Friday, April 30, 2010

The Great Marshmallow Caper

A few days ago, I revealed that I had recently purchased 26 bags of mini marshmallows on Twitter and on the blog. When asked why, I gave annoyingly cryptic responses. Why? Because it's a surprise, that's why.

When I later consulted my mother about the marshmallows, she suggested that for the volume of space I had to fill with them, I might want to consider doubling the amount of marshmallows I had just bought. So I went back to the store and purchased 16 more. (Not exactly double, but you catch my drift.)

Want to know why I purchased 42 bags of marshmallows?

Well, I'll tell you.

Wait, no. Scratch that.

I'll show you.




(Here's the March 31st post I refer to.)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Equal Opportunity Preparation

(First of all: if you haven't entered my crazy-ridiculous contest in which you can win a gun that fires large marshmallows over 30 feet, please do so. It ends on Thursday.)

Here's one thing we're good at in the writing world: preparing you for the worst. Every writing book, blog, magazine, website, and message board tells you what to do in the worst case scenario. If you get rejected. If you get revision notes you don't agree with. If your dream agent packs up and moves to Mars on your favorite donkey (laugh all you want, but that would put you in quite a pickle.) How to wait. How to cut. How to handle disappointment with grace.

That is all awesome. Don't get me wrong-- that advice prepared me for some tough times. It helped me to ward off bitterness when I got rejected, to pick myself up and try again. I'm not knocking it.

Here is my question, though: what if everything goes well?

This is, of course, something I've been thinking about for the past two weeks. I think the assumption is that when things go well, you don't need to be prepared, you'll just "go with it." But I don't think that's necessarily true.

The other day I sat down with my notebook and wrote out my goals. But I didn't think about how many books I want to sell (because the answer to that is: as many as possible) or who I want to star in my autobiographical Lifetime movie or what I want my hair to look like when I'm on Oprah or whatever. No, no. My goals are an answer to the following question:

Who do you want to be, if everything goes well? What kind of person? What kind of author, writer, client, friend, wife?

I'll admit that some of this has nothing to do with the book. Forgive me if I sound all serious and intense for a little while. I'll try to lighten the mood with this picture:

(picture removed)

I guess you can answer these questions no matter how things go. But I can see that it would be tempting to take what you have for granted, when you're used to it, or to let the allure of new, cool things carry you far away from who you were before. I think one way to prevent all of that from happening is to decide, right now, what you want success to look like on you. If success doesn't come, then it doesn't matter, you've still isolated what's important to you. And if it does, you already know exactly how you're going to handle it. There's no uncertainty.

There are a few things I value. I'm not saying I've got them all down already and I'm just trying not to lose them. Heck no. I'm saying there are qualities I'd like to have, that I might already have and I'm working to strengthen, that I don't have the opportunity to develop but may someday.

I don't want to get all "inspirational post-y" and write my list here. But I will tell you that most of my goals boil down to being kind, humble, and honest. I have more specific examples of when and where. As in: I'm not going to talk around or deny my beliefs. And: I'm going to accept criticism with grace. And: I'm going to approach revisions with enthusiasm.

I think it's time.

(picture removed)

Anyway. You get the idea. I'm deciding, right now, what my author/writer/client trajectory is going to look like. There are some things I can't control, like whether my book is successful or not. But I can control how I carry myself, no matter what happens.

This is me encouraging you to consider the brighter side of the future. I mean: it could happen. And: it could happen so fast you don't know what hit you.

*cough*

Basically, here's what I think: you can never sell enough books to compensate for being an unkind, pompous jackass. What you can do is figure out how to love people deeply, widely, and authentically. And to me, that's light years more important.

So: are you going to be the kind of author who engages with the writing community? The kind who answers questions, beta reads, responds to twitter @s when possible? Or the kind who shuts herself/himself in a cabin in the woods and refuses to talk to anyone? Are you going to broadcast the dollar amount of your advance on the internet? Or are you going to keep learning, even if you establish yourself, even if you top the bestseller list, even if you achieve formerly unheard of levels of fame and wealth?

