Saturday, January 30, 2016

Never Too Old for Do-Over: by Ellen Jensen Abbott

You’re playing horseshoes (badminton, tennis, bocce, whatever) with your three year old son, and when it’s his turn, the horseshoe (shuttlecock, ball, whatever) performs inadequately.

“Mama, can I have a do-over?” he begs.

“Of course!” you say. The child is three, the point is fun, he can have as many do-overs as he needs.

This scenario changes, however, as your son ages. At 10, you want to teach him fairness, how to lose gracefully, the consequences of his actions, how to fail. So when he says, “Can I have a do-over,” you probably say no.

But as a writer, you’re never too old for a do-over. It’s a built in part of your job. In fact, the guaranteed do-over is what makes writing--at least for me--possible.

I’ve spent the last two and a half months on a sabbatical from my teaching job, and I used the time to write a first draft of a new novel. (Full-disclosure: I only finished ⅔ of the draft.) I made myself write six pages a day, and I did not allow myself any time to revise...or do-over. I wanted to get through the whole thing so I could see the full arc of the story before I started wordsmithing and moving scenes and cutting or creating characters. This approach was possible, because I knew I had a do-over coming. I would even say that the sureness of a do-over meant I could write outlandish scenes, try new points of view, follow tangents. On days when writing was particularly hard, I knew I could write poorly because I was going to do it over! On days when I had no idea where to go, I could explore lots of possibilities because I was assured of a do-over.

The draft I have is a mess. There are characters that show up in one scene and never again. There are cliches and hackneyed phrases and boring description. It’s not totally clear what the MC sees in her love interest, and there are several places where the words COURSE CORRECTION appear in all caps.. But there are also some narrative voices I would never have discovered, and elements of this fantastic world I might have shied away from if I didn’t know that I had a guaranteed do-over. There are some descriptions that are quite good and there’s a pawn broker who I am growing quite fond of and who is playing an ever-increasing role in the plot. I would not have discovered him without the freedom the do-over gave me.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Cannibalism (Brian Katcher)

We've all been there. That beautiful manuscript that you labored upon for years. That epic fantasy, that work of high literature, that steamy romance...

It ain't going nowhere.

Maybe you've been turned down by every agent in town. Perhaps everyone in your writers' group cringes when you bring up SPACE NINJAS again. Or maybe, upon rereading, you realize that the world simply isn't ready for your 'Facts of Life' / 'Saw' crossover. Their loss.

But the whole book's not bad. The fourth car chase was pretty powerful, for instance. Or that great speech about how life is like an octopus on a tandem would be a shame to lose that. Or the subplot where the guy's mean wife (let's call her Sandra) won't let her husband (let's call him Brian) buy a motorcycle. That's a story that needs to be told.

So when do you pull the plug on your creation and transplant chapters so that other books might live? At what point do you say 'I've wasted five years on this project, and now I'm officially giving up'?

That's a decision only you can make. Just remember, there's a lot of excellent material in that unsold novel. Maybe it's time you let it go and used the jokes for the greater good. It's not easy, but sometimes it's the right thing to do.

All it takes is abandoning all your hopes and dreams and everything you've ever worked for, forever.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

Reinvention (Margie Gelbwasser)

When I was in high school, I wanted to be like the Normas--Norma Klein and Norma Fox Mazer. The books written by these amazing women were the first YA novels that really spoke to me. The characters dealt with real issues and their lives weren't all rosy and perfect. I vowed that when I became an author (something I always wanted to be), I would write those kinds of books. Then, I wrote my first book.

The first novel I completed was an adult generational saga. It was a story I wanted to tell, but it didn't work. But within that story was a story of a teenager. The theme reminded me of the books I loved as a teen. I rewrote that adult novel, using only the teen character, and (after many revisions) it became my first published YA novel. At the time, I couldn't imagine myself writing anything other than YA, and my second YA was published two years after that one. Then, something happened.

I got an idea for an MG. I pushed it away. I didn't think of myself as an MG author. I had placed myself into a box and was too scared to get out. I have a friend who writes every idea he gets. Some work, some don't, but he keeps playing. Many of those ideas turn into something great. I wasn't like him. I liked my box. But I got an opportunity to do some chapter books, and I realized I could write in an MG voice. Then, my publishing house asked if I'd be interested in working on an MG fashion series (CHLOE BY DESIGN). I jumped at the opportunity, and for the last three years, I've been writing MG and loving it. And then...

Lately, I've been thinking of writing something new but have pushed the idea away because I decided I'm a children's book author. YA, MG, chapter books--that's me. This new idea was for adults, and while I really connected with it, that old fear crept back. But, a friend and I were recently talking about our careers and how we write in multiple genres and she asked why I wasn't writing my idea. And I didn't have an answer--well, I did, but they were really bad answers. So, today, I wrote the first chapter. And I like it.

I realized do-overs are okay. Reinventing yourself is okay. It's okay to place yourself in many boxes as long as you're willing to move from one to another. You never know what will happen.

