Monday, June 30, 2014

Dear Published Self--by Ellen Jensen Abbott

Dear Published Self:

The assignment this month is for you to write to me, your younger, Unpublished Self, but right now, as you wrestle with your first book after completing the Watersmeet trilogy, you need to hear from me. Sure you know more about marketing, publishing, editors, agents, Amazon and Barnes and Noble than I do, but at the moment, I’m far more in touch with why we began this journey. 

When I write, I relish the joy of creation—coming up with new worlds, new characters, new plot twists. Sometimes, I ask, “Do I dare?” when a particularly outrageous idea occurs to me, but I have no voices telling me to stop, so I throw caution to the wind and dare.

When I write, it’s not because I’ve done market research or because my editor told me what kinds of things she was looking for. I write because there is a character in my head whose story demands to be told—in her way, not the way that seems hot right now. I don’t analyze the habits of book festival patrons. I just think about my character and what she needs to say to the world. 

When I write, I have a lot of fun. Yes—fun. I have no voices in my head that say, “Oh that won’t sell,” or “That’s more MG than YA.” I have never even heard of Kirkus Reviews.  I just have the characters and the words and the time—something that you have, too, dearest Published Self. No one is waiting for my book so I am reveling in the writing process, writing pages and pages that will never be part of the finished book, but are teaching me about my characters, my world, and my craft. I don’t feel like this is time wasted. All the struggles—because, of course, there are struggles—are worth it because I get to see this person I have in my head come to three-dimensional life on the page.

Even better than the fun of writing is the fun I have when I revise: cutting away all the extra stuff and exposing the lines of the story, the arc of the characters; adding a bit here, a bit there to make sure that I’m communicating with my reader; taking the roughhewn version I have at first and making it a solid piece of craft. So don’t worry so much on the first pass. There is time—and joy!—to be had in the second, third, and fourth passes. 

Published Self, right now, you need to listen to the voice of inexperience.  Although you’re writing your fourth book, you’re in a slump because the previous three were all set in the same world, following the same characters. You’re worried that you had one story to tell and now you’ve told it. Echoing through your head when you put your fingers to the keyboard are all those voices—editor, agent, reviewer, reader. Many of them are encouraging and supportive, but what you need to hear right now is your voice. You need to remember the fun, the joy, the excitement of writing. Otherwise, what’s the point?

With love,
Your Unpublished self

Sunday, June 29, 2014

You talentless hack! You're nothing! (Brian Katcher)

My very first rejection letter.
A mere ten years ago I was living in a coal chute, writing YA paragraphs in order to buy fish heads to have for dinner. Now I'm so successful that I wear suits made entirely of caviar. What's my secret? 

No friggin' idea. Blackmail, maybe. I dunno.

Anyway, here's some stuff I learned.

1) Don't give money to anyone. 
 It's tempting to whip out the checkbook when someone promises to get your book in print, but unless you're arranging a print on demand deal, the money should be coming to you. I'd have been out several hundred bucks if not for a slap in the face from my writers' group.
Also, don't get into their van, unless they have really good candy.

2) Don't give up, even if by all logic you should be dead.
 I can't count the number of times I woke up face down in the library, covered in rejection letters and my own vomit. But stick it out. Sometimes they send free bookmarks.

3) Appreciate your spouse, for you will be impossible to live with.
 I'll never forget the Christmas my wife Sandy sold her hair to buy me new typewriter ribbons, not knowing I'd pawned my typewriter to buy whiskey.

4) Appreciate your editor. She knows what she's talking about.
Plus those thumbscrews really hurt.
5) Be kind to your readers.
The piles of lingerie on my lawn every morning are kind of a distraction, but a deal with it.
6) Give up. It's never going to happen.

Saturday, June 28, 2014

Dear Young Me (Margie Gelbwasser)

Hey there,

This is the 37 year old you. Yeah, I know. That seems so far away, right? Let it be. Don't think so far ahead about what you want. Stop making wish lists that start with "If only X happened, then I'll be happy." There is no magic X. If you keep chasing that X, you'll miss all those wonderful things that are happening in the here and now. That's a problem you and I both have--missing the here and now. Searching for that magic.... Maybe I need an 80 year old me to write a letter....

Anyway, here's the good stuff. The writer dream? It happens. You get published. Your books (that's right, there's more than one) appear in actual book stores. People not only read them, but write you e-mails about how those books changed their lives. You give talks and people actually come to listen to you speak. Sometimes you feel like a celebrity. That's the good, Margie. Remember how awesome it feels to read this paragraph. I know the young you is probably flipping out right now. Stay that way. That stuff is good.

