When I First Found the Muse.

A lot of my friends are posting about summer camps for their kids.  I started thinking, how cool would it be to have a summer camp where kids who love to write could come and do writing exercises, share work, and feel accomplished at the end of the summer program?  Kind of made me wish I had a place and insurance and all the practical stuff to go along with “Hey, let’s take some teen writers and collect them for a couple of hours a day for a few weeks and see what comes out of it!”

And that reminded me of one summer, I believe it was the summer between 5th and 6th grades, the transition between elementary and middle school.  My parents sent my brother and me to the city-sponsored camp, held at my elementary school.  It was a fairly standard camp, I guess, that allowed a lot of freedom to play with adult supervision.  And I remember meeting a couple of girls my age with whom I would sit down for a little while each day, and we wrote “our books.”  We brought notebook paper from home and made “book covers” with construction paper and crayons.  I was ever the hopeless romantic then, and my two “books” that summer were called True Love and Love’s Arrow.  I still have them.  They are prime examples of Anne Lamott’s “shitty first drafts.”

Something else happened that summer.  I’d just come off a really bad year of being what we would now call bullied, but back then, “picked on” would have been the phrase of choice.  In our summer camp was a boy who had been in my 5th grade class.  I remember at the end of the summer he came up to me and apologized for treating me badly.  He said I was really nice and he was sorry he hadn’t gotten the chance to know me better.  It didn’t make up for his climbing on the bandwagon with the kids who teased me mercilessly, but it was proof, even for a minute, that I was NOT as worthless as I’d felt.

And for me, those two things combined compelled me to go on writing.  It started out as company when I had no friends to speak of, then morphed into catharsis when I’d put mean people into my books and give them horrible deaths, disfigurements, or teen pregnancies.  (Yes, I watched soap operas as a young person. What gave it away?)  Now, writing is so ingrained in me that even if I’m not actively writing, I’m still thinking about writing in some way.  It’s a blessing and a curse.  But I wouldn’t give it up for the world.

Distractions

I’m still working toward a writing career.  I’m at the stage where I’ve finally snagged an agent, and have given her a few more requested revisions on my manuscript.  The next step of the road to publication is for my agent to now put my manuscript out on sub to publishing houses and wait for the bidding war to get my book a publisher.

Okay, the bidding war is a fanciful dream.  I just want to be published by a decent house.

But in the meantime, ideally, what I should be doing is writing more books.  I have a bunch of ideas I generated in January, and tried to start working on a couple of them.  However, I do have a full-time job that takes up time.  I teach high school, and it’s almost the end of the school year, which means testing and reining the ferrets in until final exams and the last day of school.  So by the time I get home in the afternoons, I don’t feel like writing.

Another distraction I’ve recently discovered is Doctor Who.  My favorite companion turned me on to the Whoverse, and I’m in love.  I’m binge watching like crazy.  But the cool thing about Who is the WRITING.  As a writer, I appreciate great story, and the writers for Doctor Who really understand great story.

So I guess the point of this meandering blog post is to say to embrace your distractions.  You never know what you can weave into your next story.

Making the Time to Write

I am guilty of not following my own advice.  I’m a high school English teacher.  After a day of wrangling recalcitrant teenagers, I have little energy for much else.  My health is not optimal as a result, and I don’t write.  I need to write.

So I guess I’m writing today’s blog to myself, as well as to anyone who finds his or her way across it.  There are as many different ways to write as there are writers.  One of my writing friends gets up at 4am to make sure she gets her writing in.  I am so NOT a morning person.  It takes everything I have to drag my butt out of bed just to make it to school on time.  So that’s not something that works for me.  That’s important too – to know if you’re at your best in the morning, afternoon, or nighttime.  I’ve had friends who wrote after their families went to bed and the house was quiet.  My furry daughter gets bent out of shape when I leave her in bed and go to my computer.  She suddenly wants to leave the room.

Clearly, something has to give in my world for writing time to happen.  I miss the year I taught creative writing – once the kids were working on their assignments, I’d write with them.  As education fixates more heavily on standardized test prep, I don’t have the luxury of creative writing time with my kiddos so often.  It’s not tested.

