All The Way YA

The Emotional Side of Writing When You’re Chronically Ill

Being a Writer:

There is no doubt that being a writer is emotionally taxing: whether you’re a fiction writer, academic, or creative non-fiction writer; writing will take an emotional toll. Long hours, ambition, rejection – even success, can put us through the wrangler. Add to this any amount of daily stress, and it can be quite a treacherous pursuit, even for the emotionally robust.

A writer must be many things: an organiser, administrator, observer, reader, researcher, analyst, and empathiser, to name but a few. All of these things inform, shape, and sustain a career as a writer. Often I think a picture is painted; of the reclusive, head-in-the-clouds writer, diligently bashing away at their computer in the fruitless pursuit of the next Big Thing. We know this is far from the truth. Few of us are lucky enough to write full-time, and our practice must be squeezed in around other work, or other commitments. Finding the time to write, is in itself a great achievement, never mind staying the course to the longed-for moment of publication.

Many writers will not adhere to just one form of the craft; we diversify to pay the bills and keep our fingers flexed. In my case, I write reviews of cultural events for an online platform; personal essays and op-eds for magazines; and articles on mental health and chronic illness. I enjoy it, and it keeps my portfolio fresh. When I found writing my novel to be too exhausting, or I hit a snag in my plotting, I could turn to another form and still find creative release. This is what I do: from the outside I am a full-time writer; but in reality, I am a part-time writer, managing full-time illness. That’s not to say my illnesses take over my life; they don’t – largely because I’m good at managing them.

The Deal:

I live with fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome and generalized anxiety disorder. Bucket of fun, right? The latter two were only diagnosed eighteen months ago, so I’ve been making a lot of adjustments to my lifestyle in a short space of time. The first thing I did was quit my freelance work. Fortunately, I had been referred a year prior, to have my mental health assessed (initially for ADD) and the appointment came round at the time I stopped work. I was completely surprised to be diagnosed with a pretty severe case of generalised anxiety, which was likely exacerbating my pain and fatigue symptoms. So I received Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, which suited me well. I loved the method because it gave me tools which I could use in any given situation (and that’s many) where my anxiety could impact my daily life and my emotional wellbeing. The process was difficult and I would often find myself emotionally wrought, but I knew it would benefit me long-term.

The CBT opened a door to an heightened sense of awareness, not just of myself but of those around me. Suddenly all the things that had made me broken, or damaged, were the same things that set me free. I accepted and came to terms with the most difficult and challenging aspects of my life: now, I could do anything. I went back to art classes, picked up my guitar again, and rifled through all my old writing. I uncovered the ten-thousand words I had outlined of my novel, and I realised I now had the tools, and time, to write it. The experiences that informed the story were now at a safe enough emotional distance that I could let them inform my writing. After a couple of productive months I decided to undertake psychotherapy as I was feeling low, but it wasn’t a good move. I would leave feeling utterly exhausted, my limbs stiff and heavy like lead. It got steadily worse, and I stopped the sessions when I started having panic attacks. I ended up so fatigued I spent two months lying up on the couch, watching endless TV, unable to read, or to leave the apartment. I wondered if I’d ever do anything again. In retrospect, I think I was analyzing my negative thought patterns and behaviours, and doing a lot of emotional cleansing which was exhausting. I had no choice but to rest, and to wait for the shift to come. Eventually, it did.

Managing Health around Writing:

Now, my novel is complete, and it explores anxiety and disability, informed by my experiences. It was incredibly cathartic to write, although some days really took their emotional toll and I would feel fatigued for a few days. The fatigue has gradually got better, though it flares up when I’m ill or stressed, or over-tired, so I need to make sure that I don’t push myself too hard. It can be difficult to manage – I don’t know when I’m going to get sick, my GAD means I can stress-out over normal, everyday things, and it makes deadlines for articles, competitions and awards all the more challenging. I try to allocate more than ample time in order to manage any potential hiccups. If I know I’ve got a busy week, I’ll make sure to get at least nine hours of sleep a night, eleven if I’m particularly run-down. Sleep is crucial to my functioning properly and is the biggest factor in my wellbeing. As soon as it lags, I become forgetful and irritable, and brain-fog makes any kind of mental processing impossible (cue putting a mug of hot tea in the fridge, or asking someone the same question three times in an hour). On these days I tell myself I can’t do this, I can’t do anything. I allow myself the day to be pitiful, but then tomorrow is a new day, and I make sure I get up, ready for the fight. Knowing the worst will pass is the most powerful tool at my disposal.

