May, briefly

May has been a flurry of activity, to say the least. (Thankfully, no flurries outside… but touch wood, because in Canada, you never know.) I’m very grateful that I’ve been able to stay organized and on top of things, because otherwise something would have slipped through the cracks. The best part is that we have been experiencing summer-like temperatures here (Heat! Humidity! Be still, my heart!), which means I can do my work on the back deck with a glass of wine. Basically, that’s my happy place.

This month, I have been:

Pen

The coolest pen ever.

Working on: With one finished WIP in the very capable hands of my CP, I have been revising another completed WIP draft. Because of everything else going on, this second WIP has sat on my computer, untouched, for several months—and the time away has done wonders. After reading the full manuscript, I was able to pick out exactly what needed to be fixed and get to work quickly instead of dawdling over a page filled with question marks. I guess that saying “absence makes the heart grow fonder” works for an author’s relationship with her writing, too. This WIP (another YA contemporary) is unlike anything I’ve ever written before, and it was something that started as an “in between” project, which was great because I felt no pressure from myself to make it into something.

I have also been hard at work for a secret project we have cooked up for FIRSTS. I’m looking forward to sharing more about this as soon as I can! I’ll say this much: it has been an insanely fun thing to do, and I hope everyone enjoys it!

Reading: I have been a bit behind on my massive TBR, unfortunately. (Can there please be more hours added to the day solely for reading?) But I finished BECOMING JINN by Lori Goldstein, which kept me up way too late at night. My relationship with Lori, my former Pitch Wars mentor, is very dear to me, so I was obviously quite excited to read her debut. She’s tremendously talented and balances drama with humor to absolute perfection. BECOMING JINN is the story of Azra, whose Jinn powers are released on her sixteenth birthday. I loved Azra’s snarky, sarcastic voice, her relationships with her Zar sisters and her mother, and how she reconciles her feelings for two very different guys. Often, the hardest part of writing is balancing the elements that make a good story, and Lori makes that seem easy: she has the perfect amounts of world-building, action, tears, laughter, tragedy, and plot twists. My only complaint? Having to wait for the sequel after THAT ENDING!

I also read I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN by Jandy Nelson this month. I have heard nothing but great things about her writing, so I was really looking forward to diving in to this book. And basically, it knocked the wind out of me and replaced it with sunshine. Stunning, beautiful, and unputdownable, I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN is about many kinds of relationships– brother and sister, daughter, son, student, lover– and at its core, the relationship between artists and their art. For a book that centers around art and the “ecstatic impulse,” this book is art itself. Funny, sad, smart, insightful, and electric. Jandy Nelson knows how to make words bend, sizzle, soar, and take shape, just like art. I’LL GIVE YOU THE SUN inspired me and made me want to create things.

Watching: My husband and I are mainlining Dexter on Netflix. We’re six seasons in now and I’m continually impressed with the suspense and tension and how it has held up. Generally, I feel like shows lose some steam as they get into later seasons, but in my opinion, Dexter is just as good or better as when it started. The writers have done a great job of keeping the storylines creative and making us care about the characters. I tend to compare Dexter to Breaking Bad (which is one of my all-time favorites) because in both shows, we root for a character who does seriously questionable things. I think this moral ambiguity is so interesting, and it’s a lesson to be learned for writing, too– characters need to have both good and bad elements for us to care about them. Plus, I can’t help it—I’m a total sucker for an antihero.

All that said, May has been a great month, and I hope June brings more hot weather, words, and backyard wine!

April, briefly

I cannot believe April is almost over. I’m still blinking and rubbing my eyes, wondering where the month went. For the most part, I have been deep in the revision cave, only coming out for coffee and an occasional breath of that thing called fresh air. My weekend wardrobe has consisted of pajamas and one time I almost called my husband the name of a character in my book. So, yeah… April has been a blur.

The glamorous life of a revising writer.

The glamorous life of a revising writer.

Working on: (See above…) Revising, revising, revising. Note to past Laurie: you thought it was such a good idea to write scenes out of order and stitch them together. Well, it wasn’t! Revising this WIP has been a completely different experience for me. Since there are two timelines and lots of short chapters, I have employed different tactics to stay organized (and sane). One involved my closet door, a lot of Post-It notes, and quite a bit of swearing when the Post-Its didn’t want to stay put. The other strategy, which I have come to love, is a mini three-ring binder I bought at Staples as a total impulse buy. (I’m one of those people who gets sucked in at the checkout.) I have used the little pages to keep chapters in order and shift things around while retaining (some of) my sanity. This method made it (somewhat) easy to add new chapters and take out ones that weren’t working. Plus, it’s easy to tote around in my purse. Because every writer should have a tiny binder full of desperation and betrayal jostling around with her lipstick and loose change.

Reading: The new releases for 2015 debut authors are insanely amazing. Like, so good I need to become a full-time reader so I can devour them all. This month, I read the cyberthriller DUPLICITY by N.K. Traver, and completely loved it. Brandon’s voice was excellent (I adore boy POV, especially done this well), and the plot had plenty of twists that kept me rapidly turning pages.

Another fearless debut I read was NONE OF THE ABOVE by I.W. Gregorio. This was one of my most highly anticipated books of 2015, and it blew all of my expectation away: stunning, totally original, and beautifully written. I.W. Gregorio tackles Kristin’s struggle to accept herself for who she is with grace and unflinching honesty.

Wearing the lovely infinity necklace I won in the #BecomingJinn Twitter chat. Just like the one Azra wears!

Wearing the lovely infinity necklace I won in the #BecomingJinn Twitter chat. Just like the one Azra wears!

I was beyond excited for April 21st, the book birthday for BECOMING JINN! Its author, the supremely talented Lori Goldstein, is my former Pitch Wars mentor and somebody who has shaped my writing journey in a huge way. I preordered BECOMING JINN and my copy arrived a few days ago, so as a reward for getting so much revising done, I started reading it. I’ll have more to say when I’m finished, but I was hooked from the first page and totally love Azra, the snarky, rebellious sixteen-year-old who learns that becoming Jinn comes at a cost greater than she ever imagined. Lori’s attention to detail, amazing premise, and sense of humor make this book something very special. (Plus, it has a sequel coming out next year!) I could definitely see BECOMING JINN well, becoming, a classic must-read teen series.

Watching: I went to see FURIOUS 7 with my mom and sister. I have been a huge fan of the whole franchise since the first one came out. (My mom has taken me to see all of them in the theater, with the exception of Tokyo Drift. She’s the best!) I’m so not a movie crier, but the end definitely brought some waterworks. It’s strange to imagine the series carrying on without Paul Walker, but I love their dedication to him and how much the cast seems like a family.

(On a totally awesome note, later the same day, my sister got engaged! I’m so excited to be her maid of honor and for her to marry a truly wonderful guy.)

So, that’s April, not-so-briefly. If you need me, I’ll be stewing in my revision cave, stitching chapters together like Dr. Frankenstein!

“I’ll do it later:” On procrastination

One of the funny things about being a writer is the great lengths we’ll sometimes go to in order to avoid writing altogether. These are the times when procrastination knocks on the door and makes itself comfortable. I thought I ditched procrastination back in university, when I spent far too many nights pulling off an essay at the eleventh hour, fueled by a disgusting amount of Red Bull. But after I started taking writing seriously, I realized that I never really broke up with procrastination. It’s still there, tempting me at my weakest moments, the bad-news older brother of motivation, my regular companion.

Procrastination

“Come on, ditch that book. We’re much more appealing today!”

I consider myself to be pretty efficient with time management. Like many writers, I have a full-time day job, so I have to be disciplined with my time to get my words in each day. I like to write for a couple hours before work every day, and sometimes tinker around in the evening too, depending on what projects I have on the go. When I have days off with no plans, I generally plan to write for most of them. All that glorious free time… what better way to fill it than with words?

But funnily enough, it’s on those days off when I struggle the most with motivation. And it’s on these days when procrastination decides to settle in and show me what else I could be doing with my time. Every so often, I give in to the temptation. On those days, my inner dialogue goes a lot like this:

A Dexter marathon on Netflix? I suppose I could watch *one* episode, then get back to my writing. (Six episodes later, my tablet has been abandoned and I’ve condemned myself to weird serial killer nightmares.)

That coffee table looks a bit dusty. Maybe I should clean the whole house. I can’t work in a pigsty!

I think my perfume collection needs to be rearranged. And might as well go through all of my makeup while I’m at it. And while I’m here, now’s a great time to clean my makeup brushes, too…

Look at that mountain of laundry! I should probably get around to that today.

My TBR list is out of control. Better make a dent in it before it gets any longer…

I need to check the mail. And it’s so nice outside, it would be a waste not to go for a walk.

I really should go grocery shopping, we’re almost out of _______ (insert any random product name here).

Gee, I hate cooking, but maybe this is the perfect time to pull out one of the cookbooks collecting dust in a drawer and master that roast recipe I dog-eared back in 2003.

This is a nice nail polish color. Why have I never worn it? Maybe I’ll give myself a manicure. Oh, but I can’t type with wet nails, so while they’re drying, I’ll watch *one* more Dexter.

Usually, I can combat procrastination by telling myself that if I can finish the work I want to accomplish, I’ll spend the rest of the day doing something non-writing related. And most times, that works. But when it doesn’t—when I waste a whole day in front of Netflix attempting some intricate nail art—I try not to be too hard on myself. I let procrastination sit down on the couch beside me and tell myself that I will finish that chapter.

Later.

#SixteensBlogAbout: Revision

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are blogging about revision. Which is kind of perfect, since I’m smack-dab in the middle of revising my current WIP. This means I’m overly caffeinated, entirely spacey, and my closet door is covered in a whole tree’s worth of Post-Its. (Sorry, tree.)

My revision bible, aka the best impulse buy I ever made.

My revision bible, aka the best impulse buy I ever made.

Honestly, I think highly of revision. It’s one of the coolest parts of the writing process, the stage where something rough around the edges starts to be transformed into a bright and shiny thing. But it’s also one of the most daunting, frustrating, and painstaking. It’s hot and cold, like an unreliable boyfriend. Because no matter how hard I try to approach it like a science, no matter how badly I try to organize and plot and figure out a plan to make a revision go as smoothly as possible, I always end up throwing my “revision schedule” out the window (well, not literally—I recycle!) because things always, always get messy. Characters don’t want to cooperate. Scenes don’t want to sit beside each other. Plot threads just don’t want to blend with other plot threads. Giant plot holes are perfectly content to remain unfilled and wallow lazily in the middle of the action.

The more books I write, the more I learn that revising, like writing, is an art. It’s not a scientific process and it’s not cut-and-dried. It’s temperamental. The glee of discovering a way to make a plot twist work is quickly replaced by the realization that you used the word look 238 times and you still don’t know how to fix the sagging middle of your story. The triumph of killing as many of those unnecessary looks as possible is overshadowed by the terrifying task of blending two minor characters into one. Plus, you have to accept that a lot of your darlings are going to end up dead. You might be sad about it now, but later you’ll look back and see how much better your book is because of the excess weight you cut out.

Here’s the thing about revision: you have to really get comfortable with it. If you don’t have a good love-hate relationship with it already, you need to spend some more time with it and see that it’s only trying to help, as stubborn and obstinate as it may be. Pull up a chair and get cozy with your laptop, with your Post-Its, with the messy notes you made that you can’t even decipher. Even with those annoying plot holes, because they sure as hell won’t fix themselves. (Trust me, I’ve tried that.)

