Brave New World.


“You don’t write because you want to say something, you write because you’ve got something to say.”
~F. Scott Fitzgerald

I still remember my first “book.” It came about as a direct result of my eighth grade English class. Every day, Mrs. Schuster had us spend the first ten minutes working on a journal entry. For Monday through Thursday, it was an assigned topic – sometimes a question, sometimes a prompt, sometimes related to a novel we were reading and sometimes not. Fridays, though, they were my favorites. They were free writes. What began as a journal entry soon blossomed into a story about Jamie and Melanie, twins who were in eighth grade (shocker, yes?) and, if I recall correctly, spent half the time deciding what clothes to wear. Ha. The tale spanned several chapters and ignited a fire in me. Those flickering flames, the joy for writing they sparked, have continued to blaze brighter and brighter. Yes, the journey to get published has been frustrating. Yes, it’s made me feel like throwing in the towel on more than one occasion. Yes, it’s felt like forever. But despite that, the fire is still there. Because of it, the fire is stronger than ever. And so, when my sixteen-year-old cousin (I swear, she was just born … where on earth does the time go?) asked me to read the book she’s been working on for the past few years, I agreed immediately. I wanted to share her passion for the story and for her characters. Now that I’ve finished reading, and she’s asked me some questions on the publishing process, I find myself thinking – if I could give her any advice, what would it be? What would I tell someone whose love for writing is still so fresh and pure?

1. Write the stories that keep you up at night.

2. If you think you can – even when you think you can’t – there’s no limit to all you’ll achieve.

3. First and foremost, write for yourself. Listen to the voice in your head, but listen to the one in your heart, too. Write because you have to, write because you want to, write because you can’t not write.

4. There will be days when the words don’t come as easily. That’s okay. Sometimes there’s a beauty in the block, because it takes you down a road you never would have seen otherwise.

5. Never lose the sense of wonder. That bittersweet excitement you felt when finishing your first book? You’ll feel it time and again, with each “THE END.”

6. Don’t be afraid to take chances. Sometimes the story you’re nervous about writing is the story you need to tell.

7. Write what you know, but also write what you don’t know. It’ll help you grow in ways you can’t imagine.

8. Each character will leave a handprint on your heart. Each book will become your baby. Each story will teach you something and offer a glimpse into a brave new world.

9. Be proud of your work. It’s a part of you, a part of your heart, and no matter what, nobody can ever take that away.

10. Never give up. Never, ever give up. When you find something that sets your soul on fire, it’s worth waiting for, it’s worth fighting for, it’s worth putting yourself on the line for … always.

How about y’all? What advice would you give to someone who wants to follow in your career footsteps?

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21.


“You’re not in a competition with every person you meet. Most of them are on your team. Lift up the people around you, and you all win.”
~Arza Patel, via Charity Shumway in Ten Girls to Watch

Between weathering Hurricane Sandy, celebrating my cousin’s beautiful Bat Mitzvah, gluing myself to ABC’s election coverage, and, of course, editing until my eyes get bleary each day, I haven’t had much time lately to read. Even so, I’ve been squeezing in pages of the fabulous book quoted above whenever I get a spare moment. With only fifty left to go, I’m still falling more in love with the story after every chapter. It is inspiring. It is motivating. It is thought-provoking. It is the kind of book that makes you reflect, makes you ponder, makes you act.

Without giving too much away, main character Dawn’s task is to contact all previous winners of Charm Magazine’s Ten Girls to Watch contest – fifty years of finalists, fifty years of daydreams, fifty years of aspiration and inspiration. As she tracks down these women, Dawn does more than just learn about their lives. She also learns about her own. She learns about herself. Their words of wisdom add embers to the spark already within her. Their ambitions give strength to her own. Dawn interviews doctors, lawyers, professors, opera singers, authors, teachers, and more. And while she spends her days profiling these successful women, she spends her evenings navigating the roadway of her own dreams. To be a published writer, to find love, to find her place in the world … as we see Dawn’s hopes, we also see our own.

