Surprisingly, the hardest part of writing, is not writing. In Amy Poehler's Yes Please, she titles her preface "Writing is Hard". But even as she talks about this, she says she can write a scene or skit in record time. Because putting the words down on the page is not always the most challenging part. It's everything that comes with it, after it, that can be soul-sucking hard. But if you want it, like really want to hold your book in your hands (and yes, e-books count), you have to accept that no matter how easily the words come, there is so much more to writing a story than getting words on a page.
Not gonna lie: EDITING IS HARD. It feels like putting together a 1000 piece puzzle, knocking it over, and starting again. But not being allowed to put the pieces back in the same order you did last time. And maybe not using all of the same pieces. And maybe not even using the same puzzle. Sometimes it's like scrapping the first puzzle, except for the corner pieces, and going with a brand new one. You're not even sure it's possible to do that. Because IT'S HARD. But it's satisfying to see something that you love, a piece of you, become something more, something bigger. Something that elicits all of the feelings in your readers that you meant to. And, rarely can you do that the first time around.
Making connections without being annoying
I'm still working on this one. I've made so many amazing and wonderful connections and I don't use those words lightly. The people I've met since I started writing are so supportive- offering advice and feedback and direction. I've developed what I know will be lifelong friendships with many people and there are many that I truly hope to meet in real life. However, I often feel like the tag along, the third wheel, the annoying girl who asks a deliberately complicated question in class when the professor says you can go early if there's no more questions. NO ONE HAS MADE ME FEEL THIS WAY. Which reminds me that my biggest problem is that I find myself annoying. I can't get out of my brain and it would likely be awkward if I did. So I annoy myself and then read into every little thing that means nothing and end up annoying myself more. Make connections. Be yourself. Chances are good, most people will like us just fine. Trust them. They're cool people that you admire and they don't have to help you. Most people engage and connect because they want to. And if you're genuine, open, and considerate, there's really no reason that they would find you a nuisance. Unless you're being annoying.
Listening to feedback AND ACTUALLY USING IT
This is a funny one because I didn't think I was bad at listening to or using feedback. When someone would say that I might want to change something or rethink it, I'd simply tell them why that's not what worked in my story. I listened. I heard. And they were wrong. I have improved in this area. Mostly. It is hard to take feedback and even harder to change things in a story that matters to you. But those people above, that you trust and admire? If they're willing to give you their opinion, listen. If your best friend is an insatiable reader and gets stuck on your plot line and wants you to succeed so therefore mentions it, LISTEN. You don't have to take all the advice or everyone's advice. But you have to be open about accepting constructive criticism if you really intend to grow and actually want to sell your work. If you believe the support group you have wants the best for you, then trust them. But trust yourself too. Ultimately, the story is yours. But if you plan to share it, you have to see it from other points of view.
I write notes to my daughters on their bathroom mirror every week. Sometimes I use erasable marker, sticky notes, or scraps of paper. Words matter. I love them. So I share them with my girls in this way and many others. This week I wrote, "If you tell yourself you can't do something, you won't. So tell yourself you can." That sounds all poetic and inspiring (and hopefully they're not someone else's words-- if they are, thank you for the quote) but if you were to check my iMessages, Facebook messages, or Twitter direct messages from this week, you would see the irony in ME writing that quote. Because in the last couple weeks, I've told myself repeatedly that I can't. Amy Poehler has a chapter about the plain girl versus the demon. The demon is the voice we all have that makes us feel negative about ourselves. (BTW: this is such an awesome chapter of writing. You should read it.) The thing about that voice is, you have to make them be quiet. They won't all the time, but you at least have to try to talk over it. One thing I realized is that I was measuring my success in the wrong way. Instead of letting all of the things that are happening sink in, instead of truly celebrating, my mean voice keeps telling me all of the things I have not yet achieved. I have a book coming out in April with my co-writer, Kara Leigh Miller. We have a second one coming out later in the year (if she'd just focus-- don't worry, that wasn't mean. She will laugh). And I have a picture book coming out in January 2016. My mean voice shouldn't get to talk for a few months at least. But it interrupts me constantly. We have to not let it.
There are thousands of quotes online about failure making you stronger, about great people before you who did not succeed the first several times they tried. Those stories are there for a reason. Instead of getting caught up in the fact that you got rejected, it's time to start asking why. I'm looking back now at a story that I love and was very personal to me. It got lots of attention and several full requests. But it ultimately got rejected. There is absolutely no point in focusing on this detail. Instead, I have to look at WHY and change it. So I'm going to go do that and if it still gets rejected, I have to decide if I want to shelve it for a while. I didn't think I could handle rejection well. But I'm doing okay. It really doesn't break you. If you want it badly enough, rejection will make you fight harder. Except on the days that it just completely sucks and you can't stay positive. Then you turn to those people that have all been there, the ones who will support you and pull you back up. Not too long ago I messaged a lovely writer friend and I didn't even say I was going to flat out quit. I was just being miserable and sad. And her message said: STEP AWAY FROM THE LEDGE. It made me laugh and I thought, not only does she get it (because that's exactly what it felt like) but she's right there. Be that person for someone else. I feel so lucky to have those people that help me face it and move on to be better. And, they make you laugh. That fixes a lot of things.
Not going to lie...some days it's really hard to stay positive. There are some days that it is much harder to remind yourself of the good, pick yourself back up, tell yourself that everything will be okay. It doesn't matter what you do for a living, what you hope to achieve, the path is not always easy and some days, it seems entirely too rough. On those days, I'm inclined to stay in my bed, re-read the best parts of my favorite books, and have my children bring me diet Pepsi in bed. And waffles. Fortunately, along with the waffles and pop, my children provide perspective. While checking Pinterest today, I found the above three quotes, sent from my oldest daughter, with a note that said, "Don't give up, you'll get there. I know it." So. There's that. And for today, that's enough to hold onto.
sub·jec·tiv·i·ty [suhb-jek-tiv-i-tee] noun, plural sub·jec·tiv·i·ties for 2. 1. the state or quality of being subjective; subjectiveness. 2. a subjective thought or idea. 3. intentness on internal thoughts. 4. internal reality.
I never know how much to say about anything because sometimes you learn lessons too late, after you've already made mistakes and I don't like the idea of wrecking something for myself before it even happens. Every rejection letter that you get probably has some variation of the phrase "please continue to send your work out as my opinion is subjective". You try really hard to believe that; to tell yourself, it's just not right for that agent. Sometimes though, it's hard to keep going when that subjective opinion seems to be shared by more than a couple. It's important during the times that you feel like this to reach out to the people that will push you forward. Also, to remind yourself why you write. You also have to keep telling yourself that it really, really, truly, absolutely IS subjective. Even though I let myself believe otherwise last week, here's a look at my week to show you how I was reminded.
Monday: a kind letter from an agent saying that I write well but she didn't connect. Okay, I can handle that. I can focus on the "you write well".
Tuesday: a "your work isn't right for us" letter. Okay. Fine. Played on Facebook, connected with writer friends to remind myself that this industry is subjective. Was asked to do a review by someone I respect immensely. Okay. Because I can write. Right?
Wednesday morning: a "thank you for submitting to us but your work isn't what we're looking for" response to an email I sent YESTERDAY. Wow. Okay. Um. Maybe I need a new hobby? Or I can just read. All the time.
Wednesday evening: letter in the mail (like in an envelope and everything) from Blue Mountain Cards. The letter told me that one of the poems I had written had been chosen ("among hundreds") to move onto the next stage.
Moral? It really is a subjective industry. Overwhelmingly so. What can you do? If it matters to you, keep going. Keep writing. Connect with other writers because they have the same stories that you do. If you want it bad enough, you have to keep pushing ahead. Remind yourself of what you have done. Write it down and look at it so that the next time you wonder if you don't understand the meaning of subjective, you can read over this list of achievements and feel good. Because regardless of anything else, if you're writing, if you're connecting with other writers and improving, learning to be better, becoming better, then you are succeeding. And eventually, that persistence is going to serve you well.