Because the other thing about revision? It never ends, at least not for a long, long time. Writing “The End” is misleading, because we all know the end is nowhere in sight.

If you’re looking for me this week, you’ll find me in fleece polar bear pajamas (don’t judge), my second tenth cup of coffee getting cold, tweaking and reworking and deleting and layering… and hopefully making sense of those handwritten notes.

March, briefly

March has been a pretty awesome month. For one thing, the weather has improved considerably, so I have been able to get outside for walks with my husband and dog and enjoy some long overdue sunshine. And to make things even better, this will go down the month I finally managed to find a happy medium behind plotting and pantsing.

champagne

Not just for special occasions.

Working on: For the most part, I have adhered to a schedule of at least 2K each day to get a first draft of my current YA contemporary WIP done. And I’m happy to say that I met my goal! Since this was the hardest first draft I’ve ever written, it’s also the one I’m the most proud of. I couldn’t just fly by the seat of my pants with this WIP, and learning to reconcile a plot with my pantsing tendencies has challenged me and pushed me to new limits as a writer. I now have 85K to reread, play with, and revise the heck out of. As much as I love the exhilarating freedom of a first draft, I also enjoy the deconstructive element of revising—breaking everything down, figuring out what isn’t working, and putting it back together as something even better.

Reading: I read two books that I absolutely loved this month, and both were 2015 releases. (This is shaping up to be a totally killer for reading!) The first was ALL THE BRIGHT PLACES by Jennifer Niven, which is equal parts touching, heartbreaking, and hopeful. I love that we get into the heads of both main characters, Finch and Violet. Finch, especially, is one of the most memorable characters I have read in a long time. I really enjoyed Jennifer Niven’s writing style, and I’ll definitely be picking up her other books.

I also binge-read Jasmine Warga’s debut novel, MY HEART AND OTHER BLACK HOLES. Binge-read because I could not put it down. This is a hugely moving, beautifully written debut that tackles very difficult subject matter with grace and humor. Aysel and Roman (aka FrozenRobot), the two main characters, feel very real: their personalities, struggles with depression, and the tragedies they have had to endure. Their relationship is unlike any other I have seen in other books, and I enjoyed seeing it develop and change as they start to break down each other’s walls.

Listening to: I’m an easily distracted person. (Evidenced by my many failed attempts to be one of those people who can write while a TV show plays in the background.) I’m finding out that I can’t write very effectively to music with lyrics either because the lyrics end up drowning out my thought process. So I have been listening to a lot of movie soundtracks lately. My very favorite soundtrack is AMERICAN BEAUTY, which has basically been on repeat for the past few weeks.

Well, that’s March in a nutshell! I’m really looking forward to taking this WIP and making it shine as April progresses. And speaking of shine, a bit more sunshine would be nice, too…

“What now?” : Or, keeping momentum going

Every writer operates differently. Some people work in bursts, reaching giant word counts one day and writing nothing the next. Some fit in words whenever they can, wherever they can. Others, like me, do best with a routine. Since I work full-time, my routine involves at least two hours of butt-in-chair time at the beginning of the day, every day. Although I don’t have a strict word count goal (as per this post, where I resolved to be nicer to myself), I feel good if I hit at least 1000 words. Usually, I can accomplish this in less than an hour.

Usually.

But the problem is, sometime that two hours of butt-in-chair time doesn’t always constitute work.

There are mornings I sit at my desk, open my Word document, and stare at it. I make awkward eye contact with the fresh new chapter heading in front of me and consult any notes I might have made. My fingers hover over the keys. Then all of a sudden I’m on Twitter or checking out Publishers Marketplace or looking at purses online (shh, don’t tell my husband). Before I know it, I’ve wasted half an hour. Or a full hour. And then it’s time to get ready for work and I’m staring at a couple half-assed sentences and I feel guilty because I know I could have done more if I had only managed my time better.