When it comes to emotional wellbeing, I think writers have it tough. With so much else going on, it can be difficult to remember to take time out, to relax, pursue other things, let your mind rest and wander. I actually find this time to be the most helpful in generating new ideas or allowing my sub-conscious to solve some plot problem I’ve been picking away at. Structure helps too. I start every day with ten minutes of yoga to focus my mind and set my breathing. On my good days, I’ll work a full day, around six to eight hours. I make sure to take regular breaks, drink plenty of water, and go for a walk –I listen to my body and give it what it needs. I swim a couple of times a week, to really get out of my head, and to ease any tension or anxiety that’s built up. If I need a day on the couch I’ll take it, guilt-free, because I know that pushing through doesn’t work.

Recognising My Achievements:

The emotional rollercoaster of submitting; to magazines, competitions, mentoring schemes or agents and publishers, is emotionally exhausting too. We are so invested in our work, it can come as a blow when we don’t get what we want. But we need to pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off for the next round. After I make a deadline or submission, I tell myself it’s done, I can’t change it, and give myself a pat on the back for giving it all I’ve got. Usually I’ll plan a day of rest, or have lunch with a friend, the next day. Putting yourself out there is terrifying – It’s important to recognise your achievements. This attitude makes the frustrations of living with illness easier; when an opportunity is missed due to illness, there’s always next time.

I write for myself; because I love it. It can be hard, and there are days I don’t touch my computer, but I always come back to it. I’d love to have my novel published, who wouldn’t? But it’s not the reason I wrote it. I wrote it because I had a story I had to tell. It’s a story I love, and one I can relate to. And that’s all I can ask for. If it does find itself in the hands of readers someday – that’s just icing on the cake.

Bio PicJulie Farrell is a writer living in Edinburgh in the UK. She writes creative non-fiction with a focus on mental health and disability, and she is in the beta stage with her first novel, Fractal: an own-voice, contemporary YA; about love, mental illness and self-discovery. Julie was selected as a runner-up for the Jericho-Marjacq Bursary for under-represented voices; and was awarded a sponsorship for the Breakthrough Writers Bootcamp, for her novel. She worked as a marketing executive in the publishing industry, before deciding to focus solely on her writing. Julie has been published in various magazines and you can find more of her writing here. You can also find her on Twitter @weeredwriter

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Why Do You Write?

NYT Bestselling and beloved author, Rick Riordan said, “We write, I hope, because we have a story to tell. How easy it is to lose sight of that, but the goal of writing is telling a good story.”

Remember Why You Write

I love what Rick said: we have a story to tell. Simple but true. It is important to remind yourself why you write as you draft, revise, and query.

Ground yourself in the truth of this: you love to write. There is a reason you chose to step foot into this journey.

Remember why you love to write. Is it the pure joy you feel as you’re scribbling away at a dimly lit coffee shop? Sipping the last bit of your cold coffee as you finish that scene you’ve been dreaming about for years?

Is it the challenge of crafting a unique fantastical world? With characters on emotional and physical journeys that make your heart race?

Do you write because you must? Because there is an itch in your heart that propels you forward?

Friends, during the fifth rewrite or intimidating first draft, try and pause for a moment.

Take a deep breath and recall why you write. Let your passion gently nudge you forward.

You never know what’s around the corner.

The Journey Is Ongoing

It’s easy to lose focus when you are striving toward a goal like publishing a novel. It promises heartbreak, exhaustion, and fear. You also may experience joy and excitement. The journey does not end when you get a literary agent or even a publisher.

There have been lots of authors sharing their experience in today’s publishing world. They said the most significant thing you have control over is what you write.

It sounds like we should focus on becoming a better writer, studying the craft, and reading as much as we can.

And remembering what catapulted us on this journey in the first place. Happy writing, friends! If you’re writing during NaNoWriMo, add me as a buddy!

Until next time,

Loie

2A82EEF6-4445-41E3-A418-6802BA352F11Loie Dunn is a YA fantasy writer. She was Amber R. Duell and MB Dalto’s mentee for the 2018 #WriteMentor program. Having traveled extensively in her early twenties, Loie resides in eastern Canada now. She tutors students in English and is a full-time content writer. Thankfully, she gets to travel in her books. Please visit her at loiedunn.wordpress.com and on Twitter: @loiedunn. She loves to meet fellow writers and connect with them.

Four Reasons Your Mom Might Not Be The Best Beta

Writing young adult narratives is deeply personal for most, especially if set in the contemporary world. Regardless of whether you’re crafting a RomCom Romp, a Fantasy Frolic, or a Historical Hamlet, here are four reasons why you might not want your mom to read your work.

  1. You accidentally wrote your mom into your story

If you think this might be you, but aren’t sure, the best way to find out is to have a sibling or close family friend read the story first. If they ever utter the words, “that is so mom,” you know you’re sunk.

No matter how you field it, there will be something to set her off. Because you’ve perfectly written such lovely, flawed characters, your mom will get to see every amazing cookie she’s baked, every badass comeback she’s levied, and unfortunately, she’ll also find the tiny little thing you thought was funny. Then she’ll blow it up to epic proportions and wonder, “is that really how my kid sees me?” She’ll then rethink her whole existence and everything she’s ever done to raise you.