What kind of author are you going to be?

Ponder it. I'm going to.

New Domain Name

I just want to direct your attention briefly to the new domain name.

The reason I switched it is because it's generally a good idea to have your name as your domain name, and I didn't want to find myself regretting it a few months down the road and then finding that it's a bit late to do anything about it.

If you have a link to my blog on your blog, I'm sorry for creating this random inconvenience, and also: thanks so much for the link!

Friday, April 23, 2010

Flashback Fridays: "Guns. Lots of Guns."

Are you ready for your Friday dose of nostalgia? Because this week at GotYA, our "Flashback Fridays" topic is: movies that defined a generation.

So I don't really have a good grasp of my generation and how it's defined yet. But when I think about memorable movies from my youth, and even movies that continue to have influence now,The Matrix comes to mind.

Okay, first of all, this should surprise no one, coming from me.

Second of all, this movie was (and still is) cool as hell. This was the movie that made us forget that Keanu Reeves isn't a good actor. This was the movie that brought us bullet time. (You know-- when Neo does that arm flailing move that allows him to avoid all those bullets. That's the effect I'm referring to.) This was the movie that got parodied in a hundred different places. And if you say the words "there is no spoon," people (at least, people like me) will know exactly what you're referring to.

Oh, and let's not forget that some parents blamed the violence in this movie for violence among teens in the real world. You know, along with Marilyn Manson.

Because when I watch the Matrix and listen to Marilyn Manson, I suddenly get the urge to throw a rock at the mailman.

Makes total sense.

Anyway. This movie was my introduction to non-alien-related sci-fi. Before this, science fiction was pretty much restricted to Star Wars and Star Trek and maybe even the X-Files for me. And they were great and all, but aliens are something I naturally shy away from in my writing. Along with time travel. And chicks in bonnets.

After watching this, it occurred to me that science fiction can include many things, none of them alien-related. So at the very least, this movie freed my writing mind. ("Free your mind, Neo...") And now that I think about it, one of the things from this movie that stuck in my head was the idea that the reality you see doesn't necessarily have to be reality itself. And wouldn't it be terrifying if you were in a dream you couldn't escape from. And those ideas definitely seeped into my stories.

When my brother and sister first decided to watch it, I was at the computer in our basement, facing the opposite way and totally not interested, and then halfway through I was turned around in the computer chair with my mouth open, just staring. The next day I went out and bought it. ON VHS. What can I say? If you're going to shove a metal stick into a guy's brain to teach him Kung Fu, I'm in. With popcorn.

So: when you add up cool visual effects, pop culture references, and a TON of parent-related controversy, you get a movie worth mentioning. Ta daaa.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Story Time. PART TWO.

MAN do I have a story for you guys today.

Last Monday, when I had officially been on submission for about four days, I received a phone call from JSV (Joanna Stampfel-Volpe, for those not In The Know) telling me I should probably finish my synopsis of Divergent's sequel that day. I knew something was happening, but she (wisely) didn't tell me exactly what it was, so I crossed "working out" off my to-do list-- because let's face it, it's the first thing to go-- and sat in front of my computer in my pajama pants for about an hour, typing away.

I was three sentences away from the end when she called me again. And it went a little like this:

JSV: "Are you tired of me yet?"

V: (Thinking, with eye-roll: yeah, Jo, I totally HATE phone calls from my nice, funny agent.) "No! What's up?"

JSV: "So that synopsis...yeah, I'm going to need that like now."

After which she informed me that there was some interest in my book. And I promptly lost feeling in my legs.

I know people say that as kind of a joke, but seriously? I lost feeling in my legs. I was standing up, and looking at my feet, and thinking "are my feet still attached to my body?" I think I also let out a kind of strangled scream.

And then I waited for more details. With my tense face on. Like this:



Later that day I was in the elevator and I heard The Ringtone. Earlier I had assigned JSV's number a special ringtone so I would know when she was calling me (so I could take deep breaths before I picked up). It was the most urgent ringtone I could find-- it basically sounds like the phone is screaming "IF YOU DON'T PICK UP THE PHONE, THE PLANET WILL HURTLE INTO A BLACK ABYSS."

I got off the elevator and went into this creepy hallway in my building that leads to the loading dock, where all the dumpsters are. It has beige tile floors and beige walls and it basically looks like a place where people get murdered. And then, you know, conveniently recycled.

That was where I was standing when JSV told me that Harper Collins wanted my book.

My response?

V: "I have to sit."

(I sat.)

V: "Okay. I'm going to cry a little now."

JSV: "All right, but I'm going to keep talking."

V: (Laughing and crying and numb legs again.)

There's a little more to it than that (isn't there always?), but those are the juicy parts.

I have loved Harper Collins since I was little, even though at the time I didn't know that a lot of the books I loved were HC books. Never did I think "one day, I'm going to be published by HC" and actually believe it.

Does it get even better? Yes it does.

The next day I talked to Molly O'Neill, editor at Katherine Tegen Books (the wonderful HC imprint I'll be working with). For an hour. Let me tell you something about Molly O'Neill. She's one of those "instantly put you at ease" people. Which helps a lot, because last Tuesday I was a 21-year-old ball of nerves and energy, and "ease" was not something I had going for me. Actually, if "ease" and I had been on a spectrum, I would have been at one end and "ease" would have been at the other.

After that phone call, I knew that she would both love my book and improve it-- basically, that it was in great hands.

And then I had to wait.

And my face looked like this:



And simultaneously:



(That would be my in-chair happy dance. I know I look pained. My pained expressions and my happy expressions look very similar.)

I have also been getting teary-eyed at random moments throughout the week. And when I say random, I mean RANDOM. I mean while driving on I-94, just past the tollbooth. Or sitting at my desk, staring at the origami paper I just bought. Suddenly? Crying.

I don't get serious very often on ze blog, but I will say this: I know what an incredible blessing this is. I will try my hardest not to take it for granted, and to remember that it isn't a wage-- it's a gift.

Want a link, though?

Flashback Fridays: Book Nostalgia

Flashback Friday is a thing we're doing over at GotYA in which each one of us gets all nostalgic and blogs about the past, on varying topics. This week's topic is: books from back in the day.

Really, "back in the day" is a decade ago for me, so it hasn't been that long since I read them. Weird, eh?

Anyway, I have a list.

1. The Giver, by Lois Lowry

We had to read this in fourth or fifth grade in my reading class (I was in the pull-out program, which means they remove you from the regular classroom and escort you to these creepy mobile classrooms every day to do more/more difficult reading than the other kids. Basically, this is when the segregation of nerds began, and it continued into my young adulthood.) This book got under my skin. I think it's because everything seems fine and dandy until you realize that they're euthanizing old people and controlling emotions and no one can see any color. And from what I recall, it's also deeply emotional, particularly when they're doing the memory-passing-on thing. I don't know. There's just something about it that gave me a quick smack to the face when I was younger, such that a decade later when I started playing around with dystopian ideas, it was still lingering in the back of my mind.

2. A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle

This is one of those books that when you grow up, you think, why did Mom let me read something that creepy? It seriously kept me awake at night. If you don't remember why, allow me to remind you. People bouncing balls in unison. Eerie, silent perfection. MAN WITH RED EYES AND MIND CONTROLLING ABILITIES KEEPING A GIRL'S FATHER PRISONER. It's terrifying! It's the stuff horror movies are made of! And what was up with Charles Wallace?

It was one of those things I had to finish reading in order to preserve my sanity. Because if you fall asleep in the middle of that stuff, it will crawl into your brain and create anxieties you never knew existed. Okay, that's probably not true, but really. Had to finish it.

3. Animorphs series, by K.A. Applegate

Remember this?

