Category Archives: Writing

Controlling the Stuff You Can Control

April 8, 2016

Controlling the StufffYou guys. I went to my very first writing conference! It was full of real live writers doing the real live work of writing and it was oh-so-inspiring and they served phenomenal white chocolate macadamia cookies, and it was exactly what this tired mother/writer needed.

It was a full day event and in between the 790 bathroom breaks I had to take to accommodate my third trimester body, I attended panels and lectures and went to a writing critique. During lunch time I weaseled my way into the cool-kids groups of nationally published writers, which would have been scary only they were all very, very nice. (Shannon Hale was impressed by my ability to go from sitting on the floor to standing in one controlled movement. Remember, third trimester, people.) Anyway, I came home with a bunch of enthusiastic notes and when I read through them I realized I’d been honing in on one big message:

CONTROL THE STUFF YOU CAN CONTROL, AND LET GO OF THE REST.

Which was weird. Because I thought I’d be coming home with notes on How to Create a Love Triangle That Doesn’t Involve a Werewolf or How to Channel Jane Austen While You Work.

But no. Eight hours with a group of talented, interesting writers and I come home with this basic  message that trickles into just about every area of my life. Because the more I thought about it the more I realized that everything falls into one of two categories: Things You Can Control, and Things You Can’t Control. Here are some examples from my writing career:

THINGS I CAN CONTROL:

  • How hard I work at writing
  • How hard I work at marketing
  • How I react to failure/success
  • Whether or not I try again after a failure

THINGS I CAN’T CONTROL:

  • Whether a publisher is going to want my book
  • How readers react to my book
  • How national reviewers react to my book
  • Whether or not bookstores will carry my book
  • Whether or not my book is going to be successful

After the conference I took a long hard look at myself and I realized just how much of my time and energy were being chewed up by the Can’t Controls. A lot of really, really great things have been happening with Love & Gelato (starred reviews, contracts with publishing houses in different countries, interest in my next book…), but still I found myself obsessively checking online reader reviews and wondering things like, “Why did that reader only give it a three star rating?” or “Why is that author’s book getting so much more buzz than mine?”

And all that needed to stop. Immediately. Because not only is that kind of thinking EXHAUSTING, it’s a creativity killer. (Turns out books are pretty sensitive little guys. Invite a bunch of imaginary critics into your writing room to poke them with sticks and they’re probably going to close their mouths and refuse to tell you anything.)

So, I’m focusing on the stuff I can control. Over the past few weeks I’ve redoubled my efforts on my new book, which takes a small character from Love & Gelato and tells her story. It’s a fun book, and I absolutely love the character, but like all books it’s future is a big, glossy question mark. So it’s lucky that I know three things for sure: 1) I will write it, 2) I will put my everything into it, and 3), I will send it out into the world with my fingers crossed and my heart beating fast. And that will be enough.

7 Things I’ve Learned After 18 months of serious writing

November 13, 2015

10492511_10100190385842331_6197898764100534641_nYou guys. When it comes to writing, I am a brand new beginner. Like the kind that still needs their food steamed and mashed up, and would it be too much trouble to make airplane noises while you feed it to me?

Thanks.

My total green-ness at writing was a hard thing to admit. For one, I had a bunch of positive reinforcement sprinkled throughout my writing history: awards from writing contests, memories of enthusiastic feedback from my college writing groups… And for another, it’s in my genes. I’m directly related to someone who’s written over 25 NY Times Bestsellers. Doesn’t that count for something?

Short answer: no.

Not really.

The only thing all that stuff meant was that I had the potential to be a writer, which really just put me in the same starting position as all would-be writers, a place called: You Might Become a Decent Writer if You Work Really, Really Hard.

But for a long time I didn’t want to work hard. At least not on my writing. Yes, I hammered out the occasional blog post, and twice I got ambitious and started (but never finished) a new story. But that was plenty, right?

No.

Nope.

Not even close.

Because when I actually started the business of writing, writing, writing, I realized. CRAP. I have no idea what I’m doing. And CRAP. you can read Stephen King’s On Writing until it falls apart, but you can’t learn how to write–really write–any other way than by actually writing. By actually doing the hard work. AND CRAP. HARD WORK ISN’T FUN AT ALL.