The problem is you let the other stuff get you down too much. You start to doubt yourself. You act like those books are nothing. Because it takes a while to get others out. You and your agent part ways. Amicably, but it sucks anyway. You write something new and try to find a new agent, but it hasn't happened yet. I'm sure it will, but it gets you down anyway. You also forget about all those people who said your books changed their lives and you focus on the ones who say mean stuff. The ones who say books about real teens and real issues don't belong in the real world and how there's something wrong with you for writing them. Teen me, are you shaking your head at this craziness? Remember that indignation.

I know you want to know about the rest. The boy, right? After kissing MANY, you meet the one. He's a good man. He loves you and believes in you and lets you follow your dreams. (You don't ever get a Delorian that travels through time, though. Sorry). The two of you have a son who's the most amazing present you'll ever know. You want to be a better person for him. He drives you. It's because of him you don't give up. It's because of him you learn that you have value. You want him to have a mom who stands up for herself, who follows her dreams, who doesn't let people step on her. It's because of him, you finally cut loose the people in your life who treat you poorly. I wish you had learned this sooner, but better late than never, right?

You are pretty awesome, but don't wait until you're 37 to believe it. Take care of yourself now so you don't have regrets about that later. You know those silly shows where characters stand in front of a mirror and give themselves pep talks? This makes you laugh, but you should do it. Close the door so no one sees you and say it until you believe it.

Don't give up. Enjoy being young. Don't worry so much about everything. Don't care so much about what other people think. I know you hate journaling, but keep one just to jot ideas or you might forget the best ones. Shocker: you will become very close with your mom. There will come a time when you guys won't yell at each other and will enjoy spending time together. You'll even call her to make plans. Just. Because. I know!

Other stuff you may be wondering about, but it's a spoiler alert so be prepared.

90210: Kelly ends up with Dylan. Sort of. We assume. Although then they do a revival and she plays a guidance counselor and no one knows where Dylan is. And Donna marries David but in the revival they're getting divorced. Bummer.

Dawson's Creek: Joey ends up with Pacey. What a relief, right? She and Dawson sooo did not belong together.

Melrose Place: You lose track. People blow up.

Friends: Best. Show. Ever. Ross ends up with Rachel. Chandler with Monica. Joey with some blonde girl on a spin-off that doesn't last. But they all come back with other shows and those shows do well. And even if you don't watch them all, you route for those guys.

There could be more, but you're probably falling asleep. Follow your dreams. Appreciate your life and your family. Stop always looking for the next best thing. That's what you should take away from this letter.


Friday, June 27, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Dear Aspiring Writer:

This is your future self, telling 17-year-old you what to expect. You’ve just started sending stories out, and you’ve just made your first sale. Congratulations!

I need to tell you that it will be a long time until the next sale. A looong time. I don’t want to tell you exactly how long because I don’t want to discourage you, but it will be quite a few years.

Yes, years.

But don’t give up hope, because it does happen. After you pull some stuff in your life together (hang in there during tough times; things do get better), after you stop looking for someone else to solve your problems, if you keep writing, a story you believe in will sell to a journal that you thought would be perfect for it.

And you will sell more after that. You will even publish a book. More than one, in fact.

But it will take a long time. Sometimes you’ll wonder if you should even keep trying. Sometimes you will doubt yourself. Actually, I need to tell you this part, too: after you publish again, you will still doubt yourself. Publishing doesn’t “fix” anything. It brings you much joy, interesting opportunities, and a little money. But it’s not a magic ticket to Trouble-Free Land.

When you reach the age that I am now, you will wish that an even-older-you would drop by another letter, telling you how the rest of this journey plays out.

On the other hand, maybe we don’t need to know everything in advance.


Future Jennifer

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Dear Young Me (Sydney Salter)

Dear Young Me,

You're looking at the wrong role models. The Spanish Civil War is over. You don't live on the moors. You're not a flapper. You're in Nevada. In the 1980s, not the more romantic 1880s silver mining era. 

Don't discount those who believe in you. Why dwell so long on that sarcastic "wonder woman" comment made by one of your teachers? Years later you'll buy yourself a rocking wonder woman necklace to remind you NOT to let others bring you down. 

You'll fill notebooks with practice writing during lunch breaks at your boring first jobs. Sometimes it will feel fruitless, and, oh, how you'll crave kind comments from workshop teachers, but they won't come often. Years later when you read Malcom Gladwell's 10,000 Hour Rule, you'll realize that's what those notebooks represent. You didn't need praise, you needed practice.

Raising two daughters will finally give you the courage to write your first novel. You'll realize that you can't revise the dumb stuff you say as a mother, but fiction can be repaired and repaired and repaired, so why worry about doing it poorly the first time? 