Never before have I actually taken to post-it-noting (wow, how’s that for a made-up word?) a book, but I did this time. Yellow tabs peek out from so many pages, marking passages that speak to me. One question that Dawn often asks her interviewees is: what advice do you wish someone had given you when you were 21? Some of my favorites answers and reflections from the characters:

-“You need to find your passion before you can follow your passion. Try a lot of things, and don’t be embarrassed to call it quits if something isn’t right for you.” (Betty Robinson, 1964)

-“We get so used to thinking success means one thing. Like you can take a snapshot and see if you have it. It’s not like that. It’s your whole life, and you have years and years to work with. I always want to tell young people, don’t be so hard on yourself. Life is long. Be patient.” (Stephanie Linwood, 1969)

-“I think dwelling in the past can be … I don’t know, very good, I guess. I just know that if you look back at it, the days add up to something.” (Elizabeth Irwin, 1982)

-“You never know what you’ll grow to love.” (Jean Danton, 1960)

All these pearls of wisdom got me thinking: what advice do I wish someone had given me at 21? What advice would I give to a 21-year-old? There are so many things, but if I had to narrow it down to one, it’d be this: When you find your heart’s passion, don’t let anything discourage you from turning that dream into a dream-come-true. Obstacles will pop up, frustrations will rear their ugly heads, and tears will fall even when you swipe them away. You’ll wonder why things seem unfair, you’ll wonder when it’s going to be your turn, you’ll wonder if the emotional roller-coaster is worth it. IT IS. Because something worth loving is worth fighting for with every fiber of your being. Don’t turn your back on your dreams or you’ll be turning your back on yourself. Reach for the stars. Reach for your star. Reach beyond it.

How about you? What advice do you wish you had been given at 21? What advice would you give?

Computer Meltdown.


“Technology makes it possible for people to gain control over everything … except over technology.”
~John Tudor

Lesson Learned: do not write about your work plans (aka: do not squeal about starting a new manuscript), because the Technology Gods will swoop in, put a spell on your laptop, and leave you concerned that it just might disappear into a poof of foggy smoke forever. You will then begin an immediate OMG-is-everything-transferred panic that includes emailing yourself important documents and sending each file to an external hard drive yet again, even though you know full well that at least three quarters of them have already been copied. Not that I’d know this from personal experience or anything … she says as she watches hundreds of picture files slooooooooowly transfer over.

Seriously, though, UGH. My laptop is four years old and it’s been having daily temper tantrums lately, so this was not unexpected, but still. Internet issues have been somewhat tolerable. Unplugging the computer for five minutes and having the battery drain completely, then refuse to recharge? Having antivirus software refuse to function properly? Not so much. I’ve been researching new computer options for the past week – something told me this was coming, even though I hoped it’d wait at least another couple months – and it looks like Decision Time is on the horizon. Luckily, there’s an Apple store only forty-five minutes away, so I can head over tomorrow and spend some time experimenting with a Mac in person. PCs have always been the name of the game, but we used Macs for video editing in college and I absolutely loved them. For this, though, my mind seems to keep bouncing back and forth. A new laptop is such a commitment for a writer (yes, I know how ridiculously dramatic that sounds, but it’s true – this one has become somewhat of an appendage over the years), and I just want to make the right choice.

Those of you who have so kindly given me tips, suggestions, and information – thank you, thank you (and don’t be surprised if I bombard you with even more questions at some point soon)!

Anyway, all this to say that I’d planned to do a post today about the goodreads 2012 book challenge, but instead I will apparently be spending my time chained to the laptop and ensuring that everything – everything! – is duplicated. Okay, who am I kidding? Paranoid Me will probably ensure that each file is saved in at least three different places. Maybe four. Or five. I can’t help it, though. When your novels are your babies, your computer becomes, in a way, your lifeline. Better safe than sorry, right? Even if it means not being able to start reading the second book in my fifty-two book challenge. Even if it means having to take a couple days off from querying agents. Even if it means not getting to anything else I’d hoped to spend this weekend accomplishing.

But beginning work on the new manuscript tomorrow? Somehow, someway, it is happening. The colored pens are coming out, the writing journal is offering up its blank pages, and the next journey in Sofie’s life is starting to be mapped out. I just may have to take up temporary residence at the library, that’s all.

Do you have any computer horror stories to share? And – anyone else want to weigh in on the Mac vs. PC debate?

The College Years.


“The quality of a university is measured more by the kind of student it turns out than the kind it takes in.”
~Robert J. Kibbee

Yesterday was the start of Arcadia’s annual Fall Fest, their big homecoming weekend on campus. Saturday is always Family Day for current students and Alumni Day for those of us who already went to classes, ate in The Chat, and walked across the expansive soccer field for graduation (or the makeshift stage in the gymnasium, because torrential downpours not only forced Commencement indoors, but also caused an hour-long power outage first … I may still be just a tad bitter over that). Anyway – it’s always a lovely day, and this year was no exception. The air was cool and windy, but the sun spread a blanket of warmth. The first fallen leaves crunched beneath people’s feet, balloons popped around in the breeze, and happy chatter abounded. And, when day turned to night, an explosion of twinkling fireworks lit up the velvety sky over the castle. They were a sea of sparkles, a statement of vibrancy.

Grey Towers

Knight

Water Feature

Fireworks

Now, I will be the first to admit that my five years at Arcadia were sometimes frustrating. There were things I wish were done differently, many things. But there were also – there are also – wonderful memories. Being on campus yesterday brought them back and instantly made me reminisce about all the time I spent there during college. Early morning fieldwork for Education courses, afternoons working as a consultant at the Writing Center, evenings editing in the video lab as I pieced my senior thesis and tv station newscasts together … I had some truly great experiences. They’re in the past now, each one a square in the tapestry of my years at Arcadia, but all it takes is one step onto the picturesque campus for them to once again play like a movie in my mind. Sometimes it seems like a lifetime since I spent every day there. Sometimes it seems like only yesterday. In reality, it’s been six years since graduation and five since I did my internship at WPVI and student teaching in a sixth-grade classroom. Not gonna lie, that feels crazy. Part of me is still the same person, but so much of me has changed. And that got me thinking: if I could tell my College Self a few things, what would they be?

College Graduation

1. You will find a passion that fills you up completely and makes you deeply, innately excited to work every day – it won’t be what either of your degrees are in, but that’s okay. It is okay. It’s more than okay. Yes, you spent five years fulfilling all the requirements for a double major and minor. Yes, you were absolutely certain of how you wanted to spend the rest of your life. Yes, your experiences foraying into that are ones you will treasure always. But dreams evolve. People evolve. Sometimes it takes several journeys before you find the one your heart is meant for, and even then, it’s ever-growing. That’s a good thing. Keeping yourself open to possibility helps possibilities open up to you.

2. Don’t be afraid to take risks. Putting yourself out there can be hard, so hard, but it’s worth it. It sounds cliche to talk about following your heart, but it’s not. It’s important. It’s necessary. And it can be life-changing. Personally and professionally, you will never move forward if you don’t take that first step. You’ll never get your homerun if you don’t step up to the plate and try. Will those risks always pay off? No. There will be cracks in your heart and disappointments that feel overwhelming, but you’ll get through it. You’ll realize that things happen for a reason. You’ll grow stronger. And when it comes time to take that next risk? Maybe you won’t be as afraid of falling.

3. Don’t go to graduate school right away. Give it a few years, see how life unfolds and how you unfold, and then consider it. Sometimes we walk along the same career path. Sometimes it veers off in a new direction. Why not see where that path leads? Also: do your very best to win the lottery, because holy wow, are grad classes expensive. That Masters in Editing and Publishing is calling out to me, but I may need money to start growing on trees in order to answer.

