Be a Selfish Writer

Snoopy

Being a writer has many different challenges: grammar, word usage, plot, picking just one story to write. Then there are queries, selling your book, marketing, trying to sell the next book, maintaining a career, and on and on. Many of the latter I haven’t experienced yet, though I’m really hopeful I will, but the challenge I find most daunting is time management.

And I don’t think it matters if you’re a new writer squeezing it in between work and social life, or an established writer who is juggling signings, writing the next book, and marketing the one that’s out there. We all have demands on our time and the trick is finding the right balance for what works for our life and our careers.

I remember when I first started writing I was a new stay-at-home mom. Those were a couple of easy years. I was used to working 40-60 hours a week, taking my kids to daycare, and still keeping the house clean, spending time with family, and getting everywhere we needed to be on time. Suddenly I had entire days open to me. My house had never been so clean, I made cupcakes for every classroom holiday, I volunteered for every gymnastic meet and school field trip. Writing was Cinderella going to the ball if all her chores were done. The stepmother found infinite problems for Cinderella to overcome, and I did the same thing to myself.

There was a lot of guilt in those early years. I wasn’t staying home to become a writer; I was staying home because our move made it difficult to find a job in my previous career and because we expected to have more children. It was the logical choice. And writing was just the frosting on the cupcake.

So I prioritized everything over writing. But it slowly began to gain on me. Even though I felt guilty for letting that laundry pile up, I just wanted to finish that chapter. And the dishes needed to be done, but I had some more research to do. I was torn between accepting that writing was a job I wasn’t getting paid for, and being the wonder-mom I expected myself to be. After all, my husband was working full-time, I owed it to him to have dinner on the table, the house clean, and laundry done, right?

Yeah, maybe. But that wasn’t really working in my situation. My husband wasn’t placing those expectations on me, I was doing it to myself. As my writing became more and more important to me, and it became clear that I was actually good at it, my priorities slowly shifted. Until one day I decided this was going to be a career, not just a hobby I fit in between babies and housework.

I became selfish. I had to. My older kids were in school full time already, but I needed to put the younger ones in daycare. Yup, I was paying out money so I could write. The guilt compounded, even though I needed this for my career as well as my sanity. (Turns out I’m not the most maternal-stay-at-home mom kind of person.) I needed a career—and I’d found one I absolutely loved—for my own mental health.

And don’t think I wasn’t judged on this. Family and acquaintances alike made comments like, “You’re kids go to daycare? But you stay home?”

Adding their judgment to my own self-generated guilt was a wonderful mix of anxiety and incrimination. But you know what? I stuck with it. My husband supported me. That was really important. I’d never have been able to do what I did without him and his unquestioning support. I get that not everyone has that luxury. Of the supporting husband or the means to pay for daycare when you aren’t actually bringing in any dollar signs yourself. And to be clear, this wasn’t full time. It was two to three days a week.

See, even now I can’t get away from the guilt.

But back to the point. You have to be selfish with your writing. And this can apply in many different ways. Of course you have to set priorities, and children, significant others, work and many other things often need to take a front row seat. But that doesn’t mean that every second of your time needs to be devoted to them. It’s okay to bring store-bought cupcakes to your child’s recital, no matter if those Pinterest Moms look down their noses at you. And yup, I used to be one of those Pinterest Moms. But I like the view off my self-imposed pedestal a lot better.

Sometimes your significant other needs to help with the kids, or the chores. Maybe your mom can baby sit. Or maybe your friends will have to understand that you can only go out once a month instead of every weekend. Sacrifices need to be made, on your part and sometimes on other people’s part too. But that’s where your priorities need to come in. Make a list of all the things you have to do and the things you want to do. Try to determine how much time you can allot to each one, or if some need to come off the list for the time being. It’s all about what works for you.

Yes, there will be guilt. You’ll create some, and those you love will create some. There will be sacrifices. Sometimes your own sacrifices, and sometimes from others. But as long as it’s all in moderation, it’s okay.

For my own case, I had to make writing a part of my life, not a hobby or just something I enjoyed. I still give up writing days now and then for classroom parties and to nurse a sick toddler, but everyone in my family knows it’s my job. Even if I’m not getting paid yet. They see me writing at my desk, and they know that they can interrupt me if they need to, but that Mommy is working. They know they can’t stay home from daycare-day just because they don’t feel like going. They know our house isn’t the cleanest or most orderly in town. Okay, they may have accepted it’s the literal worst, but they also get another benefit.

They see me being dedicated to something: a dream.

They see that they are the most important parts of my life, but there is value in me and my achievements as well as their own. They see me never giving up, working hard, and believing in myself.

