All The Way YA

Why I Said “No” To NaNoWriMo This Year

nanowrimo

 

This time last November you would have found me chained to my laptop, sucking down bars of semi-sweet Baker’s chocolate, with about two hundred post-it notes stuck to my desk, my hair, my kids, the dog, and any available space within a five-foot radius. Not only did I sign-up to “win” NaNoWriMo–which really consists of receiving a video with a bunch of people in viking hats cheering–but I was determined to finish before Thanksgiving so it didn’t impact my holiday. On top of that, I decided to write for a new age group, Middle Grade, and in a new genre, Sci-Fi.

In short, I’d chosen to voluntarily screw myself over the course of 26 days.

My problem as a writer, heck, as a person, is that I firmly believe that I can do anything if I want it bad enough and work hard enough. I’ve gotten to do some really amazing things as a result of this work ethic. I’ve also ended up doing a ton of things I wished I didn’t sign up for. NaNo ended up being somewhere in-between.

Here’s how my NaNo experience went.

writerDays 1-5:  Awesome. I didn’t write every day, but I loved the topic, so when I did write, I hit 3k without blinking.

Days 6-10: This next round wasn’t as easy. Still, I had an outline and a plan. Did it matter that I kept forgetting to eat? No. Who needs food when there’s an awesome story brewing?

Days 11-20: Okay, it was official. I hated writing Middle Grade. Why did I pick Middle Grade when I loved writing YA? It should’ve been a YA book. I contemplated rewriting the beginning to morph it into a YA….More baker’s chocolate…

Cooking_chocolate,_broken_barDays 20-25: I had absolutely no idea where the plot was going. I hated writing MG, though I did enjoy Sci-Fi. How would I end this thing? Oh, geez, I overdosed on the chocolate. Head rush.

Day 26: Did I even know the characters? Sort of…Oh good, I was finally done. What???!! The word count in Word was different than it was on the NaNo site? I had to write 500 more words? 100? 25? When would this hell be over? OMG! It was over. Sleep time.

The Aftermath: Yeah, so that was my shining NaNo experience. At this point you’ve probably guessed that it lost some of its sparkle after day five. Was I as prepared as I could have been? Maybe? Could I have chosen to write a YA and had a better experience? Probably.

But after it was all over, even the excitement of the Nordic-themed video and the impressive NaNo Winner badge on my website wasn’t enough. For me, NaNo took away the very best part of writing. The writing. Then it sent me straight into my least favorite part. Editing. Don’t get me wrong–I spend a tremendous amount of time editing my work before anyone even sees it. I believe in editing, and in being thorough. That doesn’t mean I dance when it’s time to edit.

1574578248_d6ec5127e1_bI do, however, dance when I’m writing because I’m at my best when I’m creating new worlds. That part of the process drives me. NaNo ensured I only got 26 days of writing bliss. After it was all over I couldn’t help feeling like I’d been cheated. I then spent a year completely rewriting the manuscript into a YA and editing the heck out of it. Mostly, because I didn’t have time to get to know my characters in 26 days. I thought I knew them and then I started writing and guess what? I didn’t. Funny how that works, isn’t it?

NanoWriMo is a great tool–especially for writers who are having trouble getting and staying motivated to finish a first draft. The camaraderie and support system other writers offer is top-notch. I’m just not sure it was for me. If it wasn’t for you, that’s okay, too.

In the end, my final NaNo version looks nothing like that first NaNo draft. That’s okay, because I love it in a way I didn’t last November. Although I didn’t do NaNo this time, I embraced the challenge last year and did it. Maybe NaNo isn’t for me, but you know what? I’m good with that.

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Persevere, Writer

So often we get caught up in the race, you know the one, agents, deals, publishers, editors, and we forget what is most important. This isn’t about finding an agent or impressing a reader or even seeing your work in print. It’s about writing the best story possible.

What’s the most important aspect of our writing?

Us. We are. You, dear writer.

Our race is a marathon. Miles, months, continents long. It’s easy to lose ourselves—and our work—to the monotonous struggle of our feet pounding the pavement. Our journey becomes a push and pull of self-doubt and self-hatred. X agent tells us we’re not good enough. Y editor rejects our work. Or maybe you’re not that far yet, perhaps a beta reader tears your manuscript apart and drops the shreds into your lap.

What’s worse above all this, is finding your own work uninspiring. If it’s not the story, it’s the characters. One or the other is too vapid, too superficial, too uninformed. It could be better. The words don’t flow.

I’m not here to hold your hand or make you false promises. Will an agent finally love you? I don’t know. Will a big name publisher pick up your book? Who can say?

What I will tell you is to persevere.

Persevere, writer, for there will be a day when you love your story more than words. When your characters reach deep into your soul and pull forth something so exquisite you won’t believe it came from your fingertips.

Persevere.

You may not love it today, but tomorrow, when the sky is a little darker, the wind a little harsher, the words will speak to you. Today you doubt yourself. You discredit your talent, you deny your privilege to write. But tomorrow, tomorrow it will all fall into place.

Be a cheerleader for your own work. Give yourself credit for learning, for making it another mile. Haul out your old manuscripts and witness your growth. Bask in the rapture of knowing you can improve them. Find simple pleasure in stories pushed aside and forgotten. Make what is old new again. I’m certain you’ll find good in them.

Forget about the race, writer. Shove all thoughts of it to the back of your mind and pile over it with bricks. Close your eyes. The sun is on your skin and the wind is fingers through your hair. Your feet slap a monotonous tone, or is a rhythm? A rhythm, yes, a heartbeat. A pounding that pushes us forward, anxious for the next twist, for another moment of glory. Persevere, writer. The best is yet to come.

Author photoKACEY VANDERKARR has a penchant for fantasy and frequently listens to the voices in her head—most of whom are teenagers. Her favorite place to write is an old salon chair in her kitchen, with coffee in one hand and adoring cats sprawled across her arms. She prefers her music loud and her skeptics quiet. When she’s not writing, Kacey coaches winterguard, works as a sonographer, and hangs out with other weirdos like her at the Flint Area Writer’s club. She is currently seeking agent representation.

That was a Pretty Bad Monday, or: You’re No Pizza Rat!

It started when I lost my water bottle on a Monday morning.

I frequently misplace my water bottle. I never lose it. I don’t leave for work without it. For me, my purple water bottle (filled with room temperature water from the Britta and exactly four ice cubes) is as much of a morning ritual as coffee is to most normal people. But I couldn’t find it, and we needed to leave, so I joined my family (my husband and two kids) in the Honda and we left for school (my husband and I work where our kids are enrolled). I knew what lay ahead of me – either I would be hopping up and down from my desk all day to fill a flimsy cup with water, which I would eventually spill on something electronic, or I would dehydrate.

In reality, I had little idea of what fresh hell I was actually in for that day.

That Monday morning, that awful Monday morning, I was in the midst of submitting my first novel, a YA coming-of-age book, to agents. And that Monday morning I sat down at my computer, waterless, my lips already tight with dryness, and I received two rejections (or “passes” as they say in polite circles) – one from an agent who had the full manuscript and one from an agent who had 50 pages. I was flabbergasted – not necessarily by the passes themselves but by the fact that they hit my inbox exactly 55 minutes apart. That seemed cruel and unusual. I had not even begun to wrap my head around the first blow when the second came through. I didn’t cry, which surprised me. Instead I tried to take stock of exactly what I was feeling and I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.

In texting with my friend (an artist) she shared this, “Once someone with actual cred gave me a really brutal critique and I was raging and embarrassed and felt like my whole life was a joke. And simultaneously like they knew nothing and just didn’t get what I was doing. It was awful.”

“Yes! That!” I thought. “I was feeling that.”

But there was no time for feeling “that,” because I was due to read a book in my son’s class at snack time, so I scurried down the hall, my head and heart virtually disconnected from my body in self-protection mode.

I read the book too loudly. I guess I thought if I just spoke with volume no one would know I was devastated. I think I fooled the three year olds, but when we sat down to eat our apples, my jaw (a problem area of my body that hadn’t “acted up” in probably a decade) painfully popped out of place.

“Oh,” I thought to myself, wincing from the pain, “I get it. If I put a lot of energy into not crying then my jaw will pop out of place. I guess my emotions have to go somewhere. Awesome.”

When I got back to my office I forced myself to eat a mushy meal bar just so I would have something in my stomach to absorb the multiple Advil I needed to take. I was almost grateful for the physical pain (which could be medicated) as a stand-in for the psychological pain. I hoped for the best. And on that horrible Monday “the best” meant taking all day to do a labor-intensive, yet functionally simple, report multiple times before getting it right.

Just the day before I had been involved in an on-line discussion about juggling writing and “day jobs.” A group of writers and I had shared strategies for time management. Nobody mentioned what to do if you got two rejections within an hour on a Monday morning on which you already had too much planned and a day-job deadline looming. I made a note to report back to the group that this is something we should discuss.

By the time I got back into the car with my family at the end of the day I was exhausted, raw, and dehydrated. My husband, who had already provided several hugs throughout the day, asked our kids, six and three, to be extra-special-nice to me that night. And then he told me that as soon as we got home I should retreat to the bedroom and let him handle homework/piano/dinner/bath/bed. I took him up on the offer – or I thought I did. Moments later my six year old complained of nausea and when we got home I immediately made her a bed of towels on the bathroom floor and assumed my puke-companion position in the hallway, our heads touching in the doorway. I felt horrible for her and horrible for me. I wanted to be alone; I wanted to wallow. But there is no time for being alone when you have a sick kid, and there is no time for wallowing when you are trying to get a novel published.

Eventually my daughter admitted she hadn’t eaten her lunch and then things started to make sense. At that point I turned my attention to getting some food in her and getting everyone through our nightly rituals with an eye towards going for a therapeutic run once the kids were in bed. And then halfway through their dinner it started to rain. And that’s when I really lost it. Not outwardly. I didn’t yell or scream or cry or curse. I just quietly gave up on salvaging the day as I watched the rain come down on the skylights above the dining room table.

The feeling of giving up was so powerful. How in the world was I going to manage parenting, working, married life, writing and submitting? What was I thinking? I trudged through the rest of the evening trying to tell myself that I had no control over getting published but I could will myself to be a good mother… maybe … if I could hold it together.

Miraculously, after the kids were asleep, the skies cleared. It felt like a sign, one I was eager to receive. All was not lost. I bolted out of the house into the dark, barely kissing my husband goodbye.

The on-line conversation about managing work life-balance wasn’t the only writing-related conversation I had had the weekend before. As I ran through my suburban neighborhood I remembered what a friend, a writer, had told me on Saturday. She said that if either of these two agents took me on, it would be amazing (I had only submitted nine queries at that point – trust me, I know that’s a staggering return rate, but I also have an editor-friend and author-friend who are very generous with their respective contacts, so it would be foolish to think or give the impression that somehow my pitch was super-amazing!), but if they didn’t take me on, it would be ok, too. “If one of them takes you on, you’ve skipped a lot of the really annoying steps, but if neither of them do, you just pick yourself up and go do those annoying steps.” When she said it, I almost didn’t want to hear it, because I wanted so badly to skip those annoying steps, but two days later, at the end of a truly horrible Monday, I was so glad we had had that conversation, because if I was going to pick myself up, it was going to be because of support from people like her.

When I got home, after a kick-ass three miles, dinner and my husband were waiting for me. I took a moment to check-in with my gratitude. I acknowledged that for all of the things I didn’t have going for me on that particular Monday, I had a ton of things, and people, to be thankful for. And then, misguidedly, I checked in with Twitter.

The agent who had passed on my 50 pages had posted the following status: I offer unconditional representation to Pizza Rat.

I showed it to my husband and said, “This is one of the women who passed on my pages this morning! I’m less appealing than a rat who carries a slice of pizza down some steps to the subway platform!”

“Ooof,” he said, “There’s no way to spin that. That sucks.”

And we laughed and ate our dinner.

Jamie Beth Cohen hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently lives on the line between suburban and rural Lancaster County, PA. She is currently trying to find an agent for her debut novel, So Much More Than Everything, in which sixteen-year-old Alice Burton is caught between enjoying her burgeoning sexuality and underestimating its considerable power. She is occasionally on Twitter @Jamie_Beth_S and you can read more about Jamie, and see videos of her recent story slam performances at www.JamieBethCohen.com.

#DearLaura

#DearLaura,

I’m writing a YA romance but the first kiss feels a little lackluster. Do you have any advice on how to kick up my characters’ chemistry?

Sincerely,
Lip-locked in Atlanta

Dear Lip-locked,

For the actual kissing scene, I would sink into your own experience and try to imagine it frame by frame. I also like to go back to some of my favorite romantic books and movies and think critically about the logistics of what goes where, the feelings and intent behind the actions, and the sensuousness and mood of the setting. I rewrite my romance scenes more than any other type because it’s difficult to get them right the first time around. Feel free to experiment and save old drafts. You can even run a little science experiment and have betas rate their favorite versions.

The other thing you may want to think about when writing your romance scenes is placement in your story and whether you’ve built in enough romantic tension to warrant the romantic act. Most of the tension is in the back-and-forth between characters, not the physicality (think Pride & Prejudice). The pay-off is sweeter when the characters have had to overcome so much to be together. Think too about what will sustain the romantic tension for the rest of the book after the first kiss.

Good luck!
Laura

#DearLaura,

The YA market is really flooded, not even with good stuff, but just the volume of various series is overwhelming. What advice do you have for breaking into the market?

Sincerely,
lonestarjake88

Dear LonestarJake88,

I wish I had a simple answer for you, but just as there are several paths to publication, there are several ways “make it” in YA, and varying definitions as to what “making it” even means. That said, here are a few concrete things you can do to build your readership and increase your chances at success:

1. Write your best story every time. Workshop it, send it to beta readers, collect feedback and revise until you can elevate it no more.

2. Make connections with people in the biz. You need someone in the biz to champion your story and/or a following that will act as built-in fan base and recommend your book via word-of-mouth. (See John Green’s rise to fame). Some authors, it seems, shoot skyward with little to no help from anyone, but this is rare. The fact is, you need other people in order to be successful. This is true in nearly all ventures in life, one that we writers sometimes like to downplay.

3. Have a good read on the collective conscious of your market. It helps if you’ve tapped in to some subconscious element of our culture where your story offers deep and lasting satisfaction. This is different from chasing trends or writing the next whatever-it-is. Be aware of what’s going on in the world and how your story fits into the fabric of our culture and society.

4. Be opportunistic. Sometimes it’s just about being in the right place at the right time. Go to conferences, engage on social media, contribute to smaller publications, and generally make sure that your personality and your work is “out there.”

5. Stay positive. Breaking into the biz is an uphill climb and you’re going to need a support network to help you through the setbacks, so make sure you have people you trust who will build you up when you get knocked down.

While you may not make it with your first book, I believe for myself and others that if you keep trying, keep putting your best work forward, and keep faith in your ability and artistry, you will make it eventually.

Good luck!
Laura

Laura Lascarso is the author of two YA novels, COUNTING BACKWARDS (2012) and RACING HEARTS (2015). If you have a burning YA question you’d like answered, tweet it to @lauralascarso with #DearLaura or include it in the comments below.

Faith and Writing

After 4 years together, my agent and I have parted ways.

This is numero dos for me, so I’ve been through breaking up with an agent before.

However, this time around, breaking up with an agent feels like…breaking up with a spouse because there are “children” (pending manuscripts still out on submission) to consider.

Despite the obvious differences between breaking up with an agent versus breaking up with a spouse, this song remains the same: Could’ve, would’ve, should’ve… And though our parting was simply a matter of going in different directions, breaking up with this agent means that I’m all the way back to the beginning of the journey.

And that kinda sucks.

On top of what I feel about this is the fact that it’s now twice. I feel what my friends who have had a few failed marriages have told me they feel—a little embarrassed. I have all the thoughts I’m pretty sure those folks have: Man, if I can’t get it right twice, I should just give up trying.

Despite all this, I have not lost complete faith in publishing or in my writing… thanks to a very unlikely source: Bethenny Frankel, the not-so-housewife of The Real Housewives of New York.

I know—reserve your judgment. Also, come on…you know you watch those shows, too.

I was actually listening to her on a radio talk show, and while there was a time I dismissed her as a vapid, wanna-be who needed to eat a hamburger—or at the very least, some carbs—thanks to this interview (and, yes, this season of The Real Housewives of New York) I’ve come to see another perspective of her.

I’m fascinated by her transformation post very public and very nasty divorce and post failed talk show—watching a successful, bold, aggressive woman climb up the ladder of success and then have multiple failures knock her down is somewhat validating that the journey to success is not linear. And, listening to her on this radio show while biking the other morning caused me great, great pause and a sort of a-ha moment happened with regard to this recent change in my writing life.

Bethenny spoke about regret, writing (she’s written a few best sellers), trusting your instincts, seeing things as they really are, and making decisions.

On regret:

The one thing that has gotten me through has been saying whatever is happening to me, I know I will realize later why it happened.

I’m not a total fatalist or believer in absolute destiny—that things are predetermined and on a set course. Yet, right now, though I don’t have a lot of time away from this experience, I can already see the necessity of going through it, which I think could be viewed as the reason. Any ounce of naiveté I had left inside of me regarding publishing is now gone. Even though I’d been at it awhile, when I signed with this agent, I still had a pie-in-the-sky perspective, and delusions of grandeur about getting a book deal, what it meant and what it entailed. The reason for this break up experience, in the grand scheme of things, is to learn a critical lesson in publishing: Just because you have an agent who submits your work to publishers on your behalf and who also invests time in your work, doesn’t mean IT will happen. Important lesson to learn.

On Writing

 That’s why I write. Then it won’t be for naught.

Me, too. I often write to unravel the knot of confusion in my head or to make peace with something. In writing, there is exploration, hope, and possibility. The act of writing this very blog post, right now, is validating. It validates that my experience means something—that it matters.

On Using My Gut Instincts

We don’t use our gut instincts. We were given a women’s intuition and we don’t use our guts. We use our heads and our hearts.

There are a few moments over the last few years, when I felt, in my gut, something wasn’t working. But, I ignored that feeling. I ignored it because I was too scared to be alone. Because if I chose to part ways, I would have to face my failures and, at the time, that terrified me. My head and my heart got in the way.

On Seeing Things as They Really Are

I think it might be what I want somebody to be.

I’ve learned over my lifetime that people come in and out of our lives for specific reasons and at specific times. My former agent came at a pretty low point in my writing life, and she restored a sense of hope and possibility and because of that, I ignored some of the most obvious signs that maybe this wasn’t a match.

On Making Decisions

Women make decisions out of fear, rather than truth.

When I knew, after about two years with each of those agents, that really things weren’t working, I stayed for a few more years, all out of the fear that no one would ever want me again, and being on my own without the agent, I’d have to face the feeling of failure and sadness…the irony is, I was going to have to face those feelings anyway. As a writer, it’s unavoidable. Go figure.

***

And Now

The gift of this experience is that for a while I’ve wanted to stop—and the stopping had nothing to do with my former agent. The truth is, I’ve wanted to take a break from the treadmill of trying to get a book deal; I’m tired. I need a break. I need perspective. I need to reassess if my goal of book deal is what I need as a writer. I used to feel it would validate my hard work…now I’m not so sure if the feeling of validation comes from signing a contract with a major publisher, seeing my name on the cover of a book, or seeing Random House or some other major publisher on the inside cover. I’m not convinced any more that achieving that goal validates me as, some how, a better or more successful writer. I’m just not sure.

Hope And Possibility

I know there is another book inside of me. I know that there is a (virtual) stack of already-written books waiting for me to revise. I know that you can fall, you can fail, you can totally fuck up, and you can come back. You can rise, and rise again.

And I will. I really will.

 

*This post first appeared on Writerwomyn.com on October 4, 2015.

A little bit about me:

Scan 12

Me, age 2. Always performing.

I’m the founder of this blog, All The Way YA, a group of writers telling the real deal about writing and publishing YA fiction. And, I’m the publisher of Sucker Literary, featuring the very finest in emerging authors of YA fiction. Some of my books have won awards, and I’ve had a bunch of articles published in a variety of places including The Jewish Voice & Herald and the SCBWI Bulletin. I have a blog and have been a guest blogger for a few fine folks. My day job involves my tiny company, The Write Touch, a consulting business, which offers tutoring, coaching, and editing services to writers of all ages and places. I graduated from Pine Manor College’s Solstice Program, receiving my MFA in Writing for Young People. Currently, I’m finishing up a Certificate of Graduate Studies in Mental Health Counseling. The most important of all, I have two daughters who inspire me to keep on the journey and an incredibly supportive husband. And there’s my cat, Maisey, whose habit of lying across my belly is the saving grace at the end of a long day.

How Do I Make Myself Write Again After Getting Negative Feedback?

I have been struggling so much to write again.

The first book just came out, the second one is done without yet having a publishing house, and I have excuse after excuse to not write another book.

Excuses: The story’s not there. Nothing exciting enough is happening in my life for me to write about. I’ve got plenty of time. I need to focus on publishing the next book first. I don’t know the characters in this story. I have too many other things to do… Blah blah blah.
What’s really going on is I’m struggling to get over words spoken to me about Chase (my debut novel). Words like, “Did you even have an editor? Your character development sucks.” (Not verbatim, but that’s how I interpreted it.) And more words like, “Why’d you write in first person for both viewpoints? I couldn’t tell them apart.” (One of my favorite, best-selling authors Maggie Stiefvater does that—with more than two characters in first person in the Shiver trilogy!) And even MORE words, “I can’t give this any better than one star in its current condition. I’m sorry.”

It’d be a super big deal and I’d really take it to heart if all my reviews read like this. But that’s only one review. Uno. Have I clung to the five and four star reviews that are much more numerous? Nope.

Why?

Because my inner fear as a writer agrees with the one star review. My own insecure voice adds to the negative spin in my head: “Why do you even bother? You’ll never make enough in this writing thing to quit your day job. You’ll always be wanting something you can’t have.”

This is writer’s block for me. It’s an inability to move beyond the fear that I’m wrong about what I have to say; I’m wasting my time.

I can sit and wallow in that for a little while. That’s healthy. There’s a seed of growth in every rejection—something to learn. But if I let it stop me forever, that’s completely unhealthy. I came to a point where my identity was in crisis.

I am a writer.
But I’m not writing.
Then who am I?

My true voice, the one that’s not insecure, but is creative and free, asked, “What are you going to do about this?”

I buckled up to get going again. But I was really reluctant. My driving argument with myself was, “I’m a writer. I write first for myself, others second, and no one is going to make me do this but me.”

I forced myself to write for four days. I hated every second of it.

But on the fourth day, there was a shift. After pushing out words for 45 minutes, I began to see the story world, feel my character’s need to want to belong, and…

The words flowed.
They weren’t forced anymore.
For fifteen minutes of bliss, I again loved the person I am.

Sometimes the thing we need to do most is the thing that scares us more than anything else. For me, at a time like this, that scary thing is writing. Failing.

But the fear of never writing again was greater for me than the fear of rejection.

You’re the only one who can make the decision to write again. If that is what you decide, I salute you for being some of the bravest human beings on the planet. It takes guts to put yourself out there again and again.

author photoSydney Scrogham is writing happy endings.  She loves connecting with readers and writers while helping them pursue their dreams.  For a limited time, Sydney is offering six tips to structure a story that sells for her email list subscribers.  You can sign up here:  http://eepurl.com/biowLj  In August 2015, Sydney released her first novel Chase through Koehler Books (which averages a 5-star review in spite of this post!).  When she isn’t writing, Sydney can be found at the barn with her horse Snowdy. To learn more, check out her blog at http://www.sswriter.com or tweet @sydney_writer.

Note:  Sydney’s ebook for Chase is currently $1.99 through November.

#DearLaura

#DearLaura,

I worry about getting the YA voice right in my books, but I don’t have any teens in my life. Other than stalking them at the mall, how can I get a better feel for how real teens talk and act so my book feels authentic?

Sincerely,
Teenless in Toronto

Dear Teenless,

Assuming you already read widely and deeply in the YA genre and watch films of the same nature, my next suggestion would be to cultivate relationships with some real-life teens. Those can be in the virtual world, in the form of subscribing to teen blogs and following teens on Twitter and Instagram. And they can also be in the real world, such as joining a YA book club at your local library or bookstore. If you introduce yourself as a YA writer who is passionate about teen literature and wishes to know more about what teens like to read, you will likely be welcome into these circles.

Additionally, there is nothing wrong with observing teens in the wild, and malls are great places to do it. Simply plant yourself in the middle of a food court, make yourself look occupied with a book or device, and you will come away with tons of juicy gossip along with some insights on the cadence of teen voices and preferred topics of conversation.

While you want your YA voice to sound authentic, you don’t want to try so hard that it sounds forced, so remember that it’s a balancing act. Keep in mind too that slang is an ever-changing animal and should be handled carefully so that it doesn’t “date” your story.

Best wishes,
Laura

#DearLaura,

A few years ago it was vampires and wizards, now it’s terminal illnesses and war games. As a YA writer who hopes to get published traditionally, how can I keep up with ever-changing trends in the publishing business?

Sincerely,
Bamboozled in Birmingham

Dear Bamboozled,

The short answer to your question is that you can’t. Because being published the traditional route often takes 3-5 years from the time you put pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard) to the time your book hits the shelves, it’s nearly impossible to predict what will be popular with editors and readers. Like a shooting comet as viewed from Earth, trends enter the biz in a blaze of glory and burn out quickly.

While it’s good as a professional author to be aware of what’s selling, I would encourage you to write the story of your heart. You have very little control over what editors are acquiring in terms of theme and concept, but you do have a lot of control over the quality of your book and its ability to connect with readers.

That said there are several places online, such as Wattpad where you can share fan fiction and short stories that are more in keeping with trends. This could be a way to build your audience, get feedback or simply share stories about themes that you too are passionate about.

Just be sure to look at the service agreement of any website where you’re posting to make sure their terms are in line with your goals for publishing those creative works.

Best wishes,
Laura

HeadshotWebFinalLaura Lascarso is the author of two YA novels, COUNTING BACKWARDS (2012) and RACING HEARTS (2015). If you have a burning YA question you’d like answered, tweet it to @lauralascarso with #DearLaura or include it in the comments below.

Making Magic or Selling My Dreams … I’m no Willy Wonka … yet!

OMG! I finished my novel! OMG! I finished my novel! Shit! I finished my novel.

In the summer of 2015, I finished my first novel (which was actually a total re-write of my real first novel, which, if we’ve learned anything from Go Set A Watchman, will never see the light of day!). But it seems that finishing a first novel is really only the start…

When I tell people I have written a book they seem impressed. “Where do you find the time?” they say. “Don’t you have two kids and a job?” they say.

“Yes!” I say. “I have two kids and a job (and a husband with whom I really like to spend time, too!). Thanks for asking!” I found the time because I made the time. My husband even helped me make the time.

On one level, I get it: it’s a thing people say. People find writing a novel to be an extraordinary accomplishment. On another level, I find the comment almost insulting. Writing is a natural thing for me: it’s necessary. Writing is how I process things – things from this morning and things from 30 years ago. When I’m not writing I feel cluttered. I feel weighed down.

Once, in eighth grade homeroom, a friend said to me, “You’re bitchy this morning. You’re not writing anything right now, are you?” She was right. It was true then and it’s true now.

Asking me how I find the time to write is like asking a fish how it finds the time to swim: just because you don’t swim all the time doesn’t mean the fish doesn’t need to. Writing, for me, is the easy part, or at least the fun part. It’s what comes next that may kill me.

What comes next, in my case, is “hell,” otherwise known as “time to query agents.”

Back in high school I was applying for an arts-based scholarship and was asked to choose between acting and writing. A director I had worked closely with told me he thought I was one of the few kids he knew who could actually “make it” as an actor. I have no idea if he said that to everyone, but I was incredibly flattered … and I still chose writing.

Acting was something someone had to give me permission to do. I had to be cast. I had to be chosen. I couldn’t just act alone in my bedroom (because that would be weird!). Writing, on the other hand, I saw as a solitary act. No one had to give me permission to write. I gave myself permission to write.

Obviously, my 17-year-old self wasn’t thinking about what it would take to get published. Which is how I ended up here, 40-years-old, and constantly nauseated.

After I finished my book and had feedback from my writer friends and beta readers, I spent a weekend on-line furiously investigating the query process. I read QueryShark. I read Publisher’s Weekly and Publisher’s Marketplace. I looked through AgentShark. I wanted to throw up.

I am unbelievably lucky to have lots of writer-friends who have been happy to serve as resources for me, but as one might imagine, their advice was not uniform. Figuring out who had the most up-to-date and genre-specific advice was messy. And sometimes what friends were telling me conflicted with what I had learned reading QueryShark, which claims to hold the secret to a singular formula that works, if you can figure it out and execute it properly.

One writer-friend gave me her query spreadsheet. I opened it and looked at it once, several weeks ago. I’ve been too nauseated to open it since. An editor friend, who had been instrumental in my first re-write, let me use her name with a few agents. It was a supremely generous act, but it instilled panic in me. Would I embarrass her? Would I embarrass myself?

Eventually I took a little advice from here and a little from there, took a long, deep, cleansing breath, and started sending out queries. I tried to work out a formula (if not on paper or in Excel, at least in my mind) to figure out where the sweet spot was. What agent would be attracted to my work, green enough to take me on and experienced enough to have the right contacts to get my work published? I couldn’t figure it out – it was like there were one too many axes on my graph.

Also, it felt like querying was easily screwed up. A typo? Delete. The wrong lingo or jargon? Delete. Something in your letter that makes you seem arrogant instead of confident? Delete. And of course, I queried too early, making significant improvements to my letter after I had already sent out a round of emails.

The whole thing made me pukey and confused and sad which is the exact opposite way that writing makes me feel. And I was really not prepared for that. I came face to face with the fact that I really do only have a finite amount of time. What I had previously been able to dedicate to creating I was now forced to use for selling.

Writing feels like eating chocolate or hiking in my favorite spot or both at the same time. And because I wrote a novel that was loosely based on things that had happened to me, it made me feel like a time-traveler who had gone back in time to right wrongs – to say things I wish I had said or to make other people say things I wish they had said. My friends and I joke that it’s fan fiction for my own life, but really writing my novel felt like making magic happen.

Writing queries feels like selling my soul, or worse, my dreams.

Writing feeds me and makes me a happier, healthier, more pleasant person to be around. Querying suffocates, drains, and scares me. At one point I turned to my husband (who had acted extensively in his younger days, just as I had) and said, “You know the vulnerability you feel when you’re on stage for two hours? I feel like that ALL. THE. TIME. now, and even more so when I check my email.”

So that’s where I am, in query limbo. Had my 17-year-old-self known that publishing was really no different than auditioning, would I have chosen acting instead of writing? Would I be an aging ingénue by now? No way to go back in time and figure that one out … unless maybe that’s what novel number two will be about …

 

JamieJamie Beth Cohen hails from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania and currently lives on the line between suburban and rural Lancaster County, PA. She is currently trying to find an agent for her debut novel, So Much More Than Everything, in which sixteen-year-old Alice Burton is caught between enjoying her burgeoning sexuality and underestimating its considerable power. She is occasionally on Twitter @Jamie_Beth_S and you can read more about Jamie, and see videos of her recent story slam performances at www.JamieBethCohen.com.

It’s NaNoWriMo time! Are you doing it? No? Why not?

Yup, it’s almost November.

And that means that EVERYONE is going to sit down and write 50,000 words. Yup. Everyone. No?

Word count is a funny thing. I have a love/hate relationship with it. Peer pressure is also a funny thing. And I have a love/hate relationship with that too.

And the two together? It depends…

So, going back to word count. Does setting a word count goal per day work? Sometimes it really does help me get where I want to go. But other times it makes me feel frustrated because the words aren’t flowing and I’m not making my ‘count’. And what if I have to spend all day pulling my hair out to untangle an impossible mess I wrote myself into the day before, just because I decided to make my count instead of allowing myself time to think? Was it worth it then? For me, no. For me, that’s when pressure to produce gets in the way of listening to the creative process.

And that’s when I had to learn to back off. To learn to say ‘it’s okay, I can let go of that goal’. Because there’s never a good reason to beat oneself up over anything that happens during the creative process. Never.

But that took me a while to learn…

When I did my first mini-NaNo with friends who were doing NaNo officially, I set myself a goal of 2,000 words/day for a week. The first day I exceed my goal and I strutted around, all happy. Until I saw how many words some of my friends posted they had written and all of a sudden my 2,300 words weren’t enough. And I felt bad (this was before I learned never to compare what I achieved with what anyone else achieved). So the next day I pushed myself even when I didn’t know where my story was going and I wrote even more words.

Only to have to delete almost all of them.

That was when I decided I didn’t like setting a word count. What was the point if it was to delete it all? Or worse, to have to spend three days re-writing it? After a third day, which included several one hour sprints, I gave up. It wasn’t working for me. I was a failure. Or the system was. Word count goals weren’t for writers who wanted to write a good first draft. Or was it just my approach that was wrong?

Fast forward to a few months later, all by myself in my writing cave… I had an idea I really wanted to write, but didn’t have much time before I needed to dedicate myself to another project. So I explored the idea, jotted down the plot, and began to build the world. After about a week and a few character sketches where I tested voice and tried to get closer to my characters, I sat down and wrote a detailed, chapter-by-chapter outline. And noticed it was April 1st. Bingo. I would do my very own NaNo in April. I wanted the book to be about 80,000 words long. So if I wrote 2,500 words a day, I’d be good.

The first week, words flowed beyond expectation and I was psyched. And then I hit the murky middle with all its tangled plot lines. Screeeech! I started to add extra words to the following day so I could make up for ‘lost’ time and found myself quickly drowning in an impossible situation. That was when I learned an essential lesson about daily word counts:

Whatever happens on one day, or in one writing session, stays there. The same way that what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. Yup. As simple as that might seem, that thought freed me from the insane pressure I was putting on myself. It no longer mattered if I made my goal, because it wouldn’t pile up and smother me the next day.

I eventually got back into a flow and wrote the book forward. Some days, when I was on a roll, I would double my goal. Some days, when I wasn’t inspired or needed to figure something out, I turned off my word goal counter. Some days, I’d even leave the house and go for a walk in the woods. And sometimes, it was those very moments away from the computer that brought the clarity I needed to figure out whatever mess I had gotten my plot into.

I finished the manuscript in the month, and then spent another month revising it (luckily, my other deadline got moved back and I was able to revise during the month of May).

By having accomplished this alone, with no accounting to anyone, no sprints that made me feel like I was in a competition (I’m competitive, what can I say?) and not good enough, no increasing burden that would rise from a manageable amount to something that was four times larger than any word count I had ever achieved, I learned to let go. I learned that the process was important and couldn’t be blocked into identical days.

And, ironically, by learning I could do it on my own, I also learned how to do it with others. I can now share my goals with a team, post my results and read theirs without feeling like I didn’t do enough (usually). When I hit a bad day, my writing buddies are always there to support me and vice versa. When they hit an amazing day, I am inspired by their achievements. I no longer compare my own days to each other, or to anyone else.

And now I can throw myself into a new project because I want to. Either I’ll make my goal or I won’t. But either way, I’ll give it my best and will enjoy the process.

Happy writing to all, whether you do NaNo or not, because it’s writing the story that counts, not how fast you get it done!

To Write or Not to Write…that is the question.

Thomas Wright/ @zbsdaddy

At least for me it is.

I’ve been writing YA and MG material for more years than I care to remember or admit, and I have always believed in the words: “Real writers write every day.” Every conference I attended or how-to book I read always had these words somewhere within the lectures or pages. I thought I was a real writer (nobody told me I wasn’t), so I too bought into this theory and wrote every day. Whether I was tired, sick, depressed, it didn’t matter. I was a real writer darn it, and this is what real writers do.

But then something happened: my writing suffered. Now I know what you’re thinking: How can your writing suffer if you do it every day? At the time, I didn’t know. All I knew was the words on the page were terrible. The plot was lousy, the characters had no voice. The only answer I could think of was more writing. That is how it is with anything in life. The more you do a certain thing, the better you get. Right? Wrong.

The more I sat and typed, the more I hated doing it. It got so bad, I looked for every reason not to put my butt in the chair. Part of it certainly stemmed from the fact that I was married and had two children who needed my attention, and I felt guilty that I wasn’t giving them my all. But deep down inside, I knew that wasn’t the whole problem. I continued to feel this way, and yet I continued to write every day because I still believed I had to. I got so good at ignoring the hatred, that I finished a manuscript and published a book. I should have been thrilled, but I wasn’t. What was wrong with me? I had achieved a life-long goal, and I was miserable. It was at this pivotal moment when I made the decision to stop writing. I had achieved a small level of success and now was stopping. I had to be crazy.

I convinced myself I would stop just long enough to figure out the problem, a few days tops. But then a week went by, then two, four, six… Before long, it was eight months, and I hadn’t written a thing or figured out why I was no longer interested in doing what for so long had been my passion.

I went to New York City for the annual winter SCBWI conference in 2012, and there speaking was a rather famous author and one of my personal favs. She stated: “Writers need to put their butts in the chair and write every day.” The hatred and memories came flooding back upon hearing those words. It wasn’t her fault she stirred up anger within, but she did force my mind to answer the dilemma I faced. I found myself saying quietly: “But what if you’re not ready? How can you write daily, if you don’t feel it?”

Booyah! I had my answer (I didn’t know it was all the way in New York).

It was one simple word: Inspired.

Writers may write daily, but inspiration is the key, not the amount of time you perform the task. Without it, the pages are just empty words, void of any meaning or purpose. I wasn’t inspired. I didn’t love what I was putting to paper, thus I felt upset and hated what I was doing. But what brings inspiration? For me, it was time and not forcing myself to write daily. I needed to let my brain think of the ideas and decide where the characters should go without the constraint of placing any of it to paper. My thoughts needed to be free to roam into the unimagined. Sure, I was no longer physically writing daily, but my mind was. I was creating scenes, characters, dialogue, and plot, all inside that tiny little lump on top of my shoulders. And when the time came, when my mind felt it was ready, I put it to paper. Sometimes, it took a few days of thinking, other times a week, but I learned that my brain would always tell me when the idea was ready to be in its final form.

There are many types of writers in this world and maybe a good portion of them do write every day. I’m no longer one of them. Since my discovery, I finished two YA novels, wrote three middle grade manuscripts, and found peace within all because I don’t write every day. I once again enjoy my craft because I give myself time to think it before I write it. Those last six words have become my mantra.

So, in the end, maybe I’m not a “real writer” if one is defined by writing daily. I’m okay with that, because I know the words and story will come as long as I give myself time to think. Inspiration is essential, and that is common to all writers. Within that definition, I am a real writer, and I’ve never been happier.

 

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www.thomaswrightbooks.com

 

thomaswrightThomas Wright is a writer of middle grade and young adult novels. His first book Ansburry Tales: The Redeemer was published in 2013. Book two of this five-part series is scheduled for release in 2016. Other completed projects include a YA novel, Cathing Tomorrow due out in 2017, and a middle grade series entitled, The Adventures of Spikehead and Fred, with book one slated for publication in 2016.  He currently resides in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania with his wonderful family and far too many dogs.