The Season of Giving

The other day I was talking to my mom about the YA/children’s book community, and I mentioned how pretty much everyone I’ve met–from fellow writers to librarians to editors to readers–is awesome. People don’t tend to be snobby or petty or dismissive. Instead, the large majority of people I’ve met are warm and friendly and inclusive and generous. Maybe that’s because we’re writing for an audience that’s often not taken seriously and our work requires a little more sensitivity. Maybe that’s because other people in the literary world are easy to dismiss our work so we have to band together even more. Maybe that’s because we’ve found that it’s better to be supportive of each other than to knock each other down.

It’s especially evident online, where people will retweet friends’ exciting news or take a picture of a friend’s book in a bookstore. We read each other’s work and recommend it to our reading community. We share ideas for marketing, let each other vent, and remind each other that we’re not alone on this wild writing journey. It’s overall a very giving community, and one I’m so glad to be a part of.

I love cheering for my fellow writers. From best-selling authors to debut writers to writers who are still drafting their first novel, I love sharing my enthusiasm for their work and encouraging them and sharing writerly experiences with them.

I am, however, way less giving toward myself. If a writer friend is going through a hard time, I’d be quick to tell them, “It’s okay, take care of yourself, you don’t have to do all the work right now, the story will wait for you.” When it comes to myself, I’m way more likely to say “Dude, why can’t you get it together and finish the damn draft already? And why isn’t it perfect, it has to be perfect!” If a friend has exciting news to share, I will tweet and blog and Facebook all about it. Sharing my own exciting news feels weird and awkward and conceited. I think my friends are so smart and talented, but if someone asks me about writing, I say “Oh, well, this is just what works for me, what do I know?”

Sometimes it’s easier to be generous for others than it is to be generous for yourself. This quote by Marcia Hutchinson is about body image, but I think it totally applies to how we treat ourselves in general:

“If you talked to your friends the way you talk to your body, you’d have no friends left at all.”

Writing and publishing are hard and stressful and it’s easy to put pressure on yourself, especially about things you can’t control. But at the end of the day, you can’t write your best book if you’re not taking care of yourself. You’re a priority, too.

In this season of giving, let’s commit to talking to ourselves more like we talk to our friends. To supporting ourselves and taking care of ourselves and reminding ourselves that challenges are a part of life. To being enthusiastic for ourselves and our work. To being just as giving and kind and generous to yourself as you are to those around you.

Quote of the Day

“Always dream and shoot higher than you know you can do. Don’t bother just to be better than your contemporaries or predecessors. Try to be better than yourself.”William Faulkner

A little inspiration for anyone writing today, especially those of you participating in NaNoWriMo. Forget what anyone else is doing or has done–focus on what you’re doing right now.

(Photograph by Carl Van Vechten, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division, Van Vechten Collection, reproduction number LOT 12735, no. 368.)

My Interview with the Fearless Fifteeners

Today I’m at the Fearless Fifteeners blog, talking with my wonderful agent-sister and 2015 debut author Anna-Marie McLemore about The Chance You Won’t Return, writing, romance, neurological differences, and what I’m not afraid of.

Anna-Marie asked some fantastic questions, and I’m excited to share the interview with you all. We actually had to cut some material because we talked too much. But here is a little of the extra Q&A:

I’ve heard you say that one of your favorite writing tips is not to develop writing rituals. How has this proven good advice for you?
I know I would use rituals as a crutch (“I only write at night!” “I need to have coffee while I write!”) so telling myself that rituals don’t get the work done means that I can potentially sneak in writing time anywhere/anytime. Not that I always do, but at least it’s one less excuse. ;)

Do you have any writing rituals that have crept in anyway? A favorite time of day to draft? A favorite drink or snack while revising?
As much as I love coffee and tea, my favorite writing beverage is lots and lots of water. Woohoo hydration! I also tend to like drafting at night, but that might be because I do the day job thing so most of my writing time is in the evening. My biggest ritual is probably having carefully crafted playlists for each project. I can write without them, but I love having a book soundtrack playing in the background for inspiration.

Make sure to check out the Fearless Fifteeners blog for the full interview, and get to know some awesome 2015 debut authors like Anna-Marie.

Don’t Be the Artax: Writing Through the Squishy Middle

I’ve mentioned before that I’m a total pantser, and usually I like that because it lets me explore my characters and forge the plot from what feels right as opposed to what I’d originally planned should happen. Usually this works out great for the first part of the book.

Then I hit what I like to call the squishy middle.

