docs for a while. with only 8k words, I haven’t put so much time into it that it’s well on its way to being finished, but it’s also not so new that I don’t know anything about my hopes or my intentions for this story.

Knowing the general trajectory of the plot helps me keep writing and doesn’t keep me constantly in a “create” mode, which can be hard to maintain for a week, let alone a whole month.

2. A No Rereading/Rewriting Rule

I struggle with perfectionism, and will often times write several pages only to highlight and delete them moments after. (Sometimes, I really regret that decision and will ultimately undo it). But I can’t spend time this month getting caught up in small details that don’t require my immediate attention or damage the story in any way.

This time around, I’ve instated a new rule that I cannot reread or rewrite any of my scenes. (Admittedly, I’ve broken this rule once because it was very apparent halfway through the chapter that it was not at all what I was envisioning for it). But rereading and rewriting make me lose my momentum. I get caught up in things that don’t actually need to be fixed right away and once I get too focused on the minor problems, I can’t move on. I eventually just stop writing.

3. A Draft 2 Notepad

Because of the above rule, I needed a way to please my inner editor. Sometimes, she just won’t shut up. Like she’ll see something on the page or think of something better and won’t let me move forward until I’ve fixed whatever problem has caught her attention.

So, this time around, I’ve kept blank pages in my project notebook to scribble down ideas for things that need to be changed/reworked/rewritten/deleted in the next draft. It’s not as satisfying as going back and just rewriting everything from the very first line, it’s making it easier to keep moving forward.

(You might me noticing a pattern and it really is all about momentum and keeping writing and not getting caught up in the mistakes.)

4. A Scene Jar

Inevitably, I will get stuck. I will most likely write myself into a corner, or realize I’m missing a crucial event that needed to happen several chapters ago or that I just don’t like the current direction the draft is taking. And since I’m not starting with a random idea and no words, I went ahead and scribbled down different scene ideas on notecards. I dropped them into a mason jar, and now, whenever I’m feeling stuck, I pick a random scene to write.

I’ve found that it works great for a project in which you know the general gist of the characters/place/plot because the scene ideas feel like specialized prompts.

5. A Reward System

Finally, I created a word-count tracker. I’ve been using the pacemaker.press websitte as well as a notebook. At the end of the night, I scribble in the box if I’ve met my word count goal and jot down my daily progress regardless. Each week, I get to reward myself with something as long as I have shown up every day to write. It’s a simple but effective way to hold myself accountable, but also not guilt-trip myself either.

 

These are just small pieces of my process for Camp Nanowrimo. They’re all relatively simple, but I’ve found that they keep me writing, which is ultimately my goal for this month.

Do you have any tips or tricks to tackling a draft in one month? Drop them below, I’d love to know how your project is going!

The Bright Side

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So…it’s been awhile.

I know at the beginning of January, I had all of the intentions of posting weekly, but I started a new position at my job that quickly deterred me from a lot in life (and ate up almost all of my free time). It’s not glamorous in any way, and more often than not, I’m left exhausted and angry at the end of the night.

Let’s just say that 2019 isn’t exactly turning out to be the year of my dreams.

If anything, I’m quickly realizing that this might be the year that challenges me, that will continuously ask me how far I’m willing to go and how much I’m willing to sacrifice to achieve these dreams.

I’ve been holding onto a lot of rejection lately, which has led to a lot of dissatisfaction about my current place in life. After feeling incredible about the interview I had with a publishing house in New York, I ultimately didn’t land the job. The last agent who had the full draft of my last book didn’t want it. These were two things that could have changed the trajectory of my life. (I should be clear to point out that all I really want right now is some form of stability, which only one of these could have truly offered. I’m well aware of how competitive the publishing field is and I’m so grateful for these opportunities.)

Anyway, it felt very much like the publishing world wanted nothing I had to offer.

Admittedly, there was a lot of anger and frustration and many tears because these are things I’ve wanted since I was a child. Things that I have spent more money than I will ever have in order to be educated to increase my chances, to have internships, to have spent time writing, to buy books. Things I had romanticized as an escape from this very present stuck feeling that I cannot shake no matter how hard I try.

