Tuesday, September 22, 2020

(Re)Claiming the Joy in Writing by Patty Blount

This year has been like running on a treadmill stuck on a high speed. Once false step and you're gonna go flying. 

All over my various author communities and indeed, this blog, colleagues are talking about how hard it's been to be creative this year. Feelings persisit. We long for normalcy but yet, too few of us are willing to put in the effort to get it back. So...we're stuck. 

We're exhausted. We're losing hope. And we're tired of Zoom! 

Students have it even harder than authors. Trying to concentrate on lessons, missing out on friends, on sports, on SATs -- their futures are in a holding pattern.

I think about them. Just as I need to take my mind off of 2020, I think teens do, too. And that's my job as a YA author. So I made the decision NOT to write about the pandemic. I want teens to be able to lose themselves in my work. 

They can't do that unless I can. 

So I put it away. I know for one hour, one scene, one chapter, I can hop off that treadmill and put the world on hold for a while. I can find joy in the world I've created and hope readers will, too.

That's why I'm working on a YA Chrismas story. Christmas novels, especially romance, have huge readerships. I am certain it's because the holiday season fills us with hope and cheer. What will this year's holiday season look like? 

Scaled down, lots of masks in red and green, silver and gold, silver and blue, maybe Zoom parties. I don't know. 

What I do know is the feelings persist. And I try to write those feelings. Tell me how you're coping with pandemic-related stress in the comments! 

Sunday, September 13, 2020

Finding My Voice...Again (Jodi Moore)


Like many writers, I’ve had a hard time creating over the past six months. 



The dreaded blank screen


It seemed my heart shattered on a daily basis as I watched the news and perused posts on social media sites. My arms ached with emptiness – not only for the hugs I couldn’t share, but for those who had lost loved ones and would never feel their precious embrace again. My brain couldn’t comprehend the hate and the selfishness of those who ignored the cries for help.


(Disclaimer: three of these descriptions still hold true.)


On my best days, fog surrounded me. On my worst, I felt paralyzed. I couldn’t write. My characters’ voices had disappeared, lost to the negative static.


(Yes, I hear voices. I depend on them to write. Many authors do.)


But recently, I remembered back to a time long ago when another voice had disappeared. As a teen, I had silenced my own. No, I hadn’t stopped speaking all together, but I learned to carefully measure my words – swallowing those that might upset the delicate balance in a household that had been through trauma. Too often, I heard the – sometimes well-intended, but often patronizing – advice of ‘get over it’ and ‘let it go’.


On those rare occasions when I did speak up to let them know their words hurt my feelings, they claimed I was ‘too sensitive’.


Those voices eventually took up important real estate, living rent-free in my mind.


Needless to say, that repression wasn’t exactly a healthy decision. Thankfully, in my twenties, I had a wonderful therapist who encouraged me to listen closely to the voices – not just what they were saying, but who the voices belonged to. Would I myself say those things to another person going through distress? And if not, why would I allow them to speak to me that way? 


Little by little - and with a lot of help - I learned to express myself once again.


Over the past few months, those negative voices have crept back in. I didn’t recognize them at first. Oh, sure. I noticed the ones who showed up screaming and foaming at the mouth. They were easy to spot. But others arrived with smiles. Their words coated with sugar. Spouting love and concern...then lashing out when I asked questions or took issue with their positions.


They told me I was naïve. Stupid. Wrong. They belittled me. Ridiculed who and what I hold dear. Told me I didn’t know what I was talking about. And when I dared to say they hurt my feelings, they told me I was ‘too sensitive’.


That’s when I acknowledged I’d let them move in. Again. And that’s when I decided to evict them.


A couple of weeks ago, I wrote this poem:





By Jodi Moore



Move past it, She said.

Then She walked away and left me alone.

With It.


Get over it, He said.

Then He took the ladder and left me alone.

With It.


Let it go, They said.

Then They slammed the door and locked the windows and left me alone.

With It.


At first, I pretended It wasn’t there. But It was. Staring at me through the darkness.

Then, I raged at It, screaming for It to leave. But It stayed. Waiting for me in the midst.

Finally, I turned away, cowering in the corner, sure it would devour me. But It didn’t.


Through the silence, I heard soft crying.


And then I realized that It had been lost, and left, and locked away too.

With me.


I took Its hand in mine. Together, we opened the door and left Them.




I can’t say I’ve completely broken from ‘Them’. But I can say that I’m working hard not to let Them break me.


In silencing the negative voices, I’ve empowered my own. In piecing my heart back together, I’ve begun to breathe life back into my art. In leaving them, I’ve begun the journey of reuniting with myself.


And my characters? They’re back, stronger and more insistent than ever. After all, they’ve got stories to tell, and it’s my job to let their voices be heard.


Tuesday, September 8, 2020

Back to Life: Finding Good News in the Bad News by Kimberly Sabatini

 From what I hear, I'm one of the lucky ones. I've been reading lots of posts about writers struggling to write in 2020--the year that has decided to fight back. That has not been me.

In fact, I've found I'm more productive than usual. *fist pump*

It may be because writing is incompatible with watching the news or being on social media and working helps me find balance.

It's also reminiscent of when I first started writing when my kids were 2, 4 and 6 years old. Back then, there weren't a lot of ways from me to socially distance myself from the boys. But while writing didn't give me physical distancing from my all consuming role as a Mom--it did give me some mental space. 

Perhaps now, with everyone home and in each other's space so much more than usual, I have unconsciously defaulted to using my writing as a way of giving me a bit of a buffer zone from everyone who is physically and virtually around me. 

Whatever the reason, I'm just very grateful to be feeling creative despite all the insanity going on in the world.

But no matter what "Back to Life" means to you, I think it's hard to deny that there are some headlines popping up in the news that can shock me into a stupor or make me laugh so hard I almost pee my pants. It's a kinda fine line. To keep these eye-popping moments from pushing me towards despair, I've found it helps if I play a little game and ask myself...

If I put this in a novel, would an editor tell me it's too unbelievable and I need to take it out?

The game makes me laugh and occasionally sparks a real story. And we all need to laugh a little more and have our creativity sparked, so let's do this. Please leave your favorite headlines or mind boggling bits in the comments and know you are not just limited to one. 

But before I start, this comedian having a back to the future moment might warm you up...

Here's my Hey, Editor headlines...

*Gender Reveal Party Starts Massive El Dorado Fire in California.

*A $110 million sewage treatment plant will be named after comedian John Oliver.

*Denver is under a winter weather advisory two days after the city hit 101 degrees Fahrenheit.

*A University claims it prevented a coronavirus outbreak before it began--all thanks to poop.

Show me what you've got YA Outside the One-Liners. 

Sunday, September 6, 2020

Ready, Set ... Uh, Go? (Mary Strand)

This month we’re blogging at YA Outside the Lines about “back to life,” which is like “back to school,” but even less fun.

That was sort of a joke, but after six months of COVID-19, not really.


I’m not going back to school ... except for my ongoing Zoom guitar lessons, for which my teachers deserve combat pay. As I write this, my daughter is flying back to Boston for her junior year of college, whatever that turns out to be in this pandemic world of ours. Aside from begging her to take a selfie from her in-apartment quarantine tomorrow on her first day of classes, though, back to school is no longer a big deal once your kidlets are off at college, except that you have fewer people complaining that there’s no decent food in the house. Which, okay, there maybe isn’t.

But it’s September 1 (as I write this), and September 1 has always been my true “Happy New Year,” filled with resolutions and plans and hopes and dreams and all that good stuff. (January 1, being winter in Minnesota, doesn’t do much to inspire me.)

This year, the arrival of September means that we’ve been in a pandemic for six months, under quarantine for the first couple of months, and not much better than being under quarantine for the months that followed.

Except for songs, I haven’t written in six months. And writing novels is what I do.

It shouldn’t be a shock, really. I realized last week that I’ve been depressed for six months, and I write funny books. (In my opinion. ha ha.) Being me — which means someone who lives life at full tilt — I’ve been throwing myself into everything I could think of during the last six months (or, actually, the few things still allowed in this pandemic world), figuring that constant activity would fix what ailed me.

Hot tip: it didn’t. As a total extrovert in a world that’s now made almost exclusively for introverts, I’ve been circling the drain.


Seriously, I always give myself a do-over in September. Always, always, always. This year, it means it’s time to go back to living again. Time to reclaim my life. Tra la la.

In other words, it’s time to write. And to quit feeling miserable pretty much every moment that I’m not working out (God bless The Firm in Minneapolis!) or listening to live music (OH WAIT! NO LIVE MUSIC!) or traveling (OH WAIT! NO TRAVELING!) or hanging out with friends (OH WAIT! ALMOST NO ONE HANGS OUT ANYMORE!).

So, yeah. TODAY, despite the fact that nothing has changed, I’ll start writing novels again. TODAY. Because I’m a novelist, and I write novels, and they’re even pretty decent. Yep, I have no game plan except for that: I’m going to start writing again, and I’m going to somehow make it funny. TODAY.

Or certainly sometime this week.

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 marystrand.com.