Things I’m Working On

“Self-motivation” is a myth, and what I’m doing about it

Hey guys. Remember when we were back in school, or applying for our first jobs, and “self-motivation” was a thing? Like, it was a quality you touted during job interviews, and that your teachers may have called out on your report cards, maybe.

Anyway. I have decided this is not really a thing. Everything, aside from basic like functions like eating and sleeping, seems to require some kind of self-motivation. Showing up to a job interview, applying for the job, seems to take some kind of self-motivation. Not falling asleep in Comp 80 class: self-motivation! Going for that donut run instead of attending Brit Lit: self-motivation!

Okay, I’m being absurd. Sure. But honestly, I can’t think of a single thing that doesn’t require some self-motivation. Even the stuff I love to do, like reading and writing, requires some self-motivation. But some days are harder than others. And some things are way harder than others, for one reason or another.

Most difficult things, in fact, seem to require external motivation.

I find myself up against two of these things lately. First, I’ve been more than lackadaisical when it comes to drafting my second novel. I’m super excited about it; I just … have other things to do. I find myself dragging my feet at the most idiotic things: it too me two and a half weeks to print out a piece of research, one of those that would allow me to draft the next few pages.

And I’ve been been embarrassingly lax when it comes to my own fitness. Part of that is due to travel; part of it due to injury; most of it is due to injury sustained because I’ve been lax about my own fitness. Basically, I’m at rock bottom.

The second is relatively easy to solve. I just go back to what I know: Set aside time. Make it sacred, and a priority. And then set a goal. So I have a browser window open right now that’ll sign me up for a half-marathon in a couple months.

The first of these is a life-long problem when I don’t have a deadline. Writing things on-spec requires bucketloads of self-motivation. Oh, sure, there may be one or two days where I’ll crank out a thousand or even a couple thousand words, but then weeks–WEEKS!–can go by with no progress whatsoever.

So I fell back on an old standby: the thermometer chart. I made one for myself when I was drafting my first novel, and it worked like a charm. Here’s this year’s version, which takes into account a few things I didn’t need to address last time around. More on those later.

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A lot of people, when I mention this chart, seem surprised or impressed. I’m surprised that more people aren’t doing this. It works like this: The increments are marked off each thousand words. And every five thousand words, there are little awards, like this. Sometimes they’re little: a new tube of lip balm; a new sheet of stickers. Sometimes they’re bigger, like a day at the aquarium.

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The progress is marked by colored bars, or doodles, on the left-hand side of the chart, like so:

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Now, this is a new chart, but an old project, so I’m already at 19,650 words. That’s actually way more than I thought I was at. But I’ll be starting to track progress daily from here.

I’m also planning on pulling the trigger on some accountability partners. You know, the people who e-mail you and say HEY YOU. WHAT DID YOU DO TODAY? Predictably, by the time today I get around to it, it will have been over a week since a friend emailed to say that she’d be interested in being my accountability partner. Which I feel bad about.

Actually, I think that’s probably the more efficient way to look at self-motivation. Do the shit you have to do so that you don’t feel bad about not doing it.

Anyway. Tell me about your, uh, self-motivators below. I’d be curious to hear what you do when you’re in a rut.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A short story

Hello,

I woke up this morning with a memory floating around my head. If you know me in real life, it’s probably a story I’ve told you before, but I’ve never actually committed it to paper, and I want to tell it to you now.

A long, long time ago, a close friend asked her friends to meet her in New York to celebrate her impending nuptials. Now, it wasn’t quite a bachelorette party, with sashes and penis straws and belly shots, but it was an opportunity for us to get together and celebrate our friend and the fact that she was getting married, something she had wanted for a very, very long time.

The problem was, I didn’t want her to get married to this particular guy. There are lots of gory reasons why; let’s just say they were good reasons and leave it at that. Anyway, we were getting together to celebrate my friend, is the way we all looked at it. It was a nice evening night out. My friend had moved away from New York by then, and so had I, but it was nice to re-live our days together as single women tearing around town and being irresponsibly drunk. Plus, I got to meet some of my friend’s other lifelong friends, people who predated me, and I’d known my friend for close to a decade.