I am ridiculously hard on myself. Failure is a word that makes me deeply uncomfortable, but I have always gotten back up. Sometimes, I just power through it and suppress any and all emotions until fate brings them rising to the surface and I have no choice but to confront them.

So, this time, I tried to deal with it. I felt it all. I spent the Friday evening that both rejections landed in my inbox at home alone. I read my book, pretended it didn’t hurt, dug the knife in deeper by telling myself I’d never get my foot in the publishing world door and that I wasn’t good enough to be an editorial assistant or an author anyway. I watched too many episodes of Bob’s Burgers and cried through the funny parts (because losing out on both opportunities felt like going through a break up), and then I took a bath and went to bed.

It’s been about a week now, and I feel a little better. I talked to a friend about it, someone who has always been upfront with me, whether it was about my manuscript or life. She told me about a friend of hers that made her realize writing/publishing could be a career. But this friend ended up taking every rejection very personally and just gave up.

That’s something I refuse to do. Even when I feel I’m at my worst, at my lowest, I will always try to stand back up. It might take some time, but I’ve learned through the years of rejections arriving in my inbox that this is proof that I’m trying. And, yes, it’s extremely hard to look on the bright side when you feel further from achieving your dreams than ever before. But isn’t it worse to just walk away? To not keep trying?

Because in the publishing world, all it really takes is one yes.

And it was that alone that made me sit back up. Yesterday marked the first day of Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve been sitting on a third of a draft for some time, but have hardly written anything in months. But I woke up yesterday morning with one thing on my mind:

it is time to begin again.

Debut Tuesday

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Hey readers,

It’s Wednesday, my second favorite day of the week. If you’re wondering, my favorite is Tuesday, the day that I intended to post this. Why Tuesday? Well, every Tuesday, we are #blessed with new YA releases. I’ve been waiting for this specific Tuesday–July 31st—for a while. You see, I treat myself every Tuesday to a new book because Barnes & Noble just so happens to be on my way home.

Let’s take a look at what came out yesterday:

  1. Sea Witch by Sara Henning
  2. The Cheerleaders by Kara Thomas
  3. Heart of Thorns by Bree Barton
  4. Grace & Fury by Tracy Banghart
  5. Kiss of the Royal by Lindsey Duga

The first are two of my most anticipated reads of 2018. If you haven’t read the summary to The Cheerleaders, then you need to do that ASAP because gosh darn does it sound amazing. And since I stopped yesterday on the way to the Arctic Monkeys concert with my friend, I snagged it. I started it at one a.m. and I only have, like, a hundred pages left.

Anyway, I was hoping my favorite bookseller would be there. He’s this older man who is there every Tuesday when I go in. It’s gotten to the point where I like to think he expects my arrival and also dreads having to go into the back to get me books because I go out and buy them on release day. I’m one of those people who digs herself into a Goodreads hole and then spends the next year pining for books that don’t even have a specific release date yet.

But that’s what keeps authors writing, what keeps giving us the ability to go to bookstores and buy physical copies. It’s something we need to keep up, which is why I’ve started something new I’m super excited about.

It’s called Debut Tuesday, and you can see it at debut-tuesday.com. You can find out more about my mission there on the Welcome page, but if you’ve put the clues from above together, it’s a YA review site aimed at debuts. I don’t want to forget our favorite authors (especially with the knowledge that we will get a third Six of Crows novel and not to mention the last book in the Throne of Glass series is coming out SO SOON and Wayward Son is waiting for us in 2020), so I have some cool things planned for established authors as well. But my primary focus is debuts. Their success depends so heavily on first week sales and reviews–posted on retail websites–and I want to contribute to that in any small way I can. I love writing, I love hearing about writing process, and I love seeing authors achieve their publishing dreams.

I hope you’ll join me on this new adventure! I’ll be posting here as I work on getting my novel into shape for Pitch Wars (all of the nerves), as well as on both my personal and Debut Tuesday’s Instagram. There’s already a first Debut Tuesday Spotlight post on a YA own-voices contemporary novel on the site.

I can’t wait to share more with you guys!

As always, thanks for reading!

The Rejections Start Coming and They Don’t Stop Coming

Getting the first rejection out of the way is always the hardest. It’s that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, that flicker of doubt, those voices in your own head whispering you’re not good enough.

