Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Books, My Babies (by Jodi Moore)

This month, we’re talking about persistence. Dare I admit I have a picture book manuscript featuring a spider that’s been revised over 100 times over the past five years?

(Spoiler: I dare. I do.)

You see, although spiders usually scare me, this tiny eight-legged lovely has woven her way into my heart. And although it’s been quite some time since I’ve revisited the story, the idea of abandoning this sweet arachnid - and her tale - scares me even more.

As an author, I often refer to my books as my “babies.” And why not? I love them from the time they’re but a gleam in my eye, to the moment those first words appear on the paper, through the years of development and growth. And oh! When they graduate and slip into those magnificent covers? I am one proud mama. Of course, I work hard to “raise” my stories in a manner to help them gain acceptance into the world. With baited breath I wait, praying they’ll make friends, and not be left isolated and lonely on some dusty shelf. That they’ll challenge others to think, to explore, to learn. To connect. That they’ll be respected, even if others’ viewpoints differ. That they’ll inspire, and perhaps even change the world for the better.

And like most kids, a story needs attention. LOTS of it. Sometimes, it’s fun and fulfilling and your story wants to hang out with you. But other times, it can get moody and snarky and withdrawn. It may argue with you. Or it may ignore you completely. It may stomp upstairs to its room, slam the door in your face and not talk to you for the rest of the night, week, month.

It will need a time out. And you know what? So will you.

Try doing something completely different. Read. Take a nap. A bath. A walk. Sometimes your story will decide to join you. 

If this doesn’t work, try paying attention to one of your other “kids”. You may just feel a little tugging on your shirt. A request for a drink of water. A game. Or maybe, if you’re lucky, a full meal, without the TV on, where your story begins to open up, and share again, with you.

Now, if you’ll please excuse me, I need to attend to one of my "kids". I feel a certain spider tickling my arm…

Monday, June 11, 2018

Permission to NOT Keep Going by Maryanne Fantalis

Sometimes, we writers are even harder on ourselves than any reviewer or critic might be.

This month, while we are talking about perseverance, you're going to hear a lot of really good tips for how to keep writing when it seems impossible to do so. When someone you love dies. When you are seriously ill, or caring for someone who is. When you are struggling to put food on the table. Or when you're working so hard at the day job, you simply don't have the energy to think when you get home at night.

Or all of the above.

As great as it is to keep going, sometimes, you need to be kind to yourself.

For me, and maybe for you, when things get really bad, I take a break. I let myself off the hook. I don't write, and I don't beat myself up about it.

It's a dangerous downward spiral, too easy to tumble into: You tell yourself you should be writing and maybe you try, but you can't -- you're too burnt out, too tired, too overwrought, and the words just won't come -- or maybe you get a few down but they're terrible and you know it, and you just feel worse than when you started so the next day you don't even try; then the guilt of not writing piles on top of the stress or grief that's already crushing you and you start to believe you're a terrible person, a failure, a loser...

This is a recipe for depression, not healthy dealing with pain, loss, or stress.

If you find yourself trying but not successfully producing anything, if the writing is more stress in your life and no joy, just stop. Give yourself permission not to write for a while. And this is the key: give yourself permission. Make it a blessing to yourself. A relief. Take a week off and see how you feel. If you feel an uplift of spirit -- oh, thank goodness I don't have to stare at this screen and feel like a failure -- then you've done the right thing. If you feel sad, if you miss it -- you know, maybe I could just write a few lines... -- well, then you know what to do.

When your leg is broken, you stay off it for a while. You rest it. You heal.

When your life is broken, you need some time to heal. If writing helps you heal, that's so great. If not writing helps you heal, that's great too. No two people are the same. Do what works for you.

Friday, June 8, 2018

Birthing My Speed Bumps by Kimberly Sabatini

This month at YAOTL we're blogging about perseverance: and how we navigate the speed bumps that can interfere with our writing life. Across the years, there has been all kinds of speed bumps that have slowed down my drive to write, but none have had the staying power of my kids.

And the sweet irony of that is...I'm responsible for birthing my speed bumps. <3

For all of you writers who are planning to birth your own speed bumps in the future, let me share the facts, the bad news and then the light at the end of the tunnel.

The facts: My kids were almost 2, 4 and 6 when I began pursuing writing. And as much as I loved them, part of the reason I began to write was to "get away from them." I'm not saying this to be mean. But my husband and I divvied up our lives in the way that worked best for us. His burden to bear was missing out on lots of the fun that went on inside our house. And it was pretty darn fun some days. My burden was to be the one-woman-show that could rarely disengage from this one little corner of the world. But I found my work around. Writing gave me a small bit of mental space and a purpose that was my own.

The bad news: Writing with kids is freaking hard. My boys are currently 13, 15 and 17 and it took a million and a half years to get there. Or maybe it was a blink of an eye. One can never tell. And in case you're wondering--it's still hard. Just a different kind of hard. You now have to pick them up at 1am from the train or a party instead of to burp them. And when they're little the work load seems endless. Now, two of them are responsible for their own laundry. If you see them--that's why they are wrinkled LOL! But back in the day, I had endless amounts of dirty clothes, bedding and towels. No matter how much I did, everyone got undressed at the end of the night, and there was automatically the equivalent of another load. And every time I went grocery shopping--all three of them crammed into one of those race car, shopping carts. When we got home from the epic ordeal, they immediately began eating the food--making it so I'd eventually have to go back and do it all over AGAIN! And that was the tip of the speed bump. The days were long and there wasn't a lot of room left over for writing.

The light: If the days were long, the years were short. And speed bumps might slow you down, but they can't stop you if you are determined. Despite sometimes having lots of bumps in my road, I learned it was important to reinvent myself as a writer every day. What worked on Monday might not work on Tuesday. And that was okay. I grew to be flexible. I discovered how to bend.

I also learned to be more forgiving--which is a lovely gift to give oneself. I've always been harder on myself than anyone else. But you can't do this without cutting yourself some slack from time to time. And that's just the parenting part. You then have to be kind to the writer in you, too. But don't think that let's you off the hook when it comes to craft. I learned to know when I was doing my best and when I was fooling myself. And that skill continues to serve me well.

And I figured out there are some things more important than doing laundry. More than once I just bought more socks and underwear, And I was happier for having done it. When I managed to write a novel (TOUCHING THE SURFACE), land an agent (Michelle Wolfson of Wolfson Literary) and sell my novel to a publisher with and amazing editor (Simon Pulse-Simon & Schuster/Anica Rissi) I never said I wished I'd spent more time cooking or cleaning. Instead, I still look back with pride at the gift I gave my kids by carving out a little space for myself between their lives. They got to see me have a dream, work hard for it and then watch it come true.

And lastly, those speed bumps can offer quite a bit of insight and inspiration for your writing. Writing for kids is means you should be exposed to kids. Check. It's unsurprising that most of my writing is filled with bits and pieces of these boys. I can't imagine where I'd be without them. And honestly--I wouldn't want to.

Every speed bump in your life has the ability to divert you from your passion if you let it. But if you shift your story just a little bit, look at things just a little bit differently, you might find you've been exactly where you belong all along.

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Perseverance for the Long Game by Joy Preble

When I do school visits or present at conferences, I talk frequently about perseverance. Never give up. Expect rejection and failure and keep on anyway. Understand that the universe will put all sorts of obstacles in your way that will make it easy to stop writing or to doubt yourself. That, as many of us will write about this month, there will be family trauma and crisis and jobs lost and health compromised and loved ones lost and relationships shattered and dozens of other things that make life--much less the creative life--feel like an impossible slog. Sometimes we will indeed be able to save ourselves with the work--lose ourselves in the process of story writing. I did that when I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer back in 2010. I finished my second book because it felt like the one thing I could control. And then, in the way of things, surgery went well, I was cancer free, the book was done and boom, my editor left abruptly and this book that had saved me in many regards, floundered because the person who had championed it was gone and a different struggle of perseverance ensued. I've written about that a great deal so if you want the full story, you can find it in my personal author blog.

But sometimes we don't keep going quite so fiercely. Sometimes we wallow and wander and let ourselves get distracted and lose our way. There are many reasons for it and I say that sometimes, that's okay. Let's call it playing the long game. This may not seem at all like perseverance, but I say it is. You give up on a project or shelve it for now, or take a great deal longer than you ever expected. You find other things to fill the well and even -- yes--imagine a life where you just calmly go to the day job and don't write for a living at all. You come home and maybe you go out or you invite friends in or you and the significant other go play trivia at your friend's bar or cook a meal together or watch a movie or possibly just sit outside and do not much at all but have a conversation. Or maybe you are simply trying to get through each day.

