Monday, January 31, 2011

Lauren Strasnick: "I am Pale."

Emma Thompson & Stephen Fry as Elizabeth Barrett Browning & Robert Browning:

Happy Monday, poets.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

YAOTL'ers in the Wild

We interrupt our regularly scheduled blog posts for this breaking news: YAOTL'ers have been spotted in the wild!

As you may or may not know, my day job is with a Very Large Bookseller as the childrens/teens lead bookseller. Recently I set up this "Our Staff Recommends" table, that you will notice is quite YAOTL-heavy.

Side 1, front row, L-R: Nelson, Julia Karr, Kelly, LK Madigan, Cupala, Omololu
Side 1, back row, L-R: Bjorkman, Ferrer, Libby, Clement-Moore, Dia Reeves, Whitman (I'm sorry about the shine!)

Side 2, front row, L-R: Echols, Mindi Scott, O'Connell, Echols, Blythe Woolston, Strasnick, Joseph
Side 2, back row, L-R: Strasnick, Steve Brezenoff, Delsol, A.S. King, Henry, Herbsmann

I ran out of space and I had Stephanie Kuehnert's books on my last "Our Staff Recommends" table, so if you don't see your book, please don't think it was on purpose. The table is permanent and fluid, and I plant to feature ALL of the YAOTL'ers!

Friday, January 28, 2011

Great minds don't think alike

In another life I was a PhD candidate in rhetoric and composition, which is a subspecialty of English, and I studied how writers write. Anybody remember the Love Stories series from Bantam in the 1990s? I sent off for their guidelines (yes, "sent off"--there was no internet to speak of), read lots of their books, compared how the guidelines and books matched up, and incidentally became a die-hard Elizabeth Chandler fangirl in the process. I presented this paper at the national conference of the Rhetoric Society of America. I am not making this up.

Today I am happy to be a novelist and copyeditor rather than an English professor. I do not miss the public speaking one bit. But I do miss the research. I miss talking to people about their writing processes, which I find endlessly fascinating. And lately I've been thinking a lot about one question in particular: Does personality type have anything to do with a person's process of writing a novel?

There are lots of personality tests we could use for investigation--but so we're all on the same page, let's use my favorite, the enneagram. You can figure out which type you are by checking out this description on AOL, or this one on my personal blog, or if you're really interested, google it and you'll come up with some multiple choice tests you can take online (I can't vouch for other people's sites but I took this test and it did not make my computer explode).

I am a 5, all day long. I read. I research. I figure things out. I am nothing if not logical. I take great pleasure in looking things up for people. The very best conversation is one in which somebody reaches for the dictionary to prove a point. I am SuperCopyeditor.

There are lots of descriptions of types of writers we could use, too, but I think many of us are familiar with the pantser/plotter dichotomy. Pantsers write by the seat of their pants. They have no idea where they're going when they start writing a novel. I heard a pantser say recently that she hates writing a synopsis for her novel before she's through writing it, because she doesn't want to know how it ends until it gets there. If she plans the end ahead of time, she doesn't want to write the novel anymore because the thrill is gone. I do not understand these animals but that is what they claim.

A plotter, in contrast, plans and outlines and researches before ever putting finger to keyboard. They know exactly where they are going. They would be afraid to start writing without a detailed plan because they are terrified of writing themselves into a corner.

We're familiar with this dichotomy, but all dichotomies are false. You may not be one or the other, but you can place yourself somewhere in this framework, right?

I used to think I was a plotter. The more I have talked to people about their novels, though, the more I have realized that there is one very unusual thing about my process. I don't write in order. Most plotters do. Most pantsers do too. But I start with an idea, and I figure out what the most basic plot points of the novel will be: how it begins, what the problem is, what happens in the middle, what the climax is, how it gets resolved, how it ends. Somewhere during that stage, I start writing what will become page 142. Then page 350. Now I'm on a roll. I jot stuff down in the middle of work, in the carpool line. I step out of the shower to do this and get my notes all wet. This goes on for several weeks until I can't find anything anymore. Now we know I'm serious: it's calendar time! I make a calendar-shaped table and figure out what happens when and divide the action into chapters. I go through my manuscript, which has grown to perhaps 150 pages by now, and put everything in the proper chapters. And then I fill in the gaps.

What is that? A plantser? A potter?

You know what it's not? Logical.

And, being logical, at one point I realized that other people were writing their books in order (how odd!) and having a much easier time of selling books on proposal, which of course requires turning in the first 3 chapters, not page 142 and page 350 and a bunch of garbled notes and a calendar. So I tried to write a book in order.


I will never do THAT again.

I am really curious about what's going on here. The only thing I can think of is that I am writing on the macro and micro levels simultaneously, one is constantly influencing the other, and on a subconscious level that makes good sense to my brain.

But what am I doing writing YA romance novels in the first place? Shouldn't 5's stick to the ivory tower? If you look at the personality types in the AOL article, the 5 is listed as the writer, but I think they meant research writer or nonfiction writer. They list 4 as the fiction writer, which makes perfect sense to me. Yet off the top of my head I can name you novelists I know personally who fall into every one of the 9 personality types.

It also seems that the more logical 1, 5, 6, and 8 would be plotters, the more impulsive 2, 3, 4, and 7 would be pantsers, and the 9 would not be able to decide. From my very informal research, that is true exactly half the time = no correlation = random = no.

And many of these writers realize there's a disjunction. They will say, "I am not an organized person but my writing process is very organized," or "I am an excruciatingly organized person but my writing process is a mess." (me me me *raising hand and bouncing obnoxiously in my desk*)

Have I bored you? Sorry--we 5's have a tendency to do that to people. Just go on, 3's and 7's, nobody really expected you to stick around for the whole post anyway. But if you're intrigued, make a comment about your enneagram personality type and your writing process. Do you see any connection? How does your writing mind work and why?

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Finding the Perfect Time to Write-CJ Omololu

I'm one of those people who always has to be working on something. Right now, I'm waiting on first pass edits for my paranormal DESTINED, so I've been working on the first draft of another 'issue' book that I'm calling MY LIFE IN BLACK AND WHITE. I started it at the end of September and was really cranking along - by mid November I was just shy of 20k words. And then everything stopped.

It started with a phone call - my good friend's son was in the hospital, diagnosed with acute, agressive lymphoma. Out of nowhere, this perfectly healthy 13 year old ended up on life support. For the next several weeks, we rallied around this single parent 24 hours a day as she gave birth to her new daughter and worked to keep her son alive. I'm happy to report that everyone is doing much better and the future looks bright, but those intense weeks took a toll on everyone. As this was happening, we moved for the first time in 12 years and worked to get our old house prepped and painted for our new tenants. And then there were the holidays. For two months, I didn't write a word.

All the while, I told myself that I'd get back to it as soon as the craziness was over. That the slightly guilty gnawing at my stomach would go away as soon as I found the perfect time to open up the Word file and start again. And that's what I waited for - the perfect time. A time when blog posts were up to date, the to-do list was crossed off, all of the boxes were unpacked and the laundry pile was less than the height of my oldest son. A time when it was quiet in the house, when the kids were back in school and the hubs was elsewhere, when I had that perfect cup of coffee and Madeline at my side and I felt inspired.

I thought back to when I was writing the first draft of DIRTY LITTLE SECRETS. Most of that book was written in three hour chunks as I sat in a loud, drafty gym waiting for my son's gymnastic class to end. Other parts of it were written late at night when I finally got a minute to myself after everyone had gone to bed. Some was written in the car outside of guitar lessons. None of these were the perfect time, but somehow I managed to squeak out an entire novel that way. And I'm going to have to pull myself up and do it again.

This morning, I finally realized that this 'perfect time' that we all look for doesn't exist. There will probably never be a time when all the stars align, everything is quiet and the most perfect words flow from your fingers to the keyboard. Perfect writing times are made not born and if you insist on waiting for one...well, good luck finishing that book. Right after I walked the big hairy dog, I sat down at my laptop and answered my email. I popped onto Twitter and perused Facebook for a little bit. And then finally, I opened the story file for the first time in way too many weeks. As I read over the first chapter, I realized that it doesn't stink at all. In fact, parts of it I may even keep. I finally felt accomplished, switching a word here and a word there as I read over what I already had in preparation for the next chapter. I was grooving into the perfect writing time at last.

And then the phone rang. It was my son's elementary school - he had a headache and needed to come home, so I abandoned the laptop and headed to the school. Now I've got the TV going in the living room with a sick kid sprawled on the couch, empty pans calling me to make dinner from the kitchen and a charming husband working upstairs who keeps interrupting me to ask questions about plans for the coming week. But I still have the file open, and I'm making this the perfect writing time, promising myself I'll get back to my 1k per day goal.

Just as soon as I finish this blog post.

CJ Omololu

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Don't Punch The Editor (Tara Kelly)

I'm pretty short on time this month, so I thought I'd share with you all a post I made on my editing site. As writers, I think it's important to remember that our books are NOT who we are. We are so much more than a single book or a mistake...or a bad character :)

It’s easy to get mad at the editor. After all, they just don’t get it. Did they even READ that chapter? Was it necessary to use that much red ink? Maybe they’re bitter. Or jealous. Yeah, that’s it. They secretly hate me, and they are passive aggressively telling me through their comments on my manuscript.

Let’s face it, writers. We can get mighty protective of our books. And for good reason. There have been times when I wanted to throw my manuscript across the room (if it wasn’t a file on my computer) after reading an editorial comment. After all, we spend an ungodly amount of time writing the story. We spend countless hours rewriting and reworking. Dissecting every line. Every word. Making sure the writing flows. Our plot has to be compelling, and it has to make sense–but it can’t be predictable! Our characters need to be larger than life; their motivations have to make sense. And they can’t sigh more than three times in 300 pages! I know by the time I hit send, I am DONE. And then I usually collapse and go ba-ba-ba at the wall.

So naturally I’m going to glare at my screen when I get notes from a well-meaning critique partner or my agent or my editor. The first read is always the most overwhelming. My initial thoughts are usually…oh my god, they hate it. They want me to change WHAT?? My main character is annoying? No, they aren’t! What do they mean they want MORE? More what?? And what’s this about pacing? God, if I hear the word pacing one more time, I’m gonna….@#@$@#%%!!!!!! That’s it. This book sucks. I quit. I’m going to delete my manuscript. But first I’m going to tell this person how WRONG I think they are! *ferociously types email*

When they say not to react or respond as soon as you get an editorial letter, they know what they’re talking about, okay? Without fail, I calm down after mulling things over for a couple days. I start thinking things like…wait, they have a point here. My main character IS really whiny in this scene. And do I really need to describe the MC’s homework for ten pages? Did I seriously mention the love interest’s eyes on every other page? How could I miss that???

I might be an editor, but I don’t trust myself to edit my own work. I’m great at being hard on myself, and I do the best I can to be objective, but I am always emotionally invested. There is always going to be something I miss…or don’t want to see.

I can’t speak for all editors, but I can speak for myself…and I’m betting a lot of editors will agree with me. I look at every book as a challenge–how can I help make this the best story it can be? The author isn’t even in the equation for me in that there is NOTHING personal about my commentary. I’m not sitting there thinking hmm…how can I piss this author off? I’m not encoding little ‘you suck’ messages in the track changes. My focus is 100% on the story and all of its components–and how those components work together. It’s a very analytical–almost clinical–state of mind I find myself in. Because, quite frankly, emotions will only get in the way. While I always strive to be constructive and tactful, I can’t worry about what the author might think. After all, I’m not their friend or their mom. They are paying me for a reason–they want to make their story better (even if they secretly wish I’d tell them it’s perfect–which will NEVER happen ahem). I spend a great deal of time organizing my thoughts, and I don’t make comments that I’m not 100% behind. Some stories need more comments than others, but–again–it has NOTHING to do with the author or their worth as a writer.

Anyway, my point is…next time you get editorial comments on your manuscript, at least wait a couple days to punch your editor. Unless the comments are downright mean or critical of you as a person, chances are they were meant in helpful way. And in a couple days–after you’ve simmered down–you’ll be glad you had the help. In fact…think of an editor as the person who tells you your fly is unzipped BEFORE you go out into public.

Hey, the analogy works for me. *shrug*

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

reading fiesta!

I am not a "write every day" kind of writer. I'm often taking notes, certainly, and thinking about my characters. But that doesn't mean that I sit down and write every day. Some writers would scold me for this - "you're only a writer on the days that you write!" But I've come to like this time off from writing; I see it as part of my process. A couple weeks to recharge, gain some perspective on my draft and, most importantly, read other books! Because if you think I can't get sick of reading my own stuff, you would be terribly wrong.

Now I'm reveling in REVOLUTION by Jennifer Donnelly, which is wonderful. It's so liberating to just fall into a book - especially such a good book. And it makes me hungry for more: maybe I'll finally read the second book in Clive Barker's ABARAT series, or Joyce Ballou Gregorian's CASTLEDOWN, or take Margaret George's huge tome MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA down from my shelf? Or maybe I'll read more about the French Revolution, as Donnelly's book has certainly peaked my interest. And then, what about all the great authors on this blog whose books I haven't read?

I have a date coming up with my work-in-progress, very soon: we will drink tea and get to know each other again. And I have a due date to get it back to my agent. But for now, I just want to fall into a book that isn't my sole responsibility and just enjoy being a reader, for a while.

Monday, January 24, 2011

And We Solve Crime!

Writers have very glamorous lives. Just look at movies and TV. We stumble upon secrets, we ALL jet around on book tours and signings and appearances on Oprah. We get recognized on subways, and arrive at nightclubs in limos and get waved in by the bouncers. (I know this because I saw it on NCIS.) We even solve crime! Just look at Richard Castle. (Points to picture)


We're all model slim and gorgeous, too. Because sitting on your butt in front of the computer for 8 to 10 (or 12-18) hours a day burns so many calories.

Sadly, none of this is true. Writer's real lives would make terrible movies, because it's not that exciting to watch someone do what we do all day. It wouldn't be very pretty, either. When I get to the end of a project, I don't stop for ANYTHING, including a shower.

We have the MOST exciting jobs in the world... but all the good stuff happens in our heads.

Creating a world in a book is even more exciting than a Hollywood blockbuster, at least until they invent five senses surround-sound-smell-taste-touch-o-vision. And as much as I love movies (and I do love movies) there's nothing like vicariously living in adventure in the pages of the book.

If I do my job right a book is more like virtual reality, or as close to Avatar as you and I will ever see. (As hard as it is to reconcile that I'll never get to ride a pterodactyl.) In a great book, we don't just watch the character. We live the story in the character's skin.

I do tend to make a lot of movie analogies when I talk about writing. One, because I love movies. But also because when I write, it's very much like creating that surround-o-vision movie in my head.

FRONT.splendor.falls.cvrcopy-2011-01-24-08-00.jpgIn The Splendor Falls, for example, my goal was to bring the lush Southern setting to life--the smells, the humidity, the food (mmmm, cheesy grits). But I also had to take the read through the heroine Sylvie's emotional journey. Emotions are like a sixth sense--they have a very sensory quality. Just think about how your skin feels when you get really angry, or how your gut feels when you're scared.

The challenges come from keeping it exciting for you and putting all those senses, the full 5D role-playing experience, into words that will transmit it into your head like an avatar interface. Put in those terms, that's a pretty damn exciting job.

Even if I'm not solving crimes on the side.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Let's Talk About Sex...

...or drugs, or alcohol, or profanity, or... name your poison.

I'm going to deviate a little from the essay-style format we've got going on here, because there’s something on my mind and I want to open it up for discussion. And considering the types of books many of us in this group write, I think here is a pretty appropriate place for it.


I recently received my revision letter and manuscript notes from my editor and one of her comments was that I needed to scale back on the profanity. I’m not complaining about it or entrenching myself for a fight or even looking for advice. It’s just that the comment raises questions in my head.

My book is about a Marine. The ones I know swear--a lot. They talk about body functions and sex. They make mom jokes. The editor said a little goes a long way.

So how do you know what is too much? Do you rely on your editor to tell you, or are you your own litmus test? And, if the profanity/sex/drugs is representational of the character you’re writing, how much are you willing to sacrifice while still maintaining the truth in your story? Do you worry that not scaling back will increase the odds of your book being banned?

(For our readers, feel free to adapt these questions and answer them from a reader's perspective.)

The editor said my book could be important for teens thinking about the military, but we don’t want it to be banned from schools and libraries and not reach those kids. And I totally, absolutely understand that. But then I think about the Marines I know and how they might feel if they open the book and get a watered down version of their Corps. Obviously, I know there’s a middle ground and I need to find it.

But in the meantime, I’m curious to know what your experiences have been like and what readers think. The floor is yours...

Saturday, January 22, 2011

On Writing What You See (Sarah Porter)

I often get the impression that non-writers regard the writing process as far more deliberate, conscious, and willful than it really is, at least for me. Writing always feels to me, not like making something up and imposing a design on the page, but instead like carefully feeling out the contours of something that was there all along. If I'm stuck I might start trying to make things up, just to keep going--things that aren't actually there--but if I do that I'll be sorry, and I'll have to throw it all out anyway.

Because it isn't what happened.

Believe me, I know it's irrational to regard fictions as having some kind of alternate reality, occupying some alternate space that the writer has to try to peer into and the describe. I don't believe there are literal fictive realms floating around in soap bubbles and just waiting for somebody to pay attention to them, exactly. On a rational level, I suppose I have to admit that I have agency in my writing, and that I'm responsible for it. But it really doesn't feel that way.

It feels a lot more like seeing one of those bubbles drift by, and standing on tiptoe to try and see what all those colored lights inside it are doing, and then becoming mesmerized by the tiny figures inside. And soon there's the moment of surprise, and a startled realization: Wait, she's in love with him? Or: Oh my God, that's why he's been acting so strangely!

It feels like building a house for ghosts to live in, then listening to them whisper.

It feels like clawing through piles of dirt until you can feel the shapes of people walking under the ground.

"Craft" is transcription: trying to write down what you see, to be as accurate as possible. (Though I kind of hate the word "craft" being applied to writing. Sure, you need some craft to write well, but this ain't macrame. I do some crafts too, and it's really not the same thing at all.) Things might get blurry, you might make guesses or mistakes that you'll have to fix later, or leave things out, but the effort is always to describe what's there as truthfully as possible. And so when people complain about the events in works of fiction, my own or other people's, I sometimes feel kind of impatient. It's dark, or upsetting, or crazy, or you really wish the protagonist made a different choice? Sorry, but that's what happened. I was there; I saw it. You wouldn't want me to lie to you, would you?

Books I love all have this feeling for me as well: that they were there the whole time, forever, until somebody unearthed their stories. I'm grateful to the author, not for some act of heroic invention, but for the labor of discovery. And when I don't like a book as much, it's often because it feels forced, made-up.

Maybe this makes writers sound kind of helpless, but that's not really the case. It doesn't mean there's no value to, say, doing an outline; it just means you might have to depart from the outline as you discover more of the story. And it doesn't mean there's no way to get ideas: there are methods, like journaling, for inviting stories to appear. If you build a house for the ghosts and leave the door open, they might decide to come in and stay a while. Artificial, painful, make-yourself-write-anything writing can be a way of telling the ghosts you'd really like to get to know them. And once you do, writing isn't forced or artificial at all.

Do you know what I mean?

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Resolutions and other Crazy Ideas -- Lauren Bjorkman

Recently, an author I know posted a New Years resolution to find the joy in writing, again. I totally got what she meant. Editorial letters, deadlines, and sales numbers can dim a person's happiness.

I thought about stealing her resolution, except I have been enjoying writing a lot lately. So I started a new list:

1. Worry less about editorial letters, deadlines, and numbers.
2. Be a more patient parent
3. Listen more, talk less
4. Exercise more, slouch less
5. Become a better human being
6. Stop foraging in the refrigerator while stressing about editorial letters

And the list goes on. But none of these constitute New Years resolutions. They are permanent ongoing goals. I needed something new, something attainable. So here goes … (drumroll) … I resolve to brush my teeth twice a day.

And stop lying to my hygienist.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

"Irrevocable River of Things"

Last week, Susan Blackaby and I co-taught a workshop on poetry for writers aged 10 to 18. Things really came alive when we read a few lines from Pablo Neruda's Odes to Common Things (his love letters to the "irrevocable river of things") and started talking about the resonance that objects carry. Susan pulled a bunch of gloves from her bag and tossed them on the table. Those gloves in a story--maybe they still hold the anger of the man who just stomped out the door. Or no one has moved them since their owner died, hollow reminders of loving hands. They're not just gloves: they're emotions, moments, memories, dreams. As Neruda says, "...all bear the trace of someone's fingers...the trace of a distant hand lost in the depths of forgetfulness."

Then the participants chose objects and wrote their own odes. I was blown away. Such fresh ways of seeing, such powerful moments of insight, springing from a building block, a spoon, a bit of old carpeting. Through their words I saw entire stories, people's lives, in these small objects.

We all depend on words to connect with others. These words from Neruda's "Ode to the Dictionary" spoke right to me. I'd love to share them with you as my first post of 2011.

Dictionary, guide just one
of your thousand hands, just one

of your thousand emeralds
to my mouth,

to the point of my pen,

to my inkwell
at the right
give me but a


of your virgin springs,

a single grain



generous granaries.

When most I need it,

grant me

a single trill

from your dense, musical

jungle depths, or a bee's

a fallen fragment
of your ancient wood perfumed

by endless seasons of jasmine,

a single


shudder or note,

a single seed:

I am made of earth and my song is made of words.

(Translation by Ken Krabbenhoft, from Odes to Common Things, selected and illustrated by Ferris Cook.)

Monday, January 17, 2011


Compelling young adult fiction is about getting to know—and hopefully root for—a teen character. And what better way to get to know a coming-of-age protagonist than to drop in on their every thought? Ah, the lure of the first-person perspective: the under-the-bed, back-of-the-closet snoop. It’s intimate, exclusive, deliciously revealing, and bound to turn up dirt of one kind or another. Uh-huh, the good stuff.

As a writer, I feel an obligation to truthfully paint the spectrum of emotions we—at any age—experience. Humans are complicated. Sentiments are part and parcel of our existence. We’re hard wired to look out for number one, yet, we’re highly social. Yep, a conflict of interests. And an emotional junkpile. Throw into the mix the inexperience of youth and raging hormones and you’ve got a steaming heap of happiness, anger, empathy, irritation, surprise, jealousy, etc. And all before noon on a Monday!

Granted, personalities vary. Absolutely, some people are sunnier by nature. Their internal dialogue would reflect a predominance of optimism. But an honest writer, in my opinion, will ascribe to their characters—even their heroes and heroines—a full range of motivations, some admirable and others, well, not so much. Because …

I contend that an individual’s measure is what he or she does. That a character’s measure is what he or she does. Moreover, there are two separate arcs to consider for the first-person narrator: their thoughts and their actions. Ideally, growth and change should be measurable on both.

In my novel, STORK, my main character Katla is snarky. She is. But mostly in her head. It’s how I infused the story with humor. It is also how I showed growth in Kat’s character. Both her thoughts and actions mature as she, the new girl, adjusts to her surroundings.

I personally enjoy a first-person sneak peek into a character who is layered. I enjoy the internal dialogue and appreciate the outcome when the character does the right thing.

As a reader, do you separate a character’s thoughts from their actions? Have you ever felt shortchanged by a first-person narration that feels, well, too clean?

As a writer, are you reluctant, at times, to show a few of the darker musings of your protagonist? Are there dustbunnies under their bed you haven’t admitted to? If so, I for one want to know!

Kicking Procrastination in the Butt!

I'm going to use my writing time more wisely...starting tomorrow!

This past weekend I attended my local SCBWI conference and am always inspired whenever I go to a writing conference. Bruce Hale was the first speaker of the day and not only is he a dynamic presenter, he also speaks the truth! He talked about how to break some bad habits in order to be more productive. He started off by joking how we like to reward ourselves and said something like, go to store, buy cookies, eat cookies in the car on the way home. Go home, check email, eat more cookies...

Anyway, I totally felt like he was talking to me. I check my email frequently and take too many breaks. My writing time is limited to three mornings a week, naptimes and at night after the kids go to sleep. So starting tomorrow I am only going to check my email at the begininng and in the middle of each writing session (when I take a short break). Hopefully that will save me a lot of time. I am also going to stick to my no phone call rule which I now have to add a no texting rule because I have been known to text a lot. Okay, I text so much that my six year old challenged me to a day without texting.

As for cookies, well when I work out of Starbucks, I have the whole cafe in front of me! Usually a cup of coffee keeps me going most of the morning so I'm good there. But I've never been known to turn down a cookie!

Bruce also suggested making daily writing goals. This is something I have done in the past and it has worked really well for me. I used to say I need to write at least 15 pages by Sunday and if I wasn't quite up to the 15, I would spend that Sunday night catching up. I've also used the write 1000 words a day goal and that works well too.

Right now I am in the middle of my revisions for Pure Red and they are due March 1. So it's harder to break a goal like that down since I'm combing throught the entire manuscript one item at a time. But when I'm editing I try to finish one week early so that if something comes up I don't have to panic.

So starting tomorrow I am not even going to use the free wifi at Starbucks and I will set a daily goal of what I need to accomplish with my edits.

I would love to hear how other people achieve their goals. What strategies do you use?
Wish me luck:)!

Saturday, January 15, 2011

When Craft Attacks -- Cheryl Renee Herbsman

A few months back I began scouring books on writing craft, finally having the urge to comprehend all the plot, structure, outline strategies that until now have given me the heebie jeebies. As a "pantser" or intuitive writer, I don't usually sketch out the story in advance. I just write and see where it takes me. But I'd seen a few blog posts that had piqued my interest and had begun to wonder if maybe I was missing something that might actually be useful (even if it did give me hives to think about it.) One of the first books I read said, "Hey, it's okay to be a "pantser", just consider your first draft to be an extended outline, then start looking at the structure. That made sense to me. I blogged about it here. I started reading book after book on craft, on plot, on structure. And with each one, I was like, "OMG! How did I not know this! I must restructure my work-in-progress ASAP!" And for the first time in my life (outside of school), I started drawing little graphy-things like this:
And, yes, it still stressed me out, but at the same time, I felt like I was learning so much! So I'd read the next book and it would recommend a totally different way of looking at plot and structure. And I'd say "OMG! How did I not know this! I must restructure my WIP immediately!" Throw another handful of papers on that pile, as I tweaked, redirected, changed plot points, etc. This week I started yet another book on craft, which I read voraciously, quickly, as if my life depended upon me learning everything it had to offer in one night. "Ack!" I cried. "How did I not know this..." Papers flew, my pen frantically drew new graphy-things, my mind raced, my family steered clear of the crazy woman flinging papers and chewing on pen tops (and yes, still talking to herself.)

And then something miraculous happened. I took a deep breath and said, "F*$% this." (insert cheers)

Yes, there is a lot to learn. And I'm glad to be learning it. And yes, structure is important. And I'm glad to have a better sense of it and my story is better because of it. But here's the bottom line: I know the story I want to tell and so I'm just going to set aside all those books and all those graphs and all those mountains of papers and just tell my d*@# story!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Preparing For A Writing Retreat

I'm preparing for a writing retreat. When you read this, I will be in San Diego where hopefully it will be much warmer than chilly Chicago, but more important, hopefully I will be having some major writing breakthroughs. It will be my last day of the retreat, so I'm writing this in advance with the hope that once I arrive I will hit my stride with the book I've been struggling with for almost a year now.

If you read my blog, you know the saga of The Bartender Book as I've been calling it, but if not, you can read about it here. Or here's the latest excerpt of it with links to older excerpts. I was feeling pretty good about it that day, but then four days later, here I am thinking that I should leave it behind along with the rest of the things that plagued me in 2010. And here I am two days later on New Year's Eve deciding that I will persevere and give The Bartender Book one last chance on my writing retreat because I am most productive on writing retreats when I am in the middle of a project and know exactly where I have to go, which I should by now. But I keep hitting road blocks and becoming overwhelmed by the task (my rough draft was 160,000 words, way way way too long for a contemporary novel even for an Outside the Lines type like me so that is a lot of cutting and reshaping and I'm not entirely sure it's possible.)

Two days ago-- as in yesterday from now when I'm writing this, meaning January 7, though I suppose I could have been feeling this in your real time yesterday too, but I hope not for future me's sake. Future me who is now present me... aren't scheduled blog posts fun? Anyway, two days ago I almost gave up again and I became very worried that my writing retreat will not be productive. But then I managed to slog through and finish Act 1 (the book has three acts) and today, as in January 7, I woke up after very little sleep because my brain was churning with ideas for the book, so now I am back to being exciting about preparing for the writing retreat.

So what am I doing to prepare beside messing with your concept of time by pre-writing this blog post? I'm trying to catch up on all my email and leave comments on the blogs I should read more often and do laundry and leave the house kind of clean for my husband and ooooh wait....I just remembered that the last blog entry of mine that I linked you to has this awesome song I recently discovered on it, so I listened to that again. You want to hear it, too? Here you go!

Oh yeah, that is totally the mood I'm trying to set for my writing retreat.

Where was I? Oh yes, preparing for a writing retreat makes me very ADD because I try to get sooooooooooooo much done in order to think about nothing BUT writing when I'm gone.....Postcard stamps. Please don't let me forget the postcard stamps. Let me write that down now.....

Anyway, I probably won't finish half of what I need to and will be texting my husband to pay certain bills and feeling guilty for a while about how much I left undone (that website of mine is really never going to get updated. They are just some tiny little links i need to add, but it keeps falling to the bottom of the list), but then I WON'T CARE BECAUSE I WILL BE DOING NOTHING BUT WRITING..... I hope.

One thing that must get done is the packing. How do I pack for the writing retreat as opposed to a vacation. Well, I don't worry as much about clothes and I don't need hairstyling stuff or makeup because the writers I'm staying with know that when you are in the zone, you are lucky to change out of your pajamas and shower. (But I am bringing showering stuff and real clothes. In fact, since it's San Diego, I'm very excited that I can bring non-winter clothes like a new short sleeve shirt that I bought but it's been too cold to wear here and best of all, it will be the perfect weather there for the faux leather jacket my husband bought me for Christmas and I was afraid I wouldn't get to wear until April.) There has been talk of going tide-pooling among the folks I'm staying with so I will be bringing some ratty shoes for that and the house we are staying in does have a jacuzzi which may be necessary after sitting in a chair typing for hours on end, so I'll bring a bathing suit for that. And a camera because I might want to get out and see San Diego just a little bit. I'll also bring running shoes and workout clothes because exercise helps me get my mind going, so I'll keep that in my routine. And then I'm bringing food. This is because I'm vegan and I always get nervous about going places and finding things I can eat. I always go on trips with a list of restaurants, but I don't have any plans to eat out. There will actually be a cook at the retreat to cook a couple of dinners, but I have a plan to make a big pot of black beans and rice and eat that the rest of the nights because seriously once I get in the zone, I don't like taking breaks even to eat, so food has to be easy. I'm also bringing nuts and peanut butter and of course chocolate. You have to have a chocolate reward at the end of a good writing day (or chocolate comfort after a bad one), that is basically a writing supply in my book.

Speaking of the writing supplies. I'm bringing my laptop, of course, and even bought it a new battery so I can enjoy the whole warm California thing by writing outside. I also have a stack of journals I need to bring, some with notes on The Bartender Book, but also those with notes on the three other projects that have been floating around in my head because if I do get stuck, I will go to one of them. I also have a stack of index cards that I use for plotting and I'll bring some multi-colored pens and sticky notes because you never know when you'll need those. Then there are the books. I have a couple of books I've been meaning to read as research material for one of those floating in my head ideas. And then I have ummm like 15 books I want to read. Yeah, I'm not going to read all of those since it's a writing retreat not a reading retreat. (but wouldn't a reading retreat be fun???? I want to have one of those next winter in a really warm place where I can lay by the pool for a week and read.) The hardest part of the packing is going to be whittling down that pile of books to something reasonable. But you see I want to have options. I don't know what I'll be in the mood for or what will inspire my writing. But I also need reference books like my baby name book (for naming characters), a small dictionary, and oh man can I bring my synonym finder. It's so bulky but so necessary. Sigh. It's a really good thing I'm flying Southwest. I might need to take advantage of the two bags fly free deal.

There is one thing I'm trying really hard not to pack and that's the fear and self-doubt that plagued me for most of 2010. The worry that I'll never finish this book or any other one, that my writing career is done and I'll never be published again, the impossible standards I set for myself. There is really no room for that in my suitcase, but it's sneaky. I'm afraid it might latch onto me and even those crazy new body scanners won't detect it. But if it does follow me, I'm determined to ditch it out there. Even if I don't finish this book, even if I have to scrap it and start a new book, I'm determined to come home from this writing retreat packed to the brim with renewed enthusiasm for writing. Instead of setting page or word count goals, the only goal I have is to fall in love with the written word again and remind myself why I write.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

A Leap of Faith--Jan Blazanin

Is this story worth telling? Or is it junk? Would someone want to read it? Is the concept fresh? Is the plot compelling? Will readers identify with/like/care about these characters? Do I?

I wrestle with those questions and at least a dozen more every day. Does this scene work? Is the dialogue authentic? Would my main character actually respond that way?

Granted, those are important questions every author should ask. But sometimes my inner critic doesn't want to shut up. And that can be paralyzing.

Take the manuscript I’ve been working on for the past year or so. It’s my first paranormal, and I spent weeks world-building, developing characters, and plotting it out. I drew a map of the setting and calculated the distances between the places where the action takes place. I know this story.

The problem was in the writing. I agonized over every scrap of dialogue, every action, every slice of narrative. A snail sliding over the keyboard would make more progress than I did. After several months I’d written thirty or so pages of lovely description, lyrical speeches, and dramatic action.

When I shared my work with my writing group, they tried to be kind. They always are. They were intrigued by the idea of the story and thought my writing was pretty, but they were confused. By the characters, the plot, the setting—basically everything I’d written. If my most careful readers are confused, something is wrong.

I combed through my work and salvaged what I could from those thirty gorgeous pages. Then I took my writing group’s advice and began at a later point in the story. As I wrote I sprinkled in the backstory in place of those scenes I'd put at the beginning. Starting over is always tough, but with their input I think I may be moving in the right direction. If my inner critic gets too lippy about my words not being pretty enough, I'm going to gag her until I finish the first draft.

Every word I write is a leap of faith. I shoot for the other side of the chasm, but sometimes I miss and fall on my face in a pile of junk words. When that happens, I stand up, shake them off, and get a running start for another leap. It's what I do.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Advice... What to Take and What to Leave

There's no shortage of advice for writers out there. I get emails from adults who write and teens who want to write. It seems like everyone has questions and I answer them all because I'm a big believer in karma and what goes around comes around.

But while there's lots of advice, I've found that it can sometimes be contradictory. Recently a writer friend was giving a "Book Publishing 101" workshop at her local library. She asked other writers to offer advice or tips. Once I wrote mine and emailed them to her realized that there are other writers who would say something very different based upon their experience and personality. Because every writer is different, and every writer's experience unique, advice should be taken for what it is - one person's view of the publishing world and what works. Here's what I offered up:

I had never attended a writing workshop, never attended a conference, didn't have a Web site or a blog, and didn't have drawers full of manuscripts written over the course of years when I was first published. I just had one manuscript and did my homework on agents before querying.

I hear all the time about writers who attend critique groups, go to conferences, blog their hearts out, spend hours on developing their Web sites and book trailers and friending people on Facebook - all before they've even so much as finished writing a book! I think that today (unlike when when I was first published and nobody had even conceived of Facebook) so many writers get caught up in the "stuff" you can do instead of what you HAVE to do. Write a kick-ass book. Write a killer query letter. Know who reps the type of book you've written and contact them.

Nothing substitutes for focusing on the writing and being smart about your submission. The writing comes first. Being smart about querying and submissions comes second. All that other stuff is icing for a never-been-published writer. There's plenty of time once you've sold your book to blog about it, to put up a Web site, to network and get the word out there. Focusing on all that "stuff" is like picking the color of your car and the type of sound system you'll have before the motor's even been installed. I don't care how "pretty" it all looks and how "pretty" it all sounds. You need a solid motor that runs before you can get anywhere.

I'm sure there are lots of published authors who had a different experience and would offer different advice - like attend lots of conferences, join a critque group, use social media to gain attention. What are your thoughts?

Friday, January 7, 2011

Thank you.

The new year is about new beginnings, right? New friends, new experiences, new energy to tackle goals. I'm full of the new right now, incubating what I hope will be the next novel and tending to life and love.

So why does this post title sound like a goodbye?

Well, I hope it won't be. Though I'm regretfully discontinuing my posts on YA Outside the Lines for work and personal reasons, I do hope to continue the many friendships, new and old, in this group (not just the authors, but readers, too!).

I'm especially thankful to Stephanie Kuehnert, who invited me to join, and Jennifer Echols for all she's done to organize this beautiful blog. And huge thanks to all of you who have made me feel welcome here. I will continue to sing the praises of all of you in the blogosphere and beyond.

And now, you're wondering who won the Tell Me a Secret signed collage print from last month's post?

According to winner is post #1...Cari from Cari's Book Blog!

Cari, please contact me here and I will send the art prize to you.

Thank you all for everything, and may 2011 be a year of tremendous gifts.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


So here we are!


"Authors of young adult fiction pushing the boundaries and writing from the heart."

And we've got books, LOTS OF FREE BOOKS for one lucky winner. It's a really easy contest, all you have to do is follow us on TWITTER!

Click here to FOLLOW

Anyone who follows us from January 1 until January 15, 2011 is automatically entered to win, so if you've already followed us, you're already entered. How cool and easy is THAT? Here's the list of books YOU could WIN!

Ballads of Suburbia  by Stephanie Kuehnert
Breathing  by Cheryl Renee Herbsman
Deadly  by Julie Chibbaro
FAIREST OF THEM  by Jan Blazanin
Forget You  by Jennifer Echols
Indigo Blues by Danielle Joseph
local girls by Jenny O' Connell
Stork by Wendy Delsol
My Invented Life by Lauren Bjorkman
The Blood Confession By Alisa Libby
The Splendor Falls by Rosemary Clement-Moore

THROAT by R.A. Nelson
Waiting to Score by JE MacLeod (Janet Gurtler)
WHEN THE STARS GO BLUE by Caridad Ferrer

Follow us on Twitter and join us for frequent updates on this blog. We feature lively discussions about a wide variety of topics to interest fans of Young Adult fiction.
Feel free to send any of the authors of this blog questions, or suggestions of anything you'd like to chat about.

Thanks for stopping by and thank you for reading YA OUTSIDE

*Contest ends January 15 at 11:59 pm. Draw will be made from all entries (people who follow us on Twitter from January 1- January 15) Winner will be notified by email! Books will be shipped to the winner by each contributing author.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Librarian love

This week marks the Midwinter American Library Association (ALA) meeting.  Librarians are crucial to the success of YA literature.  (Well that and writing about werewolves and/or vampires, but I digress.)
Writing for adults
The first five books I published were novels for adults.  Then I wrote a thriller, Shock Point, with a 16 year old protagonist.  My agent, who represents a lot of YA authors, said it was really a novel for teens.  And publishers agreed - the book was ultimately sold to Putnam.
When you write books for adults, there are many factors that  might affect their success:  cover design, pre-publication reviews in places like Publishers Weekly, reviews in newspapers and magazines, book tours, word-of-mouth, and librarian interest.  
But when you write books for teens, the most important factor in your success is librarian love.  Sure, the other things I mentioned are important (although good luck getting reviews for YA books in newspapers and magazines), but librarians can make a big difference by showing your book some love.  

Librarian love
Why?  One big reason is YALSA - the Young Adult Library Services Association.  At Midwinter ALA, YALSA will be naming the teen books chosen for lists like Quick Picks (books that appeal to even reluctant readers) and Best Fiction for Young Adults.  (And my latest - Girl, Stolen - is up for both!) These lists help your book get noticed by even more librarians - who spread the word to the teens they work with.  

YA librarians also give out awards, like the Printz Award (other librarians give out awards, like the Newberry and the Caldecott, for younger readers).  These awards are also noticed by booksellers.  
Librarian love can help your book land on a state list.  When Shock Point was named to Texas Taysha’s list, it nearly doubled sales.  Doubled!
School librarians help pick which authors make school visits, which can help writers supplement their income.  Authors are paid to do school visits (which I didn’t actually believe at first, as adult authors are rarely paid to make appearances).  But librarians know that meeting a real live author and hearing about where they get their ideas, how they do their research, and how much their editors make them rewrite can inspire teens to be better writers.  

More reasons to love librarians
In addition, librarians support intellectual freedom.  They love books, and if a teen tell a librarian, “I like this book,” the librarian can immediately name a dozen other books the teen might like.  And librarians love authors.  So many authors have had a bad day turned around by a librarian dropping them a note about their books.  Authors appreciate that librarians think what we do matters.  And we know that what they do matters.  

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Where Ideas Come From

One of the questions writers hear most is, “where do your ideas come from?”
Well. The truth is- ideas are everywhere. In everyone.  Sometimes we don’t even have to look for them. Sometimes ideas for books or scenes or even characters are presented to writers like delicious snacks on the best, polished silver. And sometimes they're, well, not.
Dreams. They can be great for story ideas. I, for one, wish I had dreams like Stephanie Meyer, who according to legend got the idea for Twilight from a dream. Of course, last night I dreamt that a fish mated with a lobster and morphed into a monster in my cell phone case. And then escaped into my walls. Um. I'm thinking not so much a story I need to write. But perhaps a visit to my therapist is in order.

Media. There are so many stories in the newspapers and on the radio. In the news. All around us.  The media, social networking it’s all rich with “What if” scenario’s.
Eavesdropping. Most writers really are horrible eavesdroppers.  Or maybe it’s that we’re good eavesdroppers. Whatever. We do it. We listen. Usually my eavesdropping gives me inspiration for quirky or cool dialogue or things to add to characters or scenes, but I've heard of writers who have gotten entire novels from one overheard conversation or clip on the radio.
Real life. Um yeah. It does sneak in there. So many things that characters do or feel are based on things that have happened in writer’s lives, or the lives of people we know or have heard about.  Okay. Maybe I shouldn’t speak for all authors. But it’s true for me. That does not mean that my mom is the basis for the mom character in my book. But some things about my mom *might* show up in other characters in the book. (don’t worry Mom it’s only the good stuff ;) )   
Authors always have the writer brain turned on. And not just for ideas. For experiences, sensations and settings. We’re taking notes, even if we’re not carrying a note book. There’s a little file in our brains where we store things we might need to pull out for a story later on.  People tell us things and we listen. We file. We imagine.
I was lying in the doctor’s office a while back, getting an uncomfortable ultrasound done (nothing to be alarmed about just a routine check) and in my head I was taking notes. What were the sounds I was hearing? What was the waiting room like? What color were the walls? Was it cold? What did the robe feel like? Did it do up at the front or back? How did the technician talk to me? I was tucking all of this and more away for future reference. Times when I’ve been really happy or really sad, I’ve tucked away notes on what I was experiencing for my books.  It`s like a sickness or a disease.  Or maybe just an idea gene.
So yes, ideas are everywhere. But it's what we do with them that makes things interesting. Some may take a lot of work to develop, like the world building involved in dystopian or paranormal novels, but the most basic idea for a book has to start somewhere.  Lots of what if’s. Lots of eavesdropping and observing and research and sometimes just making stuff up.
I think the true beauty of an idea is that every author will take it and make it their own. Tell their own a story in their own unique way.  In their own voice.  
As writers, we may sometimes share the same ideas, but in the end, we all have a different story to tell.

Will the novel live forever?

Will the novel as we know it live forever, or are we standing on the precipice of some strange new digital world where each ‘page’ will leap with interactive pictures, clickable links, music, intrusive explanatory passages? Will novels ultimately come to resemble something indistinguishable from movies with the author taking on multiple roles as director, screenwriter, producer?

I hope not. For me, the best novels fill a special place and accomplish things that even the finest movie could never hope to pull off. Because the novel can do things that are so exquisitely personal to the reader, so perfect in the way they demand us to join quite actively in the act of creation, until two brains are completely intertwined, no matter how far separated they might be in time and space.

Here’s a delicious example of the uniqueness of what a novel can do – in combination with the mind of the reader – from Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre. The following passage occurs very early in the book after young Jane has been made miserable by her detestable ‘relatives’ and looks for somewhere to retreat.


A breakfast-room adjoined the drawing-room, I slipped in there. It contained a bookcase: I soon possessed myself of a volume, taking care that it should be one stored with pictures. I mounted into the window-seat: gathering up my feet, I sat cross-legged, like a Turk; and, having drawn the red moreen curtain nearly close, I was shrined in double retirement.

Folds of scarlet drapery shut in my view to the right hand; to the left were the clear panes of glass, protecting, but not separating me from the drear November day. At intervals, while turning over the leaves of my book, I studied the aspect of that winter afternoon. Afar, it offered a pale blank of mist and cloud; near a scene of wet lawn and storm-beat shrub, with ceaseless rain sweeping away wildly before a long and lamentable blast.

I returned to my book--Bewick's History of British Birds: the letterpress thereof I cared little for, generally speaking; and yet there were certain introductory pages that, child as I was, I could not pass quite as a blank. They were those which treat of the haunts of sea-fowl; of "the solitary rocks and promontories" by them only inhabited; of the coast of Norway, studded with isles from its southern extremity, the Lindeness, or Naze, to the North Cape--

"Where the Northern Ocean, in vast whirls,
Boils round the naked, melancholy isles
Of farthest Thule; and the Atlantic surge
Pours in among the stormy Hebrides."

Nor could I pass unnoticed the suggestion of the bleak shores of Lapland, Siberia, Spitzbergen, Nova Zembla, Iceland, Greenland, with "the vast sweep of the Arctic Zone, and those forlorn regions of dreary space,--that reservoir of frost and snow, where firm fields of ice, the accumulation of centuries of winters, glazed in Alpine heights above heights, surround the pole, and concentre the multiplied rigours of extreme cold." Of these death-white realms I formed an idea of my own: shadowy, like all the half-comprehended notions that float dim through children's brains, but strangely impressive. The words in these introductory pages connected themselves with the succeeding vignettes, and gave significance to the rock standing up alone in a sea of billow and spray; to the broken boat stranded on a desolate coast; to the cold and ghastly moon glancing through bars of cloud at a wreck just sinking.


Why do I find this scene breathtaking? On the surface, there appears to be almost no action: a girl sitting alone in a room. But look where the author is able to take us. At first the scene, in response to the isolation Jane is feeling, moves the reader into a place that is deeper and more protected, cozier and smaller: a window nook in the breakfast room behind drawn curtains. But, in an echoed microcosm of the overarching theme of the book, Jane’s spirit is unable to be contained: paradoxically, everything suddenly begins to expand as she opens a book on birds and relates its contents to what she sees outside the glass on a “drear November day” lashed with rain. In 252 breathless words Charlotte Brontë transports us to:

The rocky coast of Norway.
The North Cape.
The Northern Sea.
The Hebrides.
Thule, Greenland.
Lapland, Siberia, and Iceland.
Alpine Heights.
The Artic Zone.

Until at last the cozy window seat has become the prow of a magical ship, the rain transformed into waves tossed against the panes. But even that leap is not enough for an imagination as big as Charlotte’s. Again, in response to her character’s mood, Jane and the reader are left trapped in a broken ship, sinking off a desolate coast, striped with bars of ghastly moonlight.

That’s what I call writing outside the lines and why I believe the novel will never die. Not for those who want to travel farther, deeper.

Sunday, January 2, 2011


I’m having trouble sticking to the story today. I’ve reached a place in the novel where it’s starting to become something, and I’m not entirely sure I like what it’s becoming. It’s a place of doubt, of thinking about the outside world and how they might receive this crazy story, a dark tale about a female serial killer. Ugh. Death and destruction. I need a break.

In my years of writing novels, this is always the time I start to fantasize.

“What if,” I say to myself, “what if I scrap this whole thing and write a fantastical, heart-warming story about a girl in a special forest that can transform her into a powerful goddess who can right the wrongs in her world? Or, no, wait, I got it, how about a beautiful, loving story of a couple of kids who save the dolphins trapped in tuna nets? Or, better, how about a moving story about a mute boy who finally learns to talk, taught by the girl who loves him?”

My fantasy storylines are ones I think might be uplifting, might appeal to the general reader. When I start to think like this, I know I’m feeling the long fingers of the trap that all writers can get pulled into: Trying to second guess what will sell. It’s an awful place to be. A place where I can’t hear what’s in my own heart.

Am I doing the right thing? Writing the right thing? Shush, brain, just, shush.

There’s another reason I fantasize about writing stuff other than the novel I’m working on. Because, well, because frankly, writing a novel takes a long time, at least for me, and as in any long-term relationship, there are periods of boredom. I just don’t always feel like thinking about this damn story, ok? I want to hike the mountain, walk to town, go shopping, clean out the front porch. Do I allow myself to fool around, play hookey from the work? Sometimes. Sometimes that’s the best way to fill my well, to keep the ideas fresh and flowing.

Other days, I simply have to paste my butt to the seat and bury my head in the story, much as I’d rather be swimming with the dolphins.

New Year’s Resolution: Stop worrying so damn much, and write when the visions come. Write what’s in my heart. Go clean out the front porch and just shush.

Saturday, January 1, 2011

I'm so going Yoda on your ass...

Why yes, this is what passes for a New Year's resolution in my world. At least, this year.

The fact that I'm making a resolution at all is sort of a first for me. I don't generally make them because you know, the tendency to set unrealistic goals and set yourself up for disappointment. Also, because when I was a kid, I used to mangle the world resolution as "revolution" and as I grew older, I kind of liked that better. Because revolution implies making a change. So rather than setting a goal, I rather liked the idea of working toward change.

But I digress.

What does Yoda have to do with my New Year's resolution/revolution?

It started, as things tend to these days, on Twitter. The #litresolution hashtag began making the rounds with readers and writers alike stating their literary resolutions for 2011. And I started thinking. Yes, I know this is dangerous. I did it anyway.

I started with the pipe-dream resolutions. You know the ones. Make the New York Times. Get a seven-figure deal. Get on Oprah, never mind that she's finishing her show and that she tends to lean toward the dead white guys for Book Club Picks. It's fun to let those flit in and out of the transom of my mind, but come on, no control over any of that, so why bother?

So I dialed it back a notch.

I would write more. Complete more projects. I'd work to improve my craft.

Blah, blah, blah.

I mean, not that these aren't worthy goals, but those are always my goals. Those are constants. There was nothing overtly unique about these resolutions. Nothing that would make me want to work that much harder, put forth that extra bit of effort.

So I started thinking back over the past year. Yes there are things I'm obviously proud of—finally seeing STARS published after its unlikely journey being the big one. But the more I thought, the more I realized there was something else, something even bigger, that had slowly but surely started creeping into my writing.


I had two great story ideas occur to me in the past year. I know you're sitting there thinking, "Yes! Great, Barb! Awesome! So what's the prob?"

There really shouldn't have been a problem after all. The ideas are really, really fantastic. I'm excited by them. Except...

They're so totally not what I write. I mean, really so far out of my comfort zone, they needed a whole new zip code. So while the ideas were exciting, they were also scary. At first, they were scary in that exciting sort of way, but Virgo that I am, I started thinking and analyzing and thinking some more and that led to the internal debates that turned into internal arguments, all of it fueled by—you guessed it—fear.

Boy did that piss me off. Realizing just how much fear had hobbled me in the past year.

If you haven't guessed it by now, this is where Yoda enters the picture. Because when I started thinking about what changes I wanted to make for 2011, what goals I wanted to set for myself, I realized what I most wanted to do was to eradicate that fear. And who better to help with that than a 900 year-old Jedi Master? And that's when it came to me. I knew what my #litresolution was going to be.

To go Yoda on the ideas in my head: "Do or do not! There is no try!" IOW, stop being a wuss. No fear!

Okay, I thought it was clever—and very appropriate for me because, you know, The Empire Strikes Back is a truly awesome film and really, there are a lot of great life lessons in it (plus Han Solo embracing his role as the hero-- le swoon). What shocked me was how often it was retweeted. Clearly, there was something in what I said that resonated with more than a few people. Which is lovely and believe me, I'm flattered, but honestly, the most important is that it resonated with me.

The best part of all of this? My husband. Because he gets it and most importantly, he gets me. So yesterday, on New Year's Eve, UPS delivered a package, a surprise courtesy of my wonderful husband.

Yes, he talks. And he says the most important words of all: "Do. Or do not. There is no try."

So I have no excuses. Nothing to hide behind. This is the year where I don't just confront my fear, I disregard it for the limitation that it is.

After all, I've got my very own Jedi Master holding me accountable.

May all of you have a wonderful, inspiring start to the new year and may 2011 bring with it wonderful things.