Why am I so fascinated by mind control? These books were about mind-controlling aliens called Yeerks that look like slugs, that basically slip into your brain and take over your body. The worst part is that you don't know who's got one sliming around inside of them. No, scratch that. The worst part is that they all have to return to this life-giving pool every week or so, so you retain control of your own body for like twenty minutes in this creepy underground lair and then you have to let it worm back into your ear again, kicking and screaming all the way. It's horrifying.

Question two: why am I so fascinated by the books that scared the crap out of me when I was a kid?

Ah, well.

Anyway. These books may not have contained the best writing ever, but I used to devour them. They had some good world building. And the further Applegate dove into assorted alien worlds and races, the trippier and cooler it got. Someday, I'm going to have to go back and read these again.

I could go on and on about childhood books, really. But those are the first three I thought of.

Books from your childhood, anyone?

Thursday, April 15, 2010

New Blog/Contest!

So recently I joined Old People Writing For Teens, even though that title is inaccurate when applied to me, since I am only 21 and can't really pull off "old" as a descriptor. Luckily, I joined right around the time that they started planning their move to a new blog with a new name! OPWFT is now known as GotYA, and because it's our launch day, there's a CONTEST going on there. So check it out! The prizes are pretty awesome.

That's all for now. Happy writing/reading, everyone.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

RTW: Writing Advice

It's Wednesday, and you know what that means. Okay, maybe you don't, but I do, so I'll tell you. Road Trip Wednesday, courtesy of YA Highway! In which I join many others in answering a writing/book related question. And this one's a good one.

What's the best writing advice you've ever received?

I'm warning you right now: I am going to cheat. I have several gems I'd like to share, and I can't pick just one. I may have mentioned them before on the blog, but they're worth repeating, I think.

Item 1: The Backpack

"The backpack" is a piece of advice that one of my writing professors gave me. She said that writing a story is like climbing a mountain. When you pack your backpack, you want to take only what you need to reach the top; when you write a story, you want to insert only details/characters/story elements that you are going to need to reach the story's ultimate conclusion. For example, you wouldn't pack your hair dryer if you went mountain-climbing, unless you expect to find a naturally occurring outlet, or unless you plan to use it as a blunt object to defend yourself against angry bears. Likewise, you do not need the scene in which your main character goes to a water park and almost chokes to death on Twizzlers if it never becomes relevant. This philosophy will give you a streamlined draft. (Here is the post I wrote about this earlier, if you want more of an explanation.) If I hadn't received this advice, D would be a heck of a lot clunkier than it is now. Thanks, Shauna.

Item 2: The Internal Editor

Turn. It. Off. For those of you who have perfectionist tendencies, like moi, you find this extremely difficult. But I'm pretty sure that this piece of advice is solely responsible for cutting my 1st draft writing time from 8 months to 1 month. When I wrote TM (may it rest in peace), I let the internal editor run rampant over my draft, pointing out all problems and demanding that they be fixed IMMEDIATELY. And it took me FOREVER, and I still had to do huge revisions at the end anyway. When I wrote D, I told the internal editor "screw you," and just made notes of the problems in the draft as I went along. I finished in 40 days, and then revised everything at the end, and it was far less frustrating.

I mean, think about it. The IE doesn't know where the story is going to end up, so how solid is their advice anyway? NOT VERY.

Item 3: Snippety Snip

I wrote a guest post about this over at Steph Bowe's blog. Basically, what it says is: don't be afraid to cut things. And: know what to cut. Easier said than done, right? But the advice that has transformed my writing came to me on a line-by-line basis: cut the words you don't need, like "take a" in the phrase "take a sip," for example.

As I was thinking about this, though, I realized that I know exactly when and how I learned this, and it's really cool, so I'll tell you. Months and months ago when I submitted my first MS (TM, may it rest in peace) to my current agent-who-was-not-then-my-agent (the stunningly talented, part-time insomniac, Joanna Stampfel-Volpe), she sent me five pages of line edits along with the revision notes she gave me. At around the same time, my critique group buddy Lara gave me extremely similar line-by-line feedback on the rest of the MS. When I looked at both sets of edits, I realized just how much I could trim from my writing. And after applying the new trimming philosophy to the rest of the MS, which I later trunked, I was able to figure out how to write cleaner from the get-go. This resulted in the much crisper D.

How awesome is that?

Anyway.

Item 4: Don't Take It Personally

This tidbit comes from my mother, who didn't say it in relationship to writing, but it has certainly helped in that arena. I repeated this phrase to myself every time I got a rejection, and it definitely helped me stay positive. Plus, it's really NOT personal. If it was, JSV would have deleted my second query instead of reading it.

Item 5: A Clear Head

Unclear writing results from unclear thinking, is the advice. Therefore, clarify the vision you have for your character/scene/story, and your writing will improve.

I could go on like this forever, but I think five pieces of advice is enough rule-breaking for one day. Got anything to add?

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Fine Line (Between Modesty and Self-Deprecation)

Recently I read this post at Nathan Bransford's blog about lacking confidence in your writing. Based on something called the Dunning-Kruger effect, it's possible that thinking you're incompetent may actually be a sign that you ARE competent. An interesting thought.

Here's the question I have, though: can you believe you are competent without being a smarmy little jerk? To what extent is it okay to say "I like my book. I think it's good"?

I propose this: in our attempts to be humble, we writers often act falsely self-deprecating. And it's a little annoying. (I mean, I definitely do this, and I get annoyed with myself.)

I mean, just look at the process. We write our books, we polish them, and then we send out queries. Here's the thing about querying, though: the very act of sending out a query letter says "my book is worth reading." And that is okay.

We spend all this time querying, telling the agent world that our books are worth looking at, yet when we talk about our work, or when other people talk about our work, all we can say is "I'm scum. I suck! I will never get an agent/get published/get elected president of the world." (Okay, that last one may not be that far off base.) And we can't even take compliments anymore because we're so determined to be humble.

I've been thinking lately about what humility really is. I heard once that humility is seeing yourself as you really are. I don't think that's a perfect definition, but it is worth thinking about. If I see myself as I really am, I know that I am not a bad writer. BUT I also know that I am not perfect, and I have a lot to learn. So do I need to insult myself? Um...no. Do I need to prance around the internet talking about how kickass I am? No. Not that either.

My problem is: if you're querying, you believe that your work is good (or you should, anyway. Why send out something that even YOU don't think is good? That's a waste of everyone's time!). So you don't have to pretend that it it's bad for the sake of the people around you. Honestly, they don't want to hear that any more than they want to hear the opposite. I cringe at the comment "no agent would ever want me" as much as I cringe at "my book's going to be a NYT bestseller! Want to shine my shoes and bask in my presence?"

I really just want to say this: don't step on yourself. The world, especially the publishing world, will probably do enough of that for you. If you believe your book is worth reading, then stand behind that. It isn't egotistical to say that your work has merit, as long as you acknowledge that it also has flaws. See it as clearly as you can. That includes the good AND the bad.

Plus, stepping on yourself is probably not good for your joints. How do you even bend that way?

Friday, April 2, 2010

Patience is a Habit. (Because Virtues Are Overrated.)

In the spirit of the GRE, I have some math for you. Here goes.

Writing + the desire to be published = waiting. (Think about it. Writing. Waiting. Only one letter away from each other. Coincidence? I THINK NOT.)

If you're querying, you know this already. You send out queries. You wait weeks to hear back. You send out partials. You wait months to hear back. And that doesn't change when you get an agent, either. Because believe it or not, it takes time for someone to read 300 pages of your revised novel. (I know. Shocking, right?) And then you're on sub, and you get to wait for THOSE responses. I think you get the point: the waiting. Never. Ends.