But once you open the email, read through the (generally) kind rejection form, you move on. I have a special folder in my email labeled REJECTIONS. That way, I know they’re there, but I don’t have to see them every time I check my email.

The first rejection came pretty fast. I sent out to this particular agent on Saturday morning and heard back this morning. It’s Tuesday. So it’s only been three days. So, it really hasn’t sunk in yet.

I was a bit hesitant to send to this agent initially, mostly because the guidelines on their website weren’t entirely clear. I had the normal reaction, but then I moved the email into its folder and marked the agent as a “no” on my list.

I’m sure at some point in the day it’ll really hit me. Like at the least opportune time I’ll remember I’ve been rejected and then I’ll have a moment of self-doubt and worry that every agent won’t be interested, or that I’ve somehow talked myself into sending out a project that isn’t ready for this world. Or, maybe that the world isn’t ready for.

Either way, rejection stings. Every sort of rejection hurts and there are two ways to deal with it. You can act on your anger and embarrass yourself, or you can see it as a bump in the road and just keep on moving forward. The latter is easier said than done, especially in regards to writing. Because for those of us who are serious about the time we put into our craft, who have fallen wildly and passionately in love with writing, and are hoping to seriously publish, then it hurts. It hurts a lot.

But the road to publication is paved with rejection. Unfortunately, in a business that is so subjective, it’s inevitable. You’ve gotta have a spine. It’s very rare that the first book writers query are the one that they get picked up for. And getting an agent to love your project is only the first obstacle, since after more edits and deadlines, you’ve gotta make an editor fall in love with your work as well. I mean, your agent is doing the negotiations and legwork, but it’s up to you to have a really freaking great book.

But do not despair. I am a firm believer in that everything happens for a reason. Things like this take time. So for those of you who are dealing with rejections and think you might never get published, take deep breaths. We’re all in the same boat here. It just depends on whether or not you let one small misfire sink you.

The Now What Stage

It’s the morning after I sent out my first round of queries. Admittedly, I’ve had very little sleep because not only was the whole process terrifying, it was exhilarating. I couldn’t sleep afterwards, and was up until two-thirty stress-eating cheese in bed while watching The Great British Baking Show again.

Earlier this week, I talked about my feelings of dread for the query letter, and now that I’ve sent one out, I feel somehow worse and better at the same time. Worse because you can never really know whether or not an agent is going to respond (and I don’t mean like via e-mail, but emotionally) to your query no matter what you do to it. Not to mention, some agencies only give you a few pages, I’m talking like three, to capture their attention, and if you’re anything like me, those first three pages are the absolute hardest to nail. Anyway, the whole process is really just one giant risk, because you could have an incredible novel at your hands and they could still reject you.

Like, think about those first agents that rejected J.K. Rowling. I bet one of their biggest regrets in life is not giving her a chance. But, also, once again, the whole thing is subjective. Not everyone out there is going to respond to your novel. There’s always going to be at least one person who can find something wrong with it, or it simply isn’t appealing to them. Of course, this is why I research the agents—their current and past deals, their Manuscript Wishlist accounts, their submission guidelines, their Twitter and other social media, and their blogs—so that hopefully I’m sending them something they could very potentially be interested in.

One of my close friends said something interesting to me last night when I sent her a text with a lot of vomiting emojis. Basically, she said that as I move on, I should think of every inevitable (she didn’t say this, but I’m being realistic) rejection is just proof that I’m working hard and sending out my work. And it’s true. Writers get rejected all of the time, and I cannot sit here and write this with my head so far up in the clouds that I think that I’m going to get snatched up on the first few queries I’ve sent out.

But it’s strange and a little worrisome. For the next several weeks, I’m going to have anxiety about opening my email. I’m going to remind myself that Stephen King was rejected a whole bunch of times before he ever got published. And it’s not like I haven’t experienced rejection before with my writing. I epically failed with sending out my last novel. I just really really hope that this one is different.

Now that I’ve begun querying, I’ve entered this weird in-between stage. My novel is “finished,” filed away on a USB and also on my desktop, so I even though I keep finding myself gravitating to it, wanting to work on it, I have to remind myself that I’ve done what I believe is a ton of work, and I should let it breathe as I continue sending out my queries. This also leads me to another interesting thing I heard during a chat with a Penguin editor via a monthly book box subscription I get. One of the authors on the chat said that she knew when to start sending out her novel because she was no longer making it better, just different. That’s what I’m doing. Lots of nitpicking at this point, changing things just for the sake of changing.

So, I decided to start querying. I’ve had people critique my query letter, I’ve workshopped several drafts of my novel, and now it’s time to take the plunge. Which I’m currently doing in waves, so that every week, the novel lands in 5-10 new inboxes, and that’s 5-10 more chances of acceptance or rejection.

I’ve thought about the ideas rattling around in my head. I am very much a person who, if she doesn’t write at least once a day, she is absolutely positively cranky. Really, though, I’m so fresh out of this novel that I’m not sure what I’m going to do. I believe I’ll be blogging a bit more. I mean, I’ve already started! Two posts in one week? That’s incredible for me!

I also think I’m going to try and read more. I mean, I do tend to read a lot already, but I’ll be posting some reviews here, mostly YA, looking at novels from a writer’s standpoint and hopefully concentrating on some debut novels. Sometime next week I’m going to be posting something I’ve already written (!!!) about the importance of reviews for authors, and then hopefully finally getting around to the pile of novels I’ve recently read and need to write my feelings about.

Also, Bookcon is coming up, and I cannot contain my excitement. But that’s in next week’s post as well, and I’m getting ahead of myself.

For now, I need to enjoy my time in this weird, Upside Down-type of place I’m in (sans Demagorgon) and take a breather.

The Dreaded Query Letter

In the background of today’s writing session is a thunderstorm. There’s nothing quite like thunder, and rain has always been my favorite weather despite its tendency to ruin plans. Perhaps that’s exactly why I like it, because then I have an excuse to stay in bed and read, and as of late, obsessively watch The Great British Baking Show.

Last month, I somehow managed to read six books, which for me, is a lot. I never read that many, because after being a literature major/philosophy minor in undergrad, I read slowly because I tend to write comments in the margins and highlight the crap out of passages/books I love. Yes, I’m one of those readers who loves her books so much she breaks the spine, dogears the pages, writes in ink. I love when I can tell books are loved.

Anyway, my point is that lately, I haven’t been reading much, and that has to do with the topic of today’s post: the dreaded query letter. I have finally achieved a draft that feels right. I have plans to try one more structural tweak before I send off the first few pages to my list of agents, but my beta-readers have been incredibly helpful. Honestly, I just feel really loved, and their comments and insights have been incredibly helpful these past few months getting this manuscript into great shape.

It might be a little risky, given just last week I was talking about not rushing things. But, this will be Draft Six, and though there are probably some things I’ve missed, I’m hoping to work with an editorial agent who is willing help me with this difficult novel.

Thus begins the process of writing a query letter. Two things I’ve noticed since the last time I wrote one: a) I forgot how to do so, and b) writing a query letter for a contemporary versus a fantasy is insanely different. When I was writing the one for my first novel, it came so easy because I knew exactly what was at stake, I knew which books I could comp it with, and I knew the structure was linear and easy to follow.

This time around, not so much. I think it’s because I’m so much more attached to this novel, and that when I let myself run around daydreams of the publishing world, it’s this novel that’s my debut. Which is a scary freaking thing. But I think that’s why the query is so hard to nail. It’s the thing that stands between your writing getting into the hands of an agent.

Honestly, I feel like it’s an antiquated bit of the publishing world, but I do understand its function and necessity. It’s the first (now, often virtual) impression you’re making on someone you may eventually begin to build a professional relationship with. If you can’t summarize your own book, that often means you don’t understand the heart of it just yet. Also, just a bit of advice, almost all agencies have guidelines on querying. Read through and follow them, or risk your query getting deleted without being read.

One of my professors during Thesis Seminar once told us that writers wear a lot of hats. At that point, some were just beginning to write their thesis and others were editing. She pointed that out, that you’re using different parts of your brain for each task. When I’m writing, I try not to think about mistakes. I just write. When I’m editing, I’m thinking about structure, the function of scenes, the necessity of scenes and characters.