So be selfish with your writing. Within reason, of course. Because whether that book ever gets published, whether you ever make any money, whether another person beyond your CPs ever read your words: there is value in pursing a dream and investing in yourself.

How I Got My Agent! (Or the art of never giving up)

never-give-up

I’ve been wanting to write this post for awhile, but I wasn’t sure on the timing. Should I do it right after I signed? But that seemed a little soon. What about after you get a book deal? Well, I’m still waiting on that. And submission can be a long process, so I decided to go ahead. No need to wait. Besides, maybe it’ll get my mind off the fact that actual editors at actual publishing houses are reading my manuscript.

I won’t bore you with the long, drawn-out story of how I became a writer. Maybe that’s for another day. Let’s enter at the scene where I have a publishable YA Post-Apocalyptic manuscript just waiting for the right agent to snap it up. I researched agents and how to write a query. Wrote. Revised. Wrote. Revised. Etc., etc. Created a list of agents I felt most strongly about, which of course starts out sort of scientific with pluses and minuses and trying to order them based on who you think you would work well with and give your book the best shot. But it always ends up being more of a “feeling” because cold, hard facts mean nothing if you can’t work with the person. And since you don’t really know the agents personally, you have to go by their interviews, websites and blog posts.

So anyway, I had my query, my manuscript, and my list of agents to query. I got started: right about the time YA Post-Apocalyptic had reached its zenith. And nobody wanted my story. I received plenty of full requests, and a lot of “Wow! Love the writing. But YA PA is a hard sell. See me with something else when you have it.” Which is super encouraging. And a let down, but mostly encouraging. I’d been around long enough to know how the industry worked. And personalized rejections were a lot better than form. (I got plenty of those too!)

But then a certain rejection showed up, and I was disappointed, but also elated. I remember thinking while researching this agent, “This is someone I can see myself being friends with even if publishing weren’t involved.” I’m not sure what it was, but I could just tell she was my kind of people. And though it was a rejection, it was sweet and sincere, and I felt an instant connection. So I did something I’d never done before. Ever. I tweeted a thank you to this agent for her a rejection that almost felt as good as a full-request. Almost.

Now, I don’t recommend you do this. I mean, you could, but it depends on the situation. I had other personalized rejections and I didn’t make any other contact. Because agents are busy people, and you can come across needy, or unprofessional, or just plan annoying. But like I said, I could just tell there was something else there. (At least, I hope so. Otherwise maybe I was needy and annoying, but apparently it didn’t hurt me in the long run.)

The agent responded with a heartfelt thank you. And that was that. She moved to the top of my agent list for future manuscripts and I went back to work. But in my mind she had joined  a small group of agents that I really, really wanted to work with in the future.

When I was ready to query again, she was one of the very first agents I contacted. But sometimes, the agents you contact first aren’t always the first to get back with you. As I said before, agents are busy people. They might not get to your query until months after you’ve written it. Time went on, rejections and requests filtered in, and my query spreadsheet filled in with dates and notes, red for rejection and green for requests.

Then I got her full request. I was more than happy to send it her way. She gave me a timeline for when she would read, and I let her know how many other fulls I had out. And then the unthinkable happened. I had an epiphany about a major change to the book. I thought about it for a few days, decided it had to be done, then gathered my courage and asked if she would wait a few weeks to read a revised version. Once again, this is not always the best thing to do. It’s usually better if you have feedback from say another agent and decide to make changes, or a good excuse as to why you just made yourself look totally unprofessional, but all I had was a new set of beta notes and an AhHa! moment. Agents, to my understanding, would much rather wait on reading and see your best work, but I have to believe this makes you look a little flaky. Still, she was happy to wait and I revised and got her the MS as quickly as I could.

I’ve kind of forgotten the timeline after this. I don’t remember how long she had my MS, or how many other fulls I had out at the time. In fact, I tried not to think about any of it too much, because once the MS is in their hands, there’s nothing you can do but write another book or send more queries. Needlessly worrying is not helpful. (We do it anyways.) But it’s not helpful.

The day I found that little email in my inbox that said, “I love your book. Let’s schedule a call.” I was shaking for the rest of the day. We set-up a day and time to talk, and I spent almost a full week alternating between excited squealing to my husband and my sister, and convincing myself this was not, in fact, THE CALL, but only a courtesy to let me know she couldn’t represent me. Which made very little sense, but hey, I have heard of it happening before.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a nervous wreck by the time we actually talked. I have social anxiety as well as a phone phobia, so yeah, that part wasn’t the most fun, but my intuitions were correct. This agent was the sort of person I would get along well with. She listened to me gush about my book, what I hoped for it, what I wanted to achieve and most importantly, she understood how I felt about not only bringing more diversity to children’s  literature, but also my ardent need to do it correctly and cause no harm. Despite my nervousness, it went well. And at the end of the conversation, she offered me representation.

It was like watching a huge part of your dream come true. Surreal and amazing and terrifying all at once. Of course, I felt like there should have been fireworks over my house, but city ordinances and all, so no explosions. I asked for the customary two weeks to think it over and to notify any agents with outstanding fulls or queries about the offer. We agreed to another day and time for a call and I went about the business of contacting the handful of agents with outstanding material.

Those two weeks were unreal to me. When there’s a deadline for decisions, publishing can move fast. I had double digit fulls out at one time and that has never happened to me before. But it was anxiety-inducing too. Because all the while I was excited to see my book being read by many fabulous agents, there was a part of me that wanted them all to reject ASAP so I could call the offering agent and accept. I told myself that wasn’t good business, that I needed to be open to other offers and think about my career and what was best for that. But really I just wanted to accept the person I’d already connected with, the one I was feeling comfortable and excited about. It was a long two weeks.

In the end, I called Valerie Noble and told her she was the one I wanted representing me, my books, and my future endeavors. Sometimes your first instincts really are correct and I’m so glad I found her as my agent. She has to listen to me ramble on about my books, diversity in literature, and of course my kids on occasion. It can’t all be business! But I’m lucky to have found her and so excited to be partners in the publishing journey.

And just a little side-note to end this post. I know this has been said before, but I’ll say it again. NEVER GIVE UP! My connection with Val didn’t start with the first book of mine she wanted to represent, it started with the one she didn’t want to represent. Writing a book, even one that doesn’t get published, is part of the journey. It’s practice, and querying that book makes connections. So don’t give up after one or two or even three. I think Beth Revis had eight trunked manuscripts before she was published. So keep it up. Your goals can come true too! Good luck!

I Have an Agent!!!!!

Kimmy

No, this is not that “How I Got my Agent” post (though you can expect one in the future, because, come on, I’ve got an agent!) This is more of the “I announced it on Twitter and Facebook and Absolute Write on June 3rd and forgot about my blog” post. (Which might explain the spike in my usually dismal viewership on June 3rd despite not posting since April 9th.)

Suffice it to stay the weeks leading up to the announcement were like this:

Liz Lemon

 

And a little bit of this:

Squealing

And a whole lot of this:

 

New Girl

And in the end I got to post this, on Twitter:

Agent Announcement

(It looked more exciting with the giph twirling and glitter everywhere, but you get the point!)

So now I’m represented by Valerie Noble of Donaghy Literary group and my excitement level is pretty near this:

Shire party

Except the hard work is never done, so I’m going to go back to doing this:

Jim Carrey Typing

And maybe think about that “How I Got My Agent” post for the future!

My Poor Little Blog . . .

You have been severely neglected my poor little blog. But there was a good reason, I swear. Don’t look at me like that. It’s not that I love novel writing better than you, it’s just . . . well, I do love novel writing more, but- No, wait, don’t cry. I’m sorry. We can still be friends!

So I’m not officially breaking up with my blog, but I’ll probably use it like a drunk dial on a lonely night. I enjoyed it while it lasted, but when it got to be a chore, well, I don’t do chores. Just ask my poor neglected house. But here’s a quick update on life.

I have finished my YA Science Fiction retelling of The Last of the Mohicans to the point it is ready for betas. It’s been sent off to a few, though I’m still looking. The title, in case I haven’t mentioned it on the blog yet, is They Chose the Stars. I love it! I mean I really love it! So much so I’ll be heartbroken if I have to change it if I ever get it published. (Not that heartbroken though. Published is still published!)

I’m pretty happy with how it turned out, but I felt the same way about previous novels and betas have a way of bursting that euphoric bubble. Which is a good thing. I can’t wait to get those comments back and make it better than it was. Unless of course they tell me it is utter rubbish, my writing is pretentious, the characters useless, and I should just start all over. Oh, crap, now I’m getting nervous.

Though to be honest, I’d rather have someone tell me all that, rather than say it was good, but not really mean it. So slash away betas! Make that MS bleed! I’ll just be hiding here in the corner hugging me knees to my chest.

What if . . .

elements

What if . . .

. . . in a previous life, and the one before, and the one before, I was a writer. Ones who never achieved their dreams. Ones who were never able to share their words, be heard, experience the joy of bringing something to the life of another. And the torch has been passed to me, burning inside with the desire of lives, upon lives, upon lives, to bring those words into the open so they may be felt and tasted, rolled around the brain like a precious gem in nimble fingers. If I give this up, then I will let those that came before me down.