The squishy middle is that point in the novel when I’ve gotten over the new WIP excitement and have exhausted all my initial ideas for where things might be going, but I’m not deep enough into it to see how everything comes together. I know my characters, but I’m not sure exactly how they’re going to get where they need to be and how long it’ll take for them to get there. I start to worry about the story overall and if it’s boring or worth the time/effort and if anyone will ever actually care about these characters. It kind of feels like being Artax in the Swamp of Sadness*:

Right now I’m in the squishy middle of my current WIP and trying to keep everything in perspective so I don’t go all Artax and burn my manuscript. If you’re in the squishy middle too, here are some things that I’m trying to keep in mind as I plow my way through.

1. Just Get It Done
The squishy middle sucks, but avoiding it just means you’re stuck in the squishy middle forever. It’s way better to finish and go back and revise than to never leave the swamp.

2. Trust Your Critique Partners
One thing that’s helped me so far has been to share regular updates with my critique group. First of all, it forces me to have new material. Second, they remind me of what things are working and help me brainstorm where things might be going. I end up leaving group excited about the WIP instead of exhausted, which is how I’d feel on my own.

3. Don’t Get Distracted by Shiny Things
When I’m in the squishy middle, I start thinking of new WIPs. You know, those bright shiny projects that don’t have any squishiness yet? Yeah, those are distracting and will end up having squish middles of their own, too.

4. Hey, You Still Like This, Remember?
In the squishy middle, it can be easy to forget why you’re writing the damn thing in the first place. Try to remind yourself of the reasons why you love this story. For me, it’s been helpful to return to my WIP playlist (Franz Ferdinand! Gogol Bordello! Bowie!) and to match the characters with their celebrity counterparts (my current main character casting is Maisie Williams).

5. You’ve Gotten Through It Before
The Chance You Won’t Return totally had a squishy middle when I was in the first draft phase. I kept thinking “Oh my gosh, this is the worst, just burn it, burn it all,” but eventually I got through it. And then I went back and revised and revised and revised some more. And soon it’ll be out in the world as a real book, which couldn’t have happened without powering through in that first draft.

6. Powering Through Means You’re a Writer
Starting a project is easy. Lots of people start novels, get a few chapters in, lose steam and never return. Powering through the hard parts and putting in the time and effort is what writers do. We don’t write when just when it’s fun and exciting–we write when it’s hard and there’s a whole swamp around us.

The squishy middle is a rough place to be, but it’s worth it to get through. Because by the end of the manuscript, we can all feel a little less than Artax in the swamp and a little more like Falcor.

Share your tips about getting through the squishy middle (or any other squishy part of your draft) in the comments.

*Seriously, guys, this scene will mess you up. I remember watching The NeverEnding Story and being afraid to step on the ground that night in case the Swamp of Sadess was going to get me, too.

Don’t Mention the Mess and Other Polite Ways of Dealing with Authors

In case you were wondering how to interact with an authoress, this etiquette book from 1839 has some helpful suggestions, including accepting the state of an authoress’s writing desk:

At least I’m not the only authoress with an untidy desk. Make sure to click through for more helpful suggestions.

(via Paul Collins, H/T The Paris Review)

NESCBWI: A Gif Interpretation, Part I

Ways you can tell it’s spring in New England–the trees are in bloom; you’ve sent your wool coat to the back of your closet; and you’re headed to Springfield, MA for the annual NESCBWI conference!

Last year was my first NESCBWI conference, and it went super well. I listened to awesome speeches, took part in cool workshops, and (best of all) met my amazing critique group. I’m excited to go back this year, knowing a bunch more people from real life and the online kidlit universe.

I’ve done some “conference advice” posts before, so instead of rehashing that advice, let’s go through the emotional scope of NESCBWI via my favorite method of communication–the gif.

How you feel as a newbie:

How you also feel as a newbie:

How you feel going your second/third/forty-fifth year:

Trying to figure out which room you need to be in for your first session:

When a totally famous author makes eye contact with you during the keynote:

When someone asks a question that is only related to their very specific experience and benefits no one else:

When someone asks a good, thoughtful question that will benefit everyone:

Getting retweeted by other conference attendees:

Your attitude towards coffee:

During a query/manuscript critique with your dream agent:

Meeting a someone you know from #kidlit/#yalit in person:

When you see an illustrator’s business card:

When someone gives a really moving and inspiring keynote/workshop/panel:

When we all talk about how wonderful and important it is to create books for children and teens:

More conference gif fun continues with Part II tomorrow!

Links Galore

A few links for today: