From great turmoil comes great writing. 2018 is going to be living proof of that. Some legendary YA is about to enter the world this year, and I’ve been dying to celebrate the YA book babies of some of the people I’ve connected with at one point or another during my writing journey. So here it goes. 2018’s WHO TO READ LIST by a very biased reviewer with acutely impeccable taste in YA literature. That’s me.
I remember thinking that when I got an agent magic would take over my world. Words would roll out of my fingers like ocean waves. Revisions would feel like a casual stroll rather than a marathon. People would line up at my door to read my beautiful, beautiful words.
Let me be clear. It HAS been magical. And words DO come. And on occasion, people do like to read the tales I spin. But mostly… mostly, writing now is like writing then.
Hard. Beautiful. Gut-wrenching. Satisfying. Revealing.
It’s still hard writing, post-agent. But sometimes for different reasons. I never had writers block before getting an agent. Never. Hate me if you will, but usually I had a hundred stories lined up in my head, waiting for a little attention. There is a mind switch that happens when you start writing for another reason. Revisions start to take priority, and you don’t let your mind wander as often, because you know it’s only a matter of time before you have to revisit that last story either for an R&R or to polish it up for submission. Sometimes the creative whiplash that occurs from jumping from world to world too often is just too much, so you just don’t write between stints of waiting on feedback on revisions. I’m not saying this is a good thing. I’m just saying it happens.
It’s still beautiful. Though I don’t get to create freely as often anymore, those moments when the story is taking shape and the characters are speaking… well, you know how it feels. It’s the first gaze into your newborn’s eyes. It’s a dive off the top of a roller coaster. It’s a plunge into icy water. It’s exhilarating and just plain beautiful. Thank goodness, that still happens.
You still have to wait, post-agent. And waiting can be so hard. Waiting while you know someone is reading your work. Waiting while you wonder if you sent your very best, if you could have sweat a little harder, bled a little more to make it better. Waiting, hoping, praying for good news. Yes, even after getting an agent, writing is still gut-wrenching.
There’s nothing, before or after getting an agent, that is more deeply gratifying than typing those two final words: The. End. It doesn’t matter how many times you do it, it just satisfies this deep, deep part of you that no one else but another writer understands. For me, editing can be almost as satisfying. It feels like clay taking shape under my fingers. The features come into view, start looking back at me with these life-like eyes, and I stare back at them and go, “Holy something… I made that!”
Writing has always been revealing for me, but something about this stage of writing has caused the process to reveal more of my inner self than I could have imagined. Over the past year, writing has been so intensely introspective, a reflection of my values, my brokenness and my strength. I’ve dug deeper and looked harder than ever before. It’s been surprising. And it’s forced growth.
So yes, things have changed in the past year, and no, they haven’t. Writing is the same and it’s oh, so different. It’s still all the things I love and hate. And I wouldn’t change that for the world.
A friend of mine recently tweeted a GIF of a roller coaster, comparing it to the publishing experience. It was sort of perfect.
The experience is full of ups and downs, for sure. The best way to understand the full scope of this is to become a part of a writing community and listen as other writers share their hearts and emotions. I’ve done a lot of things for a living. I’ve cleaned houses, worked as a pharmacy tech, ran a daycare, worked in a hospital, taught in schools, worked in retail, taught painting classes. None of these fields of work affected me emotionally like writing does. Your words are your heart and soul. Your guts. Your very being. So the process of writing, or publishing can be both deeply gratifying and equally as distressing.
As artists, we are our own worst critiques and biggest fans. Teetering between these two roles is one of the most exhausting experiences I’ve had in my adult life. One minute, I’m like, “Daaaaaang, who wrote this? It’s gooooood.” And the next, I’m embarrassed for having sent it out into the world. But as I share my journey with others, I’ve found this is the norm for writers. And this isn’t the only internal battle we face. There are other elements in the roller coaster as well: the steep inclines and dips and upside down turns of publishing itself.