You're going to be so intimidated at your first real writing conference. You'll sit next to a perky, confident young woman who will make fast friends with the guest agent. Wow, she's good at talking about her work-in-progress! You'll offer to show the agent the location of the bathroom, and the agent will ask you not to pitch to her as she pees. You'll think, people do that?!?! Your next thought, I look like someone who would do that?!?!? 

That perky writer? She still hasn't finished that novel she pitched so well. You've written ten manuscripts and published four.

Sometimes things will feel awful--like losing that first agent you adored. And that other one. Yikes. That one will write you an email so cruel that you'll only let your husband read it. You'll have to fight hard to get your mojo back. That agent will leave the publishing business. 

But you'll still be writing, pushing yourself, experimenting with new stuff, submitting, dealing with rejection, submitting, writing, revising, trying and trying. You know who your role model should be? 


Older Me

Book birthday!

by Tracy Barrett

I’m so happy to announce that yesterday my twentieth book for young readers and tenth novel was released by Harlequin Teen. The Stepsister’s Tale has garnered two starred reviews (PW and Kirkus).

The shorthand I’ve been using to describe The Stepsister’s Tale is “Cinderella from the point of view of one of her stepsisters,” but really, it’s not Cinderella’s story. Instead, it’s the story of a girl named Jane who lives in a crumbling mansion with her younger sister and her widowed mother, who can’t cope with the realities of their situation. When their mother remarries unexpectedly, Jane suddenly acquires a not very pleasant stepsister, a beautiful and spoiled girl who is unaccustomed to the hard work that Jane and her sister, Maude, are used to. The story doesn’t revolve around Cinderella but around Jane, and around Maude to a lesser extent.

I love fairy-tale retellings and am thrilled to be able to contrribute to the genre!

Monday, June 23, 2014

letters to a young writer - crissa-jean chappell

"I believe in writing with secrets..."

The words belong to Sadie—a young writer from a high school in New England. When I received her first letter this winter, I was impressed with her wise and thoughtful reflections on creativity (Sadie plans on directing films someday). She had read my debut novel, Total Constant Order, and wanted to know: How did you start writing?

I remember sitting at my desk in class, longing for escape. I wrote stories in my notebook like a spy. I always wanted to be somewhere else.

"In class, I tend to shut the world out," Sadie tells me. "I put headphones in if it's a class where I can do so, or I write. Or I read under the desk until I get yelled at."

Just like Sadie, I used to get in trouble for reading my favorite books during Geometry class. Music and words were my escape from the dull hum of school.

"Sometimes I scroll really far down on my Twitter when I need inspiration and reread tweets which sparks the memory of what it was about," she writes. "Or go through all the pictures on my phone. Or reread old notes. Or clean my room because I always find the weirdest things, like pictures I've drawn or painted, or notebooks full of quotes."

If my teenage self could've jumped in a time machine, I might've written the same letter. Now I'm staring backward into the future:

"I noticed in your writing that you write with a lot of detail. But not the boring kind. The 'hi, I'm shy but I notice everything' kind. I do too."

I hope that Sadie never loses her special way of looking at the world. It's hard when you're a quiet observer, the sort of person who sees things differently. It can be your Kryptonoite. But if you're a storyteller, it's also your superpower.

After selling three books, I've learned that it doesn't get any easier. The business of writing for publication can be brutal. Sometimes I need to remember the pure joy in crafting stories, as Sadie so perfectly describes:

"I write because I love writing. I love having the control of my stories when I feel like I have no control over anything in my life. I love forgetting the world while all I focus on for the time being is the characters and the conflict."

Her letters remind me that we long to be heard. We tell stories to make sense of the world. And we hope that somebody is there to listen.

"I think that writers write to an audience that at some point, was a vacant stare into the dark nothing in the peak of the night. I think we want to be noticed by the universe. And not in a weird, attention seeking way. I think writers write because they have a story to tell and they can channel it into something beautiful without making eye contact or revealing themselves totally. I think we want to be heard."

Thank you, Sadie, for your elegant thoughts on writing. I look forward to hearing your stories someday.


—photo by Sadie

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer, DON'T LISTEN TO ADVICE! (Patty Blount)

So, you want to be a writer.

Great. Go write.

It's that simple. And, also that hard. Oh, not because writing is hard work (though it is). No, it's hard because every time -- Every. Single. Time -- you say "I want to be a writer," you'll get the look.

It's part cringe, part sigh, part grimace. It's a look that says "Keep working on it, sport."

Your parents will worry that you'll never make any money at writing. Your friends will roll their eyes and think you just want to laze around in a bathrobe all day instead of doing 'real work'. Your teachers will focus a lot on mechanics and structure and all the other rules -- do NOT hate them too much for this. You have to know the rules so that later, you can break them.