The way I see it, I’m going to have to make some evening time to get some writing done.  As soon as I figure out, of course, which project is next in my queue.  I have over 40 ideas right now, and not a clue which one will actually become my next book.

Ah, the challenges of a writing life bent into a teaching life!

The Waiting Game

A lot of pursuit of publication boils down to being patient.

You have to be patient while you develop your craft into something worthy.

You have to be patient through the query process and hope to find a match for your manuscript.

You have to be patient while your agent works with her other clients and you to shop all of you to editors.

That’s where I am right now.  Hopefully, soon, my agent will begin sending out my manuscript, and then I wait to see who might be interested in buying it.  Then it’s more waiting games to find out what edits the editor might want, and then waiting for the publication date to arrive (I’m thinking positively here).

But in the meantime, the next book isn’t going to write itself.  During the month of January, I managed to scribble 33 ideas into my little StoryStorm notebook.  That’s added to the four or five ideas I have on my flash drive already.  So lots of ideas.  (Not to mention my former-rockstar roommate wants me to write his biography SOON.)

Now the problem is deciding which idea to develop and work on.

There are worse problems to have!

On Reading and Writing

I sent my latest revision to my agent a few weeks ago, and am still letting my NaNo manuscript simmer on the back burner – revision is NOT my favorite tool in the box, so I’m putting that off.  Though I am participating in #StoryStorm2018, I’m not currently developing or writing.  Just brainstorming.

And since my Master’s Thesis is completed and my degree conferred, I’m grateful to have time after school for something I really miss when I don’t have time to do it – PLEASURE READING!

The key to becoming a good writer is to be a good reader.  Obviously, reading in your field is optimal to see what’s already been done and how to really fit the genre of your choosing.  But I like reading widely.  When I was visiting my parents earlier this month, I devoured some Sandra Brown, Michael Connelly, and James Patterson from my mom’s bookshelves.  I read a bunch of adult and new adult romances because I’m on a mailing list that sends me titles that are available for free that day through my Kindle.  And last week, I rediscovered my best friend – the local library.

Can you believe it’s been THREE YEARS since my library card expired?  I didn’t believe it!  I used to practically live in the YA section of my neighborhood library (as a YA writer and teacher – it was TOTALLY research!).  Plus I took advantage of the e-book app to borrow electronic books as well.  So I was shocked to realize how far I’d strayed.  Not that I stopped reading – I was buying books instead of borrowing them.  But since I’m an underpaid educator, that’s not the best option anymore.

Reading is the foundation for a strong writing career.  If you don’t read, you don’t know what good writing looks like, and, for that matter, what BAD writing looks like.  Writers can’t live in a vacuum.  We have to know the literary world around us.

So go get a book, and make some time to READ today. 🙂

More procrastination

Am I the only one who drags my feet on revision?

My agent wants to start subbing my manuscript in February.  I told her I could get her the polished revision she requested by the first of the year.  Which is Monday.  And while I’ve done a good portion of the necessary work, there are a few things left I keep putting off.  I know I’ll feel better once I get it done.  I know I’ll enjoy the rest of my winter break without the pressure over my head; I leave Wednesday to spend the rest of my vacation with my family in Arizona.  But something keeps holding me back from getting it done and moving on.

Could it be fear of success?  I think there is only one book in my history that got WORSE with revision, and that book was telling the wrong character’s story from the get go (only I didn’t see that).  This book is GOOD.  With the requested minor revisions (and they really are minor) it will be even BETTER.  And yet, instead of hauling out my binder and legal pad, I’m writing this instead.

Will someone please just smack me upside the head and make me go write my final revised scenes so I can put the manuscript to bed (until it sells and an editor wants changes, of course)?

The Journey, not the Destination

Yeah, that’s a total lie.  My destination of choice has always been “traditionally published YA author.”  I want my book on the shelves of the bookstores that remain, and to be available through Amazon. I want to go speak to classrooms on writing and do book tours.  I want teens to send me e-mails about how much they love my characters.

But the one thing I learned a little over a decade ago, through fellow writer and teacher and best friend Joyce Sweeney, is that rarely happens overnight.  I was in her Thursday night critique group for a long time before it disbanded, and the biggest takeaway I had was PERSEVERANCE.  This industry is HARD.  It can take, Joyce suggested, ten YEARS to get an agent/book deal/etc.  And a lot of people don’t want to hear that, nor accept it, and they quit trying or they decide to self-publish.  And while I have nothing against GOOD writing being self-published (sadly, a high percentage of self-publishing does NOT fall into that category), I was determined that if I didn’t traditionally pub my YA, I would not publish it at all.

So while Your Mileage May Vary, my journey to this point has taken about ten years.  Once upon a time, I went to a panel on why boys don’t read.  It was mostly aimed at librarians and teachers, and I fall into the second category.  Two of the speakers that day were Joyce Sweeney and Alexandra Flinn.  While getting my copy of Breathing Underwater signed by Alexandra, I mentioned that someday, I’d like to be on her side of the table.  She wrote a web address on her business card and handed it to me.  She said if I was serious, this was the best organization to be a part of.  So the next day, I joined SCBWI (the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators).

And I kept writing.  And I went to conferences, which scared me to death.  I’m an introvert recovering from low self-esteem, so it was really intimidating to be around and talk to published authors.  My first conference critique netted me a fan – author Gaby Triana – who offered to look at a revision and, if she liked it, pass on a recommendation to her agent.  I thought that was IT! Connection made, my book would be published!  Ultimately, her agent at the time passed on my book, but it didn’t stop me.

I kept writing.  I kept going to conferences, and workshops, and learning and writing and schmoozing and everything you do to try to break in to the business.  I actually became FRIENDS with Alexandra Flinn.  She critiqued one of my manuscripts at a conference and really liked it.  That manuscript got a revision request from an agent, who helped me realize the book was trying to go two different directions.  Shelved and moved on.

Rejections are a part of the business, and as much as they hurt, every no is one step closer to a yes.  My next foray into securing an agent was almost successful as well – except the book I was pitching had a character dying from leukemia, and John Green had just released The Fault in Our Stars – no one wanted “sick lit.”

Back to the drawing board.  More writing, more workshops, more conferences.

Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll is the book of my heart, more than any other I’ve written to date.  And I went through a couple of rounds with agents who liked it, but didn’t love it.  My current agent took over a year to offer representation.  She requested the full, suggested revisions, and offered to look at it again if I chose to revise.  I did, and resubmitted, and she’s now my agent.

It took about TEN YEARS.  Ten years, five books, countless workshops.  And I’m still not at the destination.  Getting the agent is one step on the path.  Now, I have to revise the book one more time, work with my agent on a business proposal to present to publishers, and wait.

But while I wait, I must keep writing.  Because writing, after all, is a journey.

 

Procrastination

My revised manuscript is due to my agent soon. (I still get a little giddy being able to say “my agent.”)  I told her she could have it by the new year.  Which gives me just under three weeks to get it done.  And I’m dragging my feet.

Some authors will tell you that revision is their favorite part of the writing process.  It’s absolutely NOT mine.  I love the thrill of getting the first draft on paper, no little editors on my shoulder.  That’s one of the reasons I’ve always been a fan of National Novel Writing Month, having participated twelve times in the fifteen years since I first discovered NaNoWriMo.  I “won” eight of the twelve years, completing a 50,000 word novel in 30 days (or less).  Four of my NaNo novels – three which I did complete during the month of November, one that I didn’t – went on to the revision phase and ultimately had full requests from agents.  Sold My Soul is one of those four, the one I didn’t finish in 30 days.  But that’s the one that finally earned the honor of representation.

This manuscript was revised multiple times for multiple agents, and will likely have to undergo even more revisions for whatever editor decides to purchase it.  And I hate revising.  It’s not so much the revision itself that I hate, it’s my consistent fear that revising a manuscript is going to make it worse, not better.  Realistically, only once did a revision not make a book better, and it was a book I ended up shelving because I was telling the wrong character’s story and it wasn’t working.  That doesn’t change the fact that honestly, the revision process scares me to death.

So I’ve made the small changes to the manuscript, but there are a few new scenes I have to write and layer in, and I’ve been dragging on that.  Am I the only writer out there that HATES the process of revision?

Weigh in!

Not Good Enough?

I was straightening up my room yesterday and came across some notebooks.  One of them I had used in a multi-purpose fashion: there were workshop notes, poems, some journal entries, etc.   Within the notebook were some journal entries from my first-ever SCBWI national conference in Los Angeles.  It was my first trip to California, and it served double duty: I got to see family that live there as well as one of my closest friends in the world, a man I refer to often as my “brother from another mother,” musician Robbie Gennet.

In my entry, written on the Saturday morning of the three-day conference, I found something that still resonates with me.  I had written, Last night Robbie was asking me what I’m afraid of.  It suddenly seemed silly to say “of not being good enough.”  Robbie logically asked me good enough for what?  For who?  Who am I comparing myself to?  Would Paula Danziger have ever said, “I’m not as good as Judy Blume so I won’t write?”  My students are my audience and they mostly enjoy my writing, so what the hell?

That was back in 2006, and even to this day, sometimes I still fall into the trap of “I’m not good enough.”  I posted the other day on Facebook asking my writing friends if they ever think the work they’ve labored over, that an agent wants to represent, just sucks; I’d experienced that feeling upon re-reading my manuscript to do one last polishing before my agent sends it out into the world looking for a home.  And finding this entry last night reminded me to not compare myself to anyone (except for a marketing plan, of course!).  My writing stands on its own merit, I’m my own worst critic, so I’m flicking off my shoulder that little editor voice that sneers in my ear that I’m not good enough.  Go away, little pessimist!

Musing about Music

So my novel, Sold My Soul to Rock and Roll, is about a teenage musician with a musician dad.  The other day I was thinking about the fact that although I’m not a musician, music has always been an integral part of who I am, and it was when this love for music came through in a character, that I wrote a book that really sings (no pun intended).

The only singing I do is through my The Voice app on my phone, belting out karaoke in my living room where no one can hear me, but I grew up with music.  My dad played guitar.  He had a record.  He wasn’t famous; my grandmother would have liked for him to be, and when he was a kid in Brooklyn, he took dance lessons and singing lessons and acted and auditioned.  I have a framed 8 x 10 on my living room end table of one of his headshots from when he was a teenager, holding his guitar.  I remember when I was little and my dad would play guitar and sing doo-wop songs for me and my little brother, recording his performance on a reel-to-reel tape recorder.  It’s a good memory.

Dad tried to teach me to play guitar.  I’m left-handed, and it was hard for him to teach me.  I learned to play “With a Little Help From My Friends” from his Beatles songbook.  I tried to be a musician in middle school – I joined the orchestra in sixth grade, wanting desperately to play the violin.  But everyone wanted to play the violin, and as I was a tall girl with a long wingspan, the orchestra teacher suggested viola.  So I played viola for two years, going from Beginning Orchestra in sixth grade to Advanced Orchestra in seventh (skipping Intermediate altogether).  The problem was, I couldn’t tune my own instrument.  It was then I realized I would likely never be a musician in my own right.

But the music was always a part of me.  I loved listening to it (still do) in most of its forms.  I love the 50s doo-wop my parents exposed me to.  I adore Elvis Presley and took a pilgrimage to Graceland in 2014.  Some of my favorite bands ever are Duran Duran, Depeche Mode, KISS, Whitesnake, and any number of 80s glam bands.  But I also like some country and newer rock as well.  I have favorite Broadway show tunes (Chess, Wicked, and Sweet Charity among them), and even listen to some Disney musicals (Camp Rock’s soundtrack is on my iPod).

I think that’s why, when I finally created a character with music in her soul, this book is the one that resonated with the agent who now represents it.  The authenticity shines through the pages – I love music, and so does my character, Destiny LaRoux.  I used some of my musician friends to model her father and his bandmates, so they read genuine as well.

I’m looking forward to the day when an editor snaps this book up and gets it out for the world to read.  Though I’ve written other books and will likely write more, this one is special.  And it’s the music that makes it that way.