On the difficulty of writing

I don't know if you know this, but writing is freaking hard. I mean, yeah, there are those days when the words flow easily and the plot aligns itself perfectly in your mind. But even after those days, there are these days.

The days when you can barely write a coherent sentence about making toast, much less eloquently express a teenager's angst; the days when the plot you so meticulously put together falls apart and you contemplate just killing off all your beloved characters; the days when nothing works and you're ready to throw the whole thing away and start anew.

Because writing is hard. It takes guts, it takes dedication and it takes a certain amount of stubbornness.

And for some reason I've decided to completely wrap my life around writing. I mean, if it's not the novels, it's the poetry, and if not that, well, it's the journalism. I don't — I can't — go a day without writing...even on the days when all I do is journal. I write, I write, and I write.

It gets frustrating on days when I feel like I'm just writing into a void. I'm writing articles that no one reads, books that aren't published and blogs that barely get views.

I pour my heart and soul into perfecting a piece of literature, only for it to get rejected or, worse, barely looked at. I don't understand why I keep doing what I'm doing.

Wouldn't it be better to find a sensible career? Shouldn't I rearrange my life to fit around a job at the bank or perhaps in mathematics? I mean, that is where the money is. And surely, surely, it can't be as frustrating as trying to pull words out of a dried-out, tired brain.

I know what you're thinking. It can be as frustrating. For some reason, in everything we do, the actions with the highest potential for greatness and joy have the highest level of frustration.

Let me say that again: with potential for great success comes great hardship.

It's kind of the "no pain, no gain" philosophy. If you don't pour yourself into your work, expending blood, sweat and tears, you're not going to get much out of it.

That's why I keep doing what I'm doing.

On the days when I couldn't even tell you what toast is, much less describe making it, I want nothing more than to curl into a little ball and forget I ever dreamed of being a great writer, winning awards and changing lives.

But on the days when I have a novel breakthrough, a flash of inspiration for a poem or a great story to tell the community...man. Oh man.

It's like doing drugs, only better, because it's not illegal and you don't kill your brain cells. Or your bank account.

It's like when you're riding a bike and you hit your stride, reach a nice downhill stretch and you just sort of float along in midair, the wind tangling your hair and waking up each individual cell in your cheeks.

It's sitting up straighter, pulling your legs under you, cracking your knuckles and typing as fast as you can to get the words onto paper before they leave you forever. It's pure adrenaline. It's the most beautiful thing I've ever experienced.

Writing is hard. But it's also so, so rewarding.

Stephen King and my writing revolution

Stephen King writes good books. I think even dislikers of the horror genre (Exhibit A: me) can agree to that.

So when my good friend Sarah gave me his book On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft for my birthday, I was looking forward to seeing what this talented and successful writer had to say to me.

What I didn’t expect was for him to revolutionize my writing life. And yet that’s exactly what happened.

You see, King spends half his book going through various things aspiring writers can do to go from competence to “goodness.” (There’s a whole thing about poor, competent, good and great writers, but I won’t spoil that for you if you haven’t read it). Anyway, he spends quite some time talking about the importance of just writing consistently.

It’s easy to think writing is all about quick moments of inspiration that come upon the writer and overtake her. In these moments, you think, the writer throws everything aside, be that work, family or friendship, and battens down the hatches, so to speak, writing until the inspiration well dries up.

No, no, no, King says. That’s not how you do it. You write every day. You set goals for how much writing you want to get done on a certain day, and you stick to them. You choose a space dedicated just to writing, and you go there every day, lock yourself in and write until you’ve reached your goal. Most importantly, you do not wait for the inspirational muse to come to you: you go to her (or him, as the case may be).

Yeah, there’s a whole section on the muse which, again, I won’t get into since he’s already said it, and quite well at that. The point of it, though, is that if you sit around and wait for the muse to drop by and sprinkle fairy dust on your typewriter, pen or computer, you’ll never write anything.

The secret to writing, King says, is just do it.

So I did.

In the middle of reading the book, and in a fit of excitement and passion for the future, I set all of my alarms to 6:30 a.m. I added it into my calendar: from 6:30-6:59 a.m., read Bible and pray; from 7-7:50 a.m., write.

I’ve been doing it since Sunday. I amended the second part to say, “write for 50 minutes or 1,500 words, whichever comes first,” and every day I’ve hit 1,500 words within about 30 minutes. So in the past four days, I’ve cranked out 6,000 words. And all before 8 a.m.!

Which is great, because it leaves the rest of the day for me to, say, go to work, then come home and chill out in the evening. Whether that means taking a nap, watching tv or reading a good book is completely up to me.

And I feel great about it. I mean, yeah, I’m tired by the time I get home from work, but most days I’m able to push through that. And like with anything, the ability to wake up early is a mental game. As soon as I set my mind to it, I was good to go.

When I say Stephen King revolutionized my life, I mostly mean my writing life. But I am a writer. My writing life is intimately connected to my soul life. Plus, now that I’m getting up early, I do have time to spend with God (there’s perks to everything).

So there you have it: the master of horror, the one genre I mostly shy away from, snuck in and changed everything in my life. And for the better.

Maybe now that I’m following his advice, I’ll follow in his successful footprints, you know what I mean? J

Getting rejected by "the one"...

...agent. "The one" agent. Which in itself is a no-no, I hear, because you aren't supposed to have one particular agent on whom you place all of your literary hopes and dreams. Which I'm all about, and I actually don't have one. I have several agents I have queried, and of course I love them all. But every once in a while, I've stumbled across an agent that I've felt particularly attached to. An agent I've felt a connection with, one whose bio I've read and about whom I've thought to myself, "Holy cow, she is perfect."

For me. She's perfect for me. There are agents that I think I might mesh better with, agents whose profiles and wish lists seem to say nothing other than, "'Red Rain Boots.' Send us 'Red Rain Boots.'"

So I did. And two of them have rejected me. Cold, hard, form rejection letters that say, as kindly as possible, that they don't think they can represent my novel.

And it hurts. It's soul-crushingly painful. Because it's not just that they're rejected you, which is painful enough in itself. They're rejecting your product, your baby, that thing you've worked on for months and poured literal pieces of your soul into. They're rejecting you without even reading that piece of your soul...

I'm not complaining about the way they do rejections. I understand that agents receive hundreds of queries every week, and goodness, if they had to read partials of every unsolicited manuscript, well...they would probably all quit and then where would aspiring authors be? I'm insanely grateful for agents with open inboxes and a willingness to scan hundreds of query letters, many of which are for projects they have  no interest in. So if any agents happen to be reading this, thank you. You rock.

Of course, it still hurts to get rejected. Especially from someone you thought would be a great match. So what do you do when that happens? How do you pick up and move on to the next? I'm definitely not an expert (although I'm on my way), but here are some small tips you might use to help yourself go onward--whether the rejection is from an agent, a school or a beloved.

  1. Take a moment to grieve This is super important. Any time you receive a disappointment, you have to give yourself time to be sad about it. Let yourself grieve. Take maybe 30 to 45 minutes and revel in your sadness, allowing yourself to experience the emotions battling inside of you.
  2. Turn off the grief Another really important thing is to make sure you don't let your grief run all over you. At some point, you have to turn it off. You have to straighten your shoulders, shake your head, and say, "Okay."
  3. Don't beat yourself up Remind yourself that this is just one person. In the agent world, most of the rejections come with an encouragement to keep trying. And as much as it can seem like that is a condescending pat on the back, it's a reminder that no, not everyone will love your book; but that doesn't mean no one will.
  4. Look for someone (or thing) new The best thing you can do is literally propel yourself forward. Find something else to look forward to, whether that's a new agent you can be excited about, a new future or a new haircut.
  5. Move on Yep, my advice about moving is to just do it. Don't let yourself dwell on it. Don't spend your nights twirling a pen, staring longingly off into the distance, thinking, "Oh, dream agent, if only you had accepted me. We could have gone so far..." Just forget about it. If they offered advice, consider accepting it, but otherwise, take one step forward, then another one, and keep going until you're past it.

Rejection is hard. But it doesn't have to kill you. As our dear Kelly Clarkson once crooned, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger." You got this, friend.

Phoenix Will Rise

Phoenix Will Rise.

That's what I think should be the tagline for the new novel I'm working on. Number seven...or was it eight? Possibly nine.

Either way, this is number one in its own right because it's the first novel I'm working on collaboratively.

That's right. I'm writing a novel with someone. Even better, I'm writing it with two someones: my dear friends Alli and Leticia, more commonly known as Lettuce. We concocted this crazy idea on a five-hour car ride from school to Alli's house, where we are spending Easter Break. It started as a way to pass the time on a road trip, but quickly developed into something more. I mean, what do you expect when you put three writers in a car together? Of course we're going to plan out a novel.

This is such a weird experience, because it's the first time since 6th grade, really, that I have worked on a serious piece of writing with other people. Collaborative writing was one of my first introductions to the act of storytelling, but it's been a while since I've indulged in it. And I'm learning a lot about the differences between writing solo and writing with other people. Here are a few of them:

  1. You have to make some compromises.
    1. When you're working on a project with other people, you can't have everything your way. Occasionally, you have to compromise what you want for what the group thinks is best. It can be hard, if you're used to writing solo and doing whatever you please, but it's kind of an Iron Sharpens Iron situation, in which perhaps the piece will be better off because of it. Which is actually Number 2.
  2. You get [a lot] of constructive feedback.
    1. That's right. Almost every idea you come up with will either be accepted, rejected or improved upon. Instead of looking at this negatively, think about it as a way of strengthening not only your own writing, but the story as well.
  3. Sometimes other people have better ideas.
    1. There are some aspects of Phoenix's story that I absolutely love, and never would have come up with on my own. Three minds, each working in their own individual paths, will come together and come up with some really fresh ideas. I'm excited to see where this novel is going to take us, what with the combination of three different writing, storytelling and thinking styles.
  4. Outlining is hard and can be crazy.
    1. We spent last night editing a Google doc that contains our outline, and that was...an experience. I mean, first we just had to play around with the fact that we could all three type at the same time! And then we hashed out our ideas on the document, and since we are three people who like to have fun and aren't always serious, we talked about a lot of silly things. Like ruggedness. And really horrible ways to kill off characters.
  5. You will have a ton of fun.
    1. This one is pretty self-explanatory, I think.

So there you have it. Stay tuned for Phoenix Will Rise, which will surely become the next great bestseller and skyrocket the three of us to fame and fortune. Even if it doesn't, I know I will have a ton of fun writing it and I hope you all get to read it someday.