There are so many things happening around me right now that are out of my control that it feels impossible to sit still and encapsulate how I feel about that fact. Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with #yesallwomen and I want to weigh in but I'm not sure how to summarize all of my feelings so I basically just read the hashtags all week. Because yes, I think, all women, but I also think, all people. We all have a fundamental stake in being good people. To others and to ourselves. Every day, we should be the kind of person we would want our kids to be proud of, be the kind of person we want them to be. And if you don't have kids, then be the kind of person you'd want to be friends with. The kind of person that you would count on. One of my favourite quotes (ever) is "The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday." We get a blank slate every day to right wrongs, make better choices, be better people. Women and men. Kids and Adults. All of us.
Something else weighing heavy in my mind is the politics surrounding teaching right now. It's horrible. It's horrible to watch and horrible to be part of. When you become a teacher, you want to work with kids. You want to make someone's life, day, next ten minutes just a little better. You want to see them succeed, get over the hurdles, and achieve their potential. There are a lot of deterrents in that path. There are crowded classrooms, higher needs, budget cuts, and mountains of curriculum. That's not what bugs me though. And no, it's not the wage either. What bothers me is the overall shift I'm seeing that makes me think that people are devaluing teachers. Not all, maybe not even most, but some. Margaret Mead says “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I love this quote and find it quite true. The flip side of it though is that a small group of people committed to making you see the negative can actually create change too. When I was growing up, I loved a lot of my teachers. There is an undeniable bond, for most people, between themselves and a least one teacher in their memory. While we were on strike today, we talked about who that one teacher for us was. For some it was their home economics teacher. Others, it was their Language Arts teacher. For me, it was my high school drama teacher. Whoever it was, it is very likely that you had a teacher touch your life in a positive way. Teachers shape us, spend time with us, watch us grow, notice when we surpass our own expectations, applaud us, push us back up when we fall. When I was little, we studied community helpers: police officers, firemen, doctors, and teachers. They were people you could trust. People that wanted to impact someone else's life in a positive way. We still matter because your kids will always matter. They are the next generation that will make choices based on the core values that we instill in them, together.
The last thing that is on my mind is the Book Expo of America. I'm an odd person in that I am intensely jealous of all the wonderful people that I "know" who are there now, walking the aisles with Rainbow Rowell, Neil Patrick Harris, Jeff Kinney, and so many more. I wish I were there. But then I think, what would I do if I were there? Most likely, I would freak a little at the thought of talking to these people. I'd be ultra nervous and quite certain that every wrong word ever invented would come out of my mouth at exactly the wrong time. I would laugh too loud and babble incessantly. Someone who was brave enough to say that yes, they were actually with me, would smile politely and yank on my sweater sleeve, trying to save the poor person I'm talking to. This is why my interaction is better online. The delete button doesn't work in real life. Which brings us full circle-- #yesallwomen, #yesallpeople because the delete button is not an option and we don't know what word or gesture, attitude or comment will impact the person around us, or how. We all matter. It's important that we not only remember that, but teach it to the next generation-- to your children, your friend's child. Manners still matter, thoughtfulness isn't out of date, thinking before you speak never goes out of style. And you really don't understand someone until you've walked in their shoes. So instead, walk beside them, without judgement, and just do your best to keep moving forward.
Sorry if this was just straight up rambling, but I did warn you in the title that it was #allthethings
Keep Calm and anything doesn't really suit my nature. I mean it when I reply to people who tell me, inanely, to 'relax' that "this is me relaxed". My brain works on overdrive all the time. A situation that would bring a few questions to mind for most people, generates hundreds of questions in my head. So, as you might guess, waiting patiently is not my thing. I think maybe, in some alternate universe where I try to see the good side, having to wait for answers about my writing is a good thing for me. I'm slowly learning that everything does not need to happen RIGHT NOW. My friend sent me a beautiful quote that, oddly enough, did making me relax a little.
