Friday, June 29, 2018

Human Speed Bumps (Brian Katcher)

When I learned that the June theme was 'human speed bumps', I was very excited. Then I realized it didn't mean what I'd originally thought. Pity.

Instead, we're talking about dealing with things can can interrupt the writing process: illness, family, job, prolonged incarceration, etc.

Now when most people imagine the life of an author, they picture a dingy office, cluttered with stacks of paper (much of it wadded up), empty whisky bottles, putrefying plates of half-finished egg salad sandwiches and coffee cups, all barely visible through the nicotine haze as the author bangs furiously on a typewriter, bleary eyed and stubble faced.

This, of course, is 100% correct. But this is not my entire life. Every few days my wife, decked out in her housecoat and curlers, will pound on my office door with her rolling pin and demand that I leave the house and earn an honest living. Tramping over the piles of rejection slips and cigar butts, I'll pull on my battered fedora and try to earn a few dollars working as a chimney sweep or bootblack.

While I inevitably blow my earnings at the local gambling hall or gin mill, this all goes to prove a point. Time not writing is time wasted. Do you think Hemingway spent his precious time at PTA meetings? Did Poe write stuff like that because he wasn't a raging alcoholic? You think Kafka had a fulfilling social life?

In conclusion, life is short. Very soon, you will die. And do you want to lay...lie...lay? there, probably on the very sheets you slept on last night and think 'If only I'd spent more time writing and less time thinking of others'? Hell no, you don't! Stop being so selfish! Why are you messing around on the internet? You've got stories to tell and a liver to destroy!

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Be Kind to Yourself and Persevere by Dean Gloster

            Back when I was a lawyer and I wanted to learn a new area of law, I would offer to give a talk on that topic to some attorney organization.
            Scheduling the talk, in turn, forced me to learn the area not only enough to understand it, but well enough to explain it to a room full of skeptical lawyers, often holding sharp knives as they cut their banquet chicken.

            I always over-prepared, because I expected hostile questions or interruptions from some Theodore Knowitall: (*huffy voice*) “Well, actually, if you pay attention to footnote 17 of the Supreme Court opinion in…” (There is no mansplainer quite like the one with a law degree, showing off for his peers.)

Did you hear about the mansplainer who fell in a hole of his own making?
It was a well, actually…

            So that’s what I’d like to do today: Write about what I most need to learn, to keep myself moving forward as a writer. In explaining it to you, I hope some of it will sink in for me.
            Our topic this month is perseverance, but the blog administrators can’t jolt me with Internet-delivered electrical shocks if I meander slightly off-topic. (I’ve tested that, with prior posts.)
            Writing is difficult. Writing for publication, for money, is even harder. An important component of how to persevere in the face of those difficulties is to figure out how to be kind to yourself in the process. When you write novels, for most of the time you are your own boss, so you might as well set up humane working conditions, just as you would for someone else.
            One difficulty in writing is that you have to master two separate skills, at odds with each other. First, you have to let that raw creativity flow, honoring the unconscious, fanciful, and unharnessed.

            Second, you have to bring your more analytical craft- and editorially-focused skills to shape, trim, craft, plan, and revise that wilder work.
             But you can’t do both things at the same time.
            Writing while constantly interrupting yourself with criticism is a little like singing while bashing yourself in the throat with a rake.
            It’s a bad idea.
            So bad, I’m pretty sure that’s how we got Nickelback

If a tree falls in the forest, and no one hears it
Is that the perfect place for a Nickelback concert?
    I type new material in a separate document from my manuscript, to signal to my harsh inner critic that I’m just playing around with words, and that it’s too early for him to get involved. I sometimes write new material longhand, in a notebook, for the same reason.
            When it’s time to revise and polish, I have all kinds of tricks to make me look at the manuscript with fresh eyes: I convert it into a different font, revise from the back to the front, look at each character’s dialogue (or each subplot) separately, and—for sections of scenes that aren’t working—even put that part into free verse lines, and tinker with it as a poem.
            Whatever works. But find a way to be kind to yourself.
            Writing is difficult enough without causing more problems for yourself, letting your own premature criticism drag concrete blocks through the delicate machinery of your creativity.
            And have fun. Writing is way more enjoyable, really, than lecturing to a room full of lawyers with glittery knives.
            Persevere, persist, resist, and be well.