You’ll spend precious revision time making chai tea for your poor mopey mom who now doesn’t know what she’s done to make you hate her so much that you included her poorly timed bathroom humor or the fact that she’s been plucking her chin for the last decade in your novel.

  1. Your mom thinks you’re the main character and that you need serious help

The great and terrible thing about writing Young Adult is that you get to relive every cringeworthy moment through the eyes of your character. Approaching topics like poor self-esteem, sports failures, unrequited love, and even mental illness are par for the course.

Of course, we all insert a little bit of our own personalities into the characters we write the best. Every once in a while, we write ourselves and every pimple, every wart that came with puberty.

But better call a psych if Mom catches a whiff of even the slightest problem. She’s got a padded cell with your name on it and might just camp out on your doorstep until she’s sure that you’re not about to die from post-apocalyptic teenage flashbacks. You’ll spend more time proving your own sanity than revising in this scenario.

  1. Your mom sees you through rose-colored glasses

She can’t believe you wrote a novel, but of course she always knew you could do it. Every single word you’ve printed is dripping with the ichor of the gods, and anyone who says anything less is straight from…well, you get the picture.

While an adorable sentiment, this isn’t necessarily helpful in a beta reader. You want someone to help you look at the big picture, to dissect your character development, and to give it to you straight on the strengths and weaknesses of your piece of work.

For this reason, if this describes your mom, you could let her read the piece, but don’t count her in that ever important beta reader number. She’s just there shaking pom poms. And heck, we all need this person in our corner, so cherish that.

  1. Your mom “helps” you by going through your work like a poorly-written high school essay

Every misplaced comma and dangling modifier is under scrutiny. Voice? Ha! Only if it fits into her idea of how her prodigy was raised. Anything less is asking for rejection from countless agents, editors, and publishers. She’s going to help you succeed, come hell or high water.

Unfortunately, she may not see that she’s actually killing the flow of your voice, or God forbid, changing it to be incorrect.

By the time you hit the beta stage, you might be looking for sentence-level help, but odds are you’re more on the lookout for plot holes and character development inconsistencies. Arguing over that semicolon with dear ol’ Mom is just going to slow your revision pacing.

Maybe you’re reading this and thinking that your Mom defies all four warnings. That’s fantastic! By all means, have Mom read your final copy, but just know that “Any similarities…” warning may not ring true when she reads your latest novel. After all, you got your character empathy and attention to detail from someone!

19424193_10105309808433348_2892771991138002014_nJessica K. Foster is in the beta process of her second YA novel and lives with her husband and two toddlers in Zeeland, Michigan. She hopes her mama never sees this article, but knows that that wonderful woman wouldn’t be a bit surprised by it, either. Catch Jessica K. Foster on Twitter at @JessicaKFoster.

What Makes a Critique Partner?

Today, I’m going to hop up onto my soap box and discuss my favorite topic for writers at any level – Critique Partnering.

I have only been a writer for a few years now, but I can honestly say that there’s no better way to hone your craft than through the critique partner (CP) process. It’s a give and take. And, by that I mean you only get out of it what you put into it – both in terms of giving and receiving feedback. Allow me to break it down.

Giving Feedback

The art of giving feedback is important if you want to be a good critique partner. And it is an art, not a science. Remember, the person on the other end of the Ethernet connection from you believes strongly in their work. They’ve poured their heart and soul into it. They labored over it for months (maybe years). When writers send you their manuscript, it can feel like they’re offering up their first born. Handle it with care. Be respectful. Make sure your feedback is constructive – don’t just shred it so you can show off your editorial skills. That’s not what they need (unless, of course, that’s specifically what they ask you to do).

I always begin any new CP relationship by asking specifically what they are looking for in terms of feedback. Perhaps they’ve already received critical feedback and want to see if the changes they made are sufficient to address previously identified gaps. Or maybe they just want to know if it flows or if you can relate to the characters. These are all important nuggets that will help them be successful and that’s what it’s all about. It’s not about you. It’s about your CP. Make them feel good about themselves. I always try to start small – a few chapters max – then build up to a full manuscript if we have good chemistry.

The world has enough negativity in it – be a ray of sunshine for your CP. Even if you don’t feel it’s the best, remember, you’re only one person. Writing is subjective. What speaks to one person may not appeal to another. You are not judge and jury. But your CP may take your feedback that way. Find the good in it and set it up on a pedestal. Shine a giant spotlight on it. Help them celebrate how far they’ve come. Maybe you like the idea, but not the delivery. Maybe you like the story but don’t relate to the protagonist. Whatever it is, sing it from the rooftops, then get down to business.