What if . . .

. . . somewhere out there, there’s someone whose life will be changed if I share my words. I don’t really write the kind of profound stories that change lives, but it could happen. There are a number of books that have changed my life, some deep thinking, others not. And their sagacity, or lack of it, wasn’t requisite to the change. Harry Potter had a far more reaching effect on my life than some of the more serious literary novels I have read. And by stepping aside, leaving the stories and the characters locked in my head, I have deprived that reader of an experience that may affect them for the better. I have let them down.

What if . . .

. . . instead of the negligent mother I think my children see, they see a woman working for her dreams. Reading, writing, building a social media presence, and still finding time to be a mother, a wife, a sister, a daughter. And I give up, throw in the towel because it’s too much, and they see that. And it affects them. They spend their lives maybe never going quite far enough to reach their goals, never putting in as much effort as they could, and thinking, “It’s okay. Mom gave up too. There’s no reason to kill myself with effort. It’s just a dream.” And by not sharing my words, I kill my dream, and then kill their dreams too. And I’ve let them down.

What if . . .

. . . all the time and money and effort I have put into this dream was for nothing. My husband has supported me through it all, working a full time job while I stayed at home with our children. But that wasn’t all. He supports me taking the children to daycare two days a week so I can write. He supports me spending my every waking minute squeezing between laundry and dinner and family, time to blog and write and read. He supports the books and the computer I drag along on vacations, and the endless discussions of how to survive in the wild or build a solar panel or what to name a science fiction vehicle. He paid for my computer, the daycare, the books I read . . . and never complains. Not once. And if I give up before I have shared my words, I have let him down.

What if . . .

. . . I shut it all down: the dreams, the stories, the wanting of it all. The characters who live inside me, their lives an intricate spider’s web that should be weaved into the fabric of our world, if I only share my words. What if I give up, forget the hard work I have put in, and concentrate on my family and living? There is benefit in that, yes, but if I kill that part of me that dreams, not only of the life I want, but the life I want to give my characters, and what I want to share with others, what happens then? And I look back, many years from now, when life is ending, and I know that there were lives inside that should have been lived through the pages of a book, but I didn’t want the struggle. I will see that I gave up too soon. I didn’t give all that I could have given to make my dreams a reality. And it’s not about the dream coming true, but the effort you put into it. Was it enough? Did I do all I could do? Did I let myself down?

But what if . . .

I share my words.

Decision made! I think . . . maybe . . .

Stress. Woman stressed

So I’ve kinda, sort of, maybe, made a decision . . . I think? I’m going to continue to write my YA Science Fiction novel in 1st Person Present Tense and here’s why: (because I know you were just dying to find out 😉 )

Everything I’ve ever written including novels and short stories has been “easy”. I use quotations there, because writing isn’t easy, no matter how you slice it. I worked hard to complete my novels, polish them until they shined, develop a distinctive voice, make my characters deep, show don’t tell, etc. And none of that just flowed from the pencil (okay, fingers on keyboard) with no thought or effort. But I don’t recall struggling very much. I knew the story, so I wrote it. I received critique, and that was where I struggled the most, determining what was helpful and what was not, then I applied the critique. And so forth. I worked. It happened.

But this novel has been different. The 1st draft went pretty smoothly, but that was because I was just trying to get the story down. Revisions have left me feeling rudderless. And changing the 1st person to 3rd has been a bit of a drag. I wanted to write beautiful prose and inspire that feeling you get when reading classic novels (no, not confusion and frustration when you have no idea what they’re saying, that other one, where it sounds lyrical.) It’s not that I’m not pleased with my results in 3rd, but I’ve struggled with every word, every phrase, and still it feels disconnected from the characters. Part of me wanted to continue with 3rd because I thought it was the best way to achieve lyrical prose and not have the characters sound like tools, and because it was a challenge. I firmly believe in challenges, but this just felt unnatural.

After mulling it over for awhile, and showing a few chapters to my CP, and thinking some more, then asking everyone I could find what they thought about 1st or 3rd, I came to the decision that I felt closer to my characters in 1st, and I wanted to stay there. I could still attempt beautiful prose in 1st, and try to make the many characters each have a different voice (this may be the real tough part), and this in itself would be the challenge I needed. Besides, one of the questions I’ll ask my betas is if they think the story would be better served in 3rd. There’s always opportunity to change, and right now I feel relieved I’ve made a decisions and can get back to work!