Don't listen to all the advice about how writing can be a great hobby but you need something real to fall back on. Because here's what's gonna happen:

You'll listen to your mother and spend two miserable years in nursing school because that's a 'real' profession and write in your spare time. You won't show anybody those stories because you're just fooling around. You'll eventually quit school, bum around in a series of boring and low-paying jobs and you won't write for many years -- not until your first baby is born and you needed something to occupy yourself while he watched Disney movies on infinite loop.

Those stories, you'll share. And you'll be astounded that everyone likes them and wants to read more. But you have a full time job and a family to take care of -- when are you supposed to write? Somehow, you do -- you squeeze writing time out of lunch hours and sports practices and the mornings when everyone but you sleeps in.

You'll wake up one morning and realize your life is half over and you never did become a real writer. But instead of crying over it, you remind yourself that there's another half of your life that hasn't started.

And that's when you get serious about writing. You stop squeezing minutes here and there and devote time to your projects. You join writing groups and take classes and slowly, you begin to rebuild the confidence you had when you were a kid, before everyone started giving you that advice.

One day, you find the guts to query one of those projects and land an agent. So you do it again and this time, an editor expresses interest. At the time, it feels like things are moving in slow-motion but trust me on this -- the years pass quickly. Suddenly, you'll have a book with your name on it sitting on shelves in book stores.

Suddenly, you'll be a real writer.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014


We certainly don't become writers for money.  Nor do we necessarily seek publication in order to rack up accolades.  But part of me wished, this past week, that I could go back and show all this to Aspiring Writer Me (the same aspiring writer that spent seven and a half years chasing her first book deal): the super-cool blurb from fellow YA author Jody Casella ("In the town of Peculiar, the cats aren't the only ones keeping secrets...A dark and creepy psychological who-done-it that will keep you guessing until the very end."), AND the starred review that just came in from PUBLISHERS WEEKLY:

"Opening with back-to-back scenes of exquisitely imagined yet very real horror, Schindler’s third YA novel hearkens to the uncompromising demands of her debut, A Blue So Dark, with its gut-wrenching portrait of mental illness. This time, the focus is on women’s voices and the consequences they suffer for speaking. Claire Cain was an award-winning high school journalist in Chicago when she was beaten nearly to death for a story. Serena Sims lost her life while pursuing a lead in the more confined purview of Peculiar, Mo. Their stories intersect when Claire’s father’s sabbatical lands her in Peculiar just in time to discover Serena’s body, surrounded by the eerie feral cats that infest the town. Schindler avoids cardboard character types—yes, there are jocks, princesses, and nerds, but the author reveals them as people squeezed into their labels, not defined by them. And while there are touches of romance, both good and bad, adolescent hormones don’t define the plot, either. This is a story about reclaiming and healing, a process that is scary, imperfect, and carries no guarantees. Ages 13–up. Agent: Deborah Warren, East West Literary Agency. (Aug.)"

To celebrate the starred review, a sneak peek.  Here, we find Serena's killer dragging her through the high school basement's window:

Click here to pre-order FERAL from your favorite outlet.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer Me, Shut Up (by Jody Casella)

Dear Jody,

Shut up.

Stop trying to figure out why your latest story/book/poem was rejected.

Stop angsting. Stop analyzing. Stop crying and whining and despairing. Stop discussing ad nauseum with your friends and family and writing buddies, asking: WHY WHY WHY????

Those rejections are freaking indecipherable codes. I'm not lying.

The two words on the bottom of a form letter that said Nice Story...

What does that mean?

Should you revise and resend? Send something else? Do nothing? Is it a sign from the Universe to keep writing? A sign from the Universe to quit? NOT a sign from the Universe at all, but merely a hastily scrawled note from a twenty-year-old, over-worked intern who thought: "Hey, this is a nice story"?

Who knows.

The TWO form letters you received a few months apart that rejected the same story...

What does that mean?

We really really really don't want this story. OR Did we already send this rejection? Our twenty-year-old intern sure did drop the ball in the record-keeping department. Drat. Better send another just in case.

Who knows.

And ditto these:

The agent who contacted you out of the blue because she read one of your stories in a magazine and asked you to send her THREE of your manuscripts--the agent that you NEVER heard from again...

The editor who said she liked your book but didn't love it...

The agent who said she loved your book but couldn't take it because she already represented a similar project...

The editor who liked your book and wanted to "help you with your career" but never responded to your emails after that...

What does any of it MEAN?

Guess what?


So, let it go.

And keep writing anyway.

Jody of the Future

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer Me... (Amy K. Nichols)

Dear Aspiring Writer Me,

Remember when you were young and you realized there are people in the world who write books as a career? Here's a secret: you're going to be one of them.

If you follow this advice.

1. Stop whining about someday. Someday doesn't exist. Start today. Start now. Put down the Gameboy and pick up a pen. Write.

2. Stop telling people you have this "crazy" dream. Wanting to be an author isn't crazy. You have a dream, period. Embrace it. Take pride in it.

3. Who cares what other people think anyway? I mean, really. Who cares?

4. Finish what you start. Even when you know what you're writing is complete and utter garbage, keep going until The End.

5. When you reach The End, celebrate. It's okay to nerd out over your work. You created something that until this point never existed, and that's really cool. Pat yourself on the back. Eat chocolate. Smile.

6. Stay humble. Be gracious. No one likes pretentiousness. No one likes a narcissist. Search out authors who do this job well. Study them. Follow their lead.

7. Nothing you write will ever be perfect on the first draft. The sooner you realize this the better. The magic happens in revision. Say it again with me, slowly: And sometimes it takes a lot of revision before it starts feeling anything close to magical.

8. The key to writing is keeping your butt in the chair. Use superglue if necessary.

9. Try to think of rejection like fishing. Sometimes you go to the lake and the fish just aren't biting. Sometimes the fish are already full. Your goal is to find the one hungry fish who wants the food you're dangling on your line. Make yummy food that will tempt the fish to bite. And keep going back to the lake.

10. Don't give up. Never ever give up. If you give up, you'll never get to see what it's like from where I am now. Trust me, you're going to want to see what it's like on this side. Keep going, even when it's hard and feels pointless. Even when you feel like a hack. Just keep your butt in the chair and keep writing.

You're gonna make it. And when you look back, you'll see how everything fit together to become the journey meant for you. The timing, the happy accidents, those brave moments and the times you wanted to crawl in the corner and cry--all of it will come together, forming a path behind you that could only have been meant for you.

So one last bit of advice: stick to your own path. Don't try to walk someone else's. That's their job. Leave theirs to them. You walk your own. And enjoy the journey.

Now stop reading this and get to work.


Saturday, June 14, 2014

Dear Aspiring Young Writer Me: You Don't Suck (Nancy Ohlin)

Dear Aspiring Young Writer Me,

Take this advice, for whatever it’s worth:

1.  You shouldn’t care so much about what other people think of you.  Get rid of the running self-commentary of “I suck.”  You don’t suck.

2. Don’t buzzkill your own writing.  Keep filling those notebooks (and hard drives) with all the poems, short stories, beginnings of novels, literary and not-so-literary essays, and random ramblings that come to you.  Some of them will stick.  Some of them will not.  But under no circumstances should you re-read them in the spirit of:  “This is awful, I will never be a writer, what was I thinking?”

3. There is a difference between writing and being a writer.  Later, you will develop many fancy notions about what it is to Be A Writer:  publication, glowing reviews, bestseller lists, movie deals, fame and fortune, admiration, respect.  These things are shiny distractions.  What matters is the writing.  Sit down, tell your story, laugh and cry with your characters, revel in the process.  Repeat.

4.  Befriend other writers.  There is nothing like talking about writing (and life and love and chocolate addictions and yoga classes and bad childhoods and insomnia) with other writers.  Someday, you will attend your first big literary conference, and you will be crazy-intimidated by the prospect of meeting a bunch of scary Famous Authors when you are a mere Lowly Newbie.  You will be disavowed of all uncertainty and fear when these scary Famous Authors turn out to be the most wonderful, awesome, not-scary people in the world as well as your life-long friends.

5.  Many years from now, you will have a son and a daughter.  They will be so, so excited that you are an author.  Inspired by you, they will create books of their own out of construction paper and magic markers, books with titles like Mosquitoes in Tuxedos and Superheroes in the Jungle.  All this will bring you more joy and happiness than any publishing deal.  All this will make you remember why you write.  


Friday, June 13, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer Me: Nothing Will Go As Planned--Love, Stephanie Kuehnert

Dear Aspiring Writer Me,

This is going to be hard to hear, especially for you, but the biggest, most important writing and life lesson you are going to learn is that nothing will go as planned.

Since I’m leaving this for you in your dorm room at Antioch College while you are on a crazy spring break trip in New Orleans, I know you are beginning to figure this out. I know you are more okay with it when it comes to doing things like leaving on your road trip to NOLA a day early, but less okay with it when it comes to facing things like your overwhelming desire to drop out of college. Antioch was supposed to be the place for you. The plan. You were going to study sociology and women’s studies. Instead you’ve been taking creative writing, but since you didn’t choose this school for its writing program, the classes are leaving a little bit to be desired. You’re thinking, I don’t need school to be a writer, so why the hell am I here?

