- You write in an effervescent, breathless style that makes you think of tiny, tiny bubbles in champagne that tickles your nose. You know it tickles your nose because hundreds of writers have insisted this is so.
- You must repeat words. Especially adjectives. Especially simple yet descriptive adjectives like fresh and soft and tiny and smooth.
- Also fragments and short sentences. As many as you have the stomach for. A firm, taut stomach or a poochy, loveable stomach. Any kind of stomach. The type of stomach does not matter.
- Lists shine like chronicles of diamond brilliance. Everyone loves lists because NUMBERS and PERIODS. Even if you actually have no structure whatsoever, a list will make it seem like your mind works in an orderly yet quirky fashion.
- Irony oozes out of your articles like fresh, fresh honey. It hardens into impenetrable armor that allows you to say what you want with fewer repercussions because no one can entirely tell where the irony ends and the truth begins.
- Or fuck, you can also just swear a whole fucking lot so you sound like you have a goddamned edge, like maybe you’re a little angry but also you’re just so fucking cool that everyone should shut the fuck up and listen to what you have to say, which is good old-fashioned hard-nosed no-shit wisdom, y’know?
- But if you’ve already got some of the manic pixie dream girl vibe going on, then the gentle sarcasm-dripping flow of honey armour is definitely the way to go. People will love you. They will love you so much, they will share your article on Facebook without ever knowing your name. Eventually you can start the next Toast except named after a different breakfast food or maybe crème brûlée.
- Your irony is like a scythe if you’ve ever used a scythe. Otherwise it’s like the X-acto blade in sixth grade art class. You make long careful cuts against the grain of society’s bullshit. Long, smooth cuts. Long, incisive cuts. Long, insightful, sharp yet understanding cuts that are way healthier than the way physicians used to practice bloodletting on sick people via cupping or leaches.
- You can also use ridiculous metaphors and not-very-obscure historical and pop culture references that may or may not apply. Either way you will be creating sly but searing commentary. People will think you are clever.
- It also helps if you include a refined and artful graphic related in some way to the past. Here is an 18th century painting. Here is a bucolic landscape. Here is a brass lamp that is definitely more than ten years old. Even better if you can insert either a sweet sense of superiority or a relevant allusion to one of today’s societal woes.
- Suddenly you know how to write tongue-in-cheek articles about Seattlites’ obsession with bridges, men’s urges to make a pass at you while you’re crying, Burners’ conviction that by not going to Burning Man, you are missing out on the greatest experience known to man, and the strange propensity to want others to admit you have it worse than them while simultaneously acknowledging your innate and glowing greatness.
- You also begin to plan the most ironic post on dating that has ever been conceived by a human mind. It will be scathing but human. Bitter but sweet. Absurd but relatable. Your single friends will read it and laugh. Your married friends will read it and polish their rings.
- Bubbles. Fresh. Fresh fresh bubbles. We all love bubbles and freshness and everything about this post that makes us remember that pleasant sensation of being too clever and fresh and laundered to breathe. Like a magazine ad. Like crisp ironed cotton. Like a blog post that has gone at least one list item too far.
Archive for the ‘Writing’ Category
Once upon a time I was talking to someone about my writing. And this person said to me, “Yeah, but if you don’t succeed in a year or so, you’d probably quit and try something else, right?”
And I thought to myself, “Wow, we are really not on the same page here. In fact, we are so far apart I don’t know that there’s anything I can do to change that.”
So when I recently read an essay by Matthew Weiner, the creator of Mad Men, I was happy to see the following:
“The most defeatist thing I hear is, “I’m going to give it a couple of years.” You can’t set a clock for yourself. If you do, you are not a writer. You should want it so badly that you don’t have a choice. You have to commit for the long haul.”
I don’t know about the “should” in that statement, but for me, the sentiment is true. I’ve been a writer since I was seven. When I wasn’t writing prose, I was writing music and lyrics. This impulse to write is so deeply buried in who I am, I don’t have the first idea how I’d extricate it. Nor would I want to.
Because commitment matters. As Elizabeth Bear says, “…to succeed at a thing–a job, a relationship–in the long term, the thing is: You Must Commit, even though commitment is scary.”
I used to joke that I had commitment issues because I like to take a bit of time before I commit. I’m a “stick my toe in the water to test the temperature” kind of person, and then I hesitate at the first step or two of the pool, thinking about how cold the water is and wondering if this is actually a good idea, and then suddenly I rush all the way in, and I’m done. I’m committed.
But the reason I like to take my time is because once I commit, I AM COMMITTED. And I will put everything I have into whatever it is. So being a little cautious at the beginning is an important protective measure.
Do I think this means I make better decisions? I have no idea. It’s part of my temperament, more than anything else. And I still make mistakes, and I still have failures, and I still make commitments I wish I hadn’t made, not because of failure so much as because the price I paid was too high.
Ultimately I think commitment requires a lot of trust: trust in whatever or whoever you’re committing to, yes, but perhaps even more importantly, trust in yourself. Trust that you can be there–really show up–for yourself. Trust that you can brave the storms and survive the failures. Trust that you can keep learning, that you can keep adjusting, that you can keep in touch with the things that matter to you. Trust that you can leave old commitments behind if it is time. Trust, even, that you can keep trusting instead of clamming up so tight it will become impossible to function in an open-hearted way. (Or, if that’s where you are, that you can figure out how to begin opening that heart back up.)
And finally, trust that we can’t always know and yet we must act anyway. None of us know what the future will bring. We can do our research and collect data, we can try things out, we can discuss the pros and cons, but ultimately, at that point of commitment, there is a LEAP. That leap is unavoidable. And it is terrifying. And it is glorious.
So if I had actually answered the question this person had asked me instead of being polite, I would have said, “What? No, are you kidding? I took the leap to write seriously years ago, and so far it has been a fabulous decision. It’s not always easy, by any stretch of the imagination, and I don’t know when or if I’ll succeed in the way I want. But NO REGRETS. On the contrary, I feel incredibly lucky to be doing this at all. And I really doubt I’ll stop in a year’s time, whatever happens. I kind of doubt I’ll ever stop. I guess we’ll find out.”
Here’s to that glory.
When you have a lot on your mind, going to the Rainforest Writers Retreat is a pretty great thing to do.
There’s something so freeing about having no cell reception. No one can reach you. NO ONE. Even the internet is unreliable and spotty, and by Saturday it sputtered out almost completely.
Without the internet and my cell phone, the world grows large once more. Large, and quiet. There is extra space around myself and every action I take. I can relax into myself and really listen. I care about depth, and with more space I can sink in and take a look at the heart of things. I can see what I feel, and why I feel, and what has happened, and where I might go next.
Also I write. I write and write, and then I write some more. I write until my characters and their stories feel almost as real as everything else around me. I become intoxicated on writing, and my brain feels slippery, and the words rise up from where they’ve been coiled inside me, and I emerge feeling dazed and virtuous and a little bit raw around the edges.
Also I spend time with my friends. We talk about what’s going on with our lives, and we listen to and support each other, and we laugh until our diaphragms hurt, and we eat a lot of salmon and soup, and they drink lots of Scotch and whiskey while I have my signature drink. When we aren’t talking about other things, we are talking about writing, and it is such a grand relief to talk to people who understand what it is to have writing inhabit such an integral role in life.
I live, I write. I overflow with happiness, I write. Everything goes to shit, I write. I’m done with so…many…things, just done, I write. And when I don’t write, that’s when I fear the most. Writing isn’t like breathing, not really, but when there are no words, when they’ve all dried up and I feel as fragile as spun sugar, it’s never a good thing.
And sharing this backbone with other people, it makes me feel more known.
You never know in advance which decisions are going to prove to be particularly good ones. But going to Rainforest for the first time was definitely one of them.
Before this last weekend, I hadn’t attended a convention in a year. And the last convention I attended was somewhat memorable.
Before I left for ConFusion last week, I told myself I had to take it easy. I had been sick for much of the three or four weeks preceding the con, and in addition to that, I’ve been a bit burned out, which seems to mostly mean I’m more tired than usual and have less social energy. I’ve been forcing myself to go out some, but wow, am I much more of an introvert than I usually am.
The perfect time to go to a con!
(Cue maniacal laughter.)
I’ve found it difficult to explain the experience of attending a con as a early-career writer to people who have never been to a con and are not writers, but I will try now. It is incredibly intense. It is both one of the best times ever and an enormous amount of work. It sounds like a big party, and it kind of is, but you never forget you’re there because of writing, which is one of the most important things in your life, and therefore everything that happens at a con has the tendency to take on an overinflated importance. It is difficult to avoid some feelings of being judged, and this doesn’t seem to go away even for many seasoned pros.
The entire con experience is laced through with an undercurrent of PRESSURE. Pressure to make good use of the time because you spent a bunch of money to be there. Pressure to sound intelligent and not say anything incredibly stupid or offensive. Especially on a panel or when talking to a writer you particularly admire. Pressure to smooth over social awkwardness. Pressure to find someone to talk to at the bar. Pressure to prove yourself. Pressure to find an interesting topic to discuss or be on Twitter more or make sure your opinions have some actual thought behind them. Whatever your particular pressure poison is.
Lest you begin to get the wrong idea, the con experience is also jam-packed with amazing moments, fun excursions, and stimulating conversations you’re still thinking about long afterwards. It’s a pressure cooker of mostly awesome.
I had a wonderful and tiring time this weekend. Everyone was very kind to me. There was no running off to cry in public bathrooms (always a plus). Three of the four panels I was on went extremely well, and the fourth one wasn’t a train wreck or anything, I just thought it was kind of boring. I got to spend lots of time with Ferrett, along with many other friends and acquaintances, and I met several new people who I liked a lot. While I heard stories from other writers about stuff that went down at this con, I personally had a very positive experience.
But I did notice a difference.
I took a lot more time alone in my hotel room. I’d reach a lull in my schedule or have no companions at the bar, and instead of pushing myself to seek out THE BEST USE OF MY TIME, I’d go back up to my room and play Splendor on my iPad and relax. However, this self-permission turned out to be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, having some quiet time was really nice. On the other hand, I definitely felt like I was using more willpower than I normally do because eventually I’d have to force myself back out into the thick of things, and the expenditure of that extra willpower took away some of the gains of taking the quiet time in the first place. So that was one unexpected thing that happened.
The other thing I noticed was that I cared less overall about what other people thought. The main result of this seemed to be that I circulated less. I pushed myself less to be a flitting social butterfly moving from group to group. I moved some, but not as much as usual, and I had pretty much zero concern about thinking about whether I should be mingling more or considering with whom I should be talking more. I’d see a group of people I kind of knew and think about joining them, and if that seemed like it might cost me a lot of work or energy or awkwardness, I didn’t care enough to do it. Because I realized it didn’t really matter; I already can’t remember the specific cases when this happened. Instead I spent my time more organically; I didn’t work to engage people but talked with people with whom the engagement came naturally.
Interestingly, I met plenty of new people this way (although it’s hard to say if this was less or more than previously), and the general quality of conversation seemed to go up. Usually at cons I spend a lot of time having almost the exact same conversation fifty times or more. This time there was a lot less of that, and the increased variety of topic was something I deeply enjoyed. At various times I had really quality conversations about music, dance, various books, social justice, female friendships, transmedia, psychology, relationships, cooking and food, story ideas, theater and musical theater, television, the film industry, economics, several panel topics, and more. Of course, good conversation is a hallmark of most cons, but this time there was simply MORE of it, which is an unalloyed positive as far as I’m concerned.
Even so, the pressure was still present. I simply wasn’t allowing it to shape as much of my time or determine as many of my actions. Even in the face of pressure, there is often a choice: what do I value the most here? And in my case, it was allowing room for moments of significance and connection, and also, perhaps the biggest change, allowing myself room to do what was good for me.
I tend to be a very organized person. I like to plan. I enjoy the process of planning, and then I enjoy having everything be smooth and fun and efficient because I planned well. I’ve never had to pull an all-nighter. In college, if I stayed up all night, it was either because I had insomnia or because I was having a good time. The good time often involved playing bridge or hanging out with a cute boy. Both seemed totally worth the sleep deprivation.
I even plan when I’m not going to plan. If you plan that you’re going to be spontaneous, are you still being spontaneous? I’m not sure, but that is totally me. When I purposefully have no plan, I lower my expectations instead, and then it usually all works out very nicely. I’m also usually aware ahead of time of backup plans and which plans are super important versus which plans can be changed without it being a big deal. I don’t even do these things on purpose a lot of the time; my brain does them automatically.
Enter the Creative Process.
There are many parts of the creative process I can plan too. I can plan uninterrupted writing time. I can make daily word count goals, or scene revision goals, or what-have-you. I can make lists and notes and world building sheets. I can outline until the cows come home. I almost always know within a week or two when I’m going to finish a draft. I know what scene I’m going to write tomorrow.
But to my infinite discomfort, there are aspects of my creative process that I cannot plan. Novels, it turns out, are complicated; they consist of many interlocking parts, and sometimes the parts don’t interlock the way I think they’re going to. Sometimes either my planning or my execution is imperfect, and things aren’t set up properly the way they were supposed to be. Sometimes I come up with an idea that is ten times better than what I originally planned to do.
And sometimes ideas simply aren’t ripe. This sounds kind of woo-woo, and that annoys me, but for now, for me, it also seems to be true. Some ideas aren’t ready to go when I want them to be ready. They have pieces missing, and I can sit and think and think and think, and the pieces don’t always fall into place. And then I can’t write the rough draft because I don’t understand the novel well enough to start putting down words. I don’t know who all the POV characters are, or I don’t really understand what I’m trying to say, or I don’t have a solid structure to hang everything from, or my world doesn’t make sense yet.
And then suddenly, in its own damned time, a piece or two or three will fall into place, and the novel idea is ripe, and I can contemplate writing it and maybe even make an actual plan.
I find this both annoying and exhilarating. Annoying because I want to be able to plan further ahead, and more reliably, and I want my ideas to always cooperate with me. Exhilarating because there is nothing like that feeling when a few pieces DO fall into place, and suddenly I’ve got something where before I had nothing at all.
Anyway, I’ve been pounding my head against a novel idea for the past few months, and it wasn’t budging. So finally I turned my head to a different, older idea, and a few pieces fell into place, and maybe I’ve found my novel project for 2016. I certainly hope so.
Because I’m usually happiest when I have a plan, and I can work towards it.
And now I get to tell you the story of how it happened!
I began querying agents with my YA novel Beast Girl in late October of last year, so the entire process took about a year. I’d made a deal with myself: that for each novel I queried, I’d send ten more queries than the novel before. I’d sent out fifty queries for Academy of Forgetting, so my goal for Beast Girl was to send sixty queries. I finished with sixty-one queries by the beginning of May.
Yeah, sixty-one queries. I didn’t take any shortcuts; instead I relied on persistence and my belief that all it would take was one person who loved the book to move onto the next step. I queried Kirsten because I read on Manuscript Wishlist that she was interested in stories with characters coping with mental illness, and so I thought Beast Girl might be good fit for her.
But by September, I wasn’t thinking about Beast Girl anymore. I’d reached my query goal, and I’d sent out a lot of fulls (complete copies of the manuscript). After most of a year, I didn’t think anything was going to come of it, and my focus was on this year’s and next year’s books.
Well, and my trip to Bali.
It was our first full day in Bali. We’d settled into our beautiful resort and gotten some sleep, and I was moving a bit slowly the next morning. I decided to get the wifi set up on my phone so I could check my email and make sure everything was going okay with Nala. My heart sank a little when I saw an email with “Query: BEAST GIRL” in the subject line. I knew it was a rejection, and I thought to myself, “Really? I had to get another rejection on the first day of my vacation?” I almost didn’t even open it, but then I decided to go ahead and get it out of the way.
But. It wasn’t a rejection. It was THE EMAIL. The one where the agent says they love your book and they want to talk to you on the phone.
I couldn’t believe what I was reading. My brain started sputtering, and I wondered if I’d entered some kind of alternate Bali reality, or maybe I was confused because of jet lag, or something else because what was happening made absolutely no sense to me. I re-read the email. Probably more than once. And I started saying “Oh my god” over and over again.
Not surprisingly, this got the attention of the Boyfriend. Once I’d told him what was happening and showed him the email, things began to seem a little more real. I was completely beside myself with excitement. And the Boyfriend took this picture of me being so beside myself I couldn’t even handle posing for the camera.
I had a great time in Bali, but every time someone asks me what the best part of the trip was, I think, “THE EMAIL.” It’s pretty tough to compete with THE EMAIL, even when you’re Bali.
Between my trip and various logistical matters, seven weeks have gone by since then. And now I am finally allowed to talk about this very exciting news!
Here is a photo of me before the phone call. I was very nervous.
And here is a photo of me after the phone call. I was very happy!
And here is a photo of me having celebratory ice cream after the phone call.
And here is a photo of Nala on the day I signed the contract.
And here is a photo of me on the day I got to share the news with all of you!
Yes, I took a lot of photos, because this is a very big deal! I started working seriously toward this goal almost seven years ago, and I’m very happy to have reached another milestone. And yesterday, as the congratulations poured in, I felt so lucky to know so many people who I like so much and who have been rooting for me all this time.
So now I have an agent. You all know what this means, right?
I have some more writing to do.