So, writing queries also falls into the collection of hats we wear. It’s a frustrating one, to be honest. The kind that itches, the kind that falls down over our eyes whenever we duck our heads, the one that make it hard to hear the outside world. I also feel kind of stuffy when I wear this hat, because I’m trying to be businesslike, but also not lose the heart of my novel.

There are just so many ideas and opinions on the query letter these days, that you have to go in it just knowing that what you absolutely have to have is a great hook. Make the agent want to read more, make them wonder what will happen in the book. Some agents may pay more attention to the query than others, mostly because they’re trying to see if a) you can summarize your book, b) you listen to instruction, and, most importantly, c) you know how to sell your book.

Some of my fellow writers who are querying are relying on their pages to make up for their query letter. I’ve seen manuscripts picked up regardless of how garbage their query actually is, but I personally am too scared to take that risk. I want to show that I can do both, that I can wear all of the hats–not at once, of course, because then I would look ridiculous (Dobby from Harry Potter comes to mind)–even if this is all metaphorical.

Knowing that you’re about to make a first impression on someone is intimidating. Especially when you feel like you’re packing up all of your hard work and dreams into a little package and sending it for judgment. The whole process is subjective, something that was once included in a rejection email I received last time around. It was probably the most helpful piece of advice I had received, because it was a good reminder that even though no one offered to sign me, it didn’t mean I wasn’t talented or didn’t have any chance at getting published. It just meant that that project wasn’t the right one for this particular agent. I guess, really, that’s what you have to remember through this process.

Gosh, I know this post is insanely long, so thanks for reading. I guess I just had way more feelings–i.e. dread–about the query letter than I initially thought. But it is important to have faith in yourself. Writing and publishing really is about the journey, and someday, you’ll look back and be thankful you took your time, you wrote the best manuscript you could. So, to all of you querying, I wish you luck.

The Need for Taking Your Time

Wednesday was supposed to be my deadline to send Draft 2 to my critique partner. It didn’t happen. My work schedule was all over the place, I had to read and critique manuscripts/queries for other writers, and I was exhausted. All excuses. But what I forget when making deadlines for myself is that I tend to make them unattainable. I always rush things, and they end disastrously.

Take, for example, the novel I wrote for my thesis. During boards, when I had to defend this book, my child, and listen to critiques that, in the moment were helpful but looking back are now discouraging, I knew the book needed to be put away. I had been writing it, workshopping it, crying over it at Panera Bread with my writing friends and in my advisor’s office for the entire course of grad school. And when it was all over, I was proud of myself for being one of four students to turn in an entire novel before boards.

My life during that final semester of grad school, was amazing. I mean, I wasn’t working, so that caused me ~insane~ anxiety, but I was living on my own in a cute apartment with my even cuter dog. I was eating pizza and writing all of the time. I had multiple weekly writing dates with people in my program at various indie coffee shops across the city, had made amazing friends when we all traveled to Peru the summer before, whom I went to AWP with in D.C. I was accepted into and attended the MadCap Writing Cross Culturally Workshop in Gatlinburg, TN, where I spent four star-struck days learning from established YA writers like Leigh Bardugo, Julie Murphy, and upcoming debut ones like Nic Stone and Ashley Woodfolk. I got to eat lunch with Nicola Yoon and talk about her writing processes for Everything, Everything and The Sun is Also a Star. And, on top of all of that, Dhonielle Clayton read the beginning of my manuscript and her critique was so unbelievably helpful and kind.

Back in the Burgh, we were doing monthly readings for the program. I found my voice that semester, not just in writing YA, but in finally writing non-fic pieces about past failed relationships, about my broken heart and traumatic moments. I read aloud and felt on fire each and every time. I found my group of my writers, and we danced Friday nights away, and did many shots of tequila before readings.

I’d never had a friend group like this, people who stayed, people who loved me despite my mess of a heart, how easily I cry, how much I feel things. The love and respect was mutual. Iceland was awaiting my arrival in a few short weeks, I was admittedly starting to develop feelings for someone in the program and it was scary and wonderful and terrible all at once, and somehow, I was the happiest I’d ever been in my entire life.

I wasn’t prepared for what happened once I followed the sharp bend in the road. The end was nearing. People were getting ready to move away from Pittsburgh to chase their own dreams, and I wasn’t excited for graduation. I was absolutely terrified. It came and it went, and it was a few months later when I woke up and realized my life had blown apart.

I stopped writing. I read through my thesis novel without really reading it. I had my heart broken, went to amend things, made it a thousand times worse, and broke it myself. I burned bridges, embarrassed people I respected, and cried more that I’ve probably ever cried in my life. (And honestly, that’s saying a lot.) I was depressed, living with my parents, had no job, no prospects of a job. All I had was this “finished” book.

Even though it wasn’t anywhere near ready, I needed so desperately for someone to say that all of this pain was worth it. That my voice was compelling, that in months when I felt like I could never be enough for anyone–as a friend, as a lover, as a student, as an intern, as a writer–this manuscript was exactly what they were looking for. I just wanted to be wanted in return. I wanted someone to stay.

I rushed it. I wrote a query letter, sent it out to a list of agents I had researched, and was not surprised or even crushed by the rejections. But then one of the agents asked for a full, and even though I knew this book was terrible, even though I’d done everything I’d been told not to do, I sent it to her in a haste. It was rushed and I’m embarrassed and still mad at myself for it. Needless to say, I never heard back from that agent.

All of this is to say that you shouldn’t rush things like this. Sure, sometimes, the daydream of being published and having my books on the shelf is so visceral that I can’t wait a moment longer. I get ahead of myself a lot. So this time, I’m taking it slow. I’m going to forgive myself for the missed deadline, and I’m going to keep writing this draft. I think this attempt will be different. Because this is the book straight out of my heart.

Hopefully, one day I’ll get to share it with you all.

This is for Me, But Also for You

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I know there will come a day when I wish I had started this sooner. If only I had been paying closer attention from the very beginning, watching my writing grow and writing about the process of writing a novel. But, in my twenty-four years on this planet, I’ve come to accept that I am habitually late: to work, to hanging out with my friends, to understanding my emotions, to acting on those emotions, to surprise parties, to meetings with people I respect. I’ve also accepted that perspective always changes in hindsight. So, whereas I normally feel guilty about all of the above, I’m letting this one slide.

For those of you who don’t know, and at this point, none of you do, I’m a writer living in the rural outskirts of Pittsburgh. I have a MFA in Creative Writing, and my speciality was children’s literature, along with publishing and travel writing. My heart is in writing for young adults. It’s one of those markets that’s flourishing as it grows, and as of many recent publications, it’s starting to do things that other areas in the lit world haven’t quite caught on to yet. (So, I’ll say it right now. This is a blog that celebrates all aspects of diverse writing, diverse characters, and the continuous push for own voices and marginalized writers. Every child/teen/person deserves to see themselves on the page.) I have hope that YA Lit will continue to harness respect from other genres, and that when I talk to people about what I write, I’m not ashamed to tell the truth.

That, alone, is a post for another time. Which makes me excited for all of the things I want to write about more in-depth.

Anyway, for the past nine months–at this point, ten–I have been writing a YA contemporary novel. For now, I’m keeping the details and title to myself. It was a big step, going from writing fantasy to writing contemporary. I spent a lot of time researching YA contemporary novels in order to better understand how they told their stories, because mine is very much a character-driven story. And when you’re used to writing lots of plot, it all just feels. So. Slow.

I took a different approach with this novel. I just wrote. I withheld from my usual habit of editing as I went about forming the draft. And on January 25th, 2018, I finished the first draft at around 3:30 a.m.

It was scary, because this one felt different. It still feels different. Like it has more potential to go places. Of course, it’s not ready yet. It’s been through several read-throughs by other writer friends, a round of editing, as well as structural revisions. It’s about to depart from my inbox to another round of reading by my critique partner. (Who I met through grad school and is an amazing person and writer, btw.)

I guess all of that is why I’m writing this blog. I want to document this journey. The one of finishing a novel, of polishing it, of researching agents and querying. It might be one that ends drastically, but also, there’s a chance I might prevail. It could be the adventure I’ve always dreamed about. Except with maybe less dragons, which is probably the most disappointing thing about it.

In the end, I would love it if you stuck around! Maybe you’re about to embark on this process as well, maybe you’re published, and maybe you’re not a writer at all. Either way, welcome.