You are going to drop out. You are going to move back to Madison, but that’s not exactly going to go as planned either. I won’t say how (I’m going to be sharing a lot of spoilers as is), all I will say is that you won’t spend a lot of time writing as planned and you will eventually realize that while not everyone needs school to write, you do. Regardless, you need that time to just be there, live your life. You need to fuck up and do things/be someone you never thought you would be. It will make you cringe sometimes—a lot of the time, actually—but one unexpected thing that you will learn is that you need time NOT writing to be a writer. Though you’ll feel bad about going back to school the year that you should have graduated—and in Chicago, a city you swore you’d never return more for more than a visit, but the school, Columbia College Chicago, will be worth it, I promised—that Wisconsin landscape is going to shape your first published novel.

That’s right. You ARE going to publish a novel. Here’s another unplanned/unexpected thing: it’s going to be a Young Adult novel. I know! Even though you write teenage characters, you think your stuff is too dark, too edgy to be YA—Francesca Lia Block is the only edgy YA writer out there as far as you know now, but that is going to change. I know you are already quietly pleased by this. Writing books that matter to or make a difference in the lives of teens sounds like a total dream come true.  And it is, but of course that dream won’t go as planned either.

You’ll quit your office job shortly after your first book comes out—that’s right, I said first. There is a second. Your editor will buy it before the first one comes out, which is a really, really lucky thing. Even though you still won’t even dare to dream of being a famous bestseller, you will believe that you’ll be able to earn a living from your writing. Unfortunately that won’t go as planned either.

But I’m getting ahead of myself here. First let’s talk about how novel-writing itself never ever goes as planned. Your structure will change: your first book will start out as a novel-in-stories and end up as a novel told in dual points of view. What you thought was an adult novel will become a YA novel. What you thought was a YA novel will become an adult novel. You have one novel that you’ve already written three partial versions of and it’s still not right. You will have at least one major crisis with each book where you go, This is NOT going the way I thought it would and I don’t know if I’m capable of writing this book! This is par for the course. You’ll still get upset every time and it won’t necessarily get easier, but you will come to accept that whether you plot a little bit, a ton, or just operate off a general idea that you keep in your brain, the story will never goes as planned, but… in the end it will be better for it.

Now, I know you want me to get back to that bit about how your dream writing career won’t go as planned. It hasn’t. You tried for five years to make it go that way, to cobble together a living from writing and teaching and bartending, but much to your dismay, it was mostly from bartending. You wrote two full novels and three partials. As of yet, none of them have sold. I won’t sugarcoat this for you, it has been a crushing experience. You’ve probably cried more about it than you have over any boy, any relationship, any friend. And since I haven’t gotten a letter from fifty-year-old me/us, I don’t know how it will turn out. I just know that last year you started working on accepting this whole “things don’t go as planned” trip and since then you’ve felt a lot better about it all. You’ve been able to focus on the Not At All Planned but totally awesome parts of your writing life. Like how it has turned out that you love and adore teaching. (Hopefully, you will be getting to teach an in-person character workshop and an online YA Fiction class this summer!) And how you discovered the very best thing about your writing life when you blindly submitted to a teenage girl’s call for writers for a Sassy-inspired online publication. The community that you will find while writing for Rookie magazine is, as one of our features is entitled, Literally The Best Thing Ever. The editors are one of the biggest gifts you will ever receive and you will learn even more about writing than you did in school. They will push you to explore parts of you both old and new that you never thought you would put on the page. From that experience, the idea for an essay collection will be born. That’s what you have out on submission now and despite five years of nothing but rejection, you will hope and dream because while you’ve learned that nothing ever goes as planned, you have also learned that the things you didn’t or couldn’t plan often turn out better than you possibly could have imagined.


Your 34 year-old self

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer Me — Tracy Barrett

Dear Aspiring Writer Me,

I’m going to give you some advice that runs counter to what everyone else will tell you:

Don’t read so much.

Seriously. It’s time to put down that book and pick up the pen (or the laptop, in the to-you distant future). An aspiring musician should listen to music, sure—but at some point she has to turn off the cassette player (or that same laptop—I know you don’t know what I’m talking about, but trust me, you’re going to love it) and play some scales. Same with writers. Time to get to it.

Another problem with reading so much is that you can’t stop comparing what you read with what you’re trying to write, and it hasn’t occurred to you that maybe E. B. White and E. Nesbit and Astrid Lindgren weren’t writing anything particularly noteworthy at your age, and that what they first tossed down on paper might not bear a whole lot of resemblance to what was eventually produced between covers and placed on a shelf.

Trust me, you don’t have to worry that you’ll never write anything like The Phantom Tollbooth. One day it will occur to you don’t have to, because Norton Juster already wrote it, and also—this is a biggy—because Norton Juster didn’t write anything like the stories that are swirling in your brain. You’re you and Norton is Norton.

Plus you’ll find out that you don’t have to do it alone, that writing a publishable book is, in 99% of the cases, a collaborative effort. You’re going to discover a wonderful critique group, a brilliant and perceptive agent, a slew of creative and talented and enthusiastic editors, and most of all, the Society of Children’sBook Writers and Illustrators. All of them will help you bring out the best in your writing.

So put down that book and write.

Monday, June 9, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer Jenny O'Connell

Dear Jennifer,

So you love to read. You like to write. And you think it would be fun to be an editor (remember when you were reading a book on the train to NYC and you pointed out to your mom all the typos it had, and it just so happened the man sitting in the row next to you worked for the publisher and gave you his business card and told you to let him know any time you found typos in his books, that was cool).

Well, I know you don't want to be a writer. And you will drop every English class in college because they killed your love of reading (except that one Freshman year that you suffered through, and yes, you will have to take a 1 credit course to eventually make up dropping those classes, but you will enjoy that semester of belly dancing your senior year). And when you graduate college and attend the Radcliffe Publishing Program, you will have every intention of moving to NYC to become an editor. But there's that damn boyfriend from college that you want to live with... so you will move out West. Bad move. The action is in New York for publishing, you fool! And that will be the end of your publishing career. And, after six months, the end of that boyfriend, too (although you will reunite with him 22 years later and get married, but that's a whole story in and of itself).

You'll go to business school and have a great career, and continue to read  because it's something you love. Then, one day, when you're 33 years old, you'll have a dream. And you'll wake up and think, "Hey, that's a rockin' book." And you'll write. And two months later you'll have a book written and you'll send it to an agent (see, attending the Radcliffe program actually did serve a purpose, you knew exactly how to get an agent and navigate the publishing process). And the agent will want to represent you. Two months later it will go out on submission and there will be a pre-empt offer (yea! none of that long waiting for decisions). And less than six months later your book will be featured at BEA and on shelves in bookstores and in magazines and you'll even be on CNN and other TV shows talking about it.

So, when you remember that night after college, when you were at a bar with your best friend and thinking about the boyfriend you no longer have (but who will actually be your husband 22 years later!), and what a waste of time it was to go to the Radcliffe Publishing Program (which will actually prepare you to get your fist book published really fast!), and how when she asked what you really, really wanted to do in your heart of hearts and you said, "I'd like to write books," and she responded, "Jennifer, you can't sit alone in a room and writes books all day." Well, just smile. And know that one day that's exactly what you'll do.

Your Younger Self

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer Me: Always Trust Your Words by Kimberly Sabatini

Dear Aspiring Writer Me,

From a very young age you trusted words. Even when you were a 10-year-old, you had an intrinsic awareness that words would be your medium for bridging gaps and finding your way.

And then one day you became afraid--scared to bare your soul to the world and because words are how your soul takes flight--you grounded yourself. Those were the "lost years."

At best, you became a closed book. At worst you didn't write at all. Your voice had all but disappeared and it was an emotionally unhealthy time in your life.

The good news is that you learned to fly again. It's What Who Wants. But it took you such a long, long time to find your wings. So, if I could go back in time and tell you one true thing, it would be to always trust your words--trust your soul. 

*  *  *

Want to see me with a bad 80's perm and a nose brace? You can also check out my Dear Teen Me post HERE. 

What is the best part of your young writer self? I hope you've never lost it, but if you have, make sure you fight to get it back. 

Saturday, June 7, 2014

Dear Aspiring Author Me

Dear Aspiring Author Me:

The first thing you need to know is this: Finish what you start. You will begin your first YA novel when you are 20 years old and a junior at Northwestern. Rather than stop writing it as soon as your Creative Writing class ends, finish it. Then realize it’s a piece of crap and start over. But finish it so that you know this for sure. Do not stop and start your writing career over the next years and let things slide. Keep going. No one ever walked across the finish line with a published book in her hands by wandering away from the race. And yes, I know you will say that if you wait, that any day now there will be this wonderful thing called the Internet and this other wonderful thing called a laptop that will make it all so much easier in many ways. Don’t make excuses. Just keep at it.

In the meantime, please know that you are doing one thing right: You are living as big a life as you can and you are watching every moment of it as carefully as you can. That is good. You will use these things, even – perhaps especially—the pain and the bad stuff. It is good that you have a dark and ironic sense of humor and that you understand the whimsy of the universe. Okay, understand is not the right word. You acknowledge it. That’s good. Don’t let anyone lead you away from these things. You need them to form your ideas, to understand how you see this little world of ours. But don’t get complacent. Honestly, you should travel more, explore more, do more things that scare you (but not the really bad ones). Do not settle. Ever.

I would tell you that perhaps you should also move to New York for at least one year to see if you can do it. I know that you do not even have the tiniest of inklings that this is something you should or could do. I truly wish there was someone in your world who would tell you it is. But I know there is not. So I will also tell you this: Finding mentors who really get you is important. You won’t have many of them until much later and it would be so much easier if you had them now. Pick your friends wisely, aspiring author self. At least some of them should be dreamers like you. But not all of them. You need some practical grounding.

I should tell you many other things, but you will probably ignore most of it, so let me end with these: Read voraciously. Live voraciously. Write as though your life depended on it. Stop to fill the well as often as you can. You will have moments where you judge your career by the successes of others. Don’t dwell on them.  When you get ten wonderful reviews, don’t obsess over the less wonderful one. Stay humble. Say thank you.

Rinse and repeat, aspiring author.
And enjoy the ride.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Dear Aspiring Writer Me -- Jen Doktorski

Dear Jen,

If all has gone as planned, you will find this letter just as I’m stealing away from Bigler Hall unseen and dashing across the street to a silver DeLorean, which awaits my arrival to take me back to the future. You’ll find these words of wisdom from an older, blonder you on the eve of an appointment with Maya Spence, your freshman advisor at Penn State, who wants to speak with you about declaring your major.
When you get home from class, you’ll plop on your bed and stare for a while at the cinder block walls adorned with posters of Patrick Swayze and Alf because yes, you were that exactly that uncool. Then you’ll page through the course selection catalog and try to decide between majoring in biology, in the hopes of becoming a veterinarian, or English, as a step toward becoming a writer. My letter will slip from between the catalog’s pages just as you’re about to conclude that becoming a vet will take much too long (we’re talking close to ten years, right?), and opt, instead, to major in English with a concentration in non-fiction writing. You’re not yet ready to admit that what you really want is to become a children’s book author, and my letter is not meant to rush that admission, or change your mind about your choice in major. But there are a few things I think you should know.

1.      You do eventually become a published author of young adult fiction. At this writing, your first two books have been published and your agent is shopping a third. That’s the good news. That bad news is you could have gone through veterinary schools twice already and still be younger than you were when your first novel debuted. Do not let this dissuade you. You made the right choice. You and I both know—since we’re both you, or me, depending on how you look at it—that you can’t balance your checkbook without using a calculator or counting on your fingers. How far did you think those seriously-lacking math skills were going to take you?

2.     You’ll spend more than a decade writing non-fiction, first as a journalist, then as a communications specialist and speechwriter, and later as a freelance writer. Don’t think of these jobs as wasted time. Being a journalist taught you to write fast and accurately on a deadline. It also taught you to be curious. It gave you entre to different worlds, and helped you explore challenging topics and write about them in a way that made it easy for people to read and understand. The people you’ve met and the places you’ve been have shaped and inspired you. The truth is what grounds your made-up stories.

3.      Never forget why you wanted to write fiction in the first place. You’re too shy to be a stand-up comedienne, but you always wanted to make people laugh. Know this: funny doesn’t win awards. But don’t let that dissuade you. Someday you’ll get an email from a 15-year-old girl who said she hated reading until her mother gave her your books. Now she reads all the time. Cherish those comments from real, teen readers and forget about leaving space on your cover for a nice, shiny seal.

4.      Rejection never gets easier. You were well into the double digits when you finally connected with the right agent and she sold your first novel. Rejection continues even after you’re published. Everyone is not always going to like everything you write. Sometimes, they’ll even hate it. And that leads me to my final bit of advice.

5.      Don’t quit. At certain times you’ll want to but then you’ll remember that quitting will only ensure that you’ll never get published. But if you keep writing, revising, submitting, reading, and doing everything in your power to perfect your craft, well, then, there’s always hope that the right agent and editor will come along and want to help you get your stories out into the world.

Shortly before you sign your first contract with a publisher, a very wise six-year-old will say something to you that you will remember for the rest of your life. “Mommy, even if no one buys your book, you’re still an author.” Smart kid. Remember that, and everything else I told you.

                                                                                   All the best,
                                                                                   Your future self

PS You’ll have to wait quite a few years, but when it comes out, read Stephen King’s On Writing. He says it all much better than me.