Hello, it's me
I was wondering if after all these weeks if I should blog
To remind you I'm still here
They say that editing is hard work
But makes the story better
Hello, are you still there?
I'm in Canada chanined to my computer, writing all the words
For not one but three
Books that I cannot wait to share with all of you some time soon
There's such a difference from the first draft
And the final one
Okay, that's too hard for nine o'clock at night after a long day. But, I bet you can guess what I've been doing? Editing, editing, editing. I love having editors. They find all of the places my books need help with the sole purpose of making it shine. They answer my emails even when I've sent too many and they've got lots of projects on the go. They're invested in making the story as good as it can be. This reminds me of a great, great quote from one of the shows I watch, Madame Secretary:
And, if I can impart one thing today: A small simple truth to carry with you as you walk through those gates It’s this: ACHIEVEMENT IS OFTEN ANONYMOUS. SOME OF THE GREATEST THINGS HAVE BEEN DONE BY PEOPLE YOU HAVE NEVER HEARD OF, QUIETLY DEDICATING THEIR LIVES TO IMPROVING YOUR OWN!
Isn't that a great quote? And it is true of so many things in life. Any successful person you see has champions behind them, pushing them forward and lifting them up. And though editors aren't anonymous (open up the book you're reading and you'll find them in there) they are those quiet people in the background helping authors make the story better, stronger...more. So while I've been busy this last little while in an effort to get some books out to readers, I haven't been doing it alone.So tonight's post is short and sweet...it's just a shout out and thank you to editors, but particularly my own. You're several shades of awesome.
Surprisingly, the hardest part of writing, is not writing. In Amy Poehler's Yes Please, she titles her preface "Writing is Hard". But even as she talks about this, she says she can write a scene or skit in record time. Because putting the words down on the page is not always the most challenging part. It's everything that comes with it, after it, that can be soul-sucking hard. But if you want it, like really want to hold your book in your hands (and yes, e-books count), you have to accept that no matter how easily the words come, there is so much more to writing a story than getting words on a page.
Not gonna lie: EDITING IS HARD. It feels like putting together a 1000 piece puzzle, knocking it over, and starting again. But not being allowed to put the pieces back in the same order you did last time. And maybe not using all of the same pieces. And maybe not even using the same puzzle. Sometimes it's like scrapping the first puzzle, except for the corner pieces, and going with a brand new one. You're not even sure it's possible to do that. Because IT'S HARD. But it's satisfying to see something that you love, a piece of you, become something more, something bigger. Something that elicits all of the feelings in your readers that you meant to. And, rarely can you do that the first time around.
Making connections without being annoying
I'm still working on this one. I've made so many amazing and wonderful connections and I don't use those words lightly. The people I've met since I started writing are so supportive- offering advice and feedback and direction. I've developed what I know will be lifelong friendships with many people and there are many that I truly hope to meet in real life. However, I often feel like the tag along, the third wheel, the annoying girl who asks a deliberately complicated question in class when the professor says you can go early if there's no more questions. NO ONE HAS MADE ME FEEL THIS WAY. Which reminds me that my biggest problem is that I find myself annoying. I can't get out of my brain and it would likely be awkward if I did. So I annoy myself and then read into every little thing that means nothing and end up annoying myself more. Make connections. Be yourself. Chances are good, most people will like us just fine. Trust them. They're cool people that you admire and they don't have to help you. Most people engage and connect because they want to. And if you're genuine, open, and considerate, there's really no reason that they would find you a nuisance. Unless you're being annoying.
Listening to feedback AND ACTUALLY USING IT
This is a funny one because I didn't think I was bad at listening to or using feedback. When someone would say that I might want to change something or rethink it, I'd simply tell them why that's not what worked in my story. I listened. I heard. And they were wrong. I have improved in this area. Mostly. It is hard to take feedback and even harder to change things in a story that matters to you. But those people above, that you trust and admire? If they're willing to give you their opinion, listen. If your best friend is an insatiable reader and gets stuck on your plot line and wants you to succeed so therefore mentions it, LISTEN. You don't have to take all the advice or everyone's advice. But you have to be open about accepting constructive criticism if you really intend to grow and actually want to sell your work. If you believe the support group you have wants the best for you, then trust them. But trust yourself too. Ultimately, the story is yours. But if you plan to share it, you have to see it from other points of view.
I write notes to my daughters on their bathroom mirror every week. Sometimes I use erasable marker, sticky notes, or scraps of paper. Words matter. I love them. So I share them with my girls in this way and many others. This week I wrote, "If you tell yourself you can't do something, you won't. So tell yourself you can." That sounds all poetic and inspiring (and hopefully they're not someone else's words-- if they are, thank you for the quote) but if you were to check my iMessages, Facebook messages, or Twitter direct messages from this week, you would see the irony in ME writing that quote. Because in the last couple weeks, I've told myself repeatedly that I can't. Amy Poehler has a chapter about the plain girl versus the demon. The demon is the voice we all have that makes us feel negative about ourselves. (BTW: this is such an awesome chapter of writing. You should read it.) The thing about that voice is, you have to make them be quiet. They won't all the time, but you at least have to try to talk over it. One thing I realized is that I was measuring my success in the wrong way. Instead of letting all of the things that are happening sink in, instead of truly celebrating, my mean voice keeps telling me all of the things I have not yet achieved. I have a book coming out in April with my co-writer, Kara Leigh Miller. We have a second one coming out later in the year (if she'd just focus-- don't worry, that wasn't mean. She will laugh). And I have a picture book coming out in January 2016. My mean voice shouldn't get to talk for a few months at least. But it interrupts me constantly. We have to not let it.
There are thousands of quotes online about failure making you stronger, about great people before you who did not succeed the first several times they tried. Those stories are there for a reason. Instead of getting caught up in the fact that you got rejected, it's time to start asking why. I'm looking back now at a story that I love and was very personal to me. It got lots of attention and several full requests. But it ultimately got rejected. There is absolutely no point in focusing on this detail. Instead, I have to look at WHY and change it. So I'm going to go do that and if it still gets rejected, I have to decide if I want to shelve it for a while. I didn't think I could handle rejection well. But I'm doing okay. It really doesn't break you. If you want it badly enough, rejection will make you fight harder. Except on the days that it just completely sucks and you can't stay positive. Then you turn to those people that have all been there, the ones who will support you and pull you back up. Not too long ago I messaged a lovely writer friend and I didn't even say I was going to flat out quit. I was just being miserable and sad. And her message said: STEP AWAY FROM THE LEDGE. It made me laugh and I thought, not only does she get it (because that's exactly what it felt like) but she's right there. Be that person for someone else. I feel so lucky to have those people that help me face it and move on to be better. And, they make you laugh. That fixes a lot of things.
Other than actually putting the words on the page, what is the hardest part for you?
Writing has always been something that has come easily to me. I whip off genuine, personalized report cards in a day. I can write a blog post in under ten minutes. I wrote my first novel (without edits) in four weeks. When the story is there for me, it's not difficult to get it down on paper. That's not bragging-- it's just the way I've always written. Having said that, in the past, my writing has always been for me so it hasn't mattered that there were glitches in the plot or character inconsistencies. Now that I'm actively trying to make my stories stand out above others, to make my writing catch the eye of an agent, what was once good has to be spectacular. Good is not good enough and speed doesn't count for anything.
It's difficult to separate yourself from your writing long enough to see the faults and weaknesses. I'm okay with having them and I'm okay with fixing them but the thing that is hard for me is narrowing in on where they are. This is why it's so important to utilize the feedback that anyone, particularly anyone in the writing/publishing/editing/agenting industry, has to offer. The people that I have "met" in the last year through social media and because of putting myself out there as a writer, have been incredibly supportive and kind and positive. I feel as close to some of them as I do to some of the friends that live down the road from me. I believe you can establish strong bonds and friendships via social media and email. It's new age pen pals. The difference, however, is the personal element is removed so they can, perhaps, offer that extra bit of hard criticism you need. Why? Because even though they like all your statuses on Facebook and retweet your tweets, even though you chat more frequently with them than others who live a few minutes away, they haven't seen you cry when you get a rejection letter or laugh like an idiot when you get amazing feedback. They know you but they don't KNOW you. This can be a very good thing for a writer as it allows them to be a stronger critic. There's an element of detachment that comes with online friendship that can only be changed by actually physically meeting. And I hope that one day I get to meet some of the amazing people that have befriended me. In fact, I already have met some of them and it's a pretty awesome feeling when they're just as cool as you thought they'd be. However, until I meet the others, I can let that buffer level of detachment work in my favor. They can be just a little harsher than my best friend who has to put up with me being moody when she tells me what I know is the truth. If they don't want to deal with my irritation over pointing out something that needs fixing, they can move away from the computer. Trust me, my best friend can't. I will show up at her house cause I'm fifty shades of needy and clingy like that.
So the point is, I'm going to spend some time really letting the feedback wash over me, knowing that these people who are offering me pointers and suggestions, for some reason, want me to succeed. I've said it before but it bears repeating: writers are the most supportive, encouraging group of competitors you could align yourself with. I guess it's because there can never be too many books. Or maybe it's because the same story can be told a million different and compelling ways. Whatever the reason, the writer's I've met want every bit as badly as I do to succeed. But they fall over themselves with praise, feedback, encouragement, and their valuable time to make sure I'm right there with them.
For the next little bit, I will be drawing on them to help me make my work the strongest it can be. I will also be checking out as many articles, blogs, posts,and websites as I can. Here's what I'm starting with this week:
Any good sites you'd recommend for character development or building conflict? Share.
It would make sense that someone who writes has a plethora of words in their brain, ready to be used in efficient and beautiful ways. This might be true when there is pen and paper or keyboards and screens involved but, for me, when it is time to be verbal, it would seem I have run out of words. Several times, just today, I have had sentences go like this:
While cleaning today, I got upset with my kids twice (or twice x a lot) because they weren't following directions. They answered, "But you said _______!" To which I would then reply, "But that's not what I meant!" Why don't they know what I meant to say? And why can't I say what started out sounding normal in my brain? If you're lucky, you have people that "get" you. They understand what words need to be used in the blanks or when you say the exact opposite of what you really need to say. My best friend calls this "speaking fluent Jody". The more I write, the more important it seems for people to start understanding the language I now speak: the language where I used up all of the good words in my writing and am now left with a very tiny word bank. This bank mostly consists of "um", "you know", "but", "huh?", "uh".
While this might seem amusing, consider my predicament when I'm trying to get my way with my husband or trying to prove to someone that I am, indeed, quite educated. Not easy. Especially since very recently, my verbal genius included pronouncing "ruching" as "rush-et-ing". Yup. As I said, despite having many of them written on paper, there, really, are no words.
Tell me I'm not alone with my inability to form complete sentences when I need to speak aloud. What's the funniest mispronunciation you've heard or said?
Last week I wrote about how I started my journey of "professional" writing. If you missed the first one, just scroll down to last week's blog to catch up.
When I ended last week, I told you I had a scheduled blue pencil session and a pitch session. Common sense helped me pick who I wanted to sit down with: I looked through the lists of authors and agents and chose people that worked with or represented what I'd brought with me to the conference. Sometimes, as I did with Tanya and Carly, you take what you read about them and then just go with your gut. Before I tell you how my sessions went, I'll point out what I should have done to be more prepared. When I think about what I didn't know when I attended, I realize how lucky I am to have been successful.
What I should have known before I went:
So, what was it like?
What came next? The biggest part of this whole process: the waiting. There is a lot of waiting in this industry. So I tried, unsuccessfully, to pretend that it didn't matter if Carly emailed. I was surprised by how much being surrounded by writers and books inspired me to write. Since I came home from the conference, I have not stopped doing three things: writing, reading, and waiting.
So how did it end? Not that the journey is over but what was the result of going and putting my writing out there for others to read? While you may think you know what I will write in next week's third and final blog in this series, I can promise you, you do not. Even I did not know how this particular journey would end until this week. Where am now in my journey? What's it like to get the phone call from an agent who wants to represent your work? How can you prepare for that phone call? You'll have to come back next week and read the third in this three part series to find out!
What stage of your writing journey are you at? What do you find most difficult?
When I was little I would get out some paper and a pen or pencil and call myself a writer. What more could anyone need if they wanted to write stories? When my daughters want to write, they ask if I can get off the laptop, if they can use the iPad, or go onto the desk top computer. Lots of times, I tell them that they have to use the old fashion method of paper and ink. I think there's power in this for them. As a writer, there is still something that moves me about writing the words that fumble around in my brain down on a piece of paper and reading over it, realizing that it's become something more than jumbled words. We can backspace and delete on our laptops but I believe pen to paper will always have value. That can be another post.
When I was in high school I got a very nice Smith Corona typewriter. When something really mattered, I'd type up a final draft on that. In University, I purchased my own computer and parted ways with my pen and paper unless necessary. As I've waded into the waters of "professional" writing (sharing with an agent, getting an agent, being on submission), I've come to realize that there are many more tools necessary for today's aspiring authors. It's more than just the medium we use to get our words down; much more.
In teaching (I teach elementary), we need to be very aware of (and hopefully utilizing) 'best practices'. This means that we are up to date on current research and information on how to facilitate student success. It is very similar in writing. It is not just paper, pen, a list of agencies to query, and some stamps anymore. What does today's writer need in their toolkit?
What else? What's important in your writing toolkit? What makes you stronger or more confident as a writer?
I stopped watching American Idol because I grew tired of it and fell in love with The Voice. While I watched, however, I always wondered about the contestants that gave new meaning to the phrase 'tone deaf'. I'm sure some of it was staged but some of those people that absolutely should not have been trying out, really thought they might get through. Every time one of those contestants tried out, I wondered the same thing: "Doesn't anyone love them? Respect them? Don't they have one, just one, person in their lives that will tell them the truth?" The truth, for them, being that they can't sing; at all. Sure, it made for good T.V. but those people stood for hours in line ups, hopefully waiting for their chance to share their 'gift'. Even though it would not be easy to tell your friend, your co-worker, or family member that they should never sing, certaintly not on live television, it would help them more in the long run.
As the person who can't sing (this may turn out to be metaphorical), it's hard to hear the truth. I'm actually not sure if it's harder to hear it from the people that love or care for you or from complete strangers. Logically, you know that the ones who care for you have your best interests at heart. These are the same people that, if you can sing, will support and applaud you; the same people that will pick you up when you fall. If you can trust those people to help you up when you're down, then it's important to trust them when they're telling you what you don't want to hear.
Easier said than done, I know. How do I know? Because I'm lucky enough to have people in my life that would stop me from singing on live television. Or, in my case, people that will say that my writing needs work, could be stronger, or is missing something crucial. As artists, and I use this word to encompass whatever your craft may be, it's hard to hear that something we feel we've put our heart into is not received with adoration. However, we are attached to what we've produced in a way that others aren't and that is, ultimately, to our great benefit. Again, if you trust a small group of people to be there during the good times, you need to trust them during the hard times or 'in progress' times. These are the people that want you to go in front of the live audience and succeed. Sometimes, to do that, you have step back and strongly consider what they're trying to tell you.
This is how I approach my writing (and rewriting), even though it's difficult to know it's not coming out perfectly the first time. I want to be good at what I do and it's hard, for kids and adults alike, to realize that even when you are good at something, it takes a lot of effort to be more than good; to be great. Since I've started spending large chunks of my time writing, I have been reading about writing, editing, blogging, and publishing. It is amazing to me that I can have a degree in English, have been teaching for ten years, spend my days helping kids write, and have been writing personally for years, but still have so much to learn. This is why, I listen to those that know better or who aren't as close to the piece of writing as I am.
I feel profoundly grateful to have the people in my life that push me to be better. If you listen with an open mind, the words you hear will make you stronger, and in turn, make your work stronger. When I was having my first child, my mom told me to pick one person that I trust, really trust, and take their advice. She told me I'd be getting lots of advice from 'experts' and that can be very overwhelming. It was good advice, because whether someone had a child or not, they had ideas on what made for good parenting.
Choosing to do this for my writing was a good move as well.I can't listen to every good or bad piece of feedback I get because I think I'd get lost within it. So I chose people that I trust: my agent, my best friend, and a close work friend to really be honest with me. I trust them to ask me the hard questions, make me rethink my own thoughts, and push my writing to a new level. I take their suggestions to heart in hopes that it will make me a better writer because I know that's what they want for me. It's not always easy to hear that they don't love a certain twist that I thought was going to capture attention or that maybe they don't connect with the character the way I do, but by trusting them, I can re-evaluate and, in most cases, see their point of view. So far, trusting in them has made me much prouder are more certain of my final products.
Part of this willingness to accept feedback and critiques might stem from being a teacher. As a teacher, I constantly ask myself, what can I do better, how can I connect more, how can I make it more meaningful? These are the same questions I should be asking myself as a writer. Just like with parenting advice and my writing, I have a select group of colleagues that I trust to tell me 'hey, that's a really good idea' and know they mean it. If I trust them enough for that, however, I feel like I owe it to myself to trust them enough when they say, 'hey, if you try 'this', it might work out better'.
Truth and trust are important words. As a teacher, I want parents to trust that I have their child's best interest at heart. As a mom, I want my kids to trust that maybe, just maybe, I could be right about something. As a friend, I want my other friends to trust that I wouldn't say something looked great on them if it didn't and watch them buy it while biting my tongue. We have to learn to trust the people that we surround ourselves with and accept that sometimes they might have to give us some hard truths. In the end, these truths can make us stronger, better, and sometimes, even braver. If we know that they will tell us both the good and the bad, then we can rest easy, knowing they wouldn't let us sing on national television, unless we were really, really good and ready.
I've never shared my writing with many people. In high school, I wrote poetry (like every angst ridden teen) and some plays. One play was performed by a group of us, so I did share it a bit. Once I went to university, my writing, other than for academics, came to a standstill. As I finished school, I might get the odd burst of need to write something down. A few years ago, I really got back into writing by taking a university writing course to meet my Post Bac. Degree requirements. I started writing short stories, poetry, and short and full length plays. I suppose that was what reopened the door for me. Since that course, I have played with writing now and again but about two years ago, I started feeling more driven to write. I felt like I had to write something. Having said that, the time I wasn't writing, I was posting articles online and some in the newspaper so I suppose writing has never really exited my life completely. Still, I've never felt such an energy for writing as I do now. I started a couple years ago with a story about my oldest daughter and it kind of snowballed from there. After attending a writing conference this last October and being blessed enough to receive representation from an agent, I decided that now is the time. If I'm going to write for anyone other than myself, now is the best time to do that because I have someone who is in the industry willing to read my work and guide me.
I'm becoming better at sharing my writing, as a result. And as a result of that, my writing, itself, is becoming stronger. Before I send things to my agent, I want to make sure I'm not wasting her time. So I send to my very best friend and another close friend for revisions, edits, and overall impressions. I specifically asked that they not be gentle with me because there's no use pretending something is good when it isn't. Besides that, I have a feel for it anyway. Kind of like when you cook something that tastes awful and people say, "No, no, this is good." I know when food doesn't taste good and I know when my writing is not at it's strongest. However, the benefit, I've found, in sharing it, is that 'beta-readers' do more than just provide edits. They provide questions and they act as your audience. They help you fill in the gaps and see that maybe you're not presenting what you meant to.
A lot of people, now that I am letting them see it, ask where I find the time to write. This is the question I often ask of people who say they work out an hour a day. Where do I find the time? In tiny little pockets that show up and in time that is provided for me by my lovely husband who will sometimes take the kids out for a bit.
Sometimes, it's a real challenge; I will admit that. I get that feeling that I have to get something down on paper but that doesn't mean I don't have to cook dinner, give baths, make lunches, do laundry, do marking or planning, or read to my kids. So, I look for those pockets and I make the most of them. Kids gone to the park with dad? I'm writing. Husband watching T.V.? I'm writing. Actually, if I'm watching T.V., I'm often writing as well. I'm often writing while my daughters are asking me three dozen questions or telling me about the life cycle of some animal I've never heard of.
I want (and need) to believe that my writing doesn't throw anything off balance. I hope that my kids don't feel like something is missing, but honestly, I don't think they do. We spend lots of time together and one of the most wonderful things that has happened as a result of my new-found desire to write as much as possible, is that my kids are writing; A LOT! My ten year old wrote a beautiful song yesterday. My six year old wrote about saving the Wood Thrush (she's a little hooked on Wild Kratt's). It's a pleasure to see them spend time and energy on something that means so much to me. It's also nice to see them work this into their schedule; should I write or watch T.V.? Write or play? Write or color? Write or drive my sister nuts while she writes? That last one often wins out for my youngest.
So yes, it's a balancing act; but I wouldn't/couldn't change it anymore than the person who absolutely has to get their work out in or manages to walk their dog at 5 a.m. (I could NOT do that). When you love something though, when you feel like something is an essential part of you, balancing it does not seem difficult. In fact, while I'm balancing everything else, it often seems feels like it's the break I need.