4. Meet as many people as you can, and savor the friendships that feel more like family ties. Some of those friends will drift away, and it’ll hurt deeply, but others will stay close and be such a blessing in your life. Thank them, love them, and enjoy every moment of the way you grow even closer with time. Be grateful for something as seemingly random as sitting near each other in a Broadway Musicals class or being rescued from a gigantic bug sitting on your shoulder (true story!), because it just might be the start of a lifelong friendship.

5. Embrace every minute, every experience, every memory made, because before you know it, they’ll be part of the past and not the present. Times passes too quickly. Don’t let it pass you by.

What about you? What advice would you give your College Self?

A Labor of Love.


“I’ve got a theory that if you give 100 percent all of the time, somehow things will work out in the end.”
~Larry Bird

Confession: I am really, really, R-E-A-L-L-Y ready to be finished with edits for this book. In fact, that point was reached … hmm, probably sometime last week. Or the week before. Or the week before that. Okay, I’m exaggerating, but the gist of it is true. It’s super cool to see the book come together into its tightest version, but sometimes the thought of journeying through more rounds of revisions has me wanting to pull my hair out. There’s just so much to condense. Yes, it’s been a fabulous learning process in more ways than one. Yes, it’s taught me things my previous books haven’t. Yes, the story is stronger for it, and that alone makes the countless hours worth it. And yes, most of the time I sincerely do enjoy the work. The actual writing will always be my favorite part, but there’s something almost enlightening about the revision process. But in terms of practicality? Here’s an equation:

Five hours of consistent editing per day + another hour or two of query research and writing + a mind that absolutely refuses to turn off, even during downtime = bleariness. Seriously, it’s no wonder that my vision’s swimming by the end of each day. Fellow writers – or anyone who spends the majority of the day sitting at a desk – I need your help. Any tips for reducing eye strain? Neck aches? My back has been bothering me, too, but that’s my own fault, because I tend to sit very far forward in my chair when I work. Apparently my subconscious thinks that the closer I physically am to the computer screen, the closer I’ll be threaded into the folds of the editing process. Ha. I’ve been making a point to keep better, straighter posture, though, and it’s helping. Does anyone have any ideas for easing neck pain? Mine has been bugging me a lot lately, and given that I spend so many hours with it in the same position, that’s understandable. I’m really trying to fix it now, and any suggestions anyone has would be most appreciated. Thanks in advance, y’all.

Back to the editing process. I’m proud to say that, 3/4 through the third round of revisions, I have officially cut out nearly 40,000 words and 119 pages. How crazy is that? I think back to the first book I wrote, when deleting more than a sentence at a time had me cringing. It, quite literally, makes me laugh out loud. Writing this manuscript was the catharsis I needed during such a terribly horrendous time in my life, and continuing work on it now … it’s done more than simply teach me about the craft. It’s taught me how to let go, how to part with things that aren’t necessary – no matter how attached I may feel to them – and that sometimes less really is more. Maybe those are lessons I needed to learn. Maybe they’re ones we all need a reminder of sometimes.

And, because I find this too cool a phenomenon not to share, one of the things I wasn’t expecting as much from revisions is how surprised I’ve been – surprised by things I wrote that I honestly have no recollection of typing out. I guess it’s because I was so completely and fully immersed in the story, so wrapped up in the mindset of my characters, but there have been a few times when I come across a paragraph and am literally taken aback by it. “I WROTE that?” I think to myself. It’s kinda strange, but kinda cool, too. Has anyone else ever had that happen?

I’ll be at the shore next week – we’re squeezing in a few more days there since Hurricane Irene rained on our parade last time, and I am DETERMINED to finish this round of edits before leaving on Monday. I have been working on this one for two and a half weeks now – I’m being so strict about deletions that I only get through 20-25 pages per day – and will be forcing myself to take an actual break while we’re away this time. As much as I love these characters and telling their story, my eyes need a rest. My neck, back, and head need a rest. But my mind? Well, no promises about not beginning some outlining and planning on the next book in the interim. This may be a labor, after all, but it’s one of true love. It’s one where giving anything other than a hundred percent is unfathomable. It’s a true, deeply entrenched work of heart. And that? It makes it all worth it.