I'm surfacing from just such a 'break'. A manuscript I believed in strongly wasn't working the way it needed to or the way my editor wanted. My husband's job situation had changed drastically. I'd been writing full time from home for five years and I needed structure again. And okay, I also needed a steady income, which my writing had only occasionally provided. The possibility that I might never rise above the mid list was making me cranky and sad even as a new book was coming into the world and as I was forging out a steady set of gigs doing school visits, conference presentations, workshop teaching and keynotes. My head was still in the game.  I still felt that writing was the most amazing thing that had ever happened to me professionally.

But I was... tired. Not quite burned out, but close. And a little broke. Distracted by the endless crazy of world events. (Seriously, who isn't?) Struggling to find the real book I wanted to write. And scared that perseverance wasn't enough.

So when it was somehow miraculously offered to me (I do believe in miracles. I do believe that we need to always be on the lookout for things that are looking for us),  I took a part time job as the Children's Specialist/Buyer at a wonderful indie bookstore.  And here's the thing. It wasn't easy. I was learning a zillion new tasks, a side of the publishing industry that I had only some understanding of. I had to break out my math skills. Let's just say they were rusty. I had never worked in retail, hadn't operated a cash register since my summer at McDonald's freshman year in college. I was suddenly face with a 40-60 minute commute each way. And I was having to adjust and balance writing time in ways I hadn't done in a long time. I'm still struggling with that, but I'm getting better at it.

I was learning a whole new set of facts about the publishing industry, not the least of which was that so very much of what happens with a book is absolutely out of our control. I was remembering all the things I adored about books and writing. I was getting to work with reps as a buyer and peeking behind the scenes at what they were pushing each season and why. I discovered that I loved bookselling and working with authors.  I had gained awesome colleagues that I can't wait to see every day.

And slowly, I found my story again. I realized I had to drag myself up to write at 5 AM and discovered this wasn't that bad.

So yeah, it didn't look like perseverance at first.
But turns out it was.
Still in the game.
And happy to be here.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

With a Little Help from My Friends (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is perseverance: how each of us deals with the very human speed bumps of life and, impliedly, how we keep writing through them.

Talk about speed bumps:  I’m writing this right before I head to the hospital for a partial knee replacement.

(Tragically, even though every medical professional who’s seen my knee report has burst into laughter, the triggering event for the partial knee replacement occurred 18 months ago, when I tripped over the inflatable penguins in my front yard.)

(The penguins are now dead to me.)

My whole life is one long series of speed bumps, although I usually pretend otherwise.  Most I handle quietly.  Thanks to social media, quite a few I don’t, in some cases because my speed bumps often tend to make people laugh.  (Damn those penguins.)

How do I survive the speed bumps?  Sheer guts, adrenaline, an ability to go without sleep (for a while!) . . . and a little help from my friends.
Sure, Ringo sang lead vocals on "With a Little Help from My Friends," but let's face it: Paul was the cute Beatle.

My orthopod and I agreed in mid-March that I needed a partial knee replacement immediately.  I live for sports but haven’t been able to play them (understatement) since January, and since March I haven’t taken a single step without pain.  The problem: my frantic schedule.  My orthopod actually had to flip through my calendar to believe it.  Seven weeks of mostly travel, one band gig, and my daughter’s graduation meant that the earliest possible date for surgery would be June 7, or three months later than either of us wanted.

Sometimes, speed bumps sound cool to others.  While I waited for a knee that works, I made five trips.  DC.  Greece and Norway.  Maryland.  Milwaukee.  NYC.  Typically, I had three days between trips, two of which were spent recovering from the trip I’d just taken or preparing for the next trip.  At first I traveled with my AlphaSmart and travel guitar, but my days were jam-packed, and I was exhausted.  I finally realized that preparing for my gig was more important (as in, crisis), so I focused on guitar in my limited free time.  As a result, I went four weeks without writing a word.

Two weeks ago, after my gig, I started writing again.  Truth?  The break from writing was actually great for me.  I had missed putting down new words and telling a story, and I was thrilled to be back at it.  I also realized that I could take a break if the speed bumps of life simply became too massive to roll over.

But three months of speed bumps also reminded me how much I appreciate my friends.
My bandmates didn’t give me crap (much) for being gone every weekend when we were rehearsing for our gig or for my occasional struggles to learn new music when I was exhausted and in pain.  My other friends didn’t give me crap (much) for my “fabulous” life of travel (ha) when it was obviously killing me.  Actually, most of the travel was fabulous: I just wouldn’t have scheduled it back to back, week after week, if I could’ve helped it.  Also, it was literally killing my knee.  A day after the final trip, to NYC, my knee shrieked its refusal to take another walk—anywhere—and I’ve been in ghastly pain ever since.

So my friends took me out for fruity cocktails.  To listen to live music.  To eat at fun restaurants.  They texted and emailed.  They didn’t ask how my book was coming (because good friends don’t), but they came to my gig.  They’ve offered to visit when I’m in the hospital and afterward when I’m laid up at home.  One keeps volunteering to let me drive her minivan while I’m recovering, and she’ll drive my two-seater convertible sports car.  (Nice try!)  We’ve laughed so much that sometimes I forget how much pain I’m in.

Through it all, they’ve been there for me.

To me, friends are a crucial component to perseverance and even survival.  Yeah, I can do a lot on my own, and I do, but when it’s crunch time, friends show up and help get me through it.  Even when I protest (as I usually do) that I don’t need help.

My friends: quite simply the best.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Soldiering On

by Fae Rowen

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines perseverance as "continued effort to do or achieve something despite difficulties, failure, or opposition."

I don't usually check definitions, but I knew perseverance meant more than stubborn, even when I was confronted by the word for the first time. By the chair of the Department of Physical Sciences. My first week at college.

After attending his "demonstration lecture" during a College Week visit, I'd enrolled in the only undergraduate class Dr. Gelbaum taught. Instead of beginning with a review of what we should already know or a syllabus or rules, he opened with, "What is the most important characteristic of a math major?"

In the class of over a hundred students, surprisingly few hands went up.

"Intelligence." Helpful, but no.
"Memorization skill." No.
"Organization." No
"A big coffee pot." Chuckle.
"Lack of fear." Closer.

When he'd called on all the raised hands, he looked at us and sighed. "No more hands? No more guesses?

"I asked you this question because you will never make it as a math major at this institution if you don't have perseverance."

A few gasps. One person got up and walked out of the lecture hall.

I wish I could remember the rest of his opening as well as the beginning, but here's what I remember.

Perseverance makes other people think of you as stubborn, because you fail, then you try again. And again. And again. Not exactly the same thing, but you try to solve the problem in another way, with another tool. You work on the same problem for weeks, looking for a thread of logic that will unlock a solution or find a way to finesse a more elegant, shorter way to the answer.

When you're in physics or German class, your mind wanders to the rough edges of a solution. When you're playing a game of pick-up basketball or sitting on your board out in the ocean surfing, an approach you haven't tried surfaces and you stop, look for paper and pencil and sketch out a new idea.

When you fail a homework quiz because you couldn't make headway on just one out of the twenty problems and that was the one problem on the quiz, when you fail a test because there was a new kind of problem on it, one that forced you to analyze and synthesize what you've learned to create a whole new technique and you didn't have time to finish it once you figured out the approach, but you attend quiz sessions, visit your professor during office hours, and burn that proverbial midnight oil until you've figured out something new, something you'd never been able to do before, you are a math major.

Because you have perseverance. When things get hard, when you don't understand what's going wrong, when you don't know how to make it better, you keep working on it. You find research. You talk to others. You read papers. You start and stop. You throw away a lot of attempts. But you keep following your dream, you keep working on your problem, because it's become the most important thing in your world and, eventually, you will solve that problem and present it to others to enjoy, to learn from, to build into the future.

"End of lecture. Read the first chapter in your textbook. Do all the problems that you can't."

Dr. Gelbaum's first lecture coalesced everything I needed to hear and remember about perseverance. And it gave me a very important word for my adulthood. I persevered and got that math degree, then a Masters. I persevered in my career as a mathematician.

And when I decided to write, I persevered when a friend read my first book and offered the name of a writers' group I should join. Every time I receive a chapter back from one of my critique partners, I persevere and edit words that need some finesse, even though they were the best words I could think of at the time. When my editor tells me my character arcs aren't strong enough, I go back and analyze what is missing, then I synthesize a solution.

To be successful, writers need every characteristic mentioned by Dr. Bernard Gelbaum. We have to persevere in the face of all the changes in the publishing industry. We have to persevere just to finish a book that has a chance of being bought by readers who are hungry for our stories. We have to persevere and market our work so readers can find us. All while life swirls around us.

But if we can juggle all that's necessary, if we push through every rejection, every less-than-five-star review, every time we don't think we can make a deadline, that perseverance muscle gets stronger. And we're better for it. We soldier on.

We know that we can do anything. Be anything. And we are. Writers.

Fae Rowen discovered the romance genre after years as a science fiction freak. Writing futuristics and medieval paranormals, she jokes  that she can live anywhere but the present. As a mathematician, she knows life’s a lot more fun when you get to define your world and its rules.
Punished, oh-no, that’s published as a co-author of a math textbook, she yearns to hear personal stories about finding love from those who read her books, rather than the horrors of calculus lessons gone wrong.  She is grateful for good friends who remind her to do the practical things in life like grocery shop, show up at the airport for a flight and pay bills.
A “hard” scientist who avoided writing classes like the plague, she now shares her brain with characters who demand that their stories be told.  Amazing, gifted critique partners keep her on the straight and narrow. Feedback from readers keeps her fingers on the keyboard.
P.R.I.S.M., a young adult science fiction romance story of survival, betrayal, resolve, deceit, lies, and love.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Just Keep Writing

The theme this month here at YA Outside the Lines is perseverance, something I know a lot about. I don’t know anything about most other stuff—car maintenance, math, the difference between an adverb and an adjective, or computers (when I push a button and my computer turns on, I consider that a miracle).

But perseverance? I know the subject well. And I’m willing to bet you know it well, too.

No one gets through this life without facing challenges, whether they’re annoying minor problems, like dealing with a flat tire on a rainy night, or stressful but often exciting life changes, like a new job or going off to college, or the toughest, most gut-punching challenge of them all, loss.

We’ve all been there, and everyone’s experience has been as unique as the way in which we’ve dealt with our challenges, and how we’ve persevered.

I’ve been at this writing thing a long, long time. The ups and downs have been many, both personal and professional. I’ve lost family members and pets, moved four times (including one jaunt halfway across the country), seen my kids graduate high school and college and move onto their adult lives, been through countless illnesses, let my hair go gray, and had some publishing success, but many, many more rejections.

I could write a lengthy thesis about how I persevered through all these challenges, but I’ll cut to the chase with the best coping strategy that’s worked for me (and paraphrasing Dory from Finding Nemo): just keep writing.

Writing is what’s kept me going, what’s helped me to escape my troubles or work through whatever is going on in my life. For example, 2009 was a dark year of tough, gut-punching challenges for my family, with the loss of four close family members, including our niece and my mother. Seemed like we were in perpetual mourning. I took to my keyboard as an escape. Up to that point, I’d been working on light mysteries, but what came out of me then was a different story and much darker.

A Moment After Dark, set during WWII, is about a young woman with a strange power, the ability to tell a person’s future with a touch. She sees the attack at Pearl Harbor and, in trying to raise the alarm, she comes to the attention of a Nazi spy and a government agent who’s head of a secret group of people with abilities. Both men see what my heroine considers a dubious gift as a weapon to help them fight the coming war. There’s lots of intrigue and romance and a big fight at the end.

The core of the story has the heroine, whose mother has recently died, not only learning to accept her ability and how she can use it for good, but also coming to terms with her loss. Kind of what I was doing as I wrote the story. Coming to terms. Not “putting it in the past” as some people advise, but accepting it. Not moving on, moving forward. Not giving up—persevering.

So, that’s my advice… Write. Work through the worries, the angst, the grief. Write a short story to take your mind off what’s troubling you or write a novel and pour it all onto the page. When you’re overwhelmed, and the undertow is so fierce it’s dragging you under, and there’s a wicked riptide whipping you out to sea, just keep swimming—and just keep writing too.