Also, HOW DOES ANYONE EXPECT ME TO GET ANYTHING DONE WHEN MY MASSIVE PRINCESS CROWN IS GIVING ME A HEADACHE?

Growing up is so fun, isn’t it.

So the first thing that I had to learn was this: if I wanted to be a writer, I was going to have to write. And write. And write. And then when I was so sick of my  book I was having regular fantasies about shoving my laptop up the fireplace, I was going to have to write some more.

But that wasn’t all. I was going to have to learn a lot of stuff. Some of it really hard. And humbling. And although I’m the first to tell you that I’m brand new to this, I thought I’d set my laptop screen to bright and angle it at the new writer’s path in hopes of illuminating at least a few steps. And then I’m going to go right back to my mashed carrots. They’re actually kind of good.

1. You’re going to have to be okay with throwing out your stuff. Even when you think it’s really good. Maybe even especially when you think it’s good.

For about six months I had this prologue I refused to let go of. It had this mysterious, lyrical sounding first paragraph and I thought it was great. In fact, I thought it was excellent. One teeny problem: my editors didn’t agree. They thought it was passive and not terribly engaging. Lucky for me, my incredibly seasoned, insightful editors didn’t know anything. I was right. They were wrong. And I was going to fight them on it. And I did. Until the day it dawned on me that I wasn’t fighting them anymore, I was fighting my own ego. The prologue was all wrong, and I knew it.  I threw it out and wrote something way better.

2. When writing something feels too hard, it’s because you’re going the wrong direction.

Writing is difficult, yes, but in some ways it has to flow. If some aspect of your book feels like the stories your grandmother used to tell you about walking to school (uphill both ways, always in a blizzard), then maybe you need to rethink it. For example, I had this character who I could not bring to life. I had her all planned out in my head, I knew what she needed to say and do, but  I was spending HOURS on trying to make her come alive. It was like trying to revive a mashed up raccoon you find on the side of the road. And then one afternoon it dawned on me “I just paid a nanny $50 so I could rewrite a single paragraph for five hours. Something is wrong.” It was totally wrong. The voice was wrong. The character was wrong. I started in a new direction and it flowed like butter. (The kind you forget about in the microwave.) And I LOVE that character. Like so much.

3. Don’t write the way you think you’re supposed to write. Write what YOU are supposed to write.

 My book has some really heavy themes. The basic premise involves a girl losing her mother to a devastating illness. So for a while I felt like my book had to be very serious and broody. Except it made my writing feel flat and artificial because it wasn’t me. It was who I thought I was supposed to be. The second I gave myself permission to write from my real voice–with lots of hyperbole and all the weird lines that pop in my head–that’s when the book started happening for me. And I was still able to handle the grief part. But in my own way.

4. You need an editor/critic/mean person to tell you what you’re doing wrong.

This one is really important. You need someone: an editor, a writing group, someone who knows what they’re talking about, to give you the bad news. What’s the bad news? Some of your writing will suck. Sometimes you’re going to have to make a massive U-turn and try something new. You always, always need to follow that unique voice that’s telling you stories in your head (after all, it’s going to be YOUR name on the cover), but you’re going to get to the point where it’s impossible to look at your work without going cross-eyed, much less with an objective eye. Find someone good who isn’t worried about hurting your feelings and ask/pay for/beg for their opinion. And then when they hurt your feelings, smile politely, tell them you’ll get back to them soon, then demand your husband take you out for Thai food so you can spend the whole night ranting. Let their feedback marinate for a bit, then try some stuff out. I promise you’ll end up with something way better.

5. You need a BFF/significant other/mom-figure to tell you what you’re doing right.

This is just as important as #4. Somewhere in the process this is all going to feel completely hopeless, and you’re going to need someone who is too naive to realize you’re about to go out in a ball of flames.

Let this person tell you that you can do this, that they’ve always known you could do this, and that they’re planning on living out their life as a trophy BFF/ trophy spouse / trophy mom-figure because that’s how successful you’re really going to be. Let them carry you piggy-back up the hill for a while and then hop off. You can do this. Tomorrow your writing will suck less. I promise.

6. Accept/expect criticism.

Fact of the matter is, there will be people that hate your writing. In fact, one of your very first advance reader reviews may contain the phrase “some of this book’s writing was as boring as dry toast.” This will make you feel like hell. And also sort of make you crave toast with grape jelly. But that’s just the way it goes. You are a writer, which means you aren’t someone who is content with “standing outside the fire” (thanks, Garth Brooks). Come to peace with getting a little crispy and/or singed around the edges. Make yourself a couple of slices of toast with jelly. Get back to work.

7. You are so lucky.

The fact that you learned to read is a privilege. The fact that you learned to write is a privilege. The fact that you have something that makes your heart sing is a massive gift. Be so, so grateful for it! Be excited for other writers–you’re all working towards the same goal. Don’t forget how much you LOVE reading, or the reason you started all this. Annoy everyone by talking about it way too much. Enjoy the actual work, not just the finished product. (Will it ever actually feel finished anyway?) Be a writer. Wallow around in all that luckiness.

P.S. That book I kept blabbing on and on about? It’s called Love & Gelato and it will be out on April 12, 2016. Are you the preordering type? Bless your soul.

 

 

Priorities

May 22, 2015

I can do anything

On the eve of my son’s first birthday I got some news. Bone melting news. My dream of publishing a young adult novel was suddenly a reality and OMG was I dreaming? It was like winning the lottery. Suddenly I had a publisher, an agent, and an honest to goodness book deal and what?  Simon & Schuster wanted to set up a phone call and they needed my bank info so they could wire me my advance, and oh by the way, they needed my author photo and bio?

I didn’t sleep for a solid 72 hours.

My deal was different than most because it was basically this: We think you’re a good writer, and we think people are going to like your book, but you’re going to have to rewrite it. How does one year sound?

And thus began my life as a nap time writer. And by that, I mean I kept my most important job as a full time mom to what may be the fastest toddler on the planet but also had to figure out a way to squeeze in some writing time. Okay, a lot of writing time.

This was really, truly (really) not easy. (Did I mention I’m mother to the fastest toddler on the planet?)

The first few weeks I decided to just stop sleeping. I’d stay up all night writing and take care of toddler by day. Perfect, right? What could go wrong?

(Cut to me sobbing into a carton of Cool Whip at 3 AM.)

So then I started the actual work of finding more time. It was a huge process and required a whole lot of patience on the part of my husband, but I did figure it out, and over a year later I am the proud author of a novel I cannot wait to shove in people’s faces. So where did all that extra time come from? Some was paid for, some was borrowed, but a lot of it came down to my big lesson of the year:

I CAN DO ANYTHING, BUT NOT EVERYTHING.

And by that, I mean, if I want to be a full time mom and a writer I can totally make that work. But  if I want to be a full time mom and a writer, and part time employee and dedicated yogi and a perfect housekeeper and a gardener and volunteer and keep up on all my favorite blogs, and get my hair done every six weeks….well, that’s not going to work.

So here’s what I did:

  • I hired a babysitter for 8 hours a week
  • I gave up my yoga membership and started doing shorter workout videos at home
  • I stopped spending nap time doing stupid stuff like surfing the Internet
  • I pretended to not notice all the weeds in my yard
  • I stopped blogging (sorry)
  • I took people up on their offers when they asked to watch Sam
  • I let my hair get long and scraggly
  • I told my dad I still really wanted to work as his writing assistant, but I could only do the actual writing assistant part and not the other things (events, fan mail, websites, etc.)
  • I shuffled our finances so I could hire a housecleaner to come twice a month
  • For several months I got up at 6 AM to write for two hours before the day started
  • I got good at quick dinners
  • I hung out with my friends less
  • I gratefully GRATEFULLY allowed my husband to take on more than his fair share
  • I sometimes wore my clothes twice because no one had time to do the laundry
  • I lost a lot of sleep

I know I am crazy privileged to have been able to do things like hire outside help, and I am also blessed with a lot of family/friend support. But my point is, even if you are a young mom, or you’re supporting your family, or you’re taking care of your aging parents or you have a super demanding job or WHATEVER, I really think you can find a way to do the one thing you truly want to do. (Really.)

So here’s my advice to you. If you find something that makes you want to sing from the rooftops and has you waking up from a dead sleep to scribble wildly on a pad of paper you keep next to your bed, then find a way to do it. Even if its for ten minutes a day.

Because seriously, people. That’s what we’re here for. Don’t give up!

(Imagine a swell of inspiring music.)

XO. And thank you so much for reading my blog, it means a lot to me!