I Finished!

textgram_1539186978Yesterday, I wrote the best two words in my manuscript. Yes, I finished my rough draft! I’m not elated, like I’ve been with previous completed drafts, but I’m extremely satisfied and dang proud of myself. This is truly a rough draft and I have a lot of work ahead of me. But, y’all, I wrote it in less than 5 months. And actually, when I consider the fact that I didn’t write for 3 weeks while in Charleston, I wrote it in 4 months. FOUR MONTHS. I cut my drafting time by two-thirds! At 77,000 words exactly (uncannily), it is my longest first draft. And I did it writing 3 hours a day, 5 days a week. AND while pregnant! (Since July, at least.) This was a revolutionary draft for me, and I have many thoughts. Let’s dive into them!

Pre-writing saved my bacon. I took about 5 months to complete character questionnaires and create a Save the Cat style outline for my book. This helped in myriad ways. First, I already knew who my characters were. I got to know them better as I wrote, but my understanding of them from the beginning was already deep. Second, I didn’t spend time trying to figure out where to go next. I just looked at my outline and wrote what was next. Now, my beats were all related to the character arc. And some were completely arc points and not plot points, so I had to figure out what the scene looked like plot-wise. But arc is a stronger driving force in books (or should be, in my opinion), so I stayed on target the whole time. Third, knowing where I was going kept me motivated. I discovered plenty as I wrote (I changed one character halfway through, and invented a whole new one at the end), but for the most part, I was always writing toward somewhere known. And that kept me excited. I am not a pantser. Not knowing where the story is headed doesn’t excite me, it bores me. I would look ahead in my outline to find the next scene I was most excited about, and push myself through the scenes that lay between. It was incredibly fun and rewarding.

Momentum is huge. Whenever I made changes, which I did fairly often, I was faced with a choice: go back and edit the affected scenes, or write a few notes in those scenes and keep going. I opted for the second option, and at this point, I’m glad I did. Because I’m finished! And I have very clear, detailed notes to guide me as I revise. Yes, I’d have a cleaner draft if I had gone back and edited, but I wouldn’t be done. And watching my progress kept me motivated. Also, I experienced a lot of self doubt at the end. A LOT. I knew I had to keep going. I knew if I let myself get bogged down by it, it would takes weeks to dig myself out again. So I ignored that voice, and wrote anyway.

Consistency is key. Like I said, I wrote 5 to 6 days a week, usually weekdays but occasionally on Saturday as well if I hadn’t hit my 5,000 words for the week. I write during Nugget’s nap time, from 2 to 5 pm. Turbo is home from school in the afternoons, so that’s his screen time. I trained my mind to think creatively in that window. There were times I wrote in the mornings or evenings, and it was always much harder to get started because my brain isn’t used to thinking that way at those times. Having a dedicated writing time and a goal for each week kept me on track.

So what’s next? Revisions and then off to my critique partners, then more revisions, then beta readers, then more revisions, and so on. Turbo was in the room with me when I finished. He asked if I would stop writing every afternoon. I laughed and told him that when you write a book, you’re not done because then you have to go through it and fix it, and then you got through it and fix it again, and you keep doing that over and over. He seemed horrified at the idea. I’m delighted.

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When You’ve Been Writing for a Decade and Still Aren’t Published

LRM_EXPORT_110400622001664_20180927_172931690.jpegOn September 12, 2008, I moved to Colorado. About a week later, my husband flew to Florida for a business trip, and since I didn’t have a job yet, I decided to visit my sister in Atlanta. While there, I had a dream that was basically Iliad fanfiction. I told my sister about it the next morning, and she said I should write it. So I did, and it was terrible, and I remembered how much I love writing.

See, I started writing in middle school by–I kid you not–free form role-playing on AOL. Yes, I’m that big of a nerd. But I loved it. I loved making characters and diving into their stories (always my favorite part of books, whether reading or writing), and over time I learned to love crafting my prose. My sophomore year of high school I signed up for Creative Writing as an elective. I was far from the most gifted writer in the class, but my teacher, Evelyn Hall, saw something in me. What exactly it was, I’m not sure. Talent? Debatable. Passion? Very possible. That innate weirdness all writers have? Most definitely. She encouraged me to apply for the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities Summer Honors Program (say that three times fast). I made the wait list, and by the summer, I’d been bumped up and was able to attend. It was the best five weeks of my high school years, studying from great South Carolina writers such as Blythe Starkey and George Singleton. I continued writing after–short stories and, yes, role-playing–for my remaining grade school years.

Then I got to college. And stopped writing. Mostly. I wrote a crapton of essays and I even took one semester of Creative Writing. I picked up other weirdo hobbies, like improv comedy and minoring in Italian because I thought it was pretty. (This is a completely legitimate reason to study a foreign language, imo.) I learned to snowboard, and worked as a bookkeeper with my super relevant Linguistics degree, and got married, and never wrote creatively.