At the end of the night, we found a taxi cab driver who was willing to let six of us into his cab (it was his last fare of the night), and since I was staying the furthest north, I was also the last to be dropped off.

The cab driver engaged me in some conversation en route:

“She’s getting married, is she?”

“Yeah.”

“You don’t seem very happy about it.”

“I’m not.”

I can’t possibly detail the conversation that took place after this little exchange, because this is not a novel: I sat in his cab for 45 minutes, talking to him through the little transom window, about my friend and our friendship and what it meant that I didn’t feel I could go to her wedding and stand up for her union with this person.

You guys. 45 minutes. I remember the glow of 2nd Avenue; the light bouncing off the asphalt, gold in places and turning red…green…yellow in other places. Red…green…yellow, over and over again, and we talked about what friendship means and whether or not I should go to this wedding. I remember he had a piece of paper in his hands, and he folded it over and over again, and then unfolded it and started all over, as he listened and gave me feedback and talked to me about what I should do and what it would mean if I did or didn’t go.

In the end, his advice was this: You need to go to this wedding, because if you don’t, and the marriage falls apart, she’ll never know if she can trust you to support her.

In the end, I didn’t go to the wedding. My friend was hurt, and angry for a very long time. I don’t blame her, although part of me knows it was better for me not to go, and the other part of me is so deeply regretful that I didn’t go. In some ways I haven’t progressed past that night in the cab.

But of all the amazing things there were to remember that night–being near my good friend, meeting the other people who were important in her life; backtracking through time, it seemed, to a place I thought I’d left behind–I return to that conversation with the cab driver most often. His kindness; the fact that he was willing to give me some time out of the end of his night (and no, there weren’t any expectations or anything gross like that you guys); his very good advice–

I’m so glad someone out there like that exists in this world.

Now I’ve told you this story, and I hope you get as much out of it as I did experiencing it. It cemented something I was beginning to really actively practice back then: everyone has something to offer you.

photo: inquisitr.com

photo: inquisitr.com

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A Way Forward: Two Stories

I want to tell you guys something. Two things, actually.

They both happened in the last quarter. They are not unusual things, but they happened to me directly. I see them as things to learn from, to move forward from, and I invite you to talk about and comment on them with a forward-looking lens. Now, more than ever in our fractured times, this is the best view.

1 Shoulda, Woulda, Coulda. Jim and I drove to Utah and did a race together. We spent time with some friends and took the opportunity, on the drives to and from, to see a few things I’d never seen before, like an awesome bookstore in Salt Lake City and the Hoover Dam.

The night before we saw the Hoover Dam, we had dinner at the Boulder City Brewhouse. It was right across the street from the historic hotel we were staying it; it had good beer…we were happy.

Towards the end of our meal we noticed one of the patrons leering at a waitress. He seemed to be a regular, because they were making conversation, but it became obvious that he was going above and beyond. “How you doing?” she said, for instance, and he replied, “Good. Just waiting for you to offer home delivery.” (Emphasis his.) He openly gaped at her, eyeballing her up and down as she worked and walked around him. It was no surprise when a male waiter, the manager, we guessed, ended up taking the guy’s order.

On the way out I felt a real sense of regret. I balked at the door, and then again on the pathway just outside, wanting so badly to have said something to her. Obviously the restaurant management was aware of the problem and had done the right thing.

Do I think we’d have gone up to the guy and told him to knock it off? Not likely, for a number of reasons: The restaurant clearly was handling it in their own way; Boulder City is a small town and I’m a tourist; I would rather empower her than step in on her behalf; etcetera. Do I think we should have gone to the waitress and told her we’d noticed the bad behavior, and then also flagged the management, even if they were already doing something about it? Yeah, I do. We both left feeling pretty disgusted, with ourselves and the whole situation.

2. Yeah, I’m Not From There. Some of you may know that I do a reasonable amount of public speaking about nonprofits I’m involved in. These talks involve me going, hat in hand, to service organizations and telling them about the cause. Sometimes I’m invited in to talk about my work. Either way, it’s good, clean, fun, and work I’m glad to do.

Until it wasn’t. I met my host in Seoul in May, at a convention for this particular service group. By way of introducing me to one of his club members at a talk I was doing earlier this month, he said, “This is Yi Shun. I rescued her from the DMZ.”

Folks, I was utterly bamboozled. I made the only pivot I could think of, turned to the guy he was introducing me to, a full-on, plaid-wearing white guy farmer, and said, “Yeah. Where’d he rescue you from? Nicaragua?” Predictably, the guy was confused. I felt only vaguely satisfied and went on with my event.

Do I wish I’d called my host out? Perhaps. Does it incense me to recall this event? Yes. There was so much wrong with this commentary, all the way down to the making fun of the awful plight of people who actually do try to escape from North Korea.

You are by now picking up on the pattern. In the last quarter alone I have stayed silent at least twice, where my first instinct was to speak out. Obviously there are smart ways to do this–we don’t live in vacuums, and so we must take these actions considering our entire ecosystems, whether the ecosystem be a small restaurant or the wider world of service clubs and my responsibility to the group I am representing.

But the time for staying silent has gone by. Politesse can co-exist with a lot of things. A well-placed word or a long, hard stare can fix a lot of things. Letting a long pause go by likely would have registered my deep displeasure at my host’s racist commentary at the appropriate time. A quiet word to the manager and waitress both would have at least let them know we supported their handling of the problem.

But silence, as they say, registers complacency, and that time is dead.

This Thanksgiving, someone’s drunk Uncle Jerry is going to say something bigoted, racist, or just plain stupid. Bitching at drunk uncle Jerry himself won’t do anything–he’s drunk–but we can at least exhibit some extreme pissiness. There is a whole table of Thanksgiving revelers who need to know that this shit is not okay.

Call it as you see it. “See something, say something,” is applicable to all kinds of situations.

Me? I see a note to my service-club host in progress. While I won’t out him here, he needs to know that what he said was hurtful and wrong, and I’m going to hang the donation. Some things come with too high a price tag.

Woman Shouting with Bullhorn --- Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

Woman Shouting with Bullhorn — Image by © Royalty-Free/Corbis

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

What Do Editors Do, Anyway?

Over at one of my day jobs, I’m the nonfiction editor for the Tahoma Literary Review. I love it to pieces, even if sometimes the work makes my head spin. We read a lot of submissions over there, and we really only get to take a fraction–I do mean a literal fraction–of the work we get. (Over time, it has waffled between five and seven percent for the nonfiction category; in fiction and poetry it’s hovering around one percent.)

I have said this in other places, but I will repeat it here: When I get work from you, I consider it a very big deal. I consider it a gift, in fact. I felt the same when I was editing fiction, but nonfiction carries an added gravitas to me; it’s like we made a bond, the minute you decided to send me your work, because you chose me to tell your story to.

I almost don’t have to say this part, but I want to: When we edit your work, we are doing so because we have think we have found a gem in your piece. There is some other stuff covering it up, so we get out our little excavation brushes and we carefully, gently, work with you to brush some extraneous stuff away. Maybe use some tweezers. So glad we spent all that time playing “Operation” years ago, or in my case, so glad I finally learned to tweeze my eyebrows.

What is this stuff we are editing away, or asking you to add? Sometimes, it’s the language you use to cover up what you really mean. Sometimes, it’s the sweatsuit you put on because you don’t like the lines of your hips. Other times, it’s the TURN LEFT AT ALBUQUERQUE sign you put up for the reader, when really you mean, “Stay with me. Let’s go over here together.”

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We are here to help your fine, fine work really sparkle.

Okay. So what is the point of all this? Actually, it’s not the what we do that’s really interesting, it’s the why.

