Quote of the Day

My friend Stephanie is a writer, blogger, wedding planner, editor, and professional athlete. She’s been sharing updates about her journey to the Olympics on her site, Fête, and I’ve loved hearing about her training and racing and the pressures and prep that drive that goes into being a professional runner. Recently I saw this from one of her updates and loved the sentiment:

Smith & Sons (1)

I love this reminder that, even if you have the training and the talent and the drive, you still need courage. Putting yourself out there and trying to achieve your dreams is scary, whether that’s at a big race or at your desk, staring at a blank page. You need to show up, and you need to have that confidence and that courage.

So train hard, put your heart into it, and be brave. We got this.

(Original photo by nchenga nchenga)

Blueprinting Your Novel, Evel Knievel, and Why Sympathy Is Not a Positive Attitude: the NESCBWI 2016 Conference

At the annual NESCBWI conference, surrounded by writers and illustrators and editors and agents, it’s easy to think about community. Writing can feel like a solitary job, and it’s good to spend a weekend with people who really get it. And being around people who get it was just what I needed.

Due to scheduling and budgeting, I didn’t get to go to any writing retreats in the last year, and I didn’t realize how much I needed that time with my writing community until I got to Springfield. There’s something about being surrounded by people who share your passion and by setting aside time to remember that, no matter what the struggles, you are a writer.

A few favorite moments from the conference:

  • BSoS crit group NESCBWIGetting to spend time with my critique group, including two members who no longer live in the New England area and make the trip out for the weekend.
  • Showing off our love for The Bitter Side of Sweet by crit group member Tara Sullivan.
  • Wendy Mass‘s touching and hilarious keynote, including gems like “It’s easy enough to write what you know. Write what you want to know about,” her giant scroll of rejection letters, and how she takes magic lessons.Swings
  • Also, Wendy Mass’s blueprinting/outlining method that might legit change my writing process for the better.
  • Tara Lazar on how picture books need to be the more exciting narrative roller coaster.
  • Patrick Carman’s keynote about being inspired by Evel Knievel and how we are all entrepreneurs.
  • Amitha Knight and Padma Venkatraman‘s thoughtful and engaging workshop on writing disability, with tons of helpful resources and frank discussions about things like how “sympathy is not a positive attitude.”
  • An awesome panel about working with booksellers and educators, including shoutouts to graphic novels as legit reading.
  • Winning a copy of Jumping Off Swings by Jo Knowles in her fabulous NESCBWI bookstore‘improv’ writing workshop.
  • Seeing The Chance You Won’t Return in the conference bookstore alongside so many wonderful books (and so many wonderful books by friends!)
  • Spending time with lots of my favorite local writers and illustrators (even though there were still people I somehow didn’t run into all weekend).

I headed into May feeling inspired and rejuvenated and ready to write. No matter what you’re working on now, I hope you can find a chance to connect with your fellow writers and remember what we’re all in this together.

Pace, Colorful Accessories, and Community: 26 Writerly Lessons from the Boston Marathon

Because I’m a writer and because apparently writers are incapable of going for a long run without thinking about how it applies to their writing lives, here are 26 things about running that resonated with my writing life.

  1. Runs

    Runs by Steel Wool

    Your pace is the only one that matters
    The first few miles, I was passed by a LOT of people, even though I was going slightly faster than my planned race pace. But I had to remind myself that trying to ‘keep up’ with everyone would majorly hurt me in the long run. Even if everyone else seems to be going faster, it doesn’t matter. Your journey and your work is the only thing that matters to you.

  2. You have to put in the time
    You can’t go to the start line and know you’re going to finish without having trained for weeks (months!) beforehand. And you can’t write a novel without sitting down and writing and rewriting and revising for weeks (months! years!).
  3. Conditions don’t have to be ideal
    When we started seeing weather predictions for the 70s, I got nervous. I feel way better running in the cold than I do in the heat, and I was afraid I’d get sick in the middle of the course. But I adjusted my plans for pace and clothing and fuel, and it all ended up working out. You can’t wait for the weather to be perfect or the muse to strike–you just have to accept the conditions you’re giving and adjust accordingly.
  4. Hydration by Robot Brainz

    Fuel accordingly
    Hydration is keep when you’re running. Coffee is key when you’re writing. Also chocolate. (Okay, water is key when you’re writing, too.)

  5. Recovery is necessary
    In our marathon training plan, we had specific rest days scheduled, and I took those seriously. Sometimes you also need breaks from your writing, like distance yourself from a story to better revise it later or to give your brain a break between projects. This doesn’t mean giving up–it means letting yourself rest so you can be stronger later.
  6. Supporting other people is fun
    Cheering at the marathon is the best, and so is supporting other writers at book events. Plus sometimes book events have cake!
  7. A lot of people work hard to make it happen
    On the DFMC team, we had a staff and lots of volunteers making sure our training could happen, and no one organizes a race like the B.A.A. Even though it’s easy to think that a published book just shows up on shelves, it takes a lot of people–crit partners, editors, agents, marketing teams, supportive friends–to get it there.
  8. Alone time can be nice
    Although I loved having organized group long runs, one of my favorite parts of running is having that time for myself. And while I love having a writing buddy, sometimes it’s nice to feel like it’s just you and your story.
  9. Get out of your comfort zone
    This was my first marathon, and ten years ago I never thought I could run a mile, much less 26. Writing also means pushing yourself out of your comfort zones–your characters need to make hard choices because that’s where the most compelling story is.
  10. Time by Moyan Brenn

    Make the time
    You need to set aside time to run and time to write. Otherwise it’s really easy to say “eh, I’ll do it later” and not give yourself any time.

  11. Having a plan is helpful…
    Our coach made training plans for novice, intermediate, and advanced runners. Having that on my schedule meant that I never had to guess what my weekly workouts should be. Similarly, having an outline (or at least a general idea of what plot points you want to hit) can make the writing process easier.
  12. …but plans can change
    All running plans don’t fit all bodies–sometimes you need to cross train on a day you’re supposed to run, and that’s okay. And as someone who’s never been able to accurately outline a novel, letting yourself explore as you write is okay, too. Do what works best for you and don’t get upset if that doesn’t fit into a plan.
  13. When you run into problems, ask for help
    In late January, I went for a long run and got major knee pain by mile 8. Instead of hoping the problem would go away on its own (like I’ve done in the past), I got advice from our team coach and connected with a physical therapist, who was also a fellow team member. Thanks to her help, I went into the marathon feeling strong and didn’t experience pain for those 26.2 miles. If you’re having a problem, there’s no reason to suffer on your own–reach out to your writing friends, your agent, your editor, your family, whoever can give you the support you need.
  14. It’s easy to spend a lot of money on stuff
    Why yes, I do need those new running leggings! And more books, please! Those things are great, but keep an eye on your budget. And utilize your local library.
  15. New running shoes by quimby

    But colorful accessories can make you feel better
    Hot pink post-its and bright blue running socks can give you that little extra boost that plain white just can’t match.

  16. Music can be a huge boost
    I never thought I’d be someone who had earbuds in on marathon day, but guys–5+ hours is a LONG time, and even if you have it on low so you can listen to cheering around you, sometimes what you really need is a boost from the Hamilton soundtrack. Similarly, I know writing with music on isn’t for everyone, but it’s one of my essentials.
  17. You end up talking to yourself
    Motivational chants on repeat in your head? Characters talking at you? No, you’re not having heat-induced hallucinations–you’re just a runner or a writer?
  18. Support can come from people you don’t even know
    A marathon would suck if there were no spectators. Their cheers make the difference when you’re struggling. And kind words from readers about how much they liked your book means way more than they might realize.
  19. You miss out on other stuff because you’ve got work to do
    Friday night party? Nope, sorry, got a long run in the morning and I need to be in bed early. Netflix binge time? Not until your writing is done.
  20. Self-promotion is hard but necessary
    I hate asking for stuff for myself or talking myself up, but those funds won’t raise themselves. Reaching out to friends/family about fundraising or book promotion feels so awkward, but most of the time people are either happy to support you in whatever way they can, or they’ll ignore it.
  21. Know what keeps you going
    I joined DFMC because I’ve seen cancer affect too many loved ones’ lives. Being part of the team, I heard even more stories about cancer survivors and loved ones gone too soon–and these people are why we run for Dana-Farber. Recently, my agent reminded me to forget all the stress and focus on the heart of my stories–the core that really matters, that truth I want to understand and share. Having that deep down reason makes the difference when things are hard.
  22. People who have done it are the ones who get it
    They know that writing a novel or running a marathon is a huge accomplishment, but those who have been there are the only ones who can really relate. They know all the hard work that goes into it, and that you’re not going to win/quit your day job anytime soon.
  23. Take it step by step
    Thinking about a whole book or a whole marathon can be overwhelming. But you don’t have to do it all at once–all you need is to go word by word and step by step.
  24. You’re stronger than you think you are
    Looking, running is hard. Writing is hard. It’s easy to look at these activities and think, There’s no way I could run a marathon/write a whole book. But if that’s what’s calling to you, the drive is inside you and you’ll surprise yourself by how far you can go and how creative you can be.
  25. You love it even when it’s hard
    Running a marathon and writing a book looks so impressive and exciting when you have the end result, but there’s a lot that goes into it that most people don’t see. You log lots of miles, you revise over and over, you feel stressed about it and doubt yourself. But at the end of the day, even the hard work is the work you want to do.
  26. The 2016 DFMC team photo

    The 2016 DFMC team photo

    Your community matters
    Running and writing feel like solitary activities, but having a supportive community matters. I never could have gotten to the finish line without the support of so many people. From my family and friends to the Dana-Farber team and staff and volunteers to people cheering for us on the course, it didn’t feel like I was alone in this journey. And I’m just as glad to be part of a supportive writing community that inspires me and encourages me every step of the way.

Lessons you’ve learned from writing and running? Share them in the comments!

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! It’s April Fool’s Day, so instead of a regular Friday Fifteen, let’s change things up with some gif book reviews:

Flying Too High by Kerry Greenwood

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

Lafayette in the Somewhat United States by Sarah Vowell
Orbiting Jupiter by Gary D. Schmidt
And a gif for the writing process:
Happy Friday Fool’s, everyone!

Quote of the Day

“You ask whether I should continue to write if no one but myself would ever see my work. There is no reason to believe that anyone will ever see any more of my work…We are likely to give many incorrect explanations for what we do instinctively. It is very easy for me to say that I write poetry in order to formulate my ideas and to relate myself to the world. That is why I think I write it, though it may not be the right reason. That being so, I think that I should continue to write poetry whether or not anybody ever saw it, and certainly I write lots of it that nobody ever sees. We are all busy thinking things that nobody ever knows about.”-Wallace Stevens in a letter to editor Ronald Lane Latimer, from Letters of Wallace Stevens

We write because it’s what we do. We don’t write because it’s going to be published or win awards or get a million reviews. We write because we’re writers.

Miles, Pages, and Imposter Syndrome: Owning What You Do

This year, I’m training for my first marathon. I’ve talked here about what running means to me, and what the marathon and the Boston Marathon in particular means to me, but running an actual marathon always felt more like a bucket list item than an actual achievable goal. But I figured that if I was ever going to do it, I needed to try sooner rather than later, so over the last several weeks, I’ve been fitting weekday runs into my schedule and adding long runs to my weekends.

IMG_9985The other day, a coworker asked about my weekend, and I mentioned going for a long run and my training. She said, “No way! I didn’t know you were a runner.”

“Eeehh…” I said, and mentioned that I was really slow and still training and made all kinds of excuses for why I wasn’t like a ‘real runner.’

This weekend, I hit my longest ever distance of over 14.5 miles. What distance will it take for me to call myself a runner?

I get the same way about writing. If someone asks what I do, a lot of times I mention my day job first. Most of the time I follow up with, “…and I write YA novels,” but not always. Inside, I make a lot of excuses for why I can’t tell people I’m a writer: I don’t support myself entirely from writing, I only have one book out so far, I don’t always write every day, I don’t have a magical unicorn who helps me through the revision process, etc. etc. etc.

It can be hard to claim your identity as a writer. It means that you’re dedicating your time and energy to something–something that might not pan out the way you hope it will. And unlike a lot of other careers, there’s no way to know when you’ve ‘made it’ as a writer. Writers don’t have a test to pass or a certification to get in order to be a writer–which is great, because it means that stories can come from anyone and anywhere, but it can also be hard, because how do you know when you’ve really made it? And what if someone catches you calling yourself a writer? What if they find out that you’re really just trying to hold it all together?

The thing is: there is no point at which you know for sure you’re a writer. So many of us feel imposter syndrome, like someone is going to ‘catch us’ calling ourselves artists and call us frauds instead. Hell, even Meryl Streep has said: “You think ‘why would anyone want to see me again in a movie? I don’t know how to act anyway, so why am I doing this?'” Meryl Streep, guys.

There’s no number of miles you can log, no amount of words you can write, that will tell you if you’re a runner or a writer. You’re a runner because you run and you’re a writer because you write.

You can spend your whole life making excuses for why you’re not a ‘real’ writer or runner or whatever you’re putting your time and energy into, but when it comes down to it, you’ve got to claim your identity for yourself. No one can tell you how many hours you have to put in or how many books you have to write or how many awards you have to win to really ‘make it’ as whatever it is you want to be.

So I’m going to put the time and effort in, as a writer and as a runner. And when people ask what I do, I’ll tell them.

Friday Fifteen

Happy Friday, guys! I’ve had a good dose of creative connectivity this week, and I’m looking forward to even more creative time with my lovely crit group members over the weekend. In the meantime, here’s a look at what I’ve been reading and writing in fifteen words or fewer:

ReadingBig Magic: Creative Living Beyond Fear by Elizabeth Gilbert
Encouraging, open, and conversational book about living as an artist. Definitely what I needed.

Writing: “You can’t sleep through my cross-country playlist,” TJ said. “It’s rhythmically impossible.”
Hoping to finish up with this pass of revision over the weekend; psyched to dive into something new, but I’m going to miss these characters (for the time being, at least).