So then, almost a year after graduation, I wrote that totally fun and totally garbage Iliad fanfiction … and it felt like a homecoming. Except home was a little bit different, the rooms different sizes and colors than I remembered, the doors in slightly different locations. In high school, I only thought of short stories. I told people I doubted I’d ever write a novel. But suddenly, at 23, I could think of nothing but novel ideas. It was writing all over again, and yet it was still new. I rediscovered my hunger for creating characters and telling their stories. And I wanted to improve. I wanted to be published.

I’m starting to ramble, and I hope you’ll forgive me for waxing nostalgic. I used to dream of writing this anniversary post and saying, “AND I NOW HAVE A BOOK CONTRACT!” Or at least saying, “AND NOW I HAVE AN AGENT!” Neither of these are true. I’m still writing in obscurity. I have fewer blog readers than I used to. Earlier this year, when I thought about this post, the idea that I wouldn’t have grand news to share on my ten year anniversary depressed me. But now I’m here, and I’m okay. Because you know what? It’s been a great decade.

I got my MFA, which was amazing and I wish I could get another one. I’ve written four books and I’m working on my fifth. I finally gathered enough courage to write high fantasy, my original literary love. I shifted from YA to adult. I love writing bloody things. I embraced my inner weirdness far more than I’d previously dared to. I’ve made amazing friends who feel like long-lost family members. I’ve been to writing conferences, and critiqued books, and attended writing retreats. I’ve collected a decade of literary memories that I cherish.

So yes, I’ve been writing for ten years and I’m still not published. But you know what? That’s okay. Because every day, I get a little better at writing. And every day, I fall in love with it a little more. Writing is effing hard, but that’s why I love it so much. If it were easy, it wouldn’t be worth a decade of work. One day I will hold my published book in my grubby little hands, and all the years of toil will feel like a dream. A dream I am grateful to be living right now.

Writing Update

I had a plan to post a writing update every month. But you know what they say about the best laid plans. They don’t get … umm … laid? Something like that.

Back in May, I shared a little about Thread by Thread, my current WIP. I was almost done outlining and about to embark upon that most daunting of journeys–the first draft. That’s how I feel about it, at least. I much prefer revisions, but I digress.

I did indeed start drafting a week after that post. And it felt so good! For the first 10k! And then I hit a wall. Part of that was visiting Charleston for three weeks, and writing all of seven words. But that is part of the process for me. (Which I’m only now coming to understand.) The first 10k is all fun and games. It’s the beginning! The world is fresh and new! The sun is brighter! Babies are cuter! I braid flowers in my hair and laugh like a little girl.

But then I finish the beginning, all the characters have been introduced, and a cloud covers the sky. I. Hate. Everything. About. My. Book. Actually, this is only slightly accurate. I have never doubted this story. I think it’s the smartest thing I’ve created. It’s definitely the most ambitious project I’ve set before myself. What I did doubt–and still do, on occasion–is my ability to properly write it.

So that’s where I was when I returned home. I felt like the worst writer in the world. Every word had to be dug out of my skin using a spoon. (“Because it’s dull, you twit, it’ll hurt more.”) I sent message upon message to my CPs complaining about all of this. But I persevered. I wrote lots of bad sentences, but I finally reached 16k and suddenly, something clicked. I felt like a half-decent writer again. I thought, Hey I can do this!

And now I’m at 25k, a quarter of the way through my projected 100k draft.

Something unique about this project (compared to my other books): being that it’s epic fantasy, it has four POV characters. Yes, you read that right–FOUR. And I’m going to have a handful of one-offs as well. COF (the book I’m currently querying) has three, but it was much easier jumping between characters. Why? I asked myself. Finally I realized it: I didn’t outline COF, just a few key plot points. So when I drafted it, I inserted the other two POVs whenever I had an idea. So writing those scenes was easy, because I waited for inspiration to strike. And most of the time, I was in the protagonist’s head.

This book is much different. I change POVs just about every chapter. One character only has a few scenes, but the other three are nearly equal. That’s a lot of head-hopping. It took a while to discover their voices, and some days I still can’t find them. But that’s okay. As Terry Pratchett says, the first draft is about telling yourself the story. That’s what I’m doing. Revisions are for nailing voice, and characterization, and theme, and all of the aspects of craft we’re meant to juggle when we write a book. (What a bunch of masochists authors are.)

So, I’m at 25k and I’m feeling pretty good. Tomorrow might be different, but I won’t let that stop me.