I always feel like I just have this short window of opportunity to start and complete something but this a self-imposed window. I box myself in by creating deadlines or telling myself that I have something to prove. This works against you in writing. There is no time limit here and this needs to be remembered. Also, it's true when you're told that this is a subjective business. So far, for my current query, I've had a few "it's not right for me" but "perhaps another agent", rejection letters. It is hard to have someone turn down something that matters to you. In fact, I sent my best friend and husband a text earlier this week that said something along the lines of:
I don't want to do this anymore. I can't keep sending my work out there.
I, with my inability to WAIT for anything, got a little down when I entered a very cool pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website and had no immediate responses. I felt that if I got some requests, I should keep going, but if I didn't, I should take a break. Here's the important thing though: I can't take a break from writing. The words and characters won't stop forming in my head so, in the end, whether I get published or not, if my work is requested or not, it's part of who I am. Keep calm? I have to write to do that. I have a tendency to obsess and need immediate results. This is not a good combo in the writing world. Fortunately, I have a strong support system that is used to me, ignores my defeatest texts, tells me to take a breath and doesn't mock me, too much, when I send a follow up text about an hour later that reads:
Disregard last text. Just got a request. Still bring pop, please.
Actually, I got three requests from the "Pitch Party" and I am thrilled and excited and feel like I'm starting at the bottom of the roller coaster, again. However, I think it was a good little learning curve for me because it reinforced what I've already said: you have to write for you. It's where your best writing comes from. You have to be willing to listen and accept feedback and critiques AND rejection. If you decide to pursue the path to being published, you have to be willing to move forward, fight for it, get your writing out there and understand that it is a subjective business. It's like anything in life, I suppose, you have to really want it and the harder it is to get, the more you'll appreciate it when the good moments come.
If it was...I'd be out!
If you've been reading my posts, you know that in the last seven months, I have gone from writing just for fun, to being agented, to being on submission, to being un-agented. If you haven't been reading, then you are now joining me at the "un-agented" phase.
Now that I've been exposed to people liking my work and wanting to make it into an actual, hold-in-your-hands, turn-real-pages book, I feel this overwhelming desire for it to be so. I can't really say that I'm back to square one because I'm not sure that I started there. I think I started sort of in the middle, spun around several times, and landed, here. The benefit, for me, of having approached the writing industry in this way is that I was safely tucked away in my agented corner. I am a self-doubter to the maximum degree and so I think that if I had just started, like so many do, by sending my work out there, without knowing how to make it stronger and getting rejection after rejection, I would have buried myself away from the writing world. Instead, I felt free to explore and connect and learn. All of those things have been invaluable. I feel like I am far more prepared to query than I would have been without the last seven months of making those connections and learning about the industry.
Of course, none of this makes me an expert, which is proved by the three rejection emails I've received in the last week. It has, however, made it easier to get back up. Now that I've spent time connecting with other writers, I realize that querying is, thankfully, not like sports. If one player gets ahead, it doesn't mean the other player loses. There's no keeping score, you can always improve your 'game', and if you get older, it doesn't affect your performance negatively. Most importantly, when you feel like you're on a "losing streak", it's not always as bad as you think.
When I mentioned to my friend and reader, Lauren (visit her site for great information and help on writing and editing) that I'd received 3 rejections, she said "that's not so bad". Well, it's not so good either. However, the big thing for me is that by having Carly sign me, even though it didn't work out the way I hoped, it was like I was front-end loaded with confidence. It's waning a bit but not enough to stop.
The desire to keep going is fueled by the kindness that accompanies the rejection emails. They have encouraged me to keep writing, send to other agents, and apologized for not being interested at this time. Yes, I know it's a form letter but it could also say: "No", "No thanks", "Not for us". It speaks to the kind of people that writers, agents, publishers, editors, and readers are. When you fall in love with a book, it's already been loved by others, numerous times (I'm sorry to say you weren't its first). To make it through the long journey that is the book industry, the people fighting for you have to believe in you and your words one hundred percent. Or more. I appreciate that someone has taken the time to create a form letter that says, "This isn't for me but it's a subjective business. Keep trying."
In sports, when you have a bad game, you watch playbacks to see where you could improve. In writing, you count on people to be honest with you about what works in your writing and what doesn't. What I have learned, for sure, is that if you are at the point where you want to share your writing, you want to be certain that it stands out. I am learning, slowly, that to stand out, to stay in the game, takes patience, revision, more patience, and an understanding that three outs don't necessarily mean it's over.
I should note that I do not play any sports at all, unless you count online shopping or being able to stand on a paddle board for longer than one minute without falling. Therefore, I think this adds strength to my sports metaphor. Or undermines it. I'm not sure which.
That call? The one that makes you feel like you haven't been wasting your time and fooling yourself? It came in an email first, for me anyway. In the email, Carly said she really liked The Princess and the Please and thought it had great commercial potential. She asked what I wanted in an agent and could she phone me? Um, YES! So she did.
You think it went like this: once we went through edits and revisions, Carly sends off the manuscript, editors and publishers loved it, and Carly phones to tell me I have to decide which book deal I want to take. That's a lovely ending. But it's not the one that happened.
We did go through revisions and Carly did send it out to editors and publishers. They did not love it as we did. They did not offer any such deal but they did offer us best wishes. While this was happening and I was at home wondering, every single day, if today would be the day, I began writing more and more. I sent some of that writing to my agent who responded with feedback. Still, I waited. I wrote. Waited, wrote, waited, wrote.
What's the worst thing that can happen? This book isn't going to work so you and your agent get the next project ready to go and try again, right? Maybe. In a lot of cases, I'm sure it does. For me, I got another email asking about a good time to phone. I thought (hoped, prayed, and wished) that it would be to talk about my contemporary romance novel that I had sent her a couple of months prior. It wasn't.
For me, this part of the story ended like this: Carly phoned to say that while I was professional to work with and had done nothing wrong, Princess wasn't getting picked up and she wasn't in love with any of the writing I had sent her in the mean time. She felt that she was no longer the best agent to represent me and this would be the end of our journey together.
Questions and thoughts that jump around like mini madmen in your mind:
"It's me, isn't it?", "Will I ever get another agent?", "Is this a sign?", "Did I make this happen?", "Do I actually have talent or was this a fluke?" All of those questions, and more, looped through my brain and still do. Really though, it's just a matter of it no longer being the best fit. No hard feelings, unpleasant words, or mixed messages. I suppose it could have gone down differently but in the end, it's the most civilized "break-up" I've ever had and we didn't even have to give each other back our stuff. She didn't unfriend me on Goodreads or block me on Twitter. In fact, she said she'd give me some advice on the last thing I sent her and if I had questions, I knew she was always around on Twitter.
Was it easy? No. Was I sad? Yes. Can I do anything about it? Yes and No. I can't make her take me back but we parted ways gracefully so I can only hope that it means new things will come. I've spoken of the writing community many times in the past year and once again, they are this amazing group of people that don't hate you if you succeed and don't pretend not to know you if you don't. I emailed Tanya, spoke to Carolyn (storytime), and reached out to new friends made on Twitter. They offered regret on my behalf, words of wisdom, and positive encouragement. How much more can you ask for than that?
It's not the ending I wanted or any author wants. I doubt it's the phone call or ending Carly wanted either. So what now? Well, I still have the Children's Festival next week, which I thought I should cancel because I was feeling like a 'fraud'. Then I decided no, I still have things to offer, things that made Carly notice my work in the first place. I'll do that. I'll keep getting to know the writing community. I'll keep writing and reading. I'll keep hoping it wasn't a fluke.
Five things that wouldn't have happened if I had not gone to the writer's conference that weekend: