Writing Tuesday: A state of being

I've decided to revive the original purpose of this blog, which was to write about writing. Because I'm a writing nerd, and that's what writing nerds do: we nerd out about writing. OK, now that I've gotten that terrible sentence out of the way, on to the blog! I'll probably still use this site for random political thoughts or God-Thoughts or even, sometimes, a few depression-thoughts, but those won't be super easy to count on.

What you can, however, count on is Writing Tuesdays and Fab Book Fridays.

Basically, every Tuesday I'll post some ruminations on writing; these could be either profiles like I've done in the past (although I'm also publishing those elsewhere), or thoughts about good writing I've read recently, or thoughts about how hard writing is. So come here on Tuesdays if you're looking for my thoughts on writing!

And on Fridays I'm going to choose one book I've read in the past week or month, and I'm literally just going to rave about it. Why? Because I believe all people should read books, and because I believe in supporting and fan-girling like a cheerleader which I always aspired to be but never was.

Today's Writing Tuesday is going to be fairly short, on account of I've already written 200 words about how I'm going to write about things.

Also the fact that I still don't know what I'm going to write about.

Ahhh...

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I dunno. I just want to say that writing is...writing is something that has saved my life. And not just my writing: others' writing as well. The consumption of excellent stories has often-times pulled me out of the mire. These stories include the SIX OF CROWS duology by Leigh Bardugo and the two books that have so far been published in the Ember quartet by Sabaa Tahir.

I was so depressed around this time last year that I stopped feeling things. And yet I was able to read. I have this memory of bursting into tears or laughter while reading these books, and it just...it reminded me that I was alive.

And then, when I started writing again...it was like I was alive. It was like I finally remembered that I had a beating heart and emotions, and the ability to translate those emotions into reality.

Writing is not just something that I do; it's almost something that I am. And if that resonates with you, on any level, I want to encourage you to keep doing it.

Even if you never get published, even if you only write in a journal. There's a world of benefit and worth to that. If writing at any level, for any amount of time, in any capacity, helps you as a person...then do it.

Write.

Express.

Emote.

Be.

"The Boy Section"

Matteo

I like the world where I love a golden boy who plays guitar and worships in church, who smiles shyly from across the room, who I could never date because he wouldn’t presume to assume the right to date me and I would never admit to deserve him.

His awkward, fumbling encounters, the push-and-pull of “do I kiss him or wait for him to make the move,” while he twists his fingers and says he’s glad to see me. I like the way both his languages are softened by the unsure accent.

Andrew

I remember the world where I loved the boy who looked like an A-list actor, whose grin traced ripples across the beat of my heart. I feel the thick moisture-air pervade the gym, where I follow every step with my eyes, while the handsome boy— who doesn’t know my name—chases jerseys and basketballs across the court.

His face peeks around corners in my mind, corners of the dustiest, boxed-up memories and six years distant, my heart skips; in my dreams he appears in front of me, to clasp my hands and race away to a world where we make sense together.

James

I live in a world where I love a dark boy who swears in every breath and smokes plants and mocks and breaks through walls— everyone’s walls—and my friends say I’m too good but I wonder why I’m not good (enough) for the pretty dark boy I love.

He passes me in the cafeteria and touches my shoulder, an insistent-soft request and my mind careens around sharp corners, past road signs that scream “he loves you!” and others that spit “you will never be enough.” Every word he speaks is confident and bolsters my flagging soul.

"The Boy Section," a poem by Karis Rogerson. Probably about you ;)

On depression: a prose poem

  Mental Illness

It coils itself to strike without so much as a warning rattle, fangs dripping with poison and ready to dart into flesh, retract, leave its venom to do the dirty work.

It sneaks up on you in the dark or in the light, a shadowless creature because it's made of darkness, sucking the light out of life. It doesn't make its presence known until it's too late, too hard to turn and run.

It sinks its claws into your soul and won't retract, and the only way to be free is to rip, rip, rip until a part of you is gone, forever in its clutches.

It is invincible, the king of the night, the harbinger of doom, the thing that stalks your thoughts and learns your patterns and serial kills its way through whole communities.

It sees you when you're sleeping...it knows if you've been good or bad...and then it tells you you've been bad, so bad, the very worst, and it's time to punish yourself.

It convinces you that the blade or the pills or the sex or the smoke will finally make you happy again, will wash you clean of all your wrongdoings, but once it's over all you feel is dirty in your soul.

It appears when you least expect it, sneaking from your mind and winding its way through your body, until you're racked with pain and sore and tired and numb and every thought is just...I can't.

It lies.

It finds your weakness and exploits it, but your weakness will not be your undoing.

My weakness cannot be my undoing.

I fill find a way. When it coils to strike, I will cut off its head. When it sneaks up, bringing darkness, I will shine a light brighter. When it tries to rip off my soul I will performs feats of magic to unhook it and remain intact.

I will not listen to the lies, the ones that overcome me, the ones that hiss, You should die, you should die, you should die.

It made me think death was my idea, my desire, the only way to save myself and others. It made me think the world would spin happier, spin brighter, if my breath were stilled. It made me think, just yesterday it made me think, that if my veins bled themselves dry then maybe I would be redeemed for my mistakes.

It made me think the only way to atone for sin is with my own blood. It made me think everyone's unhappiness stems from my existence.

I will not, I can not let it have its way with me.

My soul is weary, my heart sick, and all I want is to curl up and cry until I can be better. All I want is to eradicate myself and maybe let something new be born in my place.

I am weak. The world itself has sharp claws and they drag across my flesh, and when the blood runs it convinces me that is my fate.

But I will not let my weakness be my end.

I will gather what strength I have. I will fight. Till my dying breath, I will rage against the beast that seeks to best me. I will not go silently. I will not go at all.

My death will not be caused by my own hand. It cannot be. It will not be.

It coils to strike. I raise my blade.

Its head streaks forward. I drop my blade.

And in the end, I stand and it dies.

Resolute in 2016

Despite myself, I've fallen into the belief that today marks the beginning of a grand new life, of a great adventure, a brilliant re-imagining of myself. By Dec. 31, 2016, I'll be a new woman, an accomplished woman, an everything-is-right-in-the-world woman. 22940364744_f22f58c216_o

There's this part of me that believes that and this part of me that doesn't. But today, on the first day of the new year, I'm letting the part of me that believes take over. I'm writing resolutions and swearing to follow them through and hoping that in 365 days, I will be everything I am not today.

Most of my resolutions are writing-based, because as great as 2015 was for my journalistic career (getting into grad school, having my first full-time internship, becoming a freelancer at The Mix and blogging for I Am Second), I still have so many unfulfilled writing dreams.

I mean, I want to be a [published] novelist! I want to be a [published] poet! I want to be a [prolific] essayist! And I want an internship in New York City for this summer.

With that in mind, here is a snippet of my 2016 writing resolutions — I'm posting publicly to be held accountable publicly. Let's keep our fingers crossed for a prolific, writing-filled, exciting 2016!

  1. Write one poem every day. So far, I'm batting 100 on this one. That's right, it might only be partway through Jan. 1, but I've already logged one poem for 2016. It can only get better from here!
  2. Write one short essay every week In my Personal Essay class last semester, we did these 20-minute writing exercises that resulted in three fairly well-developed pieces I'm trying to publish. My goal is to do that every week this year: sit down with an idea and a timer set for 20 minutes, and just write. By the end, I should have 52 short essays I can try to publish!
  3. Write one long essay per month Again in said class, we worked on longer, reported essays. They were written in the first person and I got to add my personal flair to them, but they involved research and a whole lot of thought. I want to write one of these essays per month. ***This will most likely be the toughest resolution to stick to, so I'm counting on you to help me! I want to get started within the first three days of every month, so badger me about it!
  4. Finish two novels and do NaNoWriMo This sounds like a handful, but remember, I'm already 100 pages into one of the novels I'm planning on writing — The Langone Five — so I just have to finish it during the semester, write another one during the summer, and then do NaNo in November. Piece of cake, am I right? *laughs wildly, then cries*
  5. GET AN AGENT This is the big one. This is the one that's partially out of my control. THIS IS THE ONE I DESPERATELY, DESPERATELY WANT TO SEE COME TO FRUITION. I've been dreaming of getting a literary agent since July 2014, and I've been querying and writing and revising and querying and waiting and praying and hoping and — you get the picture. I really need an agent to pursue my dream of being a published novelist. 

So there you have it. Five writing goals for 2016. Oh, and meanwhile, I'll finish grad school, work part-time, intern and be involved at church. It's gonna be a crazy year, guys, but it's gonna be great. I'm so excited to see what comes of it!

Here's hoping 2016 is full of nothing but good things and dreams come true. I'm letting myself go wild and fully believe that today can be the beginning of a new phase — the start of something new, if you will.

 

When getting published is no piece of cake

It's almost been a year since I started sending queries for Red Rain Boots to agents. And yet here I am, still as woefully un-agented and book deal free as I was before I finished my first novel. That's not the way I thought things would pan out.

You see, I thought I would get an agent within my first 10 queries. I thought it would be my dream agent, someone who believed so powerfully in my book that she just had to represent it. I thought her excitement would infect an editor and a publisher and that I would be on my way to being a published author.

Instead here I am. 

Don't get me wrong - a ton of my dreams have come true over the past year. I got into grad school for journalism, won some awards for student journalism, had my first full-time internship at a newspaper and moved to New York. There have been some ups and some downs. But at the end of the day, I'm happy with where my life is.

I really, really wish I could get a book deal. I wish I could get an internship for next spring and next summer in journalism. I wish I could skyrocket to success without barely having to lift a finger.

But that's not how it works. I realized several years ago, and have to realize anew every day, that opportunity doesn't come knocking, sit down for a cuppa tea and offer to make all your dreams come true. Opportunity is the white rabbit that led Alice down the hole. It tries to run, it tries to hide, it only knocks when you've finally trapped it and it's trying to escape again.

Opportunity is hard to come by. It's slippery and slidey and you have to work really hard to get to it. You have to sit down and diligently write your novel. You have to mercilessly edit it, eradicating everything poorly written or weakly plotted. And you have to be persistent and persuasive in trying to convince someone to sign your book.

  I'm a lazy person. It's (one of) the thorns in my flesh. It's hard for me to start writing, editing or persuading.

I stare at the screen and watch Friends, I get distracted reading other books, I turn over and take a nap ... anything to keep from working.

But if I want to be published - and oh, how I want to be published - I'm going to have to get off my butt and work.

Saying goodbye to my darlings 

It's time.  After years of writing and months of querying and re-editing, I've made the hard decision to put Catherine, Tara and the red rain boots behind me for a period. I'm going to set my first novel aside and focus on other projects.

When I first started sending my query letter to agents, I heard the same thing over and over again: it's really hard to get your first books published. But I was confident and kept trying. And I kept getting the same message from agents:

   Or something similar. They weren't liking it. They weren't falling in love. They weren't being entranced by my darlings, by sweet, innocent Catherine, who maintains a smile no matter what, or by fiery Tara who doesn't know what she wants. They weren't invested in the complicated familial relationships that propel the book. They didn't love the lines I had penned, lines like:

The swing set that slouched in the corner of the yard, one swing sagging into the dirt beneath it while the other was hiked up around the structure like a dress around a bored flower girl. 

So I tried editing it again. But all I kept coming across were more and more questions. Did Tara's emotional swings make sense? Should I keep the red rain boots at all? Was Jason too perfect, and was he even necessary?

I couldn't answer those questions. I still can't. I'm too close to it.

People in the publishing world like to throw around the phrase, "kill your darlings." It means you have to be willing to let go of anything that doesn't make your book shine, even if it's a scene, character or turn of language that you love. I'm not there with Red Rain Boots, not even close. I've spent so much time on this book that the thought of massively revamping it kills me (no pun intended 😜).

But in the meantime I've written the first draft of a different novel. A stronger novel. A funnier novel. One with a more distinct voice: My Mom's a Killer.

   It's been several months since I finished writing MMaK, so I think it's time to start editing. And letting other people take a look (and by "letting," I mean forcing, obviously). And querying. And trying, once more, to get published.

I'm keeping my hopes high that I'll still publish Red Rain Boots one day. I want everyone to fall for Catherine the way I have. I'm still proud of that book. But I'm starting to realize that maybe this isn't the time for RRB.

It's the time for Keira, Jo and Derek to storm off of the pages and into the literary world, for people to laugh at Keira's dark humor and Jo's sass, for me to make my debut into the contemporary YA circuit. 

It's time for me to say goodbye to some of my darlings and get back to work.

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.

The cure for writer's block: more words

So I mentioned in a recent post how I'm trying out this new thing where I get up early in the morning to write 1,500 words before I go to work. And it had been going great. I was writing pages and pages every morning, the story was flying out of my fingertips at great speed, I was starting to feel good about this. My Mom's a Killer was coming along nicely. I was confident. It was going to be an instant bestseller, I just knew it. How could people not love it? I mean, sarcastic, funny Keira; feisty, sassy Jo; hot hot hot Derek; an attempted murder, a cover-up and an early release from prison. It was great.

Until it wasn't.

This week has been a little rough. It's been hard to wake up, hard to consume my daily dose of the front page of The New York Times and most importantly, hard to write. And the longer I spent away from my precious novel, the harder it got.

Last night I finally forced myself to sit down and start writing again. It was like dream-running: impossible. (Side note: does anyone else have that problem? I cannot get my legs to move quick in a dream. It makes running from the bad guys a real issue). Anyway. To use a cadre of cliches, it was like pulling teeth, like slogging through mud, like running uphill. I couldn't do it.

I mean, I did. I forced out 1,800 words, but the whole time I was telling myself, This sucks, this sucks, this whole book sucks. This is not a good book. 180 pages, 52,000 words, and you've got nothing. A waste of time. They say we're our own worst critics, and it's so true. I can tear myself down in one second when it took 100 compliments to get me moderately pleased with my work.

But I pushed through. I kept writing. I forced the words out, because I've learned at least one thing after more than 15 years of being a writer (yes, I started around the time I was seven. I might have been terrible, but I was still a writer. I'll claim that): I've learned that writer's block is just that — a block.

It's a temporary obstacle on the path to literary greatness. It's a large boulder, a towering gate, a fallen tree. It is possible to get through it. Sometimes, the only way to do that is to just — keep — hitting — it.

You've gotta bust that obstacle down. You have to write your way through that. The beauty of writing can be contained in one word: drafts. Heck yeah, revisions and multiple drafts are the only thing that keeps me going sometime.

When I'm struggling through a tough scene or wondering how on earth I'm going to save my book, I tell myself one thing: push through it. Write through it. Get to the other end of the scene, where the road is clear, and forge ahead. When it comes time to review, to reevaluate your work, you can decide whether or not to keep the troublesome scene.

Perhaps you'll end up scrapping it. Some scenes exist for the sole purpose of helping us get from one point to another. That's totally okay. Everybody, literally everybody has some of those scenes.

Perhaps you'll majorly revise it and keep it. That's great! In your darkest, weakest moment of writing, you still created something salvageable. You rock, dude.

Perhaps you'll keep it was is. That's even better than the above! It means you're a freaking superstar of the writing world. If this is what you create in the darkest moments, what must you have done when you were feeling good? You can do anything.

And there is is, in 700 words or less: the cure for writer's block is to write more. I mean, think about it. It's the best revenge! Here's this monster trying to keep you from writing, and you defeat it by doing just that. Writer's block ain't got nothing on you. You, my friend, are a writing superhero. All hail the next bestselling author, [insert your name here]!