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

When to stop redoing (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

When I first started writing for publication, manuscripts had to be typed on good quality paper and mailed with a self-addressed stamped envelope for reply. I used to draft in longhand, marking up my manuscripts with cross-outs, and sometimes literally cutting and pasting. When a story was ready for submission, I typed it. A typo or two could be corrected with pasty white ink eradicator, but any more than that and you had to retype the page. Sometimes I typed off the bottom of the page, or my typing ribbon faded out halfway through, and those mistakes also required retyping. If I saw something I’d like to change in the manuscript, I didn’t want to change it if it meant retyping more than a page. Adding a whole paragraph to page two of a twenty-five-page manuscript? Well, I had to REALLY want to add that paragraph to make all that retyping worth it.

My word processor made things easier. I could correct my work right on the screen, and print out the story with a touch of a button. But I still drafted in longhand and marked up hard copies, because that’s what my brain was used to.

By the time computers came around, with their word-processing software, I was not only editing but also composing on the screen. Cutting and pasting was a breeze. I could try anything; all I had to do was copy a file, preserving the original, and I could do or undo whatever I wanted. I could make five copies of a manuscript and try five different endings. I could change a character’s name throughout a 300-page manuscript with a few keystrokes. And I didn’t have to worry about printouts anymore, about running out of ink or paper.

All of this has made me a more willing reviser, less attached to any given version of a story, more willing to write rougher first drafts, eager to try different possibilities.

And yet the tinkering process can be endless. There comes a point when a story needs to be finished. There comes a point when we must choose one road or another. When I was writing my third novel, I wasn’t sure whether one character’s nemesis should be his father or his brother. I carried two versions of the story forward for quite a while, jumping back and forth between them.

Eventually, I had to choose. Eventually, I had to stop writing scenes over, going to one version and then back to the other. Options give us opportunity, but too many options can be paralyzing.

Just because we can do something over again doesn’t always mean we should.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Doing the Stupid Book Over (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

I'm staring down the barrel of a do-over, and I'm scared to death.

Let me give you a little peek into the past year of my writing life. I'm not proud of it, and I would like to tell you once and for all that it's not the baby's fault. (I get this a lot. Oh, Courtney. I know you're busy with the baby, but please write another book when you get a chance. Do people say this to other people with jobs? Oh, I know you're busy with the baby, but please deliver the mail when you get a chance. Please perform open heart surgery when you get a chance. Please teach my child when you get a chance. I know people are trying to be nice. It just makes me feel like they don't take what I do seriously if I should only do it "when I get a chance.")

The thing is, I did write another book. And then I wrote it again. And then I shelved it because it seemed like I was never going to get it right and maybe it was a dumb idea anyway and probably it wouldn't sell. It's one of those. I wrote the first lines of this stupid book three years ago.

By this time last year, I had accumulated three rejections (I know, that's not a lot), all of which were saying the same thing, so I figured there might be something to it and maybe I should stop submitting and fix it.

So last February, I overhauled the book and turned it into an entirely new book, which really really really sucked, and not just because it was a first draft.

And then I quit.

I decided I would just start on a new book, maybe a companion to The Last Sister, not because that's what I wanted to write but because I figured maybe people would like it and I could get it published. I know, how noble of me.

But in the research for that, I stumbled on a new story I wanted to tell. So for Spring and Summer and Fall, I researched that and now is the Winter of our discontent because I can't for the life of me figure out how to write it. 

Meanwhile, I did other writing. I did my work-for-hire, which is satisfying because I get to make my own hours and use all my degrees and make a little money, and really, can one ask for more in this current  economic climate? I wrote an essay about the first dog of my adult life, Hildy, which is included in Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Very Good, Very Bad Dog coming out in February. I wrote a Christmas short story featuring two of the characters from The Last Sister, which you can get for free here. I read close to seventy books, which I know because I kept track because I wanted to rub it in the faces of all the people who said I wouldn't have time to read once I had a baby. (Threaten my reading and writing, and I get mean really fast. Because I get scared and being scared makes me mean and in case it's not clear by now, I scare easy.)

But I didn't write novels. Because I was scared I would fail. I was scared whatever I wrote would be a waste of time. I was scared I would accidentally somehow offend people and scared that one wrong move would end my career. I was scared of the market, scared there's really no place for me in it.

Last weekend, I was grumbling about how I still didn't know how to write this next book I've been ruminating on since last spring, slamming utensils into drawers as I unloaded the dishwasher.
"Nothing is right," I grumbled. "Nothing feels right when I'm not writing, and I don't know what to do."

"Maybe you should go back to [Stupid Book]," said my husband. "I think that's what you want to work on. Maybe that's why you're not getting anywhere with anything else."

"I have it on my iPad for rereading," I growled."But it's stupid and there's nothing special about it and it won't get published."

"Well, make it not stupid," he said. Oh-so-helpfully. (This is really how his mind works.)

So I guess I am giving Stupid Book a do-over this February, too. The first step is rereading both the original Stupid Book and Stupid Book Round 2.

I am terrified of opening that file and reading it, but maybe there's enough distance between us now and maybe it's not as bad as I think. Ha. It totally is. But I'm going to read it anyway, and maybe something good will come of it.

Encouragement appreciated because, again, I'm scared to death.

Monday, January 25, 2016

When Do-Overs Become Novels -- Jen Doktorski

The eighties were not my favorite decade.
The fashion, the hair, the music (most of it anyway), my entire high school experience…you can keep it. All of it. Except for John Hughes, him I’ll take. Because as I’ve said here before, back then, he was the only guy who got me.
I stepped into the 90s with Doc Martens, black tights, and baby doll dresses vowing never to revisit or relive my high school years. And for the most part, I’ve been true to my word. I’ve never attended a high school reunion and the foot locker containing all my high school memorabilia sits in my garage, untouched and unopened since 1989. Not even the knowledge that one of the items contained within is a purple Le Sport Sac purse filled with high school notes folded into triangles (the precursor to text messages) has prompted me to open that box. Clearly, I have issues.
And yet despite all this, some part of me—some big part of me—must have been longing for a do-over.
Why else would I set all three of my YA novels during the summer between junior and senior year of high school? A time when many teens find themselves on the precipice of life-altering changes and choices. A time which, if I had to be honest, I’d go back and do and say things differently. It’s not the reason I became an author, but it certainly is an interesting byproduct. Through my characters I’ve gotten to pursue my shelved passion for marine biology, face the mean girls with confidence and pithy comebacks, and give my nerdy-self permission to be exactly that, nerdy.
Ever since we decided we’d be writing about do-overs this month, the Eddie Money song “I Wanna Go Back” has been on rotation in the playlist inside my head. Weird because, 80s music, bleh. But there’s a line in the song that goes, “I want to go back, and do it all over, but I can’t go back, I know.” Eddie is a very successful songwriter and musician, but clearly, he wasn’t a YA author. Had he been, he might have been singing a much different tune.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Ctrl+ Z (by Patty Blount)

Happy 2016 to all!

Throughout January, we at YA Outside the Lines are posting about do-overs. This is funny because nearly all of my novels include the fact that life has no un-do key, no Ctrl Z sequence we can press to get a Mulligan. In SEND, main character Dan Ellison wishes desperately to go back in time and warn his thirteen-year-old self NOT to post that embarrassing photo of his classmate. In TMI, Bailey wishes she'd never listened to Megan and broken up with Simon. And in SOME BOYS, Grace wishes she'd never agreed to go out with Zac MacMahon, the boy who would later rape her. In all three novels, the main characters are defined by their 'mistakes'.

There's a meme making the rounds on Facebook:

By day, I work as a corporate trainer, developing instructional materials for employees. As an instructor, I can tell you that human beings learn most effectively from our mistakes. Think about the concept of hot. As a toddler, you're told No! Don't touch! That's hot! But it isn't until you actually touch something hot and experience the burn that the warning makes any sense.

After that, when you're told something is hot, you do not touch it. (Hopefully!)

It took me years to finish my first novel. When I finally got serious about writing, finishing a story became my driving goal. But it was the wrong goal. The end game should be about telling the best story I can, not about slapping words to pages until I hit some target. I learned that lesson while writing SEND, my debut novel.

SEND was not my first book. But it was the story that earned interest from the publishing world. I wrote the first draft in 2008 with my characters in their late twenties and queried it. An agent responded that a story about bullying (a young person's issue) featuring adult characters would be impossible to sell. I decided to rewrite the entire novel. That took me another year. I asked a trusted friend, a gifted author whose work I admire, to beta read it. He noted that the story kind of halted for him at the end, when suddenly the character became Patty-on-a-soapbox.

I rewrote the ending.

I queried again and got a few nibbles here and there until meeting my editor at an RWA event, where she requested the full manuscript. She loved the story, except for the ending -- reinforcing the feedback I'd received from my friend.

I rewrote the story again.

Each time this happened, I remember feeling this overwhelming sense of failure. Oh my God, would I never finish this book?? I felt like a hamster on a wheel, Sisyphus with his boulder. And then, another author I admire made this observation online:

It's fiction. Revise it until you're happy. 

That statement changed my attitude. That's when I realized finishing is like the destination in that meme. I needed to focus on the journey, on telling the most compelling story I could. The revision process, the editorial process, these are the times when the story emerges from the protective coccoon we may not even realize we've encased it in. These are our do-overs.

Is it possible to over-do do-overs? Of course. But that's a topic for another blog post.

Thursday, January 21, 2016


I’m delighted to announce that I recently released my latest full-length novel, Miles Left Yet

With Miles Left Yet, I move into yet another new genre, this time boomer lit.

Love Has No Age Limit

A road trip for a motley crew from the Granite Ridge Retirement Community—in a vintage Mustang convertible, no less—quickly turns into an adventure of second chances, fresh starts, and the discovery that love is never a landmark in the rearview mirror. No matter what the odometer reads, as long as there’s gas in the tank, there are always still new roads to explore...plenty of miles left yet.

Why boomer? 

In so many ways, it’s really a natural fit. This period of life (retirement or shortly thereafter) is often referred to as the “second YA.” It’s a time of redefinition, of finding and figuring out your place in the world now that the nest is empty and careers are coming or have come to a close. Is that a do-over? Maybe, to some extent. It's starting a new chapter after so many miles have been traveled and lessons have been learned. Embarking on a new adventure feeling comfortable in your own skin...

Miles Left Yet also allows me to indulge in a new kind of narration. A character has different revelations, different observations, a different sense of humor depending on their stage of life. A seventeen-year-old doesn’t have the same worldview as a seventy-year-old. In this book, my characters are more fully rounded—in many ways, my narration is richer because of their experiences and backstories.

I’ve got a bird’s-eye view of this time of life. I live with a boomer who is also my first reader and had a big hand in shaping these characters. One of the most powerful experiences in life is seeing yourself on the page—hearing your own thoughts being spit back at you, knowing someone understands somewhat the reasons behind who you have become. It was incredibly important to me that readers in this age group would find the characters to be authentic, and that readers of all ages would enjoy the heartaches and joys of my characters’ lives as they embark on their "second YA."

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Doing Debut Over

In the spirit of the do-over theme this month, (as well as my own insane schedule right now) I'll be re-sharing a video I made back when I was a debut author. Just as every book has its own journey, so too does each author have a path, some with more twists and turns (and GAPS) than others.

I just got a peek at the (ah-mazing) cover for my 2017 release, GRAFFITI LOVE and I can't wait to share it. By the time this book comes out, it will be four years since my debut, and two and a half years since my last release (not counting the paperback release of ADRENALINE CRUSH coming in two months - woot!) This gap in my publishing career was not filled with peaceful strolls along the beach. It felt more like a gaping chasm and it has been filled with work and sweat (and, yes, a few tears) as I've developed my craft and fought for the opportunity to do all of this again.

I always thought of myself as a book-a-year sort of author, but the break from publishing has been good for me. It feels like I'm starting all over again and I'm a wiser and more experienced author this time around. And it makes the release of this new book all the sweeter!

Monday, January 18, 2016

10 Ways to Do Over Your Story or Novel (Alissa Grosso)

Sometimes we have these books and stories that are just begging to be written, but when we actually sit down to start composing them we get stuck. Maybe we make it through the whole manuscript only to learn that something is seriously wrong with our creation.

Rest assured that very few (if any) first drafts are not in need of serious work. Some, though, are in worse shape than others. Before you throw in the towel on a project, here are some tips for giving your manuscript a makeover, one that just might turn your flop into a masterpiece.

These tips have also been known to come to the rescue when you find yourself stuck on a project.

1. Tell it from a different character's point of view. I had this short story, and I really liked the concept, but something just wasn't right. Then I had an epiphany, what if instead of telling it from the perspective of that guy I told in from the perspective of the teenage girl. Turns out she had a lot to say. The story turned into my third novel, Shallow Pond.

2. Switch to first person/third person narration. It doesn't seem like it would change much, but it can change the whole mood of a story to go from telling it in the first person (the "I did this" style) to the third person (the "she did this" style). Sometimes it can be freeing to release yourself from the confines of the first person and other times you might find yourself able to better express your character by switching from third to first person.

3. Switch the tense. I do this a lot, often in the middle of writing, which leads to a lot more work when I go back to proofread and have to settle on a tense that I like. A lot of fiction is written in the past tense, but present tense can add a heightened sense of drama and action to a story. It works very well for fast-paced and action-filled stories and books.

4. Start the story earlier. If you find yourself relying on a lot of flashbacks to tell your story, and you feel like they are slowing down the story's pace or making things too confusing, the solution could be to start your story a little earlier. Another strategy is to jump around a bit in time with your chapters, perhaps even weaving two different timelines together, alternating chapters that take place in the novel's past and chapters that take place in the novel's present.

5. Start the story later. Of course, the other problem is sometimes we start our story too early, before anything is happening and the first few chapters are BORING. Solution: get rid of them. Start your story where things start to get interesting. Toss in some flashbacks or some chapters that are set in the past if you need to get some backstory out there.

6. Raise the stakes. Speaking of boring, sometimes the problem is that the stakes simply aren't high enough. Not every thing needs to be a life and death situation, though those do make for lots of drama. Still, if the biggest issue facing your character is that she may not get an A in history class or he needs money to afford a pair of stylish sneakers, you run the risk of losing the interest of readers. Don't forget to give your characters deadlines. When your character only has to the end of the week to do this very important thing it will add to the tension in your narrative.

7. Switch up the genders. Stereotypes are lame, but we use them all the time without even realizing it. Ask yourself how your story would be different if he was a she or vice versa. You might find that a somewhat ho-hum story becomes more dramatic, and that somewhat boring boy becomes a pretty interesting girl. This can work for main characters, but can also be a great way of making your other characters more interesting and memorable.

8. Start with the ending. Okay, you can write your whole story backwards like Memento, but that wasn't what I had in mind. Instead sometimes it helps to know exactly how your story's going to end. Beginnings are the easy part, but endings are tougher. When you have a pretty firm idea of how your book's going to end, then it can be easier to find a path to get you there.

9. Add a cliffhanger or two. Charles Dickens is credited with being the creator of the cliffhanger, a device he used when he was writing serialized fiction to force readers to buy the next installment. (The name comes from the fact that he would literally leave characters hanging from a cliff at the end of an installment.) You'll find lots of television shows following in Dickens's footsteps. Serialized fiction isn't much of a thing anymore, but you can still use a cliffhanger or two at the ends of your chapters to keep readers reading and spice things up.

10. Surprise yourself. This trick works well if you tend to be a plotter who has your whole story mapped out ahead of time. It can be messy to throw a monkey wrench into the works, but sometimes what a stagnant story needs is a new twist or to take things in an entirely different direction.

Sunday, January 17, 2016

May I Have a Do-Over, Please?

By Natasha Sinel

The do-over in writing is a thing of beauty. Some people say that writing is revision. In writing, unlike in conversation or in real life, you can produce garbage and then go back and turn it into polished diamonds without anyone ever knowing how it started. Writing do-overs, when done right, are about opportunity and learning, and generally have nothing to do with regret.

But the do-over in life has the underlying odor of regret. Like this: is there anything in your life you wish you could do over?

I raise my hand. Yes, I wish I could get a do-over. Because I regret a decision that I made.

My freshman year in high school, I was on the JV lacrosse team. I wasn’t a great player, not by any means. My technique was pretty decent, but I was slow. I played the first home position, where I got to pass and shoot on the goal without having to run the field too much. I liked being part of the team, working together toward a common goal. Several of my friends were on the team. And that feeling of scoring a goal in an actual game, which happened once, I think, has never left me.

But sophomore year, there was a problem. The new freshman class had several very talented lacrosse players. And so, a few sophomores, including me, were cut from the team. I was devastated. And embarrassed. I was so embarrassed and indignant, in fact, that when I was offered a manager position that would allow me to practice with the team for the season but not play in games, I scoffed at it, too hurt by the rejection of “you’re not even good enough to have what you had last year.” So I declined.

One of my friends who’d also been cut from the JV team, however, accepted the manager position. She practiced with the team, and at game time, she didn’t play—she was on the sidelines, writing down stats, helping the coaches.

Junior year, she played, and senior year, she was a starting player on the Varsity team.

I wish I’d done that too. Not only because I loved lacrosse and I’d missed out on the team sport experience with my friends, but also because I’d missed out on an important life lesson: Rejection does not equal failure. Success is many things, including simply being given an opportunity to work harder and improve. Success is persistence and passion.

I may have learned the lesson in little bits along the way through my twenties and early thirties, but it wasn’t until I decided to enter the crazy world of writing for publication that it really hit. Writing for publication is a potpourri of passion, fear, ego, rejection. And also opportunities. One pass from an agent with a sentence about what a manuscript is lacking is an opportunity to improve. A writing workshop is an opportunity to meet a critique partner or group. Comments from family and friends—wow, you’ve gotten a lot of rejections, maybe you should “just self-publish”—are an opportunity to renew your passion for your goal. An email from an early reader that reading your manuscript made her feel understood and less alone is an opportunity to remind yourself to keep at it, to persist.

Rejection is not failure. Unless you give up. Because once you give up, the opportunity for do-overs disappears.

Natasha Sinel writes YA fiction from her home on a dirt road in Northern Westchester, NY. She drives her kids around all afternoon, but in her head, she's still in high school, and hopes that no one near her can read minds. Her first novel THE FIX, released from Sky Pony Press in September 2015.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Ninth Life of Zelda by Jody Casella

Things starting going downhill for Zelda the cat when we brought home the dog.

Zelda, who was ten years old and used to being the doted upon family pet, retreated to an upstairs bedroom and refused to come out.

We figured she'd eventually come around.

She didn't.

We carried her food bowl upstairs and presented her with a plump pillow to hang out on. We bought her treats and cat-nippy toys. Nothing helped.

Maybe six months went by and one day she crept downstairs, poked her head around the corner, discovered that the dog was still there and waddled back upstairs.

Three more years passed, and we couldn't deny it. Zelda wasn't just ticked off about the dog, she had changed. She was getting old. Slowing down. She used to be a playful, social cat, prancing out to see who was here when the doorbell rang, winding around people's legs and curling up on various laps.

Now she slept most of the day, plunked out on her pillow. She quit meowing and purring. When I petted her, she gave me a dirty look.

She tolerated the dog, but barely, growling like a cougar whenever the dog got too close. A few times I managed to get them within a few feet of each other, with me between them as a barrier, but those were rare times.

Last summer we took a vacation. The dog went to stay at a neighbor's house, but we didn't dare move Zelda. Honestly, I wondered if she'd even notice we were gone. She stopped eating while we were away. The person taking care of her was a little afraid. She hisses, the woman told me. I can tell she doesn't like me.

Don't worry about it, I said. She doesn't like anyone anymore.

But I was worried when we got home and found that Zelda still wasn't eating. Food had been the only thing left that she enjoyed.

So this is it, I thought. Life is over for Zelda.

This realization came at the same time my husband and I were helping our youngest child pack up for college. We drove our daughter the nine hours to school and tried to be cool about it. Next stage of life. Empty Nesters. A whole new adventure.

woo hoo

On the nine hour drive home my husband said, Well, I guess everything's over for us now.

We only sorta laughed.

We walked into the house and our dog had her usual nervous breakdown of excitement to see us, but Zelda only peeked her head into the hallway then schlumped back to her pillow.

The first grocery shopping trip as a cooking-for-two couple, my husband threw a bunch of fancy wet cat food cans into the basket. We'd never given Zelda that kind of food before. When she was a kitten she'd had digestive issues and the vet recommended a strict diet of a particular kind of dry food.

These cans are so expensive, I said. And they have real pieces of shrimp in them. That's crazy!

Whatever, my husband said. Why can't Zelda enjoy herself in her final stage of life?

She enjoyed herself right away, scarfing up the food as soon as we plopped it on her bowl. After a few weeks I got the idea to put her bowl in the kitchen and she started waddling downstairs to eat, sometimes hanging out for a while and hissing exuberantly at the dog.

All fall they sat with me when I wrote, with me as a barrier of course, but with less and less hissing and spitting each day.

Yesterday, my husband dangled a string above Zelda's head and she batted at it, purring and meowing like a kitten.

We don't always get a chance to do it over.

But it's never too late to try fancy cat food.

Kitty Zelda


Friday, January 15, 2016

Wow, 2016. Can we start again? (Amy K. Nichols)

2016, stop making me cry!
I was going to blog about bullet journaling, a task managing system a friend recently introduced me to which is totally helping me keep on track with my 2016 goals, but Alan Rickman died today, just days after David Bowie, and since we're talking about do overs, I just wish there could be a do over on the start of this year because, wow. 

Just, wow. 

You grow up with these artists creating a kind of soundtrack or backdrop for your life, and in a weird way they become part of who you are, part of your story. You sort of take their presence in your life for granted. You expect them to just be there as they have been forever. There are markers in your life related to their art. For example, when I got into my first car accident, David Bowie's "Fame 90" was playing on the tape deck in my car. Yes, tape deck, shut up. The point is, that's a fixed point in my history that for as long as I'm alive will be associated with David Bowie. And Alan Rickman, man. Where do I start? I was captivated the moment Hans Gruber swaggered onto the screen. "No one dies like Alan Rickman," I'd say, because his villains always met such amazing ends. But Alan Rickman the man, well, he wasn't supposed to actually die. 

Today I was tempted to forgo all the things I was supposed to do (all the things written down in my bullet journal) and binge watch Alan Rickman movies, but somewhere between the tears I had this thought: neither he nor Bowie had today. What would they think of me neglecting a day of making my art to mourn them? They devoted themselves to their art. I mean heck, Bowie even turned his passing into a moment of artistry. ("Ain't that just like [him]?") 

So instead of trading my time for tears, I worked through my tears with the time I had to write. I finished a chapter I've been wrestling, and that felt good. That felt right. I used today to create my art, to add my voice to the ongoing larger conversation. That's not exactly a do over, but it's a kind of redemption nonetheless.

Thank you, Alan Rickman. Thank you, David Bowie. 

As for you, 2016, how about you back off and take it easy on us from here on out. Deal?

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Year of the Do-Over (Stephanie Kuehnert)

As I was reading and being invigorated, inspired and cheered up by my fellow YAOTL bloggers “do-over” posts, I started to reflect that 2016 is basically going to be the year of the do-over for me.

As I mentioned in my last post here, 2015 was TOUGH. It was endlessly busy and I lost track of what should have been my priorities along the way (self-care, having downtime and having time to write!) I’ve got a plan in place to do all of that over and do it right this year. So that is do-over number one.

Then there are my writing projects for the year. I expect more revisions on my memoir (revisions, my favorite kind of do-over!) and then I hope to begin planning the launch of that book which should (fingers crossed!) be out in 2017. It’s been a long, long, loooong time since I had a published book. This year is seven years, meaning next year will be eight. I could be sad about this (and admittedly in the past I have been), but instead I am looking at it as a chance to do it over. My career will start fresh with the launch of that new book, but… I have all of the knowledge that I gleaned from my first go-round with publishing. I know wayyyyyy more than I did in 2008 when I Wanna Be Your Joey Ramone came out and I’m sure this is going to benefit me. Isn’t that the best part about do-overs? You get to come at them more informed than before?

That is certainly true when revising or rewriting a book. I have not one but TWO novels that I am planning to start do-overs on this year. If you’ve followed my blogs/tweets for a while, you’ll know that I had a YA contemporary book that I nicknamed the Grief Book and a more genre-fluid YA that I nicknamed the Modern Myth YA. I wrote a full of the Grief Book and a couple of partials of the Modern Myth YA.

The Grief Book got so, so, so close to selling, but didn’t. It had two complicated plot lines, that much as I loved them, were probably bogging the book down and editors seemed to be saying that I needed to make a choice. I was thinking about it—and then my memoir sold and I got completely distracted. That also conveniently solved the problem. One of the plot lines is pretty similar to something in my own life that is covered in the memoir, so to include it fictionalized would feel like a retread to readers and to me. I started re-imagining The Grief Book last year—you can even read a sample of it on Rookie. I’m looking forward to polishing up a partial of it and seeing if my editor, who rejected it before, might be interested in the do-over.

The Modern Myth YA… Oh, I have been doing that one over for almost eight years now! I’ve written so many versions, but even the ones that went on submission just did not feel right to me. It’s my first foray into magical realism and by far my most ambitious project. I think I just needed the time and a lot of do-overs to get it right. I was not ready to write this book eight years ago or even three years ago. I think I am ready now though. When I was at my residency last summer, the idea just hit me more fully formed than any idea since Ballads of Suburbia—which, by the way, I also wrote a just-not-right version of, and then, five years later while I was finishing up my first major draft of IWBYJR, I got the key idea for the notebooks, the ballads themselves. I had to sit on it for another year or so while I worked on IWBYJR but then it just flowed.

I was in the middle of revisions on my memoir when the new version of the Modern Myth YA flashed into my brain over the course of two long runs. I took copious notes and even dashed out a synopsis. Then, I had to set it aside and get back to work on my book that was actually on deadline. Then life happened. But now here we are. I’m still cautiously dancing around it the idea. Carefully plotting. Writing lines here and there as they come. This book as had so many do-overs, I am almost afraid to start another—afraid it fail, too. BUT I have a really good feeling about it. I think the time might be right and this might be the do-over that sticks! But even if it isn’t, as a few of my fellow writers pointed out beautifully, as long as we’re here, we keep getting do-overs! 

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Facing Your Fear of the Do-Over

2015 was the year of the do-over for me. I rewrote my novel for maybe the ninth time, re-queried, signed with a new agent, and restarted my career as a writer. We’re asked as writers to go back and rework a lot, a constant stream of do-overs and revisions and critique and notes. Rejection sucks. Being told no sucks. Going back to the drawing board is one of the chief things that ties writers and artists together.

Do we take the advice or not? If we’re told to start over, how do we tackle a change in POV? A change in major character, voice, setting, plot? We try again.

I spent almost three years in a state of constant do-over. I went from first person, to third, to first on a Young Adult horror book I was querying. When I signed with my first agent, we went through revision after revision with no submission until we hit a wall: there was a possibility my book was actually middle grade, not YA. I would have to redo everything, again, after working on this idea over and over since 2009 from a script to a YA book and now I’d have to trash it all and start over. How did I feel about that?


I was so relieved to trash a novel that just wasn’t working. No matter what strings I pulled, the ball just tangled more and more. I happily trashed the entire idea, took the basic concept, rewrote it completely different people using the same names and I had a book I was proud of.

What is so scary about starting over? Why do we cringe when someone says go back?

Because we think it invalidates how far we’ve come. It doesn’t.

Don’t be afraid to start over. In January, we start a lot of new resolutions. A bright new year and a fresh start to all the things we’re going after.

But for some, there is a crippling fear of having the courage to start an old project over, of having to tackle revisions, deciding whether to leave an agent or not, or whether a queried project just needs to be shelved.

As someone who spends a lot of time redoing, be it art or illustration, this art thing doesn’t work unless we have the courage to try and fail and pick ourselves back up again. If you’re reading this and afraid of failing, let yourself feel that fear. Look it in the eye and accept it. Instead of pushing it down, telling it to go away, welcome it. Once you do, you’ll find starting over to be less scary than you once thought. 

Monday, January 11, 2016

A Handy-Dandy Do-Over Tip!

by Tracy Barrett

Like most authors, I do lots of rewriting (do-overs). I save the drafts so that if I make a change and then decide I preferred it the way it was before, or if I cut text and later realize that I want it after all, I have the older version to go back to for reference. I give the various drafts filenames like CurrentProject1.doc, CurrentProject2.doc, etc.

I sometimes wind up with multiple drafts of the same manuscript open as I work back and forth between them, and they often look practically identical. This means that more than once I’ve gotten confused about which is the current version and I accidentally wind up spending time working on a draft I’ve already discarded. I once even carefully applied editor-suggested changes to an early version and then sent it to her! (That was embarrassing.)

I’ve created an easy fix. Once I decide that CurrentProject3.doc needs enough changes to justify creating a new document, I go through these steps:

1.     Save CurrentProject3.doc as CurrentProject4.doc.
2.     Close CurrentProject4.doc.
3.     Open CurrentProject3.doc (the two documents are still identical except for the filename).
4.     Highlight the entire document by hitting Command-A (Mac) or Ctrl-A (PC).
5.     Change the font color of the entire document to red.
6.     Close CurrentProject3.doc and get to work on CurrentProject4.

Now whenever I open a discarded version, the red font is enough of a clue for even a work-addled brain that it’s not the current draft. If every discarded draft of every project is red, I know that the one I have to work on is black.

Simple, I know, but it’s saved me a lot of wasted effort!

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Do-Overs by Sydney Salter

Real life doesn't really give us true do-overs. Dumb things we say live in people's memories. Choices we make have rippling consequences. Random events change our lives forever. And there's not much we can do about it, aside from doing our best to create a fresh start.


Writing, however, gives us endless do-overs! I recommend it to everyone. Even my diary allows me to reflect on what I wish had happened when things go awry in life. Fiction is by necessity a process of doing over. Flat characters must be rounded. Cliched plots reworked. Points of view switched. Voices altered. Dull scenes axed. The list goes on and on…

When I speak to pre-published writers, I always emphasize that any piece of writing can be made good enough. I don't believe in those so-called drawer novels. Nonsense. Revise the thing if you loved the idea enough to write it in the first place.

Just try it!

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Perfect Do-Over

When I was a kid, I didn't understand the concept of the Do-Over.

do-over |ˈdo͞oˌōvər
noun informal 
an opportunity to try or perform something a second time: if Smokey sings off key, he gets a do-over.

 When I made a mistake, I'd get this super sick feeling in my stomach. It felt like I could never get out from beneath that black cloud feeling of dread and shame.  The only way I could start fresh would be to magically turn back time and purge my past from existence. 

As you might imagine, not a terribly easy thing to do without a Harry Potteresque Time Turner.

So, my next line of defense was to try to be perfect and avoid mistakes altogether. I became Kimmiepoppins--practically perfect in every way.

adjective |ˈpərfikt
having all the required or desirable elements, qualities, or characteristics; as good as it is possible to be: she strove to be the perfect wife | life certainly isn't perfect at the moment.• free from any flaw or defect in condition or quality; faultless: the equipment was in perfect condition.

Yup, that's a bit hard to sustain too. And not very helpful in becoming a well rounded human being. While I may have avoided some really spectacular negatives over the years, I also managed to miss out on a lot of cool things because I was too afraid of trying things that scared me. 

But the nice thing about a Do-Over is that you can instigate is at any time. They do not have expiration dates.

It took me until I was into my 30's and faced with the death of my father, to finally sort through all this Do-Over confusion. Losing my Dad shocked me into a new awareness.
I found the courage to make mistakes and start over again whenever I didn't like the result of my efforts. 

Eleven years later, I can do all kinds of Do-Overs. I'm far from perfect LOL! I still have my sticking points, but I've learned to cut myself quite a bit of slack and I keep greasing those areas where I tend to get stuck. 

And every day I'm grateful to my Dad for leaving me his courage when he passed on. 
It's my first act of Do-Over courage that will always stick with me the most.

Not only did I embrace the act of the Do-Over by pursuing publishing, which requires the ability to handle constant criticism and revision. But I also wrote a book about Do-Overs. It's about...
 how life altering mistakes are meant to alter lives. 

"Sabatini creates an exquisitely tangible alternate reality, ordering the cosmos with impressive authorial derring-do, crafting answers to ontological questions with grace, disarming simplicity, and nary a trace of dogma. All while believable teens--teen souls, that is--tangle with affection, selfishness, and doubt. Thought-provoking and romantic, Touching the Surface takes risks with narrative and form, and succeeds on multiple levels." --RBW (Chronogram)

Every time I read that review, I smile because I know that I had a choice and I finally chose well. I could have continued to live the life that I was living, doing things the way I was doing them. It probably wouldn't have been a bad life, but it wouldn't have been the one I wanted. Instead I chose to give myself the room to grow and change. Being courageous was one of the hardest things I've ever done, but once you do it you learn the secret...

one Do-Over can lead to the next, until you find your life isn't full of mistakes--it's full of endless possibilities.

Perhaps the only thing that is perfect in this world, is the opportunity to always have another chance--the Perfect Do-Over is always waiting for you. Reach out an grab it...

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Let's Do It Again! (Joy Preble)

Ten years ago, more or less, I had just finished my first novel, what would eventually become Dreaming Anastasia. I’d spent a number of years before that writing a little here and there, but mostly I was teaching and raising a son and living a basically fine life with lovely adventures, a few nerve-wracking economic downturns, and the requisite amount of good times and bad times, but still not exactly the life I wanted to live. I had wanted to write for at least part of my living as long as I could remember. And I wasn’t really doing it.

So I instituted a do-over, although I don’t know that I called it that in my head. A second chance to try for this thing I hadn’t always admitted I wanted. Some days wrote only a page or two. Others I’d managed a thousand words or more. But I committed fully. Even now I’m not exactly sure why. But every day I sat and wrote. I found other writers. Became part of the creative community. Figured out what I had to do once the novel was drafted.

Everything that has happened in my writing career came from that do-over—including other crucial do-overs!

A few months before Dreaming Anastasia published, the editor who’d acquired it abruptly left the publishing house. New editor arrived. For me that meant a do-over—a new relationship to forge over a book that hopefully he would like. (He did.)

Less than a year later, editor 2 abruptly left—just as I turned in book 2 of what had miraculously become a series! Another do-over—adjusting to temporary editors and eventually official editor number 3, who eventually acquired book 3.

In between, my in-house publicist who had been a champion of my career, also left without warning. Do-over!

Editor 3 rejected more than one option book proposal and manuscript. A bad do-over ensued when I wrote a romantic comedy in order to please her, only to realize this was not the book I wanted write. Nor was it a good book, which meant that after 6 months of trying to force things, I tossed it. Another do-over that same year when I sat down at a retreat one weekend and the outline for the book I was supposed to be writing poured out of me. Eventually it sold to Balzer and Bray and became last year’s Finding Paris.

In between, editor 2 settled asked me to work on a different series with him at his new publishing house. A fun do-over to get to write for him again!

Are you seeing a pattern?

This past year, I had to initiate another do-over more than once for a project I adore but which wasn’t working the way I needed it to. “You aren’t digging deep enough,” my agent told me, and she was right. I re-thought and re-plotted and re-thought again and slowly, painfully, over a long number of months (really more than a year, if I’m honest), I think I have figured out what I am really writing about underneath and why it’s an important story to tell. Agent and I are getting ready to sub it soon. (fingers crossed!) Some novels hide from us, I think. We can give up and let the idea pass, or we can do it over (and over) until we get it right. Of course there’s the scary thin line between getting it right and staying with something that will never work no matter how many do-overs we get. I don’t know if I have a solid answer for that bit of trickiness. Elizabeth Gilbert talks about this some in her wonderful book on creativity and writing, Big Magic, which I highly recommend.

In between all the above soul-searching, I finished the forthcoming It Wasn’t Always Like This, about a girl and boy who accidently become immortal but lose each other for a hundred years. They become different things along the way, but they never give up searching for each other. It was a wonderful but difficult book to write. So many points in time to keep track of a number of characters and a romance and a murder mystery plot. I’m sure you know that I wrote it over and over, stretching at my deadline each time my editor said I needed to push some more to get it exactly right. Some stories are like that. Always, it's worth it. Always!

So is life, I suppose.

Do-overs. I kinda love them.

How about you?