Giving Negative Constructive Feedback

Most CPs are ready to receive negative feedback when they put their work in your hands. They’re asking for it, but many are not ready for the water to hit them in the face at firehose pressure. And that’s the reality. Their work is good, but good is the enemy of great and you want to help them be great. So what do you do?

Much of being a CP is relationship building. You need to figure out who you’re dealing with. Can they take harsh criticism? After all, if it doesn’t come from you, it will come from someone else down the line. Don’t set them up for failure. But don’t pull the ladder out from under them, either. There is a middle ground. And that middle ground begins and ends with respect.

Start with what they’re looking for. If it’s developmental feedback, give it to them. Start with the positive and end with the opportunities. Notice that I didn’t say “negative” feedback. That’s because there is no such thing. There’s positive feedback and opportunities to improve. Give both. Encourage, don’t discourage. That’s not your job. Life is full of disappointment. Don’t be the source of it for them.

When offering Opportunities to Improve, be honest and fair. If you don’t know something, admit it. They aren’t coming to you for your expertise. Chances are, you’re at a similar writing level. This isn’t the time to puff out your chest and knock someone else down to make yourself feel good. That’s not what the writing community is about. It’s a place for people to lift others up, to help others achieve their goals. Do your part.

Receiving Feedback

Receiving feedback puts you, as the writer, on the receiving end of criticism. Hopefully, you outlined specifically what feedback you were looking for up front so that the response from your CP is the engine that propels you forward and not the anchor that pulls you down. Look through the feedback objectively. If you don’t understand what someone means, ask. After all, it’s for you and you alone.

If the feedback is harsh, sort through the words to derive meaning that will help you. Sometimes, feedback can be like the coach on the sideline who is always yelling at you. If you ignore the volume and listen to the words, you can mine helpful information from what is said. If you focus on the volume, you’ll tune out the words and gain less from the experience.

At its most basic level, a CP is a reader. There are bestsellers that people hate with a burning passion. Just because your book may appeal to one person doesn’t mean it has universal appeal. But criticism is what makes you better. Sure, having someone blow sunshine up your book spine feels good. But, if the agents aren’t waiting on your doorstep with offers of representation, chances are good that you have room to improve. If someone only has positive things to say about your book, that’s great, but beseech them to find 2-3 things that you can improve, no matter how small.

Likewise, remember that a CPs feedback is the opinion of one person. There is no universal standard for all books and there’s no single critique that will fix every hole in your manuscript. Read the feedback multiple times. Chew it multiple times before swallowing. If it upsets you, set it aside for 24 hours and come back to it. Remember, you don’t have to follow all of your CP’s suggestions. Only use the ones that you feel make your manuscript stronger. In the end, it’s your book. Your name (or your pen name) goes on the cover.

How Many CPs Do I Need? Where Do I Find a CP?

Unfortunately, there’s no number scale for CPs. It’s really up to you as the author. Remember, if you ask someone to find faults in your story, they will. Each CP will offer you something. You need to determine if the feedback makes your manuscript better or if it’s just a different perspective.

At some point, you will need to determine whether you require more feedback or if you are satisfied with the product. Some of this will depend on the type of feedback you are receiving. If multiple CPs suggest that you’re “telling” too much (instead of “showing”) or you are info-dumping or your characters are not relatable or you have plot inconsistencies, these are signs that you probably need more revision. If the feedback is consistently nitpicky and isn’t substantive in nature, you may be at a point where you can wrap it up and look to move on to the next phase.

Ultimately, it’s your call. Once you develop your CPs and figure out who consistently you gives you the most helpful feedback, you will have your core group of peeps to go back to time and time again. In order to keep them, you will have to be willing to put equal time into helping them along their writing journeys. My advice, find your tribe and work with them until you all reach your goals. After all, writing is a solitary activity, but you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, you’ll grow at a faster pace and your writing will improve immensely if you engage others along the way.

There are a number of writing communities out there to help you find your peeps. Peruse the writing communities on Twitter, especially leading up to one of the many mentoring contests. Pitch Wars, Author Mentor Match, RevPit, WriteMentor are a few that come to mind, but there are so many more. Twitter, FaceBook, Instagram are great resources to help you interact with writers at all levels. #CPMatch is another way to connect with potential CPs.

IMG_1570David Neuner is a licensed professional engineer with more than two decades of technical writing experience. Over the past several years, David has found his passion in fiction writing and continues to hone his craft through active involvement in several writing communities. David has written two full length novels – FEAR FACTORY, a science-fiction/thriller, and EVERYBODY I LOVE DIES, a dark young adult psychological thriller – and looks forward to a long writing career. David lives in Syracuse, NY with his wife Jennifer and triplet daughters Madison, Jessica, and Emily. @david_neuner

The Emotional Rollercoaster

I didn’t fully understand the importance of the sometimes over the top emotions teenagers display. From extreme joy, to tears, to raging, screaming fury. It used to make me roll my eyes and tune out, until I started to piece together why it happens.

Once I started mentoring on a high school robotics team and made a point of truly listening to the teens on the team, did I figure out what it was all about.

Order out of chaos

As you read in many of the most popular YA books, when the world is in chaos, teens channel their anger, fear and frustration into figuring out how to make the world better. How to take the feeling of being powerless and take action to create the world as they feel it should be.

Teens in real life are no different. Their emotions, yes in part fueled by hormones, but not totally so, are a reaction to the world around them not conforming to what they expect.

And to make matters worse, soon they will have to find their place in that imperfect world and will be expected to participate and contribute, all the while conforming to the patterns they see around them. Patterns they’ve grown up with but question whenever they can.

Let it out

There is value in giving voice to the swirling frustrations, fears and emotions, even if only to let off the steam and find some peace. Sometimes it’s necessary to find where the boundaries are or who you can trust.

If you blow up and yell at your dad will he still take you to practice tomorrow? If you break down and cry your eyes out in front of your best friend, will she tell others what happened and embarrass you forever?

Should you keep that one secret, even if it’s wrong?

Channel it

Up until about twenty or maybe 25 years ago, the YA stories were as they are now; teens struggling with a situation they didn’t see a way out of other than to reluctantly grow up. (Yes, an oversimplification.) Unrequited love, dangerous adventures, questionable relationships, etc.

What’s changed is that now the stories have a different kind of protagonist.

I think it may have all started with Harry Potter. The outsider who takes all his anger, frustration, pain and love, and fights for a better future. He doesn’t seem to accept defeat though. But in classic hero mythos, he is reluctant to take on the tasks bestowed on him.

From him we move on to Katness Everdeen and others who refuse to stand by and merely kick at the world.

The heroes we see in YA books now use the full rollercoaster of their teen emotions to insist on change. While they are still having hopeless crushes, loving – sometimes the wrong person – as if their lives depend on it, fighting for a place in the world, having big messy ugly-cry breakdowns and forging relationships they can depend on.

Real life catches up to fiction and I can’t help but wonder if the young people who are now taking to the streets and social media to demand a safer, more just society, were also, in some small way, inspired by the heroes of their books and movies.

Stories matter, they help us make sense of our world and help us to know we are not alone in what we feel. And that it’s okay to have those big emotions.

Writing is a way of life and when not working on a book or story – or maybe a translation – Lynn Hooghiemstra visits the real world to work as a marketing writer. She’s happiest surrounded by animals, books, paper and pens. She has a YA thriller finding its way in the world “Out in the Dark” under pen name Nicola Adams. And under her own name, a historical fiction featuring a 16-yr old girl trying to figure out life in WWII occupied Europe, “Tales from the Fountain Pen”.

www.elynnhwriting.com
elynnh.blogspot.com
Twitter: @Nicky_Adams_Pen

 

Confessions of a Perfectionist

Yesterday I was scrolling on Instagram (most likely between the hours of 11pm and 2am) and I stumbled across a buzzfeed post that said:

“Anyone else in their 20s, but feel like they’re running out of time to get their life together?”

Maybe it was the sleep deprivation, but this message hit me hard. Like, right in the feels. I just turned 24, and I feel like there’s this underlying pressure to have it all and have it NOW. If we’re in our 20s we have to be living our best lives, working on that side hustle, and rebelling against corporate America, all while maintaining perfect mental and physical health.

For me, this pressure to have it all while I’m still in my 20s is magnified by my innate need to be perfect. When I began pursuing my writing career, my perfectionism manifested itself in the form of re-reading and revising chapters, googling synonyms and shuffling sentences around in Word.

In my pursuit for perfection as an aspiring author, I quickly fell into a black hole of unrealistic expectations. No matter how many improvements I made to a MS, nothing was ever good enough. I was afraid to submit anything that I viewed as “imperfect” to a writing contest, or even ask for feedback, because I didn’t want others to judge me. I didn’t want my friends, my family, or the writing community to think less of me. My perfectionism reared its ugly head over and over again and became a huge roadblock to success.

Once I opened my mind and focused on the realities of life vs. the lies that my perfectionism told me, I started making some real progress:

My perfectionism tells me 30 is the end. If I don’t get published in my 20s, I’m a failure and might as well quit. I have to become a NYT bestselling author before I’m 30, otherwise it’s never gonna happen.

The truth is 30 is not old. Life does not stop when you turn 30. People will still read your books when you are 30. In fact, some of my favorite authors are 30 (or older) and they are thriving. I think the life experiences they’ve been able to gain along the way makes their writing even better and their stories more dynamic. The truth is, I can impact my readers at any age. What really matters is the story itself, not how old I am when I tell it.

My perfectionism tells me I can’t sub to a writing contest (especially not Pitch Wars) until my MS is perfect. It’ll never be ready until I’ve re-read every line.

The truth is What you write won’t be perfect. Especially not the first draft of a MS. Or even the second. And that’s okay. Have the courage to sub anyway. I think I hide behind my perfectionism out of fear. Fear that I won’t win, fear of feedback, fear that I’m not cut out for this. The truth is, if I let my perfectionism take hold, I will never be able to share my stories with the readers who need them the most. And that’s just a shame.

Even as I write this, I am re-reading it, scanning for errors. But in the spirit of letting go of a little piece of my perfectionism… I’m posting this as is. So, I hope that you feel encouraged to keep writing, in spite of your perfectionism. Tap into it when it pushes you towards greatness and fosters your creativity. But drown it out when you feel your expectations start to become unattainable. Remember, it can only get better from here. So, keep your eyes on the prize, friends. You are good enough.

1534565292120blobJordan Alexandria is a sci-fi/fantasy author who cannot go a day without a cup of tea and a walk outdoors. When she’s not writing novels or working as a HR manager, Jordan enjoys lifting weights, escaping in a good book, and traveling on crazy adventures. She moves around a lot for work, but dreams of settling down one day so she can finally own a garden of succulents. You can find Jordan Alexandria on FB, as well as IG and twitter @imjustjordan04.

The Stagnant Writer

Remember the days when you thought you knew everything? I’m not talking about when you were a teenager, I mean in your writing life. I remember those days fondly, where I sat at my laptop and forged ahead, unafraid of making mistakes, of using adverbs, of using the same descriptor for every character. Too many words, too little plot, not enough character development. It’s like being really young again. You don’t know you can get it wrong, so you aren’t afraid to try.

Many of the writers I’ve met along the way have told me to write dangerously. Get outside my comfort zone. Write about things that make me uncomfortable, things that make others uncomfortable. Tackle projects bigger than myself. Write the unknown. Read, read, read and learn, learn, learn.

What’s ironic about this advice, is that it often comes from someone terrified to heed their own words. I’m guilty of this. I’m the first person to tell someone, I believe in you, and also the first person not to believe in myself.

As writers, we have two choices, we can stagnate, stay comfortable in our little niche, or we can reach out and learn. But to truly learn, we must first make ourselves vulnerable to the fact that we don’t know it all. Aside from not knowing everything, trends in writing and publishing are constantly changing. What you knew ten years ago may no longer be relevant. There may be brilliance in learning something new. But only if you’re willing to put yourself out there and risk making mistakes. And, gasp, maybe get rejected.

Writers are a society of introverts. Consult your writer friends. I guarantee you 90% of them will tell you they’re introverted. They want to reach out, take a class, ask for help, but the thought of rejection keeps them rooted in place. So instead, they burrow down, safe in their own knowledge, where no one can tell them they’re wrong. And from their isolated safety, they shout their advice to others: Branch out! Take a chance! All with zero intention of doing it themselves.

Don’t be that writer. Don’t be the person who stagnates. Be the person who takes a chance. Be the writer who flourishes.

It’s impossible to know everything, but it’s not impossible to keep trying.

What chance will you take today?

If you need me, I’ll just be over here, heeding my own advice.

qcglzchm_400x400K.C. Karr writes about brave teenagers and unfortunate situations. As a former high school winterguard coach, she finds that young voices tell the best, most truthful stories. She’s been an editor, a social media director, and longtime member of the critique group Flint Area Writers. K.C. is currently working toward becoming a certified book coach through Author Accelerator and is a proud YA mentor in this year’s #WriteMentor contest. @kacimari

The Author – Librarian Connection

Dozens of books come out in each category every month. How do libraries decide what winds up on their shelves? And what can authors do to encourage libraries to buy their books—without annoying librarians in the process? Here’s what I’ve learned working in library youth services over the past 18 years.

Since library staff can’t read every new book, we rely on professional reviews to determine which books to add and which to pass on. Publishers submit advance reader copies of books to review journals such as School Library Journal, Booklist, and Kirkus. The journals distribute the ARCs to their team of reviewers—some have a large, broad collection of unpaid volunteer reviewers, while others have a smaller paid staff.

Reviewers give their professional opinion on the merits and flaws of a book. But how library staff react to the reviews runs the gamut. If a book got a starred review but I don’t think it will have regional appeal and I bought a similar book six months earlier that never gets checked out … I may pass. A different book may get an iffy review, but if it covers a popular topic at my library, or if it’s something I know I haven’t seen on my library shelves before, I may take a chance and purchase it.

I also regularly look through catalogs, blogs, and social media sites to learn about new books coming out. Every time a book lands on my radar, it makes its case stronger for me to purchase it. Please note that this is a quality over quantity thing! If an author ceaselessly posts about their own book on their own website and social media, it’s doubtful I’ll ever even see it—and the author will have annoyed all their own followers in the process. But if it shows up in Baker & Taylor’s Growing Minds catalog, or a book blogger I follow raves about it, or I see a lot of authors I respect retweeting a cover reveal, it will grab my attention. (The best way to get others interested in promoting you is to be genuinely excited about others’ new releases, of course.)

Are you deciding whether or not to work with a particular publisher? Here are some things to consider:

  • Does the publisher submit ARCs regularly to journals? Ask your local library to see a few recent issues of a review journal and scan through for the publisher name. (Please note: not to be confused with paid reviews or ads in journals/catalogs, which do not typically influence librarians.)
  • Does the publisher have current books listed as in stock in warehouses in Baker & Taylor or Ingram? Not just a record of the book with an available quantity of zero or phrases like “apply direct”? Look up some recent titles released by the publisher (previous 3 months) and ask a librarian if they’re willing to check availability on their vendor’s site. No B&T or Ingram presence is not a complete deal-breaker but it does make it more difficult for many libraries to acquire those books.

Once your book is out in the world, how else can you get librarians to notice it? I personally always consider postcards authors send me. I appreciate postcards with a professional design which make their case for purchase concisely. Could the book have regional interest for my patrons? Does it cover a topic I don’t already have on my shelves?

If you would like to host a program or have a book launch at your local library, it helps to have a game plan already in place. Librarians are busy people and, to be honest, book readings and signings don’t often draw in a lot of attendees. When people ask me if they can host book-related events at my library, we usually go back and forth to develop their idea into an actual program. If someone came to me with a program pre-planned, it would knock my socks off! If they gathered two or three other authors of books in the same genre or age group and presented a collaborative program idea or panel discussion, I’d be even more impressed.

For children’s books, I’d love to know details like:

  • What ages the book would appeal to
  • What kind of presentation/workshop you’re offering
  • What kind of activity/project you might be offering
  • Are you going to provide all arts and crafts supplies, or does the library need to provide scissors, glue sticks, markers, etc.?

For adult books, details like this might help:

  • What kind of reader might like your book/read-alike titles
  • What kind of presentation/workshop you’re offering
  • What attendees will get out of the workshop besides learning about you and your book. Will you teach them how to write memoirs? Perform a hilarious comedy routine? Teach them how to fold origami?

Self-published and micro press authors, it is possible for you to get your book on library shelves but your path may be difficult. Unfortunately, many librarians have encountered pushy, demanding, angry, or otherwise unpleasant self-published authors. We’ve also seen plenty of poorly-written and poorly-illustrated self-published and micro press books. If a librarian seems hesitant when you first mention you’re self- or micro-published, please be patient. If your work is high-quality and meets the criteria listed above, the library may be open to adding your book to the collection, especially if you offer to donate it.

If a library declines to host your program or add your book to the collection, don’t despair. Accept their decision with grace and politeness, revise your pitch and programming ideas, and keep reaching out to other libraries.

If your book is selected by your local library, congratulations! This will give it a longer life and allow it to reach more readers over time. It may also lead readers to check out the future books you write. Encourage your friends to check your book out now and then so it has a healthy circulation history. Unfortunately, to make room for all the new books libraries acquire each year, we must weed older books. We run reports that tell us how many times a book has circulated and whether or not it’s been checked out within the past year. If your book circulates, it is less likely to get weeded.

IMG_2841Amanda Coppedge is a youth services librarian as well as a middle grade and young adult writer. Her middle grade horror novel THE CABIN was selected for Pitch Wars 2017. Amanda lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, dog, and guinea pigs.

@amandacoppedge on Twitter

#DearLaura

#DearLaura

#DearLaura

I’m in love with reading and writing. But my parents want me to be a musician, even though I am terrible at music. This has made my desire to be a writer diminish. What can I do to keep my dream going without my family’s support?

Dreaming Jess

Dear Dreaming Jess,

What is most interesting to me about your question is that your parents are pushing you to be a musician, another creative and somewhat monetarily unstable profession, as opposed to, say, an accountant where monetary comfort is more likely an outcome.

Regardless, there are a lot of reasons why your parents might steer you away from writing. One of the reasons that comes to my mind is that at least as a fiction writer, success is not guaranteed. Even if you’re talented and hardworking, it can take a long time to arrive at a place where you are financially secure, and there is quite a bit of luck involved as well. These are valid concerns, and artists are continually trying to balance their need to create with their need to survive in a capitalist society that doesn’t necessarily value our artistic contributions unless they can be monetized and sold en masse.

That said, there are a lot of careers in the field of “reading and writing” that are more stable—library science, for example. Communications, advertising, public relations, education, and journalism are other examples. Storytelling is intrinsic to the human experience, which is to say there are several careers outside of “novelist” where you can make a decent living.

Regardless of your parents’ motivations or concerns, you may have to dig deep and reaffirm your commitment to your art so that your family realizes this is not something fleeting or fanciful. Oftentimes if a parent sees their child commit to something through action and not just words, they begin to come around. And if music is not your passion, I’d be as firm as possible in letting your parents know up front before you invest the time (and presumably the money) in trying to make it happen.

If it’s financial support you’re looking for, I would suggest continuing to nurse your passion in whatever ways you can. Perhaps it’s taking classes in creative writing and/or literature, even if that’s not your major study. Perhaps it’s writing in your own time without telling your family or joining an online writers’ group where you can begin to build a community that is supportive of your creative endeavors.

There may also come a time when you need to seek your independence, financially and/or emotionally, from your parents so that you can fully invest yourself in your dreams. You don’t need to have a degree in creative writing to become a great writer. Many of the skills needed to tell a great story can be self-taught and honed through practice, experience, and you guessed it, reading.

But there is another more universal aspect to your question which all of us creatives must face at some point in our lives: how do we place value on our art when it seems so many in our society do not?

There are a range of views on what artists should be willing to sacrifice for their art. It is a very personal decision that every artist must make for themselves. Sometimes it’s money, sometimes it’s relationships, sometimes it’s time. Hopefully, it is not your mental or bodily health. My personal view is that an artist who is “starving” or mentally unwell cannot maintain their creativity for long, and self-care is perhaps the most important thing you can do for yourself and your art.

So, Jess, don’t lose heart. Life is long, and if becoming a writer is your dream, then work toward it in whatever capacity you are able. Believe in yourself and find others who believe in you, too. And don’t measure your own success based on others. Each of our paths is unique, and what may seem like roadblocks initially can become achievements looking back.

Good luck!

Laura

HeadshotWebFinalLaura Lascarso is the author of several young adult novels including THE BRAVEST THING, which won a 2017 Rainbow Award for best gay contemporary romance and COUNTING BACKWARDS, which won a 2012 Florida Book Award gold medal for young adult literature. If you have a burning question about writing or publishing, please tweet @lauralascarso and include the tag #dearlaura

You Will Never Be Satisfied

One of the fun things about attending conferences and workshops is that you get to talk to fellow writers. In so doing, you glean useful information about writing, publishing, marketing, and whatnot. You also learn one important fact about writers in general: no matter how splendidly their careers are going, they’re still not satisfied.

  • Over this past year, here are some of the gripes I’ve heard:
    One guy complained because of the relatively low royalty he received on a mass-market paperback that has sold over 100,000 copies to date.
  • Another author had a beef with her publisher, who wouldn’t pay for all the conferences and conventions she wanted to attend.
  • A duo were miffed because the most recent party they attended at George R. R. Martin’s house wasn’t that much fun.

I was looking at these people—all of them very nice people, by the way—and saying to myself, “Are you kidding me?”

But they weren’t. They were serious. Good as things were for them, they wanted things to be better. And I can guarantee you that if things did get better, they’d want them to be better still.

I asked one of my colleagues, a Psychology professor, why human beings so often seem dissatisfied with their lives. He theorized that it’s due to our evolutionary heritage: we’ve been successful as a species because our brains are designed to solve problems. But this adaptive advantage becomes a disadvantage when there’s no problem to solve, because then we make up imaginary problems to satisfy our brain’s biological imperatives. This made sense to me and explained the dissatisfaction I’ve felt at various points in my life.

This phenomenon has particular relevance for those writers—the vast majority of us—who remain at the less-than-bestseller level. We tell ourselves that if we could have what the famous writers have—wealth, comfort, security, movie deals, foreign rights, screaming fans—we’d be satisfied. But in most cases, we wouldn’t. We’d still want more.

With this in mind, I’m making a conscious effort to focus on what I do have as a writer, not on what I don’t. I have five published novels to date, with several others in various stages of the journey to publication. I have readers who like what I’ve written. I have invitations to talk at schools, opportunities to attend conferences and festivals. I have books with my name on the cover sitting on library shelves and people’s nightstands. I have a supportive agent, friends in the writing community, and no end of stories to tell.

No, I don’t have millions of dollars in the bank or millions of books in print. I don’t know George R. R. Martin and have no immediate plans to hang at his house. Neither do I expect to become one of those writers who can sit around and complain about how much fame sucks.

But if I ever do become one of those writers, can you do me a favor and knock some sense into me—or at least remind me to reread this blog post?

Bellin Gandalf

Joshua David Bellin has been writing novels since he was eight years old (though the first few were admittedly very short). He is the author of three YA science fiction novels: Survival Colony 9Scavenger of Souls, and Freefall. Josh loves to read, watch movies, and spend time in Nature with his kids. Oh, yeah, and he likes monsters. Really scary monsters.