No problem. I am a patient person. At least, I THOUGHT SO. And then I spent a few months refreshing my inbox every three minutes and getting progressively twitchier and twitchier, and I realized that even the most patient person goes absolutely insane when they're waiting for Big News. So what the HECK are we supposed to do about it? How do you LEARN patience? Is patience something you CAN learn?

I'm here to tell you that it is.

And that may be wishful thinking.

I'm sure you've heard this phrase: Patience is a virtue. Well, I have specific opinions about trying to develop virtues. If you've ever read a little thing called Divergent, you know that. My main character happens to agree with me. (Fancy that!) Here, let me show you her thoughts:

“No one’s perfect,” I say. “It doesn’t work that way. One bad thing goes away, and another bad thing replaces it.”

In Divergent, people basically isolate a virtue and try as hard as they can to develop just that virtue. And I don't think it's a huge spoiler to say that IT DOESN'T WORK. Not only is it impossible, but it's not a good idea. Too much focus on any "virtue" screws something else up. Like if you focus too much on being peaceful, you might just let bad things happen to the people around you so you "don't rock the boat." Or if you focus too much on honesty and you forget about kindness. Human beings can't make themselves perfect. That's my opinion. Feel free to disagree with me.

In any case, you will find it frustrating and difficult to try to change your personality and make yourself more patient. It's not helpful to me to think "I need to be more virtuous." Yeah, I know that. It is helpful to think about what I can DO.

I find the following quote a little more helpful. The source is unknown.

"Patience is waiting. Not passively waiting. That is laziness. But to keep going when the going is hard and slow - that is patience."

The key? KEEP GOING. Keep writing! I have so much trouble with this. When I'm waiting for something, I want all of my attention to be focused on that thing. But I have to stop changing the theme of my gmail every hour because I'm tired of what I'm staring at. I have to stop clicking the circle with the arrow at the end. I have to get up and do something else.

The problem is that for writers, "something else" does not involve moving to a different location. For me, "something else" requires me to sit at my computer, which is THE SCENE OF THE OBSESSING CRIME, and exercise extreme self-control by not opening the inbox again.

That's why I say that patience is a habit, just like obsessing is a habit. You sit down, you immediately open your inbox, and you start with the clicking (which, by the way, is going to give you carpal tunnel syndrome. CUT IT OUT.) But if you just change it in a few little ways, your obsessing can become patience.

IE:

Sit down. Open your word document before you open your browser.

In fact, do not open your browser.

In fact: turn off your wireless altogether. Not forever! Give yourself a time limit. 60 minutes of productivity, and then I get my internet back. Something like that. I mean, I don't care if you just stare at your blank document for a half hour. You can't stare at it for a minute, and then give up and go on the internet. That's what we call Indulging the Crazy. Better to stare blankly at the document than to refuse to think about your writing altogether.

(The following paragraph is for those of us with email capabilities on our phones. Sorry, tech-people. This won't help you.) My phone beeps every time I get an email. That may sound irritating to many of you, but it leads me to stop checking my email, because I know that if the phone hasn't beeped, there's no point, I don't have one. And no amount of frantic clicking will make one appear. If you don't want all your emails delivered to your phone, you can always filter certain emails (with key words like "query" or the title of your MS) to a different email address, and have THOSE emails sent to your phone.

Don't constantly talk about how impatient you are.
I know we live in this society where you've gotta talk all your feelings out in order to get over them, blah blah blah. But my theory is: talking arises from thinking. Which leads me to my next suggestion.

STOP THINKING ABOUT IT. Don't dwell. It's not healthy. Think about something else. The new WIP. The book you're reading. The fact that at any moment, sea creatures could rapidly evolve highly intelligent brains, grow legs, and take over the planet with sheer size and force of numbers.

...

Basically, you think you need a support group for your crazy impatience. You don't. (Okay, maybe sometimes you do. I'm not saying that you should bottle up the Crazy. I'm saying you shouldn't INDULGE the Crazy.)

What you need is a new thought pattern. A new habit. Write through your impatience. Write through your rejections. Always, always, always write. It's the only way that you'll make it out of this alive.

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