Publishing is all about waiting. And, waiting, I’ve found, is like that slow drag up to the peak of the coaster. For some of us, this portion of the journey is longer than others. And the longer it is, the more anticipation and anxiety that builds. Then there’s the matter of hitting the peak. There’s a number of ways we might react. We might take the go-dead-to-the-world, wake-me-up-when-it’s-over approach, or scream and freak out on the way down. Some of us actually enjoy the dive. While others are already thinking about the next peak before we even get to the valley. We’re asking ourselves, can I really do this again? And what happens after that? Another peak? Another valley? Can I live like this my whole life? Why did I ever get on this ride?
The fact is, deep down, we really DO love the ride. We wouldn’t be satisfied with another life. If you’ve ever gone a long period of time without the elements of the roller coaster, you know, it’s pretty boring. There’s no reason to obsessively check your email. No news coming in. Nothing to create or promote. It’s true, this life isn’t for everyone. But for the roller coaster lovers, the rush is all a part of the journey.
A Shuffle in the Schedule
For our first session tonight, we’ll be speaking to William Vaughn, author of two series in different genres. William has been gracious enough to speak to us on his success as a self published author with two series in different genres as well as technical writing.
William Vaughn is a writer and has been for nearly forty years. More than a dozen of his technical books could be found in bookstores all over the world—but most of you haven’t read them unless you’re a student of data architectures. After retiring from programs and databases, he turned his creative talents to coming of age stories and time travel. His latest books include his three-book YA series The Seldith Chronicles, and his three-book NA series The Timkers. Yes, as with his first technical books, these are all independently published. Leveraging his eye for graphics design, he creates his own covers and internal layouts. As you might have guessed, he’s also a graphics artist, photographer and world traveler. He spends his days writing, when he can, mentoring when he can and travelling, dabbling with computers and watching film noir.
To see more about upcoming events for The Write Nice Writers Group CLICK HERE!
I’ve spent nights racking my brain for an original idea, knowing that it’s in there, deep, trapped like a dust bunny between synapsis.
And then it comes to me: that never-been-done-before original idea. And, with vigor, I share it with my husband or my bestest writing buddies, and they’re like, “Oh, cool. So, like the Hunger Games then? ” After a few defensive rounds of, you’re not getting it, and let me explain it one more time, I realize they’re right. It’s the same story, with different characters.
A wise man once said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Yeah, that Solomon guy was the bomb. A lot of experts agree with old Solomon. They theorize that there are really only a handful of plots out there. The idea that we keep telling the same stories with new twists and different characters has been around for a while. But this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s human nature to want to read familiar stories. We like stories we can identify with. This doesn’t mean the story is filled with things we’ve experienced ourselves or events that remind us of someone else’s experiences. It just means that some element of the story is relatable, or is something we can connect with on some sort of empathetic level. Generally, we can find something to connect with in even the most far-fetched stories. We love to read things that make us go, “Me too!”
In my previous post, A FORMULA FOR A BEST SELLER?, I reference Vulture.com, a site that breaks basic plots into categories like impostors or forbidden love and then explains the plot devices within the story line. Using the works of William Wallace Cook’s Plotto, Christopher Booker’s The Basic Seven Plots, and Ronald B. Tobias’s 20 Master Plots, the claim is made that there are really only around eighty fictional plots out there. Other experts in literature claim there are as few as twenty. I suppose it depends on how broad or narrow a lens you’re viewing the plot from. I mean, something like the idea of survival could probably be identified in most stories. It’s interesting, however, to look through the list and see where the stories you’ve created fit.
Regardless of whether you think there are infinite plots or a handful of recycled ones, one thing can be certain. Themes do resurface, because humanity goes through cycles. It’s important to understand this as an author. Understanding plots can make us better, more effective writers and might even enable us to create stories that profoundly impact hearts.
Now, that’s a thought.
Remember when you used to do random scavenger hunts for your coworkers? And remember when you used to have people over for movie nights and you used to make all these fun little finger foods. Oh! Oh! And remember how you decorated the break room to look like a tiki lounge that one time.
You used to be so awesome.
No one has actually said these things about me. I don’t think. But I’ve been thinking them lately. Like recently: I teach science at a tiny school district in the heart of the country. Once a quarter, each of the middle school teachers is responsible for decorating a bulletin board. This is what I came up with this quarter.