On Rejection and Thick Skin

Back in November, after eight years of writing, I finally began querying. Querying is the process by which a budding young writer enters into writer adulthood by hunting the mythical creature known as the literary agent. Here’s how it goes:

Writer: “Dear Agent Person,

I think you’re rad and that you’ll like my book. It’s about Ladyface who wants to open a rescue for socially awkward unicorns. But Poophead Evil Villain has vowed to stop her. If Ladyface fails, she’ll lose her amazing lady face and be forced to wander the earth a faceless non-lady. It will appeal to fans of Other Author who writes books about ladies with faces.

Sincerely,

Writer Person”

Literary Agent: “Hello Writer,

Thanks so much for the opportunity to consider your work! Unfortunately, this project isn’t right for me, but I wish you the best of luck in your writing endeavors and in finding representation!

Best,

Agent Person”

That is a professional and kind form letter. It’s quite lovely. It’s also one I actually received from an agent. This is how that kind and thoughtful rejection letter actually felt:

Writer: “Here, I made this for you. It’s a piece of my heart, and I’ve slaved over it for years. There is so much of me in this. Please love it. Please love my heart and give it a home and–”

Literary Agent: “NO. I HATE YOUR HEART. HEARTS ARE DUMB.”

It doesn’t matter how kind an agent is, rejection letters still hurt like hell. And I don’t blame the agents–they’re doing their job. I like agents, I think they’re great. I don’t unfollow them on Twitter if they reject me, or heap curses on their names, or hope they have ugly pets. But the process to get one is not my favorite.

I received my first rejection letter three days after sending it out. It was not from one of my top agents. I appreciated that and the fact that it came so quickly. But it still hurt. Big time. I was at the gym, so I turned on my pump up music and got super into my elliptical workout. Then, I figured out what I did wrong and improved my query letter.

I felt a lot of better, so I called my CP Christine. She told me she was impressed by my thick skin. I thought long and hard about Christine’s comment.

Here’s the thing: in the writing world, they always say you need to have thick skin to survive.

Here’s the other thing: I don’t have thick skin. I guess it depends how you define it. To me, thick skin is letting negativity and comments roll off your back. You may take note of them, or you may not, but you don’t let them affect you emotionally. You don’t let them hurt you. My husband has thick skin. He is the Unflappable Kurt. He hears criticism, he’ll decide whether he needs to follow it or not, and he’s done. Someone hurts his feelings… actually, no one hurts his feelings.  He has feelings, but the plebes can’t touch them. He’s a rock, I tell you.

I do not have thick skin. I have cried over critiques and criticism. More than once. I get riled when someone is rude to me. I don’t feel all the time, but when I do, I feel deeply. My emotions can be so strong, it scares me sometimes. I emote like I do everything else–one hundred freaking percent.

So, no, I definitely do not have thick skin.

Here’s what I do have: the ability to pick myself up. To learn from my mistakes. To put on my pump up jams, punish my legs on the elliptical, and resolve to keep going. Individually, those rejections don’t hurt, not anymore. Collectively, they’re rocking my world a bit. But I won’t quit.

And, I’m good with this. I don’t want to develop a true thick skin. It took me a long time to learn vulnerability, in life and in my writing. And guess what? My stories improved dramatically when I finally embraced it. I don’t know if I ever could have thick skin and still maintain that vulnerability, that ability to throw my heart on the page then offer it to a stranger in the hope that they’ll find beauty in it.

One day, when I’m a published author, I may change my tune. I may join them in enumerating the benefits of thick skin. And then I’ll look at this post and think how naive I was, all those years ago. But vulnerability is laying your heart out without knowing what will come of it. It’s saying, This is me. I won’t apologize for it. I may not be right, I may be messy, but I’m okay with you seeing that.

I choose vulnerability.

And I won’t ever give up.

New Headshots

It’s the little things in life, right? While in Charleston, we took family pictures. Of the Whole. Fam. Damily. It was a little crazy, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. We had the photographer for two hours, and everyone else was pretty much done, so I asked her to snap a few headshots. My hair is drastically different from my old pictures (only 1.5 years old) and I have new glasses, so clearly I needed new ones.

Maybe I didn’t. But I wanted some. And they were were already paid for, and I was there, and looking good, so why not?

I love how they turned out, although I worried I looked too “sweet” in them. I don’t write sweet things. I write kinda weird, kinda dark things. But my CP Christine assured me the pictures aren’t off-brand, and since she has impeccable taste, I trust her.

And this is super out-of-character for me to say this, but my goodness, looking at these makes me love my mermaid hair even more. I didn’t even know that was possible.

 

Now I’ve just gotta get a book with a book jacket for one of these. I’m working on it, I promise.

#tykinschallenge A Very YA January Rules

jan challenge

TO ENTER:

  1. Follow @ctylerbooks and @krisatkinswrites.
  2. Use the A VERY YA JANUARY challenge list to inspire original bookstagram posts.
  3. Tag your posts with #tykinschallenge.

