Saturday, November 30, 2013

November by the Numbers--Ellen Jensen Abbott

To kick off my debut on YA Outside the Lines and to celebrate the launch of my new book, The Keeper, I am giving away a Kindle Paperwhite and all three books in my series, the Watersmeet Trilogy (Watersmeet, The Centaur’s Daughter, The Keeper). You can enter to win by commenting here or following me on Facebook or Twitter. See the Rafflecopter at the end of the post.
The November prompt for YA Outside the Lines was to reflect on what you had to get done this month, whether or not that included NaNoWriMo. But here I am on the last day of the month, so it seems that a “month in review” ala the Harper’s Index in is order:

Number of People served Thanksgiving Dinner
at the Abbott household:
23 (full disclosure: one was an infant)

Number of pounds of turkey carved:

Number of Hamlet research paper annotations read:

Number of papers graded:

Number of doctors’ appointments for the Abbott family:

Numbers of Books Launched:

Of course, it’s this last number that dominated my month. My third book, The Keeper—the final installment in the Watersmeet Trilogy—was released on November 5. Since I’m new to YA Outside the Lines, I’ll give you a quick synopsis: In the Watersmeet Trilogy, readers follow the outcast Abisina as she leaves her village to search for her father and for acceptance. On her journey, she discovers the whole land of Seldara: the dwarves of the Obrun Mountains; the fauns of the western forests; the centaurs of Giant’s Cairn—some friends, some foes. When she reaches Watersmeet, she thinks she’s found the home of her dreams where all of Seldara’s folk are welcome, but soon Watersmeet’s existence is at risk and Abisina finds herself outcast again. Can she save the home she loves? Can she unite the land against a gathering evil? Can she embrace her destiny and become the Keeper of Watersmeet? 

A book launch is supposed to be glorious, but writers, insecure by nature, find plenty to sweat about. And here again, there are numbers that can tell the story. With the launch of a book, I begin to wonder what my Amazon rank will be, how many bookstores, libraries, and schools will want my book on their shelves, if I will earn back my advance, how many people who bought my first book will come back to buy my second or third.

Lots of writers, on publishing their first book, worry that there will not be a second. The same is true for a series. What if you really only have one story to tell? All the dreams that you have wrapped up in your book pre-publication—Will I remember to thank all the right people in my Newbery speech?—and the nightmares—Remaindered after one month on the shelves!—are now going to be tested. It’s enough to make this writer want to stick her head in the sand and let her agent read her reviews!

But there is one element of the book launch which makes all of these other numbers meaningless. It just takes one reader—touched by your story, engaged in the world you built, rooting for your characters and loathing your villains—to make this day as glorious as you want it to be. Lucky for me—and thanks to social media—I know who that ONE READER is. Here’s the photo and the caption his mother shared with me the evening of my launch party:

I had to get him out of my hair, so I handed him your book...1.5 hours ago.”
It’s really this simple, one-to-one relationship that writing is all about. It’s hard to ignore all the other statistics that are used to weigh the success of a book, but for now, I like the number one. 

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Friday, November 29, 2013

Na NoNo

Well, with both my upcoming books with the editors this month, I had no excuse but to attempt to crank out an entire novel in the eleventh month. I started off hot, but with just a couple of days to go, it looks like I'm going to fall slightly short. By about 40,000 words.

Okay, kind of a failure. But not really. I'm about a sixth of the way through a new book. And I like to edit as I go along, so my book will be totally and absolutely perfect by the time I'm finished. Totally. No rewrites. I never rewrite. Not even for editors.

My main problem is that this arbitrarily happens in November. To all you lesser people, the month itself doesn't matter. But to teachers, the summer months are optimal. If this had happened in June, I would have finished on time. You see, it's not my fault.

At any rate, my editors will be getting back to me soon, so I'll be busy with another round of rewrites. Still, I like to think that what I started this month will result in a published book in 2018. Or not. Whatever. It's all your fault.

Oh, and I have a new novel coming out with Dark Continents Press this coming March. Watch this space.

And for all you authors that succeeded with your writing goals this month, I kind of hate you.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

The Little Things (Margie Gelbwasser)

November is a big month for NaNoWriMo. I definitely see how writing X number of words a day to complete a novel by the end of the month can inspire people. I can also see how motivating it can be. As for me, it adds to my anxiety.

I put so much pressure on myself already, the thought of making goals I can't achieve really brings me down. I can't write without going back and seeing how things fit. I need the freedom to revise along the way if I have to. Usually, I write about 50 pages. Then, I go back and add details, fix what's not working, write another 50, rinse and repeat. If I didn't do this and just kept going, the result would be one huge mess. It's so much harder to revise a 200+ mess than a 50 page mess.

One year, though, a friend asked me to do NaNo with her. I figured if I had a partner, I could be productive. I started off writing over 1k words a day, then the word count slowly dwindled. At first, I got upset with myself. Then, I realized something. I was STILL writing every day. Every day! Who cared if it was only 500 words? At least I was writing! That experience taught me to not be so hard on myself and to focus on the bigger picture. Many days of zero words adds up to zero. But writing, even a little each day, adds up to real word counts.

I guess it's fitting that this post appears on Thanksgiving. Too often, we take stock of what's not working or where we aren't. I'm guilty of this too much. I feel like I'm always chasing what others have in the writing world. I don't stop and think about what I accomplished. A few months ago, I was talking to an old friend from high school about how I wished my writing career was elsewhere. And she said, "But you published two books. You're working on other projects. That's amazing." And I told her that I wanted the books to be doing better, to have more projects. She looked at me and said, "But don't you see? To us, you're like a princess. You had this dream and you did it."

I think about my friend's words a lot when I'm having that you're-not-good-enough-feeling. We just have to all keep going. Nothing wrong with striving for more. Heck, that's the way to make it happen. But we also have to give ourselves credit for how far we've come. To remind ourselves that years ago we would have walked miles in 6 inch stilettos to get to where we are now. To let ourselves be that princess. Even for a day.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Grateful for breaks (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

In honor of NaNoWriMo, we’re blogging about what we’re trying to get done by the end of the month.

My date here at YAOTL is the 27th. And when I looked at the November calendar, I realized that’s the day before Thanksgiving (in the US), and very few people will probably read this. The day before Thanksgiving is one of the heaviest travel days of the year, and those who aren’t on the road will probably be preparing feasts, cleaning house, welcoming family.

For those of us who are here, I invite you to take a breath. A nice, slow, deep one.


Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays. I love its emphasis on gratitude, and its simplicity. We just gather, make a special meal, and count our blessings. Some people even forgo the big meal in favor of serving others, as in a soup kitchen. There isn't as much pressure to decorate, to buy things, to dress up any particular way.

Before I married, I developed the habit of going for a long walk on Thanksgiving, making myself a nice meal, and relaxing. I lived far from family, but I knew I would see them just a few weeks later, at Christmastime. Thanksgiving was a day of peace and quiet and blissful solitude—and even now, I usually make time for a walk on that day.

For me, Thanksgiving is one day in the year for not rushing or scrambling. There are plenty of days on which we get things done. We need a few days to just be.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Why I Fail at NaNoWriMo. And my Cover! (Kristin Rae)

Writing a novel in a month. Sounds great, right? So great that this month I gave it a shot. Sort of.

Until this year, I've been a portrait photographer and October/November/December have been a stressy nightmare. Since I've stepped away from photography, I thought I'd jump on this NaNo train and whip out the bones of a middle grade book in a month, shooting for 30-35k words, well below the official 50k goal. I said to myself, "Self, you are going to write one thousand words a day. That's your goal. You can do it."

I didn't even make it one day. The word-vomiting method of NaNo is NOT for me. My brain doesn't let me do that. I LOVE clean first drafts. I edit like crazy as I'm drafting. The less work I have to do later, the better.

I've also been EXTREMELY distracted this month. This is right around that 6 month mark before my debut, so exciting things are happening! I have a cover!

I'm told they're still tweaking it, but this is the one on the ARCs.

I am getting my ARCs, like, NOW! I can't believe a story that came from my brain is going to be printed and bound and blurbed!
“With Italy's brilliant landscapes, a main character you'll love from the first line and a new dreamy book boyfriend (he's mine!), WISH YOU WERE ITALIAN is a charming and addictive read. Devour this delicious treat like a double scoop of gelato.” —Lindsey Leavitt, author of Going Vintage and Sean Griswold’s Head.
 I also just attended an online marketing conference so I'm researching and game-planning and basically doing a lot not-writing. Way too much not-writing.

I think this should be my goal by the end of November: create a doable daily schedule that involves a baseline word count goal. AND STICK TO IT.

Anyone else so distracted by the squirrels of life that you have trouble keeping a schedule?

Saturday, November 23, 2013

swamp lilies and snowflakes

glades and clouds

A book in thirty days. That's a challenge many writers pursue in November. I've never signed up for NaNoWriMo. It often takes a year to complete a first draft (including months of revision). Everybody has their own process. And that's okay. It's all about getting words on the page.

This November, I've been working on publicity stuff for my third YA novel, More Than Good Enough. In six weeks, it will be in the world. Looking back, I remember the stages along the way.

It begins with a character. A problem to solve. From there, I discover the setting. Before I start typing at my computer, I always explore the places in my story. More Than Good Enough is set in two worlds–the city of Miami and the Miccosukee reservation in the Everglades.

While researching for the book, I visited my friend, Houston, on the Rez. He was very patient and answered all my questions. One day, we took an airboat to the tree islands where his family had built a Chickee Chobee ("big house") years ago. It became the opening scene.

When I finished the revision for my agent, she sent the book to my editor at Flux. I had just moved to Brooklyn, New York. As I walked through the snow-glazed fields in Prospect Park, I often thought about Trent and Pippa, the main characters in the book. The mangroves and salt marshes of South Florida seemed so far away.

Months later, the book sold, and I visited those characters again the following winter. This time I was tackling the revision letter from my editor. At first, it's so overwhelming. Could I finish the edits in time? As snowflakes swirled on the fire escape, I closed my eyes and remembered the Everglades.

I needed to look at the manuscript with a fresh perspective. As I worked on the edits, I drew each chapter as a storyboard. It helped me organize scenes as I charted the character's journey.

In the summer, I flew to Canada on a writing retreat. That's where I finished my copy edits—curled up in a tree house with my laptop, surrounded by a haze of dragonflies.

Advance copies have already trickled into the wild. Here's the ARC that I mailed to a contest winner (with notes and doodles). I'll do another giveaway when the book releases in January.

It's hard to let go of a book. You've spent so much time together. The characters are still whispering in your ear. But now they're off on new adventures. Maybe you'll see them again. Or maybe it's time to write...for a just one month or many. Because every story moves at its own pace. Sometimes the words pour out fast. Or not at all. As the first tiny snowflakes tap against my window, I'll be listening.

Friday, November 22, 2013

List-Induced Hysteria

I'm not participating in NaNoWriMo this year. Why not, you ask? I can't fit it into my To Lo list.

To Do lists are the devil.

I'm an organized person -- I have to be to juggle a career as an author with a fulltime job and family. But this time of year, I have so many lists going, I think I'm suffering from To-Do List Induced Hysteria. The symptoms are awful -- hold on, I have a list of them here.

  1. A compulsion to create To Do lists (plural).
  2. Rapid breathing, increased heart rate when reading To Do lists. (See Nancy Ohlin's post from 11/14 for proof!) 
  3. A tendency to procrastinate actually doing the items on the To Do lists. 

November is a busy time for us. Besides Thanksgiving, which I host every other year, November holds birthdays for both my husband and me, plus our wedding anniversary. This year is my turn at hosting Thanksgiving and not only are two of my guests diabetic, I was recently diagnosed as pre-diabetic. I've been scouring the internet, looking for low-carb and low-sugar recipes we can all enjoy because there's just no joy in watching other people eat while you can't.

I've found recipes for roasted Brussels sprouts with vinaigrette, harvest vegetables, a vegetable platter arranged like a turkey, even faux mashed potatoes. I've got recipes printed out, lists of what gets prepared and baked at what time. Before I can cook, I have to shop, so there are shopping lists for the whole month of November, because some things can be purchased earlier than others. My husband's birthday falls right on Thanksgiving this year, and that means a low sugar/carb deal cake just won't fly -- so I need to serve options.

It's daunting, it really is!

I participated in NaNoWriMo once about three years ago and it nearly killed me. But it did teach me a few good lessons. First, I plotted the hell out of that project. Second, from that plot, I created a scene list. (You knew there'd be a list, right?) I wrote 1600 words a day and thoroughly enjoyed crossing the finished ones off my list.

November is also holiday shopping season, so I have lists for who needs/wants what hot item that all the stores are out of. *sighs*

I started a new role at my day job. That means studying, and learning the ropes. One of my first projects was to organize our chief's holiday greeting. Instead of cards, he's doing a video. I had to write a script, run out to discount stores (plural) to find a tacky holiday tie, coordinate schedules with the video crew, and get artwork approved.

How many lists are we up to now? Right, three. (I think I need a list of lists. *Adds that to list.*)

I'm working on a new YA project. My contract with Sourcebooks is up and now, I'm starting to panic. What if nobody likes this project? I've already had this happen with a ghost story I'd planned and plotted for a year. No nibbles. It's so hard to abandon a story once it's grabbed you around the neck, but you have to, or you won't publish for years. So now I keep lists of ideas in case an editor nibbles on my current project, but wants more than one title. *breathes into paper bag*

Did I mention how daunting this is?

There's a housecleaning list, too. It's not enough to just do the regular chores like laundry or dishes for the holidays. There's extra stuff like making sure the good dishes are washed, the silver polished, the bathrooms have fancy towels, and all the laundry is actually folded and put away, instead of piled on top of the washing machine.

*checks list*

Oh, I almost forgot one! Medical stuff. I save a few medical things for the end of the year to make sure the deductible's met and I can cover the out of pocket expenses. I have to see the gyno and dermatologist, make appointments for Pap smears and mamograms and a laser treatment (I have these tiny cysts on my face like pimples but they never go away unless zapped. Pretty sure they charge about $500 a zap. *gasps*)

Lists for Thanksgiving, lists for Christmas, lists for day job, lists for novels, lists for doctors -- I need a nap. *checks lists* Perfect. I can fit that in right now...

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

NaNo Fail (Lauren Bjorkman)

NaNo is about turning off your internal editor and going for broke—an amazing premise. But even when I'm prepared with a shiny idea, characters, premise, theme, and a bare bones plot plot, it quickly collapses for me. I get bored with my outline. My creativity deflates like a balloon the day after the party.

As I draft, I usually reevaluate after every chapter. Do some research. Ponder. This takes time.

For example, in my current WIP, I planned a scene at a funeral in Hawaii based one I attended where the friends and family of a surfer that died gathered at the beach to distribute his ashes. At the end of the ceremony, a dozen surfers paddled out to sea on boards covered in leis, leaving the flower garlands on the water surface like living prayers.

The images were so deeply etched into my memory, the scene should’ve written itself. I knew in advance the funeral would be the backdrop for the first interaction between my main character and her antagonist. But as I dove in, questions came up? Was the ceremony I attended typical? Early Hawaiians hid their dead in caves so the bones holding their mana wouldn’t be found by enemies. Cremation destroys bones.

Before writing the scene, I spent a few hours researching Hawaiian funerals—both ancient and modern. And that led to a discovery of ancient burial caves only a few miles from where my novel is set. Legend has it that if you look at a Hawaiian's gravesite, the spirit will follow you home. Wouldn't that make a cool new scene? 

An hour of research may result in big changes or none at all. Still, for me, it serves a greater function. It re-ignites my passion for the story.

Still, I wonder what I'm missing. I have to try again. 

Next year.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

NaNoWriMo: A very helpful tool

As a writer, often times the hardest thing to do is remain motivated. Sure, you can sit down every day at your computer or notebook and write, but without motivation, odds are you're gonna toss out whatever words you put down because there's no inspiration in them. Motivation to a writer is like fuel to an old-school engine: it doesn't work right without it. 

National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, is a month-long motivational tool designed to get writers writing. It's basically a massive group of fellow writers who've banded together to keep motivation going for each other, to inspire each other, and lemme tell ya, it works. I've "legally" signed up for NaNoWriMo a few times already, and have actually "won" twice. (note: it's not an actual legal event or a contest, hence the quotes). This year I wasn't able to dedicate the amount of time it takes to NaNo to officially sign up, but that hasn't stopped me from using it as a motivational tool anyway.

If you happen to follow any writer's blogs or Facebook pages or Twitter accounts, you've undoubtedly come across NaNoWriMo posts/messages/tweets praising even the smallest of daily word counts or positive messages urging you to "just keep at it." These are what I turn to on the days when I just don't feel like sitting down and writing, when life has kicked me in the shins and all I wanna do is shut out the world. C'mon, we all have those days, right? And as writers, it's hard to feel creative when that happens. But it's also hard to not write something when all your writer friends are busily toiling away at their NaNo WIPs. It kinda makes you feel like a failure, or at the least a dweeb for not taking even just five minutes to jot down a scene or plot point.

The point of this post is to say... Don't feel bad if you can't sign up for NaNoWriMo and churn out 50,000 words. Don't feel like you're not as good as the next writer. Don't let it squash your creative juices, no matter how fleeting they sometimes may be. Use this motivational tool, this collaborative group of fellow writers, to your advantage. If you're feeling like you just can't do it, take two minutes and hop on Twitter and let others' successes of the day fuel you, motivate you, inspire you. Then, just maybe, you'll write. 

How do you think I got this post done? :-)

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Confessions of a Sporadic, Manic Housekeeper by Jody Casella

This month we're blogging about stuff we've got to get done before the end of the month. My list is long and growing longer. Finish the WIP that I've been revising for months. Put together a power point presentation for a talk at the local library. Plan lessons for an upcoming school visit. But what's really hanging over me is an influx of holiday guests.

In a few weeks I've got 14 people coming to my house for Thanksgiving dinner. The guests include my son home from college, my aunt and her toy poodle Mr. Pepper, my in-laws, my mother, the next door neighbor and his family. Also, his father Henry.

Give me a minute and I will invite you. And your parents.

I'm not complaining about the guest list. I love a full house on Thanksgiving. I love cooking the turkey and all the creamy, fat laden side dishes. I love stretching out the dining room table and adding card tables on each end so we can fit more people around it. (Last year we managed to squeeze in 22.)

What I don't love is having to clean my house before the guests arrive.

Case in point: the dining room table. It's dusty--I'm fairly certain about that--but I can't see the dust because there are so many things piled on top of it. A bag of dog food. Three 12-packs of cokes. A couple of wine bottles. Stacks of papers. Books. A bowl of picked over Halloween candy.

What I should do is pack up the clutter. Straighten. Vacuum. This is how a smart, efficient housekeeper would approach the next few weeks.

I am not a smart, efficient housekeeper.

And I blame an incomplete transmission of my über-clean grandmother's Italian Cleaning Gene.

First, a few words about my grandmother. The woman set the cleaning bar high for our family. She had a schedule and she stuck to it, despite having seven kids underfoot. Once a week, for example, she emptied out her kitchen cabinets and cleaned them. She cleaned the floors and ceilings. She cleaned the walls. She cleaned the inside of the washing machine.

Sadly, I have only received a handful of molecules of the Italian Cleaning Gene. How this plays out is that every so often-- before I'm going out of town, or, um, faced with an influx of holiday guests-- the molecules will flare up inside me, and I will whirl around my house like a tasmanian cleaning devil.

The results tend to be comical. In retrospect. One time out-of-town relatives were coming to visit and I had the overwhelming urge to clean all the mini blinds in my house. I should mention that these mini blinds had never been cleaned before, so simply swiping them with a dust cloth wasn't going to cut it. I spent a morning (when I should have been getting the guest bedroom ready) removing all the blinds, soaking them in baby pools set up in the backyard, and laying them out in the driveway to dry. Side note: it was like, 95 degrees that day.

I spent the afternoon putting all the blinds back up and discovering, to my horror, that they had been broken during the process.

A few hours before my relatives were to arrive, I frantically called my husband and asked him to buy blinds on his way home from work. With minutes to spare, we were stuffing the clean, yet broken blinds in the garbage and hanging all new ones in the windows. Ah, fun times.

Today, my clean gene fired up again.

Instead of clearing off the dining room table, I did this:

Yes. Much better.

And I still have a few weeks before the guests arrive. Which means it's the perfect time to reorganize the garage...

Friday, November 15, 2013

Dear November: A favor, please? (Amy K. Nichols)

Photo by Ariel da Silva Parreira
Hi November. 

I know you're busy, but…can I ask you a question? 

Where are you going so quickly? 

It seems like you just got here and you're already on your way out.  

I'm not trying to make you feel bad or anything. I know you have a schedule to keep, and I respect you for who you are. You have a certain momentum, following on the heels of Halloween and ramping up for the big holidays in December. Not to mention your own special day on the 28th. I totally get that. 


I had big plans for us, November. Fun plans. Creative plans. Writing. Reading. Some art tucked in here and there. 

I feel like you're in such a rush, we're not getting time to do much of anything.  

So, before you take off, can I ask you a favor? 

Will you slow down? Just a bit?

See, I have this novel I'm trying to finish writing this month. My editor's asking when I can have it to her. It's a little over half-written, and I know I'll be able to reach The End by the time you step aside for December. You saw me hit those last two deadlines. I can totally do this…but only if you stop rushing by. 

What do you say, November? Will you slow down?


Thursday, November 14, 2013

Un-scrambling (by Nancy Ohlin)

Earlier this week, as I spent an hour combing hardened Silly Putty out of my daughter Clara’s hair and stifling a string of swears, I thought about what November means to me. 

Traditionally, November is one of my most crazy-making months, even without a Silly Putty incident.  Work always seems to escalate.  Maybe it’s me, wanting to complete projects and feel that sense of accomplishment.  Or maybe it’s the publishing industry, spinning into a frenzy of productivity as the end of the year approaches.

Also, winter is coming.  It’s 30 degrees outside as I write this, and I’m deeply embarrassed to say that my husband Jens and I are just getting around to removing our air conditioners from various windows.  Once we catch up with the rest of the world on that front, we still have to deal with snow tires, weatherizing the house, and other preparations for the long, cold haul.

And last but not least, there are the holidays.  For me, the holiday season starts with Halloween, when I try to make Clara’s costume rather than buy it at Target like a normal person.  This year, she wanted to be the Marvel superhero Falcon.

By mid November, I am usually neck-deep in OCD master planning for Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s and four to-do lists away from a nervous breakdown.   

But no longer.  A couple of years ago, I made a pact with myself that henceforth, the month of November would be the opposite of my personal NaNoWriMo.  I decided to enjoy this time of year rather than scrambling around like a coked-up lab rat.

It’s not that I don’t get my stuff done.  I do, for the most part.  It’s a difference in attitude.  I don't focus on perfection.  I don’t even go for excellence.  I’m happy to settle for “I showed up” or “this chapter doesn’t suck” or “these Christmas cookies aren’t completely inedible.”   

Because what I really need during the month of November is to slow down and bask.  The end of the year is a special time.  There’s so much to contemplate and so much to revel in before moving on to the new year.  I don’t want to be so stressed about what’s in the oven that I miss out on a fun, spontaneous moment with my family.  I don’t want to be so preoccupied with word count that I neglect to savor a creative breakthrough.

I totally respect and admire everyone who is in overdrive this month, cranking out 50,000 words or giving Martha Stewart a run for her money in the holiday department.  And maybe I’ll go back to that paradigm someday (or go back to thinking about that paradigm and berating myself for not achieving it). 

But for now, I’m happy with my semi-burnt cookies and okay chapters.  I want to spend some quality time with 2013 before 2014 arrives. 

How about you?  Are you speeding up or slowing down this month?

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

November Goal: Getting My Feet Wet Again (Stephanie Kuehnert)

Since November is National Novel Writing Month, this is the time of year that most writers plunge into a project and swim like crazy toward the finish line. If you are among them, I’m cheering you on like crazy. I’ve tried NaNoWriMo on a couple of occasions and usually don’t get more than a week in. Writing a fast furious draft doesn’t seem to mesh with the way I work, but it is always a nice time for writing camaraderie and setting goals. This year, my goal for November pales in comparison to those swimming the NaNo race.

My goal is simply to dip my toes back into the pool.

Aside from my pieces for Rookie, I haven’t written in almost six months. Back in May I finished a draft of what I’m publicly calling, The Grief Book. (You can read a little snippet of it on my newly redesigned website if you like.) It went on submission and I threw myself into the task of moving across the country from Chicago to Seattle. There was little time to breathe for most of the summer between the packing and the throwing things away and the driving across the country and the unpacking and then the job search. For the past five years I’d been juggling a part-time bartending job, a teaching gig, and freelance writing with the hopes that my book-writing career would take off and eventually relieve some of that pressure.

It didn’t. My struggle to sell more books led to long periods of writing block, depression, and a total crisis of faith about my creative abilities. I did write through it. I wrote for Rookie, which gave me both the audience I’ve always dreamed of having and a community of supportive writers and artists. I wrote the Grief Book, which is definitely the best thing I’ve ever written. I’m crazy proud of it. ….But so far my crazy pride hasn’t translated to a sale. I know in the scheme of things with publishing, it hasn’t been out on submission for very long and there is still a solid chance someone will buy it, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say it was disappointing.

The nice thing is though, that it is only disappointing. I’m not in total despair over it. I’m not even depressed. Now that I’m in Seattle, the city of my heart, things have balanced out for me and writing is no longer the sole thing determining my happiness. I’m happy just waiting for the bus at 7 am on the way to my new full-time job because I live in a beautiful city and now that I’m not killing myself with a bunch of jobs, I have time to enjoy the place with my husband.

The past few months here have been hectic though. In addition to my full-time job and my work for Rookie, I was teaching two classes, one online and one in person. I didn’t have time to write, not if I wanted the balance I’d moved here to find—the time with my husband, in this city. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about writing. I have. I’ve been pondering new projects as well as revisiting old ones. I have an exciting idea about revamping my “Bartender Book” so that it might sell in the New Adult market, but I’m not totally sure I want to go there yet. I’ve been playing with the idea of a collection of personal essays done with illustrations and designed to look like a zine for a long time. It would combine my Rookie work with new pieces and since Rookie is the thing that got me through my dark patch—that gave me the strength to keep writing and to reach for my dreams and move away to get a fresh start—I think that is the best thing to focus on right now. (I think… We’ll see if the Bartender Book rewrite keeps tugging at me.)

I have a little more time now that I’m done teaching for awhile. A little bit. There are still Rookie assignments to work on at night and other things that fell to the wayside while I was on overdrive the past couple of months. And I’m still not willing to give up the things that keep me balanced and happy. But I know I need to stick my toes back into the water. I know that even though my frustration with my writing plunged me into a very black place for a while, that it is a core part of me, a good thing, a thing I love and I want to find that love again. There is a part of me that is terrified that I’ve had too many disappoints and I can’t write and be happy anymore, but I’m trying to fight through that. Again, I know what kind of writing makes me happy and that’s the kind of work I do for Rookie, so I hope the essays will be a good way to get my feet wet again. On Monday, since I had the day off from work I spent two hours and finished an 1800 word essay (sort of… it was really more of a list). I’d love to do at least that much every Saturday and spend an hour at night Monday through Thursday. It doesn’t sound like much, but on top of a full-time job, it definitely is, so I may have to work up to it.

So that’s what I’m doing this month. Braving the waters, working towards getting to the place where I want to swim regularly again. If anyone has been here before and has advice to share about it, I'd love to hear it!

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

To Slay a Dragon, Or Write Every Day for a Month (Jennifer Castle)

My writing routine is delicate. Temperamental. You could even say, pansy-assed.

Ideally, when crawling my way through a first draft like I am now, I write for about two hours every weekday. Ideally, I work in the morning, between getting my daughters out the door to school and lunchtime, because that’s when I feel most creative. Ideally, I’m in my home office on my couch looking out at the woods. Ideally, I have tea and a cat nearby. Ideally, I’ve had eight hours of sleep.

Are you sensing a theme here? Ideally, life would always present me with ideal conditions to write. Stupid, silly life. It doesn't.

If something comes up in the morning that I can’t avoid, such as a doctor's appointment or urgent errand, I give up on the day’s work. Because what can I do? I lost my window! If I’ve had insomnia (as I often do) or am dealing with, say, a sinus headache...I skip writing, telling myself that the work would come out crappy anyway. If one of the kids are home sick from school, I blow off the words, because, well you know, my child needs me to be Mom today. Weekends? Pshaw. I don’t even bother with weekends. Too many plans and commitments, too much housework, too much too much too much.

The beginning of this month found me in a professional crisis. I had a draft of a new book due in January, and I was less than halfway done. To make things worse, I wasn’t 100% sure how the second part of the story was going to arc. I needed to just write my way through it, but it was hard for me to find momentum to do that with all my fits and starts. So in honor of NaNoWriMo, I decided to try something I’ve never done before: write every single day. No matter what. I would shoot for 1,200 words a day, but mostly I would shoot for words, period.

Apparently, the universe decided to see how serious I was about this, because in the past eleven days, I have forced myself to do my daily writing...

...while yawning because I forgot about the Daylight Savings time change that inspires my 5-year-old to be awake at Ridiculous O'Clock. bed after being up half the night with a stomach bug, typing in between sips of Gatorade and bites of saltines. the town library while my daughter was home sick from school with aforementioned stomach bug, cared for by my husband. the afternoon because the morning involved a lot of puking (see above about child home sick from school).

...completely stressed out after getting some bad news about my husband's big work project. a cafe in Brooklyn with my friend the author Kim Purcell, on a laptop I borrowed from her husband, because we came to visit them for the weekend and I forgot my computer, and I was going to give up on trying to write until she said, “No. I feel shitty when I don’t write. Let’s go now for an hour before dinner while the husbands watch the kids.”

So obviously, most of the last eleven days were less than ideal. They were damn hard. Life got in the way, but I pushed it aside. I fought for my writing. And even on the days that I could only squeeze out an hour of work, maybe 700 words, those were 700 words more than I had the day before. Even if I end up cutting 90% of what I wrote on a single day, it’s that 10% -- that 10% that is more than 0%, and could contain important notions or great lines or perfect moments that would not have come to me on a different day.

We were gone all yesterday doing Active Superfun Family Things. I planned to write for a little while after we got home. But it was later than expected, and I was physically and mentally exhausted. It wasn't until I whimpered into bed that I realized I hadn't done my daily writing. I would have been upset about it, if I hadn't passed out three seconds later.

But something has already happened here. The October me would have woken up today and said, "I really do suck. Look: I tried to write every day for a month and I only made it a week and a half."

However, the November me is acknowledging the missed day...and moving on. The November me has learned a few things about the importance of intention in writing, and how a heightened commitment can really make a difference not just on the page but in my enthusiasm about my work. I've also figured out that I have, like, actual power over most anti-writing circumstances. I just need to choose to wield it.

I’ve got 20 days left in the month and I will still aim to write on every single one of them. Unless, of course, I finish the draft a few days before November which case, instead of writing there will be sangria, and you're all invited.

Monday, November 11, 2013


NaNoWriMo is all about increasing the word count, letting the pages fly out, the chapters stack up...But I'm in the midst of learning about brevity.  Have been for a while now.  About using metaphor more sporadically.  About knowing when to push the sensory details aside so that the story can take over.

Right now, I'm also in the midst of doing some promos for my forthcoming debut MG, THE JUNCTION OF SUNSHINE AND LUCKY.  And I'm forcing myself to whittle my video content down to a minute.  (It's not easy, though.  Once I get started talking about writing, I don't know when to quit.  Somebody needs to get the ol' hook and pull me away from my camcorder.)

Here's my latest: the trailer for THE JUNCTION.  A novel boiled down to a minute, four seconds.  Whew!

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Tales From Five NaNoWriMos (Sydney Salter)

NaNoWriMo 2005
I needed something to keep me trudging through the molasses of my publishing journey. I'd written three manuscripts each of which had won local writing contests, but I couldn't break into publication. And I was discouraged.

But I couldn't doubt myself or my story as I worked to meet my daily deadlines, and that gave me so much freedom to write honestly and courageously. I also learned that writing rituals are crap. On November 17th my computer crashed, and had to be repaired, overnight (!) so I wrote 1,660 words--by hand! Adios excuses.

Two years and some revision later my first NaNo novel became my first published novel: My Big Nose And Other Natural Disasters.

NaNoWriMo 2006
I loved my first NaNo so much that I couldn't wait to dive in again. Even though I had plans to visit out-of-state family for the week of Thanksgiving. I wrote on the plane. I wrote in a crowded Starbucks on Thanksgiving morning. I wrote on a tilting ferry boat in stormy weather. By November 26th, I'd written 56,407 words.

That manuscript isn't published, but it's taught me so much about revision. After a critique at the SCBWI LA conference I changed my POV from 3rd to 1st. Writing more distantly allowed me to explore a difficult topic, but the story grew powerful in first person. I'm grateful to have learned that lesson: I can revise anything!

NaNoWriMo 2008
On Halloween my editor approved my outline for a contracted book #2. The next day I dove into Swoon At Your Own Risk. I also had to finish revisions on Jungle Crossing (my first manuscript, written slowly with too many writing rituals and procrastinating revisions along the way). I "won" on November 27th, but I had to push through to December 5th. The key: chocolate rewards.

I felt like such a pro!

NaNoWriMo 2011
The first line of my November writing calendar says, "NaNoWriMo!!! Get your mojo back." Could fast-drafting save me from a writing slump? Could I really write something SO completely different? I'd spent weeks researching my new idea--a story so far out of my comfort zone, so different from all the others. On the first day I crawled through a painful 552 words. But I finished at 50,509 words on November 30th. The official counter--I always want that official winners certificate--shorted me, so I had to go back and pull out a few hundred more words.

Here's what I scribbled in my calendar at the end of the month: "I feel like I proved a lot to myself this month, even though I didn't write a clean ready-to-submit mss. I showed myself once again that sheer willpower means something."

I'm working on my final revision for this mss this November. Writing this one has been tough, but I'm starting to really love this story now.

Camp NaNoWriMo 2012
Oh, my kids are home from school, so… blah, blah. blah. Excuses. My kids are teenagers and I practically have to beg them to pay attention to me. If they're even home. And not sleeping. I wanted to try something really different--a novel for people my own age. Writing during the summer is still tricky, and I recorded zero words for two days, but I finished at 50,404 words on August 30th. I'm pretty sure the thing is a big mess, but I wouldn't know because I haven't read it. I did take the first ten pages to a fiction workshop and people loved the voice, so maybe it has potential… I'll get back to it. Revision ideas are swirling in my mind. And it's always easier to fix already-written words than fill a blank page.

Fast-drafting NaNoWriMo novels has given me the courage to be my authentic self, to try risky new ideas, to drag myself out of doubt--I'm so grateful for the folks at Office of Letters and Light. If you're doing NaNoWriMo this month, STOP PROCRASTINATING, and get back to work! You can do it!!!

Friday, November 8, 2013

NaNoWriMo Helps Writers to Find Their Own Balance--Kimberly Sabatini

NaNoWriMo helps writers to find their own balance. 

Just to briefly recap, this is my second year participating in NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month. Oddly enough, I'm working on the same manuscript this year as the year before. Last year I took my fledgling idea (a year and a half in the mental marinade) and wrote just under 6,000 words.

I can tell you why I didn't write prolifically in the 2012 NaNoWriMo. I have legit-ish reasons. I had to prioritize the revision of another novel. I was still pretty convinced I was too busy in November to ever make this work. Soccer games were winding down, there was the holidays and even a dance recital. But the most problematic was my thought threads. They had not marinated long enough for me to weave a viable story. Yes, I know I'd been mulling this stuff over for a l-o-n-g time, but I didn't have enough deep questions to truly fuel the writing. For me, that's what writing is, a personal exploration. And in the end, I just stopped typing because it didn't feel like it was working. It was too thin.

Having said that, this may come as a surprise, but I was thrilled with my progress. Those were almost 6,000 words I never would have written if I'd been left to my own devices. It empowered me. I didn't see my NaNo adventure as a failure, but rather as a dry run for future success. After NaNo was over, I began to read and listen and think and wonder. In my head I was expanding on those 6,000 words. I spent lovely amounts of free time with my imagination. I used different parts of my day for different things. There was a time to revise and blog and work on other projects and then to day dream. The year flew by.

Now, here I am, starting fresh and I'm right on target with my word count for the first week. I've thought and planned and I have all the threads I need to begin weaving a real story. I've done all the right things to increase my likelihood of NaNo success this year. Yay! But wait, something is nagging at me. When I started this blog on balance, I thought for sure I'd be writing about how, year-to-year, my writing needs change. How perhaps next year, I won't have an idea marinated well enough to write more than those 6,000 words. I was going to tell you about how it's okay to balance you life with NaNo the best you can, but you shouldn't be discouraged if you have revisions due or a brand new baby mucking it up. (Seriously--I love mucky babies.) But as I was organizing these thoughts, I realized I wasn't comfortable with the contradiction I saw rising to the surface. This year I'm MUCH busier than I was last year, yet I'm producing much more writing and it's better. And maybe that's related to having more content at my finger tips. Or maybe I have better Halloween candy to steal from my kids this year. Ya know--brain fuel. Or maybe I've been coming at this wrong. Perhaps I've missed the true purpose of this writing adventure.

I'm now beginning to think that NaNoWriMo helps writers to FIND THEIR OWN BALANCE.

Writing is, at it's core, about growth and change over time. I'm beginning to think of NaNoWriMo as a sort of simulation for the writing life, meant to jump start emotional and technical growth. I can't make predictions on what my current and future NaNoWriMo outcomes are going to be, there are too many unknowns. But I can tell you the things that have come into greater clarity and balance just because I have participated...

How NaNoWriMo helped Kim to get her balance back.

*I've learned it's to my advantage to have daily writing goals and to utilize the support, enthusiasm and built in accountability of NaNo. The world is a distracting place. Hell, my lap top is a mine field of social media sirens trying to wreck me. I've learned I can and should write more on a regular basis. This is a HUGE lesson and because of my participation in NaNoWriMo, I have learned it sooner and without as much angst as if I'd had to learn it under contract.

*I've also figured out that a publishing schedule is not an artistic and personal growth schedule. This makes my hands and feet sweat. Good writers--great writers--are turning over material on a regular basis. But they are also turning in incredible material. I want to be a great writer. I want to write great stuff in a very timely manner. But look at me. Am I methodical and thoughtful? Or am I procrastinating and scattered? I don't know! It's a fine freaking line. But, NaNo has made me realize  there MUST be a balance. Excellence should never be compromised. A crappy book is just as problematic as a slow one. But writing generates more writing. NaNoWriMo has taught me that if the words aren't ready, they don't have to be used, but they don't have to be wasted either--they can become the stepping stone to better words. They can be for practice, they can be a spark or they can be for personal enlightenment. Empty pages can't be anything useful.

*I've unfortunately discovered that as a writer, I will never feel a true sense of balance. To be a writer is to spend a huge amount of your life feeling uncomfortable. Think of NaNoWriMo as a vaccination of writerly chaos. What happens if you try NaNo and fail? As far as I can tell, you don't earn bragging rights and you learn something about yourself--that's more benefit than downside. There's this story about a frog that I find creeps up on me at the oddest moments. It goes like this... If you drop a frog into a pot of boiling water, the smart little froggy will jump right out because the water is way too hot. But, if you place a frog into a pot of cool water and up the temperature one degree at a time, that poor little frog will… I'll let you use your imagination. We aren't those frogs. We're crazier than that. Writers want to boil. We want to burn bright like white hot stars. We don't want to get out of the water--we want to sizzle with success. But this means slowly inoculating ourselves to the heat of a writing life. NaNoWriMo is a very safe and fun way to turn the temperature up a degree on our own writing growth.

*I've learned, or should I say I'm reminded, that fear is stupid. I say reminded because I know that fear is stupid, but chose to forget it on a semi-regular basis. Fear is a defense mechanism. It's designed to save our lives if we're in a life threatening situation. Fear is stupid when it stops us from doing things out of possible embarrassment. Aside from those times that fear has saved my life (they've been so far and few between and I can't name one off the top of my head) fear has done nothing constructive for me. It's only stopped me from being happier, healthier and more successful. In fact, every time I've ratcheted up enough courage to do something that has previously paralyzed me, I've come out on the other side to a better place. I've actually said to myself--YOU'RE A DUMB ASS. YOU COULD HAVE BEEN DOING THIS ALL ALONG. NaNoWriMo won't cure all your fears, but I do believe when you successfully overcome some of your speed bumps, you're a lot more likely to take risks with some of the others. Totally not a bad thing.

I could go on, but I'd rather you jump in and tell me what lessons of balance you've learned from participating in NaNoWriMo. What things have stopped you from jumping into NaNo with both feet? Planning on doing it next year? What would you like to get out of it? Are you still thinking about that frog story? I am.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Bird by Bird

I’ll confess: I’ve never finished a NaNoWriMo book in a single month. There is something about the challenge that doesn’t appeal to me. I tend toward clean drafts; it goes against my writing style to simply write without editing. This is not to say that I have not completed most of a book in approximately a month’s time. It is just to say that the contest itself panics more than propels me. I love the idea of it in the same way I have loved weight loss contests in the workplace. It’s great fun and exciting for the first week and then it makes me edgy and cranky and I eat a piece of pizza. Or whatever the novel-writing equivalent is.

But this month I’m doing it anyway, although in my own way and not officially. My revisions for FINDING PARIS are due in early December and so I am racing through November toward that goal. Life being a tricky thing, this is happening alongside a huge family health crisis. Husband is recovering from a major illness and it’s one of those life-changing kinds—at least for awhile—and many needs are pulling me this way and that. I’ve done this before: If you read my own blog you know that back in 2010, just as my first novel had broken out and was doing remarkable things and I was finishing up book two, I was also fighting thyroid cancer. (Was declared a survivor this summer, by the way and even got a diploma!) Life gets in the way sometimes, but if the dream is big enough, you find ways. You really do.

A couple weeks ago I also faced the deadline of 1st pass pages for THE A-WORD, which is the SWEET DEAD LIFE sequel coming next May and is a book that I adore. Sometimes when life is handing you those huge lemons, it’s comforting to dig into the words and focus there.

To quote Anne Lamott—who’s coming here to Houston next week and I hope to get to hear her speak:

"Thirty years ago my older brother, who was ten years old at the time, was trying to get a report on birds written that he'd had three months to write. It was due the next day. We were out at our family cabin in Bolinas, and he was at the kitchen table close to tears, surrounded by binder paper and pencils and unopened books on birds, immobilized by the hugeness of the task ahead. Then my father sat down beside him, put his arm around my brother's shoulder, and said, 'Bird by bird, buddy.  Just take it bird by bird.'