It’s cute, and clever, I’ll admit. But it doesn’t really meet the mark when I’m capable of this:
As I stood in the hallway, cradling my chin in my hand to ponder my sub-par bulletin board, I started to wonder. When did I stop being awesome? But this still small voice inside me started to speak, and in the hallway left in the eerie quietness that all public institutions bear when empty, I listened. And here’s what I heard: I’m still awesome. My awesomeness has just shifted. And it will continue to shift. There was a time when I was a rockin’ momma. I did crafts with my kids DAILY! We went to petting zoos and camping and carnivals and the zoo and museums. We had picnics and went to the park all the time. I don’t do that stuff with my kids any more. And in the process of beating myself up over it, I realized I don’t do that stuff any more because my kids are teenagers, and they don’t LIKE that stuff any more. So I have to evolve and shift my awesomeness elsewhere. Think of it as the awesomeness Cupid Shuffle.
There are seasons in our lives. Lysa Terkeurst embodies this concept so well with this quote: “Like a tree, a woman can’t carry the weight of two seasons simultaneously. In the violent struggle of trying, she’ll miss every bit of joy each season promises to bring.” -The Best Yes. We can’t bear the weight of the leaves of spring and the snow of winter simultaneously. Knowing this is freedom. Freedom from the self-imposed and sometimes others-imposed expectations for us to keep doing all the awesome things we’ve always done while taking on more awesomeness.
As I stood in that quiet hallway, I realized this: I am still awesome. While I haven’t recently hosted a literature festival for 500 students, or won a float contest in a parade, or redecorated the entire house again, I have a book on submission. I’m teaching some awesome kids and we’re doing the coolest projects. And I’m playing in a rocking worship band twice a week. That’s enough for right now.
I hope you can take joy in looking back on the seasons you’ve had the pleasure of taking part in, and you can bring yourself to let go of your leaves when it’s time to enter another season. Know this: You are awesome. You always have been, and you always will be.
How is it that sometimes the very thing we love to do most, we just flat out don’t want to do. This seems impossible, like not wanting chocolate or ice cream. Like waking up one day and just saying, I don’t like coffee anymore. I’m just not going to drink a cup today. But it happens. Sometimes, we just don’t want to write.
For a host of reasons, we find ourselves just not in the mood. The reasons can range from our mental state to our plot. Here are a few reasons that make it hard for me to write. Sometimes, a lot of times, when I face the problem, I just plain and simple choose not to write, but when I know I’m not going to have time in the future or I have a deadline, I have a few solutions I fall back on to solve the problem.
Problem: A FUZZY HEAD
When I can’t think clearly, it’s usually due to fatique. I have the most time to write after I get home from teaching middle school students all day. But after spending my day explaining the kinetic theory to kids who’d rather be playing Clash of Whozits and Snap-a-whating each other on their phones, my head can be a bit fuzzy. I don’t know about you, but I need a clear mind to write.
Solution: A nap and some coffee. Write outside. A nap. A shower. A nap.
Problem: A case of the I-stinks
Sometimes, I just get down on myself as a writer. It might be from reading my own first draft. It might be from reading a published work that is so phenominal that it makes me realize how pitiful my own work is. It might be from seeing so many other friends succeeding and feeling like I might not ever achieve that. Whatever the reason, this can make it hard to write.
Solution: Get out some of your favorite things you’ve written and read them again to remind yourself that you have written good things. Call a friend. A good friend and talk it out. Read something you love, written by someone else, and identify the things you do that are similar. Also, identify the things you could do that will improve your writing. Finally, identify that knowing that you CAN improve is a sign of a good writer.
Problem: A disconnect from your story
Sometimes I’m just not feeling it anymore. I’ve lost that lovin feeling, and it prevents me from wanting to keep writing.
Solution: Court your characters, get to know them again. Do character developing activities to get to know more about them. Sometimes I even change their names and appearances to help myself think of them from a different angle.
Problem: A better idea
Every once in a while, I’ll be about half way through my story and I’ll realize that there’s a better way of writing it. Starting over seems so insurmountable that it just makes me want to quit.
Solution: Sleep on the changes. If they still feel right later, then they are worth making. None of us want to put out less than our best work. Take a break. Work on something else and come back with the idea of tackling this as a new book. Tackle it in small chunks and reward yourself for meeting goals.
Do you have other solutions to these problems? Do you have other problems besides these that cause you to stop writing? Please share!