Yesterday, I got an email from a TLR contributor, Chris Arthur. One of his essays, “Glass,” has been listed in the Best American Essays 2016 volume as a “Notable” essay. People, I am chuffed to pieces. I am so pleased for Chris, and proud of the work we did together, and I want to let you know: When you get published? When you feel good about the work we’ve done together? When others recognize the work you’ve done to tell me your story and then polish it to its best possible form?

That’s why we do the work we do. And that’s why, every time something good happens to any TLR contributor, we want to know about it.

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(Chris’s wonderful essay is about a blue tit crashing into his window, but it’s about oh, so much more than that. You can read it in TLR’s Vol. 2 No. 2, here.)

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Some notes on “literary community” for writers

Sunday morning, grey out, and there are sooo many things on my mind, not the least of which is what feels like a metric ton of snot pressing on my sinuses. Sorry, Internet, but you needed to know what you’re dealing with.

I’m still noodling over the first part of my book tour, and this thing folks are calling “literary community,” or “literary citizenship.”

What does it mean, exactly? Some have said that, in order to be a great literary citizen, you need to show up at book signings and readings. You should volunteer at your local bookstore and buy books from your indie bookseller whenever you can. You should support other writers.

I agree with all of these. But there is one aspect of literary community that I think is often overlooked in the great equation of “platform building”: You were a reader before you ever became a writer. It’s easy to forget that, when you are all writerly stuff, all the time. Here’s some of what that means for me:

  • When I asked for beta-readers (read: test readers) for my novel, I asked folks who are readers, not just writers. That is, I asked friends who were not at all connected to the writing world, and who were avid readers.
  • When I craft events, I try to build in an element that the non-writers in the audience will enjoy, as well. Sometimes this means asking someone outside of the writerly world to interview me; sometimes it means making an event that everyone can enjoy. Either way, I like it when someone walks away from an event with a take-home.
  • I read willy-nilly. That is, I read outside of my own genre on a regular basis.
  • I work extra-hard to maintain relationships with people who aren’t writers. This isn’t to say I value any of these relationships of any of the others. I’m just a little hyper-aware that it takes more to maintain friendships with folks with whom you don’t also work.

Now, looking back over this short list, I think it maybe comes down to this: We are more than our professions. We are well-rounded people with lots of interests. When we think about our writerly careers, we should also consider the stuff that falls outside of the writerly boundaries.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

What “Being On Book Tour” Means

Well.

Hi there. It’s been awhile, hasn’t it? Sorry about that. Things have been a little cockadoodle, as they say in the dark hinterlands of my brain.

I have had an amazing few months. But that also means I have been neglecting this blog, which is really sad, because I really like this blog, this talking to you. Sure, I keep a diary. But somehow, work feels different when you know it’s being read by others, doesn’t it? Also, a lot has happened, and while none of it has changed much in my status quo, it is still worthy stuff to be sharing.

I have been on Book Tour. Many people have been asking How That Feels. Here is how it feels:

  • Before you go: “I have to leave the house again? For how long, this time? OH OK FINE.
  • During the events: This [reading/workshop/panel/event] is the best thing ever! I want to do this forever!
  • After the events: …What just happened?

Yeah. That’s pretty much what it feels like. But here’s what it really is:

  • Staying with friends, in their spaces. Taking that in; feeling the pieces of the puzzles–click, clack, flippity–that are your friends fall together, because you have been where they live, walked where they walked, had tea and coffee from their kitchen appliances.
  • Passing on all the knowledge you’ve amassed up until now; watching folks get excited about their own projects.
  • Exploring towns and cities you’ve always wanted to spend more time in, even if it’s freakishly fast-moving time.
  • Seeing friends you might not otherwise get to see, even those you haven’t seen in a decade or more.
  • Seeing friends you only, until now, knew online. Realizing the pleasant fizzzzz that is an online friendship gelling into something tangible–a hug! a shared interest in good liquor and food!
  • Meeting new writers you never heard of; discovering work from writers you never knew; hearing them read from their own works and walking away feeling ever so much wealthier for it.
  • Meeting booksellers. Getting to thank them in person for the work they do to forward literature.

