Stepping Into My Debut Year

2016

                                                January 1st | Aliso Beach, CA

In the past year of publishing “rookie-dom,” I’ve grown accustomed to walking blindly into new situations. And last year, from my first edit letter, to my last round of revisions—there were a lot of them.

Now my debut year is finally here, and once again, I’ll be stepping into moments that take me several strides from my comfort zone. But that’s usually where the good stuff happens–when we reach past our usual, everyday boundaries, and stretch toward something new. Something different. Maybe even something we can’t see clearly.

steps

I believe strongly in painting a clear picture of my dreams and aspirations. I’ve filled cork boards with pictures and words torn from magazines, and have lists of goals etched in journals. They’ve served as touchstones over the years, keeping me on course, driving me past weariness and discouragement.

Reminding me to reach.

I’m currently at work on Book Two in the FLASHFALL series. It’s daunting at times. Writing a second book comes with all kinds of challenges, new sets of concerns and doubts. Expanding worlds, giving fresh arcs to old characters. I’m not even sure how to end it because a third book is just a glimmer of possibility.

But more than that, there’s the fear of simply writing. I wrote FLASHFALL differently. It was more than two years ago—I was a different writer, a different person in many ways. What if I don’t have “it” in me in the same way?

I will have to reach for something new.

pencils

                            A gift from my editor. Fortunately, she gave me options.

In the publishing world, there’s much rejection, disappointment, and disillusionment. I’ve felt them ALL, many times. But there’s also so much possibility if you don’t allow those things to have the final say.

I thought carefully about a word I’d choose as sort of a theme for 2016, one that captured my goals for this next season, these steps into debut territory. I stood on the beach on New Year’s Day, still not certain, not even when I picked up a bit of sea stone and bent toward the sand.

I suppose I shouldn’t  surprised. This one’s been calling to me for a long time.

reach

Reach . . . past failure. Learn from it. Use it to move forward.

Reach . . . for the absolute stars. How else will you get there?

Reach . . . despite other people’s doubts. Despite your own doubts.

Reach . . . inside yourself. Find the depths you didn’t know you had.

Reach . . . past fear, or you’ll never grab hold of your dreams.

As I stand on the cusp of this brand new year, I’m filled with gratitude. There’s uncertainty mixed in, but I remind myself there is freedom in embracing the unknown. Every page of this next book is a challenge, a charge into new territory, but I’m going to dive in. There will be crap writing days–times when I reach for words that won’t come, or plot lines that allude my grasp. On those days I’ll look at my little beach stone on my desk. It will remind me of what I wrote in the sand during a time when all I saw was possibility.

Maybe this will inspire your own journey. Maybe you need this word, this reminder, as much as I do. Or maybe you have your own.

Whatever you do this new year, I hope you find the courage to do it bravely.

A Dreamer Becomes an Author

RejectionLetters 2015-09-02 at 5.44.57 PM

                                                Me and my rejection letters

Two days to deadline–I should be editing instead of blogging, but I wanted to share this.

Many of you know that my publishing journey has been filled with ups and downs, many rejections, and times I nearly quit believing in myself and the possibility of a dream I held in my heart for so many years.

This video makes me cry (in the good way) because Jacob captured so much of that in these images. *

I still recall the sting of rejection, and the way every failed opportunity bruised my heart a little–but MORE than that, I remember the people who cheered me past it–who believed in me even when I only felt doubt.

I’ve held on to my rejection letters (literally hundreds of them) for years. Even on days of discouragement, I imagined myself one day holding up that stack and saying, “This happened, BUT . . .”

Rejection doesn’t have to define us. The desire to create art or tell stories doesn’t end with the evaluation of other people. We do it because we love it. That’s really what got me to this point. I decided I was going to keep writing, whether I ever published or not.

It’s funny, but that’s when I wrote FLASHFALL. I had an agent interested in another manuscript, but I felt compelled to work on this new book. It was personal for me, and it poured out in cathartic ways–the story of a girl who got knocked down again and again, but didn’t give up because she believed there was a way past a terrifying, impassable wall.

“This happened, BUT . . .”

If that’s you–a dreamer coming up against barriers–try to see them instead as steps along the way, motivation to push creative boundaries and work harder. If you can carve out time to do what you love–what feeds your soul–than you are already winning. You’ve succeeded. And yes–we want an audience, people who will experience and feel moved by what we’ve created. So find that friend, or critique partner or writing group.

Give voice to the things your heart is saying.

*thank you to my amazing husband and the team at Luminary, for your creative talents, and for helping me share my publishing story in ways more powerful than words.

 

 

Do Pitch Contests Help or Hurt?

Today is the crazy Twitter pitching frenzy that is #PitMad.

I proudly claim veteran status of this writing contest, and many others like it. Now that I’m on the ‘other side’ of the query trenches–agent and book deals in hand–I’m asked by many writers if contests like this help or hurt.

Pitch contests can take you on an emotional rollercoaster ride with the hype, the excitement, the swelling hope…and the sometimes letdown.  I know writers who find this process harder than querying.  Don’t get me wrong–I think querying writers should use every opportunity to get their work in front of agents–but I’ve learned that you have to keep contests in perspective so you don’t emerge crushed (and convinced you should throw your book out the window.)

Contests can help writers if they keep a few key things in mind:

#1: Use the opportunity to HONE YOUR PITCH/HOOK/LOGLINE.  Ditto with the first 250 words.  Make them as strong and grabby as they can be and LEARN from the other writers doing the same thing…

#2 Check out the websites of any agents that request to see your manuscript. What authors do they represent? What books have they sold? Make sure they’re legit, and someone you’d want to represent you. The old adage ‘a bad agent is worse than no agent’ is entirely TRUE. On the positive side, I found contests to be a great way to discover and connect with agents.

#3 DON’T LET A PASS GET YOU DOWN (for long) It’s subjective–just like in the real query world. Find encouragement from all the other writers in your boat, then hone your pitch and let the experience springboard you back into querying. (and writing and revising!)

#4 MEET OTHER AWESOME WRITERS This is the REAL gem of contests. I’ve met some of the best critique partners this way–not to mention fellow writers who motivated and encouraged me in the query trenches. There is so much we can learn from each other and from our shared experiences.

#5 WHEN ALL ELSE FAILS, WRITE THE NEXT BOOK  Is your MS drifting in an endless sea of rejection? Maybe it’s time to set it aside (for now) and dive in to that next book. Nearly every author I know has at least one “shelved” book. (It was my THIRD book that led to my agent and book deals.

So, to all the writers who bravely put themselves out on the proverbial rejection ledge, whether through contests or traditional querying–congratulations on taking risks and moving toward your goals!

NEVER EVER EVER EVER GIVE UP.

For additional motivation:

 

Courage for Dreamers: (In which I get a Tattoo)

dream signIMG_4363

It’s interesting, the things that give us courage. Sometimes it only takes a few words to remind us of what’s true, and we are suddenly braver than our fears.

Many things inspire me. I surround myself with images and quotes that serve as touchstones, helping me find my way on a path that can be lonely and doubt-filled at times. Going after your dreams can be terrifying. With every door that closes, you must decide whether or not to try again. You weigh the risks and ask yourself to count the cost of hurt and discouragement. How much is a dream—a difficult, unlikely dream—truly worth?

I could never have made it this far without the family and friends who’ve supported me and encouraged me to believe—to keep reaching. They helped me be brave when my doubts and fears seemed bigger than the possibilities. My book deals—and all that’s happened this past year, still seem surreal. I wanted to mark this time in a special way.

So I got a tattoo.

TattooIMG_4358

C.S. Lewis is one of my favorite authors, and this is from his book, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Edmund, Lucy and Caspian sail into Darkness, and everyone is afraid. They can’t find their way, and their fears begin to materialize around them. A seagull circles the mast, and Lucy hears Aslan say, “Courage, dear heart.” They follow the gull back into the light. I have always loved this quote. These words hang near my computer and I’ve looked at them after reading countless rejection letters. I have felt like Lucy many times.

So now I wear them. On my writing hand—to remind me to write bravely. And also as a reminder of how far I’ve come. I hope to inspire other artists and dreamers.

Sometimes, all we need is the right voice—at just the right time.

Take risks, dream big. Never give up.

Courage, dear heart.

Edit Letters and Revision Caves

After months of waiting, I received my edit letter for FLASHFALL. Since then, I’ve been fully immersed in the Revision Cave. And since my book is about caving, this is more than a metaphor for me—I have literally been down some freakish caverns for the past few weeks!

 

My FLASHFALL manuscript in the midst of structural revisions. Sticky-note pile are completed edits!

My FLASHFALL manuscript in the midst of structural revisions. Sticky-notes in the pile are completed edits!

 

I’m currently a week from deadline, (and ironically I’m in my pajamas, messy hair in a bun, sitting beside a bag of chocolate—the author deadline cliché) but thought I’d post a glimpse of what this stage of the revision process looks like. (Ignore the piles of laundry and the fast food bags littering the cave–no judgment during deadline week.)

 

Every writer has a different process, and mine looks different depending on what stage of revisions I’m in. Since these are first round edits, they are more big idea, structural revisions. Some deal with plot points, shaping and pacing suggestions, and character and world-building development. My edit letter was seven pages long, and I took each one of Kate’s questions/thoughts and printed it on a card that then went on the Revision Board. This helps me keep my revision goals clear as I work through the manuscript and make sure to address each one.

 

My edit letter broken down and organized according to things I need to cut, add, develop, or change

My edit letter broken down and organized according to things I need to cut, add, develop, or change

 

At this stage, there is a lot of what my agent calls ‘the thinking part of writing.’ When you remove a character or scenes, you have to work through how you’re going to ‘re-connect the dots’ plot-wise and in terms of a character’s arc. I like to explore a lot of this on paper (on a printed manuscript and with tons of sticky-notes) before I alter the actual manuscript on my laptop. Some writers are already working in Track Changes (Microsoft Word) with their editors at this point. I have only experienced that with line edits, and this process works well for me.

 

After this, I’ll have a second round of revisions to make, followed by line edits, then eventually copyedits. During that time, I’ll probably start seeing some cover designs (EEEE!!) and I’ll continue to work steadily on BOOK TWO. More about all that as the process unfolds . . .

 

If any of you are in Revision Caves of your own, hang in there! It’s daunting at times, but I’ve found that if you take it note by note, it feels less overwhelming. When I started a few weeks ago, I had over 200 post-it notes stuck to my manuscript and Revision Board. I pulled the last one off yesterday. It was an incredible feeling. But honestly, the best feeling is reading over a new scene that wasn’t there before and feeling the magic in the words, and knowing you were pushed to write something better, with more depth than you had originally.

 

It’s all worth it. That’s my mantra during revisions. That, and–if you just finish one more you can have a piece of chocolate.

 

If you need some encouragement, come say ‘hi’ on Twitter. You don’t have to be alone in the Cave. I have lots of chocolate in my little corner over here, and I totally share.

 

Happy writing!

To see a video of me in this process, click here.