Dean Gloster has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is a former stand-up comedian and a former law clerk at the U.S. Supreme Court. His debut YA novel DESSERT FIRST is out now from Simon Pulse. School Library Journal called it “a sweet, sorrowful, and simply divine debut novel that teens will be sinking their teeth into. This wonderful story…will be a hit with fans of John Green's The Fault in Our Stars and Jesse Andrews's Me and Earl and the Dying Girl.” Dean is on Twitter: @deangloster

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

The limits of perseverance (Jennifer R. Hubbard)

Perseverance has its limits.

The way to face the wall of obstacles is not always to pound on it until there’s a breakthrough.

Sometimes when we step back, we spot a doorway in the wall, or a ladder over the top. It’s not right in front of us, but off to the side. Where we hadn’t even been looking.

Sometimes we have to step way back to see it.

Tunnel vision can lead us to think that there is only one way, only one chance, only one road. It’s this dream agent or nobody. It’s this grant, this book deal, this story, this gig, this conference, this editor, or all is lost. It’s now or never.

But that’s rarely true. There’s a difference between the “now or never” pep talk that rouses us out of procrastination or laziness or fear of failure, and a “now or never” urgency that makes us pin all our hopes on one shot. The former may help us move forward, while the latter can close our eyes to the full range of possibilities.

Sometimes something isn’t working because it isn’t meant to work. It isn’t the right time, the right story, the right market, the right publisher. Sometimes we’re not ready yet. Sometimes the world isn’t ready for us yet.

There is more out there. It is possible to step away—to another story, another market, another genre. Another path. It is possible to step back and try again later. It is possible to try something different now.

Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Relax, If You Can (Courtney McKinney-Whitaker)

In September 2014, I had a baby and published a novel within a two-week period. I have not written, much less published, another novel since. People think it's because of my child, and I cannot tell you how much this annoys me to no end.

It annoys me because I hate that people automatically assume that if you have a child you can't have a creative career, but it annoys me more because I promise you it is not for lack of trying.

I have plenty of time to write, thanks to being able to afford childcare and having a husband who is not only not a Neanderthal but who also doesn't expect me to do all the housework, which I hear is still a thing in a lot of households. He does his own laundry and makes our dinners. He told me to stay away from his Father's Day meal prep, lest I ruin it. (#gladly)

I have written and published many smaller pieces in this time, but no novels. I've done a bunch of research. I've had several false starts.

About halfway between then and now came November 8, 2016, a date which will live in infamy.

Like many of you, I cried off and on and used sleeping pills for a month (or maybe longer). My already bad anxiety frequently became crippling. Since then, as our country has gone from one dumpster fire to another, as I have watched people I once loved turn into people I do not recognize, EVERYTHING has felt so high-stakes that I have really questioned what possible good I am doing as a writer.

Because, let's face it, I am not a big deal. No one is hanging on my every word. I am in no way a leader in this space. I am hopeless at social media. Maybe 2000 people read my first novel. Maybe. I am being generous because a lot of libraries own it; I know because I checked WorldCat. I got some good reviews. I even got a shiny medal. But what good did it actually do? What good would my writing another novel do?

I have no idea, but here I am writing another novel, a story that came to me so powerfully that it demands to be written whether it does any good or not.

It's an "adult" novel, this time, though I really hate those distinctions.

The Fates are laughing at me because it might be considered a "Civil War novel." I was born in South Carolina and have been running fast and hard from the Civil War my whole life, with the result being that I keep tripping over it and have already written two theses on Civil War literature. (I blame my advisors, who constantly said, "Build on work you've already done," and other things that made sense.)

I believe in this story so much that I spent this past weekend immersed in a "book boot camp" while my family went to the beach. (I kind of hate the beach, so that helps.) In some ways, the Civil War is the obvious place to go at this historical moment, but I hope I have taken it in some less obvious directions.

And meanwhile I am despairing at the state of our country and at the same time beating myself up about that despair because I know that I have it so much better than so many people, so is it fair for me to feel like I can barely function because of the madness?

I don't know.

I've always loved Mary Fahl's "Going Home," which was the opening theme for the 2003 Civil War epic Gods and Generals. My book does not in any way resemble Gods and Generals, but it is very much about the meaning of home and of exile, and I've taken it as the first song on my novel playlist. Faults of the film aside, I find it to be a healing song, and one that is useful to me in terms of thinking about themes. (My working title is The Cold Months of the Year, and it is a little bit about what life is like when everyone you grew up with thinks you are a dirty liberal who has betrayed them, and when that is in fact true. Ahem.)

All of this, I guess, is a roundabout way of saying I wish I hadn't been so concerned about shoving out another novel immediately to prove to myself and others that I'm a real writer.

Sometimes, stories just come when they're meant to.


Sunday, June 24, 2018

Club 100: Getting Back in the Saddle - by Brenda Hiatt

I can think of few things more likely to make someone frequently consider throwing in the towel than attempting to make a career out of writing novels. Succeeding as a novelist is a long game. Because, let’s face it, novels are long. There may be a few phenoms out there who can write a book in a month or even a week (or so I’ve heard) but I have yet to hear about anyone ever writing an entire novel in a day. 

Writing a novel (usually defined as a work of at least 40,000 words) takes dedicated time. Time with fingers on keyboard or pen in hand or microphone to mouth—though those last two methods still require transcribing at some point. Then that messy first draft has to be revised into some semblance of a real story, then polished to within an inch of its life, edited…you get the idea. Not something you can dash off in an afternoon. 

But, as we all know, life has a way of getting in the way. The things that push writing to the side for an hour, a day, a week, a month, can be wonderful or awful. Weddings, new babies and cross-country moves to a better place/better job can be just as disruptive as unexpected illness and loss. Perseverance is about getting back to the writing every time life derails you, for whatever reason.

As an aside, I’ll just say here for anyone who might be thinking about writing as a career, that one of the very first things you need to succeed is joy in the process. This job is too damned hard if you don’t have that, because external rewards are never guaranteed (no matter what some self-proclaimed guru might claim). However, if you have that fire in your belly and writing makes you a whole lot happier than not writing... 

Anyway, back to the issue of persevering when life throws you curve balls—which it will. Over the years I’ve been pulled away from a regular writing schedule on many, many, many occasions. From the time I started writing “for real,” I think my record for going without writing at all was a little over a year. More often, I was only derailed for a few days or weeks at a time. However long it's been, it can be hard--really hard--to get back in the saddle when you’ve been out of it for a while. Here’s a tool that has helped me do just that, multiple times, and I share it here in hopes that it might help you, too.

It’s called Club 100. It was started by a group of writers online back in the dark ages before there was a real internet, just online services with electronic bulletin boards. One of those services was GEnie (so named because, I believe, it was owned by General Electric) and one of the boards was called RomEx, short for Romance Writers Exchange. One of the ongoing topics on that board was Club 100. 

The premise is actually very simple. Every day that you manage to write 100 words—that’s right, just 100 words—you get to count that day. Most of us used stickers or stars on calendars to mark our progress. Once someone completed 100 writing days, we celebrated. The object is to get you working on your current book every single day, even when you don’t feel like it. Because, hey, anyone can write 100 words, right? It’s a couple of paragraphs. Takes 5 minutes. Thing is, once you’re back inside your story, you’ll find it’s very hard to stop at just 100 words. Many is the time I told myself, "Just five minutes before bed," and ended up with two or three new pages.

Since those old GEnie days, I’ve used the Club 100 technique to get myself “back in the saddle” more times than I can count. And it has always, always worked. Which is great, because nothing beats that awesome feeling of accomplishment that come from a great writing day! I know, because I’ve had a few of those recently and I’m feeling on top of the world as a result. 
Sure, it won’t last. It never does. But I have a strategy to get back into that saddle the next time life knocks me sideways. No matter how many times it happens.

Brenda Hiatt is the author of the bestselling 
Starstruck series of YA science fiction romance 
novels. Last year she released The Girl From Mars, 
book 5 in the series. After several life interruptions 
(all good this time around!) she is currently hard 
at work on book 6.

Saturday, June 23, 2018

Find Time to Feed Your Soul by Christine Gunderson

When we talk about “perseverance” we tend to think about pushing onward against terrible, unexpected difficulties like erupting volcanoes, economic collapse or chronic illness. I am in awe of the obstacles my fellow blogger Patty Blount has overcome to continue with her writing.

But when I think about perseverance, I think about a Tuesday in March, when I plan to write and then the downspouts clog in the middle of a thunderstorm because, unbeknownst to me, someone hit a baseball and it got stuck in the gutters, and the washing machine stops working and the kids spill maple syrup on the dog. 

I can be somewhat heroic in the face of a crisis, because a crisis is an unusual event of short duration. But my writing can get completely derailed by the small emergencies of daily life. Like my children.

Obviously, I love my kids. They’re adorable. And funny. And smart and creative and all those things kids should be. But it turns out raising children is a lot of work. I was a child myself once but had no idea I required so much attention. Who knew?

I will lay out a careful schedule involving word targets for each day. Then, instead of going to school as planned, my children will take turns getting strep throat. I will spend the week at the pediatrician’s office and on the couch with a feverish child binge watching Star Wars Rebels. I loveStar Wars Rebels, and snuggling with my kids, but this isn’t helping me put words on the page.

And because Jeff Bezos still has not invented the Overscheduled Child Transportation Drone, I spend huge amounts of time in my car. You can do a lot of things while driving a mini-van, but writing a novel is not one of them.

This is where perseverance comes in.

I prefer to write alone at my desk, in a silent house, for five or six hour stretches. These are optimal writing conditions for me. But I’ve learned that if I wait for the optimal, I will never write at all.

This blog post was written at the pool during swim team practice, at one of those trampoline-jumping places, and in my kitchen as I wait for the water to boil.

Perseverance means looking for slivers of time and taking them wherever I can find them.

I finally realized my children will never come up to me, after a two week stretch where everyone had the stomach flu and say, “Mother, you look rather harried. Why don’t you recharge your batteries by doing something you love? We’ll quietly review these math flash cards and play educational computer games while you finish up that proposal for your agent.”

Mothers don’t actually have time to drive kids to soccer and tutors and practices, to help them with homework, to plan birthday parties and Christmas. But mothers make time for these things because it’s important to their kids. So, it becomes important to them.

Writing is no different. Neither is scrapbooking, square dancing, gardening, genealogy, listening to live music, painting, singing karaoke, exercising, prepping for the apocalypse or any of the other things that bring people pleasure and joy. (I have personally never experienced any pleasure whatsoever from exercise, but some people claim to like it, so I threw it in there.)

If a child shows an interest in dancing, we sign them up for dance. We spend enormous amounts of time and money enriching our kids. But if you’re a mother, when was the last time you spent time and money to enrich yourself?

We don’t give up our minds and personalities when we have children. Motherhood should expand us, not diminish us. But once we have kids, the things we do for pleasure rather than money are somehow considered non-essential. These soul enriching pursuits, the activities that make us who we are, get pushed to the bottom of the pile.

I struggled with this when I started writing. Going to Starbucks for a couple of hours on a Sunday afternoon to write seemed selfish.

And then I looked at how I felt after I wrote. I was energized. Happy. Relaxed. Kind to my spouse. Patient with my children. Making time for writing feeds my soul and brings me joy. It makes me a better person and a happier and more pleasant parent. 

Two hours in my kitchen microwaving chicken nuggets and unloading the dishwasher does not have that effect.

It’s easy to find excuses not to do this. Years ago, a mother explained to me that it was okay that she never took even a minute of time for herself because motherhood is “a season.” 

That sound you hear right now is me snorting in derision and aggressively rolling my eyes.

It takes five months for wheat to ripen. That’s a season. It takes 18 years, and sometimes much longer, for a child to grow up. That’s not a season. It’s hard time for armed robbery. Don’t wait until your kids are grown. Do this now. 

During the summer when my kids are out of school I wake up at 5:00 a.m. so I can get my words in before they wake up. I get out bed, go to my desk and do my thing. I walk away two hours later happy, energized and satisfied. My soul is full. But only because I made time to fill it. 

Maybe you’ve told yourself the thing you love is frivolous, that bronze age historical reenactments or raising show chickens or Olympic ice curling or dressing up like Chewbacca and attending Star Wars conventions is unworthy of time away from your family. 

But the question is not: Is this a silly waste of my valuable free time? The question is: Does this bring me joy?

If the answer is yes, make the time. Take the time. Your brain and your soul will thank you. Your spouse and children will thank you. And if you’re one of those weird exercise people, your body will thank you, too.

Will it be easy? No. People will try to stop you. The universe will try to stop you. 

Do it anyway.

Perseverance is doing something hard because it’s important. You are important. Your mind and body and soul are important. Give them the time they deserve. 

Christine Gunderson is a former television anchor and former House and Senate aide who lives outside of Washington, D.C. with her husband, children and Star, the Wonder Dog.  When not writing, she’s sailing, playing Star Wars trivia, re-reading Persuasion or unloading the dishwasher. 


Friday, June 22, 2018

Writing Through Pain by Patty Blount

Perserverance should be my name. Like Temperance Brennan on Bones, I could be Perserverance Blount and fight crime with a hot guy played by David Boreanaz.

Back here in the real world, there's this old adage that writers, like most artists, suffer for their craft. Boy, howdy, I can attest to this.

In 2015, I was laid off from a job I'd held for thirteen years, a job that afforded many liberties like working from home when needed, flex time when needed, and an on-site fitness center and chiropractor that I used regularly. It also offered me a 30-minute commute.

I was lucky; I found a new job in a few weeks, but the new job's commute was an hour and 30 minutes.

Each way.

It had none of the flexibility I'd grown used to either.

In May of that year, I had this bizarre swelling in my hands. A finger would randomly swell to three times its normal size and the pain is utterly indescribable. At one point, I sobbed to my husband to take the hedge clippers and lop it off. I couldn't so much as tap a cell phone with the entire hand, let alone the swollen finger.

Brooklyn, 2015 - CLMP Firecracker Award for SOME BOYS along with my then-editor, Aubrey Poole. This was the first flare I had -- I was unable to straighten my arm and so, it bent awkwardly. Not shown is the swollen finger on my other hand. 

It happened three times, to three different fingers. I'd been to an emergency room, had x-rays and blood tests and enough medication to open a pharmacy. The diagnosis is psoriatic arthritis. It's disfiguring, it's excrutiating, it's permanent, and it's a vicious cycle. I have to take meds to manage the flare-ups, manage the rash, but the meds cause side effects like osteoporosis and weight gain and insomnia so I have to take more meds to manage those. I frequently don't sleep at all and then have to drive that 90-minute commute, work all day, and commute back home.

In 2015, I didn't get much writing done. It took me months to figure out how to squeeze writing back into my new world order. I have to exercise because, as my rheumatologist says, "motion is the lotion" that keeps my joints lubricated. But it hurts! Oh, it hurts. I have to lose weight to decrease the burden on my joints, but let's face it -- writing is a sedentary occupation. Thanks to the steroids, I'm now shopping for plus sizes and this just KILLS me.

So... I didn't write. I gave it up for months. And an interesting thing happened. I felt like I'd been lobotomized, like half of me was missing. At first, I blamed this on all the new meds and the disease. But then I realized it was ME. I'd let it go when what I should have been doing was clinging to writing like a piece of driftwood after the boat sinks.

I'm fighting back now. Instead of saying, "I can't! It hurts." I say, "I will. I'll feel better."

I began waking up at 5:45 and getting to work around 7:30, before traffic begins to get awful. That hour earlier cut my morning commute down to about 40 minutes instead of 90. I can't do much about the evening commute so I endure it. With the office empty, I have a leisurely breakfast so I can take my meds on a full stomach and then write until 9 AM.

The medication wallet I must now carry. 

At lunch time, I walk. If the weather is bad, I may write some more. When I finally get home, it's a victory when I do so before 6:30. I do my physical therapy exercises  -- stretching is critical for me. Dinner. Laundry. Dishes. I don't watch much TV now. When I sit down, it's for social media tasks, maybe to re-read what I wrote that day and plan tomorrow.

For a long time, I was bitter about no longer being able to write 1500 or 2000 words a day. Now, a good writing day is 300 words or so. I had to adjust my attitude on a lot of things -- like giving up sugar. I LOVE chocolate. Chocolate is like a religion for me. Giving that up -- well, let's just say I thought about the pain and wondered if I could live with another round of prednisone -- it wasn't easy, but I decided sugar had to go.

(Still haven't lost weight, BTW)

So, we're in 2018. It's 3 years and I haven't had a flare up! I've had lots of other issues but I manage them as they strike. I've learned how to keep writing on the days when even my hair hurts (I have psoriatic spots on my scalp.)

  • I use dictation software. 
  • I have my son edit for me.
  • I plot and research rather than sit 'butt-in-chair' on high-pain days or no-sleep nights because let me tell you, writing on no sleep is like drunk-dialing somebody. Nobody wants to see that! 
  • I stop beating myself up over the 200 word count days. I write every day, even when I'm fried, so I don't 'fall out of the habit.' It may not be actual word-count writing (could be plotting, etc.) but it's time on the WIP. 
  • When I have days to devote to my writing, I'm careful not to spend hours sitting. I set reminders to get up, move around, exercise so my back doesn't spasm and undo my progress. 
  • I don't make decisions on days where I'm going without sleep. 
  • I stay off social media on the days where I'm going without sleep. 
In 2017, I wrote 2 full-length books and didn't die. This was a personal goal I'd set and I'm so proud I managed to achieve it. I have the same goal for 2018, but we're in June and....nothing. I have no ideas. Usually, panic sets in around now, but I'm just going with the flow. 

I figure my body is telling me "Rest." So I'm researching some back story for one kernel of an idea, to see if it germinates into a full story. 

But I'm not giving up. Writing is part of who and what I am. I do what I have to so I can keep this disease from stealing more of me than it already has. 

Thursday, June 21, 2018


Human lives are not writing-conducive. They’re just not. They’re full of triumphs and heartache and ups and downs and chores and most of the time, it seems amazing to me that any books ever get written at all.

Sometimes, the best thing you can do for yourself is find a way to shake the world off--all the have-tos and the responsibilities and the routines--and reconnect with yourself. Then, your mind can focus better on your project.

A few ways to shake off the world:

Do some yoga
Walk the dog
Sing a song
Go to the farmer’s market
Cook something you’ve never made before
Take a class
Scratch a home repair off the honey-do list
Watch a classic movie
Learn a new hobby—sewing, painting, etc.
Change your hair
Explore a new corner of your city—somewhere you’ve never gone before
Take a drive without a map
Eat an ice cream cone
Pay a compliment to a stranger
Wear something (a piece of jewelry, perfume, etc.) you usually save for special occasions
Play one-on-one
Eat taffy
Dangle your feet in the lake
Howl at the moon

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

A Dispatch From Technology Hell (Alissa Grosso)

This post is coming to you a day late because I've been busy fighting some technology demons this week. It's crazy how one little problem can consume you and throw your whole life out of whack. That's been my experience over the past few days after something went wrong in technology-land that kept me from getting some work done.

It was also a lesson in persistence. Friday it took me the better part of ten hours, but I was eventually able to find something that worked and start to get caught up on the work that I'd meant to begin that morning. My relief was short-lived when I sat down Saturday to finish up that work and found out I was back to square one.

Finally after some scrambling yesterday, I found a workaround that allows me to do what I need to do. It takes too long and I'm already way behind schedule, so I'm not exactly a happy camper. More like a relieved but grumpy camper.

Putting on a brave face in my Happy Camper shirt.

Though none of this has to do with books or writing, it does make me think of my current work in progress. Anyone who writes a novel knows a thing or two about persistence. The current book I'm working on, has, like my technology troubles, tested my persistence.

It actually goes back to fourteen years ago, when I wrote a short story that I shared with a critique group I was then part of. The general consensus was that the story had a good and intriguing start, but the conclusion wasn't working. It needed more.

It was a story that I tucked away but could never quite forget about because something about it kept calling to me. Eventually, I realized the problem was that it wasn't a short story at all, but a novel. So, I wrote that novel. Well, I wrote a novel.

The novel was a mess. It seemed to be going in five different directions at once. What was the point? Why were there so many characters? What was the genre?

Sometimes it's okay, to give up on a novel. It seemed like that might be my best course of action in this case. Alas, the story continued to call to me.

So, I sat down and wrote a new outline. I did my best to simplify things. Less characters. Less storylines. Then over the course of several months I rewrote the novel from the beginning.

It's not done yet. It's still a work in progress, but I feel like I might be getting pretty close to where I need to be with that novel.

Are there easier ways to write novels? For sure. My novel-writing process for this book reminds me a bit of a technology workaround. It's not the most elegant or efficient solution, but at the end of the day it gets the job done, and that makes this writer a happy camper.

Alissa Grosso is the author of the novels Unnamed Roads, Shallow Pond, Ferocity Summer and Popular. She records the weekly Awkward Author vlog and podcast. You can find out more about Alissa and her books, and get a free copy of Popular at

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

My Books, My Babies (by Jodi Moore)

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

(Spoiler: I dare. I do.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, June 11, 2018

Permission to NOT Keep Going by Maryanne Fantalis

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

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

Or all of the above.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, June 8, 2018

Birthing My Speed Bumps by Kimberly Sabatini

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, June 7, 2018

Perseverance for the Long Game by Joy Preble

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

With a Little Help from My Friends (Mary Strand)

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

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

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

(The penguins are now dead to me.)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friends: quite simply the best.

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

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Soldiering On

by Fae Rowen

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Just Keep Writing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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