So yeah. That’s what being on book tour is like. And that’s why I’ve been gone. But I’ll be back here more frequently, I promise. I have missed you guys. So here are some photos, as a thank you for sticking with me, along with some links. And you can sign up for my brand-spanking-new newsletter here. It’ll go out once a month and cover what I’ve been reading, some things I saw that you might be interested in, and maybe even some embarrassing photos of my drawings. :) (More likely it’ll have some writerly tips and tricks, and some other brain flotsam like upcoming events and locations.)

Okay! The photos!

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Not A Self-Help Book: The Misadventures of Marty Wu now lives at the Lopez Bookshop. I was invited to appear there in conversation with my good friend Iris Graville.

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Signing books! So much fun when surrounded by an amazingly curated selection like they have at Lopez Bookshop!

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In Seattle, I got to read at the incredible Looseleaf Reading Series, along with four other really talented writers and the amazing musician Ramona Shore. Here, my talented friend, Whidbey Island MFA classmate, and Looseleaf co-founder Samantha Updegrave introduces us, along with Looseleaf co-founder Suzanne Warren. (A tremendous shout-out here to my friend Roz, without whom I am reasonably sure only a fraction of this PNW traveling would have been possible.)

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This is Iris’ dog Buddy. <3.

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Writers leave notes for each other.

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Sunrise, from the front window of the house we rent while on Whidbey Island.

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The Kenton Library, in Portland, OR, where I hosted a workshop on memoir smack-dab in the middle of the day, and then followed with drinks with a friend I’d only ever known on the Interweb. What a treat! My friend Haley Isleib, a children’s/young adult writer and screenwriter, invited me to teach here. Friends are awesome.

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Mt. Hood, Oregon–from the Fruit Loop. Fruit Loop! Not a breakfast cereal. Hosted by my friend Jo, from HIGH SCHOOL! Eeee!

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Llama llama ding dong, on the Fruit Loop. (Not just fruit, obviously.)

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In New York, I was honored to appear alongside Jen Baker (creator and moderator of Minorities in Publishing), Hasanthika Sirisena, and Leland Cheuk in a panel at the amazing Word Up Community Bookstore in Washington Heights. Y’all, you need to go to this incredible space. Tremendous thanks to Hasanthinka for setting this event up!

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In Chicago, I was in conversation with Alexandra Salomon, producer for WBEZ’s WorldView at Chicago’s wonderful Women and Children First Bookstore. I’m privileged to call her my friend and proud to count her among my peeps.

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And these people. These people saw my novel in its very first draft. They are Tabitha Olsen and Nancy Stevenson, members of my Chicago critique group and talented writers themselves. You can buy Nancy’s book for middle-graders, about a code-cracking, plucky heroine, here. It’s called “Capitol Code,” and it is every page worth a read.

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I miss you, Chicago.

 

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In wonderful Decatur, Michigan, I was hosted by my fast-talking, speedy-thinking friend, Ami Hendrickson. If you’re in need of a writing coach, Ami can help. We had amazing conversations and have wonderful synergy, and I was so happy to visit her and learn from her. Here she is, teaching her class on narrative.

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St. Joseph’s, Michigan, where I visited with Listen to Your Mother host Kim Jorgenson Gane, was a wonderful town to hang out in. I will visit again, St. Joe’s. Get ready.

IMG_4524And the whole shebang kicked off with a trip to Skokie, Illinois, to teach a workshop on memoir at the Skokie Public Library. Folks, public libraries are IT. Go. Visit. Support.

Okay. That’s it. More soon. I promise. In the meantime, don’t forget: The Newsletter!

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

A Real Wookie of a Father’s Day

I went to a high-school graduation the other week.

Bonita High School Graduation

Bonita High School Graduation

The crowd was amped. The parents never stopped looking for their children, and when they picked them out among the sea of green or white gowns, there was frantic waving, shouting, and something uniquely American: the “Wooo!” that is the hallmark of any excited person living in these United States.

Woo! It took me ages to learn how to do this, with varying levels of success. The first time I tried it, I adopted the Julia Roberts version, the one where she’s at the polo fields in “Pretty Woman”? In that spotted brown dress with the big, big hat? “Woof! Woof! Woof!”

I had to try, you see, because the Woo! had not made its way into our family. Certainly it never came out of a woman’s mouth. Men, in my family, express approval with stern nods, compressed lips, vaguely approving eyebrows, I think. No one ever smiled. Certainly no one ever whooped. So I had to work on it, make it sound casual, make it sound like I really meant it.

But here in America, we whoop. We whoop at everything. We whoop at goals; we whoop when people get married. We whoop when we have managed to land a Cheeto into our moths after tossing it into the air. We whoop when we have manage to get on-board a flight at the last minute.

I know this, because after many, many years of practicing, I have developed a passable “Wooo!” and I deploy it at will. With impunity, whenever I damn well feel like it. Sometimes I think I might even Wooo! more than I high-five. (At best, it’s a close call.)

Now that I am 41, I can “Wooo!” with the best of them.

Anyway. I digress. When it was my turn to graduate high school, like five thousand years ago, I was kind of…trembling. Not from excitement. No, I was worried that when I crossed the stage, there would be crickets. I wasn’t especially popular; I had fought with all of my best friends during school at one time or another, and I knew my parents wouldn’t make a peep. I didn’t have any visiting family, either, not that they would make a peep. Sure enough, they didn’t.

But I was lucky; apparently I did have friends, and they whooped for me, even if the size of whooping was smaller than it had been for our homecoming queen or princesses, or that girl who was so nice that everyone liked her even if her accomplishments were questionable and she missed all the college application deadlines by accident.

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may have dreamed this. But I think, months later, my parents commented on how enthusiastic Americans were, how happy they were. How awesome it was to hear all the noise, how joyful these parents were for such a small accomplishment as graduating high school. What, after all, is there to be proud of? Almost everyone graduates from high school.

I think I may have smiled weakly.

Anyway. Maybe it wasn’t by coincidence that, not long later, at a baseball game, with my brother and I yelling at the players and me occasionally get poked in the leg by my Ma, who was not excited at all to hear her daughter yelling, “You suck!”* at a random player on the field, my dad got up and did the wave. And out of his mouth came a noise that made me freeze solid. It was a cross between a cow in some kind of pain, although it sounded like it wasn’t actually sure if it was in pain, and Chewbacca. “Uuuhhhhhh! Whuuuuuuuh!”

I stared. My dad was  cheering. He was working on it, just like I was working on my Woof.

Four years later, I graduated from college. First, I heard my brother. “THAT’S MY SISTER!” and that was awesome, but then, everyone already knew my brother is capable of generating awesome. Then, the dying-cow-choking-Wookie noise. “Uuuhhhhhh! Whuuuuuuuh!”

My dad, cheering for me.

Never was a sound so welcome, ever.

Here’s to the dads. The ones who buck everything they know, everything they think they know, just to make a kid feel special.

*I no longer do this. The PollyAnna in me says “Everyone is trying their best on that field.” And then, “Oh, look, hot dogs.”

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

How I landed my publisher

…Or, I obsess over my spreadsheets.

I’m sure every writer writes a post like this. But every writer’s experience is different, and every writer’s publishing experience might be different, so I wanted to add my voice to the mix. Plus, this Friday I am teaching a workshop on publishing at my alma mater, so this is a good lead-in.

Oh, hey there, final product of years of work, or something!

Oh, hey there, final product of years of work, or something!

Here is my road to official pub date (May 6!), by the numbers:

  • Months spent querying, in total: 21
  • Agents queried: 85
  • Agents who didn’t reply at all: 20
  • Eventual offers of representation: 1
  • Small/indie presses queried: 21
  • Offers of publication (2.5; one wanted a rewrite that would have sucked the life out of the thing, in my opinion)
  • Heavy revisions: 2
  • Folks involved in the final, pre-offer, big revision (includes one top-notch agent; one publisher; one acquisitions editor): 7
  • Months between final revision and offer of publication: 4.5
  • Months between offer of publication (contract signed) and actual publication: 11

Here is my road to official pub date by mistakes I made/things I did:

When I started querying I felt I had worked so hard on this manuscript that I decided I was going to be bull-nosed about it. Much of the constructive feedback I received from agents I binned, for no good reason. A lot of this was stuff I couldn’t do anything about, like “I didn’t connect with the voice,” or “I’m not a fan of epistolary novels.” But some of it was very concrete, actionable stuff. Lesson learned: Keep every personal rejection. You will use what you learned, what they said, later in your writing career.

When I got a form rejection from an agent who had shown great personal connection in a previous correspondence, I followed up. It had been sent by accident and he had constructive, useful things to say. Lesson, with caveat: If you feel very strongly about something, I think it’s okay to follow up. But be smart about this. Don’t rant, obviously. And really ask yourself if it’s the right thing to do. 

I didn’t pay attention to conventional wisdom about novel length. Mine was too short by about 6,000 words. I joke about the day a top agent asked me to add 6,000 words (“Oh, sure, I’ll do that while I’m pooping”), but it is an agent’s job to sell books, and your job to write them. It was my great privilege to have had this feedback. And it made my work way, way stronger. Lesson learned: Some conventional stuff you can ignore–“Oh! Everyone’s writing YA now! You should write that!”–but some stuff you should be paying attention to. 

I didn’t make this my full-time job. I know for most of us, this is an impossibility. But I could have easily spent at least two hours a day querying, or at least working on my connections in the industry. And I didn’t. Sometimes, whole weeks went by where I didn’t query. Lesson learned: If you really want to make this a part of your life, get on it. 

I did my research. And I leveraged the crap out of my community. Every single guest lecturer I met at the MFA program I graduated from (the ones that made sense, anyway); every single friend I’d ever talked words with–they all played a critical part in the making of this book, from introductions to agents to how to Make Things Better. I’d have never been able to do this if I existed in a vacuum. Lesson learned: Literary community isn’t a buzzphrase. It’s a living, breathing, thing, and you should contribute to it and then gain from it. 

I included the fact that my manuscript was on offer in my bio. Every time I wrote something for someone, I asked them to mention it. This led me to experience one of the greatest possible moments in a writer’s life, ever, even including publication: Some random bigwig agent wrote to me to say she’d read my essay and loved it, and needed to see my novel. Lesson learned: Er. Sometimes pipe dreams actually happen? Yes? Yes. 

There is so much more I could say about this. But I don’t want to give up the bulk of our lecture on Friday. :)

And P.S. You can buy my book here and here. And visit my awesome publisher here.

 

 

 

 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

Brain Flotsam 6

Welcome to Brain Flotsam, the weekly digest of things I read, saw, or otherwise encountered that made my week more interesting. This week I saw five friends in person and got to interact with so many more in real time. What a great, packed week. And, the following:

  • One night this week I dreamed I had tried out for and made the high school cheerleading squad. We had to go to a tournament soon after. And I spent all of my time F-R-E-A-K-I-N-G O-U-T. Like, “I can’t do this! I have never been in a TOURNAMENT before!” And then part of me said, “Ridiculous. Why do you think they picked you for the squad? You have been training for this all your life! A tournament is just a bigger tryout! You can do this!” I like to think it was my conscious, slowly realizing I was dreaming, or do I like to think that? Wouldn’t I rather think that my subconscious, telling me that I can do whatever it is that’s coming my way? (NB: I have never wanted to try out for cheerleading, although I did rather envy the little pleated skirts and tiny sweaters.)
  • Sometime last week I stopped hitting “like” on facebook posts. (I borrowed the idea from this guy.) I think, honestly, it was because the introduction of the new “react” options tipped me over the edge into decision fatigue. Now I react only using comments. I think it’s made me a more thoughtful person. (Don’t laugh.)
  • A new museum! It’s of broken hearts!
  • I made this fish stew this week. It was delicious, and then I left it out on the counter after we’d had our second meal from it. Sad. Oh well.
  • The MFA program I graduated from is closing its doors this semester. I don’t have anything coherent to say about this yet, except this: I am sad that I won’t be able to give back to the community that gave me so much, now that I’ll be a published author soon. Lesson learned: contribute whenever you can. Don’t wait.
  • I am still reading Stephen King’s It. I would like it to end sometime soon, and it looks like it will. After this, I think I should read something rather less gothic. And shorter. The last time it took me this long to read something, it was Moby-Dick (chapter 18! Still no whale!) and I was on deployment in Malawi, and I never finished it.
_It_ feels about as big as this whale.

Stephen King’s _It_ feels about as big as this whale.

I think that’s it for this week. Hopefully by the next time we check in together, I will have finished reading _It_ and moved onto something comforting and fluffy. What did you see this past week? Tell me in the comments below.

P.S. My MFA program’s mascot is the orca whale. I think I won’t be able to look at Orcas for a long time without feeling a little bit sad.

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.

On Greatness, or By Way of a New Year’s Resolution

My friend Mike signs all of his cards thus:

IMG_3529

 

I thought it such a nice sentiment that I asked him about it. Why does he sign this way?

Mike says it’s a hangover from his days coaching pro and Olympic athletes. “I hope it has some kind of positive impact, however fleeting it may be.”

My brother signs his emails “Be good.” And I know a guy whose outgoing voicemail message is “And remember, Carpe Diem. Seize the day.” Do these things have positive impact on us? Does hearing  them remind us to “be good,” or “carpe diem”? Does seeing a gentle reminder to “be great” actually encourage us to do just that?

For me, seeing it–“Be Great!”–sent me into kind of a rocket-launch of both memory and aspiration. What does it mean, for me, to “be great”? I think, although it might look like a mere inspirational message, it does so much more than that. After I’d pressed him a little, Mike said, “Maybe it is a subconscious reminder to me as well. I think it is about intent and the journey towards, not necessarily the destination of being great, per se.”

Alexander. He of The Great. Not related to the point of this post at all.

Alexander. He of The Great. Not related to the point of this post at all.

For me, I recalled all the times I ever felt great–being with friends; helping a writer to produce and publish something s/he’s proud of; the day I followed my natural desire and chased a red balloon down the street, having seen it from my office window. And then I also recalled all the places I’ve felt great: in Malawi with ShelterBox; Mousehole, England; Guadalajara, Mexico, to name a few recent places. And that led to all the things I’ve done that make me feel great: Trying to learn a new language. Writing a new essay. Visiting a friend. Reading a terrific book. Trying to and semi-succeeding at sight-reading music from long-buried memory. (Okay, that last, more “relief” than “great.”) Cleaning out a drawer or two. Yes, seriously, if only for a fleeting moment. It’s okay, there’s always another drawer.

I think this is what Mike meant, when he talked about the journey towards being great. It’s about all the things we do en route to the end of each day that make us feel great.

Do all these memories make me want to “carpe diem,” or define what greatness is? Not exactly. They make me want to seek out that sensation, over and over again, of greatness, of having done something relevant to my own personal code of greatness. There is a difference.

The reminder to “be great” makes me want to find a way to feel great. And I want to feel great more often than not. So, for this year: Learning rock and jazz piano, maybe some blues, to keep music in my life. (Jazz hands! No.) Picking up a new language, with intent to acquiring some fluency. More work with ShelterBox. Visiting, and maintaining contact with, friends near and far. Letters. Always letters. And getting outside. And more writing. And publishing. And sharing stuff, and gifting, and and and and…

There are so many opportunities to be great, aren’t there?

What makes you feel great? Tell me in the comments below. 

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Writer, editor, general crazy-pants.