It’s that easy! Every A VERY YA JANUARY post tagged with #tykinschallenge counts as an entry!

PRIZES:

Two exclusive book boxes featuring signed copies of Love, Hate and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed, a bookish candle, bookstagram props, button pins, and other bookish goodies.

One winner will be chosen via a RANDOM NUMBER GENERATOR out of all qualifying entries. The other winner will be chosen via Christine and Kris’ TOTALLY ARBITRARY PERSONAL TASTE. If we disagree we might pick two ;)

We’ll give shout-outs at the end of each week.

RULES:

  1. Anyone can participate and be eligible for shout-outs and weekly collages, but book box winners must be 18+ and living within the USA.
  2. No private accounts. We need to be able to see your pictures!
  3. Every entry with #tykinschallengecounts. Multiple entries per day are acceptable, but we need to see how they apply to the challenge by at least some stretch of the imagination…
  4. Previous winners are not eligible to win, but are eligible for weekly shout-outs.
  5. Participants DO NOT need to create a post for every prompt. This is meant to be fun, so if one or two entries/posts is what you have time for, we’re happy to have you. ❤️

I volunteer as tribute!

What I Remember About Postpartum Depression

This post was easy to write–because I’ve been thinking about it for weeks–but scary to publish.

Big deep breath … here we go.

I recently read this blog post from a fellow mother with bipolar disorder recounting her experiences with postpartum depression. It’s courageous and beautiful and painful–and brought back many of my own experiences. It also inspired me to write this post.

I don’t remember much about my postpartum with Turbo. I was so, so sleep deprived for 6 months straight. I remember at one point telling a friend I’d been living on 2-3 hours of sleep that whole time. So the sleep deprivation has erased many of those memories. I’m sure I’ve conveniently forgotten some as well. Here’s what I do remember:

I remember crying every single day for 6 months straight. Often multiple times a day.

I remember wanting to run away. Thinking about how much I hated being a mother. Wishing it had never happened. Then crying out of guilt the next minute because of course I wanted to be a mother, how could I ever think that?

I remember pleading with my child to please, please sleep. And please, please take the bottle so I could get back on meds.

I remember meds helping … but not enough.

I remember throwing the bottle across the room when he kept refusing to take it.

I remember noticing I was bouncing him quite hard one afternoon, and realizing for the first time how someone could shake a baby.

I remember setting him in his crib, still crying, because I couldn’t take it anymore.

I remember countless nights of insomnia. I was so, so exhausted and yet as soon as I got in bed, I couldn’t sleep.

I remember lying awake at night, making plans to get up, drive to the grocery store, buy some alcohol, come home and get drunk so I could shut my freaking brain off and finally sleep.

I remember desperately talking myself out of that plan time and time and time again. (I don’t drink alcohol for religious reasons.)

I remember slamming my head against the dresser behind me one night when Turbo had his umpteenth cold and I was trying to clear his nose out in the middle of the night so he could just please sleep, and he was crying and fighting me and not sleeping and not sleeping and not sleeping.

I remember many nights of laying in bed and talking myself out of going to the kitchen to get a knife to cut myself. But I had to self-harm, I was going crazy, so I “settled” by hitting myself in the head as hard as I could.

I remember spending two weeks of Turbo’s sixth month of life in bed. In the morning, I’d get him, grab his bottles and diapers, eat enough to sustain me, and crawl back into bed. He was literally the only thing that kept me going.

I remember so many out of body experiences. (This is a form of psychosis.) Two while I was driving. One in particular was scary because it was rush hour traffic and the cars whizzing past me seemed so harmless and far away. I remember telling myself, “Just get off the road. You’ve got to get off the road. Your baby–your entire world–is in this car and he’s depending on you.”

I remember Thanksgiving when my brother came to visit and I had a breakdown of epic proportions and he and the Mister had to pick up the pieces and finish cooking dinner while I slept off the insanity.

I remember dreading the night.

I remember dreading the morning.

When Turbo dropped to two naps a day, things got much better and the postpartum depression cleared. When I got pregnant this time, I had a plan. After Nugget was born, it took two weeks for me to get up to a viable dosage of my multivitamin, and in that time I could see that my postpartum was on a path to be much worse this time. But then I started taking enough, and the world was a brighter place. I still cry from time to time, because being a mom is hard, and newborns are really, really hard, but it’s not the same. I’m still tired, but it’s not the same. No more desires to run away. No more thinking I hate being a mom. No more dreading each coming day. I’m not happy every moment, and my body has readjusted so bipolar depression is hanging around the fringes waiting to pounce. But I am sane. I am mostly balanced–and when I’m not, I can get back in balance fairly easily.

I love my children. I love being a mother. I’m not happy every moment, but there’s a bud of ever-present joy nestled in my heart.