I have been thinking about this a lot recently. About why it’s so difficult to get going some mornings, when other times the words flow freely. It’s easy enough to chalk it up to writer’s block or make up some excuse, but I wanted to identify the problem so I could find out a way to solve it.

The problem? Momentum.

I used to think momentum just meant writing every day, even if it’s only for five minutes, because you at least touch base with your story and characters that way. But now I’m looking at momentum on a smaller scale. For me, it’s not about writing every day as much as where you start writing each day.

When you’re going at that crazy, frenetic pace with your writing, when you know exactly what you want to say, it’s a heady feeling. It’s amazing when your fingers can barely keep up with what your brain is thinking. When you finish for the day, you feel invincible. You can’t wait to get going the next day and pick up where you left off. So when you sit down the next morning and find that the word well has dried up, it’s easy to wonder how the momentum stalled just like that.

What I’m coming to realize? That stopping at the end of a chapter—a logical place to finish a writing session—can make it that much harder to get going when you pick up where you left off. I’m finding more and more that when I stop off at a crucial point—even in the middle of a sentence—it’s infinitely easier to get going the next time. You’re dropped right back into the thick of things, and finishing one sentence leads into writing a whole lot more. You can latch onto your thoughts and inject yourself back into the story easier than if you’re just staring at “Chapter 26” and a scarily blank page.

I used to hate stopping partway through a chapter. I used to feel like a failure if I had to abandon a sentence halfway through. But now, I purposely look for places I can stop writing in the heart of the action. Because I know it’ll be that much easier for me to hone in on my story when I pick up the sentence. (And that much easier to keep Twitter and online shopping distractions at bay.)

And the best part? That heady, invincible feeling always comes back, and I’m excited about my story all over again.

I’d love to know—how do you keep momentum going?

#SixteensBlogAbout: How and Why I Started Writing

Grade4story

One of my fourth-grade creations. Thanks Mom and Dad for keeping this stuff, and digging it out for me!

This month, the Sweet Sixteens are talking about a question that really made me think. A question that took me back to the fourth grade, when I couldn’t hold a pencil right and made multiple trips up to my teacher’s desk to ask for more paper to write my stories on. I still remember the excitement of getting a fresh page and the joy I felt filling it with words.

The question? How and why I started writing.

The truth is, I didn’t know how I was supposed to be writing back then, or what constituted good writing. I just knew that I loved doing it. And that love is what started it all.

I filled those pages with stories about monsters and dragons and horses, and several retellings of the Little Red Robin Hood story. I wrote freely and quickly, not caring about things like voice or tense or character development, not knowing what was going to happen from page to page. I crossed things out when I decided they didn’t fit and left big gaps and question marks in the narrative. I renamed characters at will. And I didn’t know it yet, but I was beginning to have a serious thing for plot twists.

Fast-forward to now, when I’m a year away from becoming a debut author. A lot has changed. A lot more thought goes into anything I write. Under every new idea, there are numerous point-form notes and bullet points and unanswered questions. I think about things like finding a killer hook and introducing conflict. I wonder if people will want to spend a whole book with my main character. I consider whether my ideas are worth pursuing, if they are saleable in today’s market.

Maybe the biggest thing that has changed is that I go through phases where I find my inner editor to be almost crippling, a major impediment to progress. During these times, I’ll write something and erase it almost immediately because I have deemed it as not good enough already. During these times, I convince myself I have writer’s block and find reasons to avoid my story altogether. During these times, things like laundry and shoveling snow start to look appealing.

But looking back at my old stories—riddled with typos and gaping plot holes and illegible handwriting—I think maybe I could take some cues from my fourth-grade self. Maybe there’s something to learn from that little girl who didn’t care what anyone else thought about her stories, if people wanted to read them or not. She liked them—she believed in them—and that was enough for her.

Maybe part of my problem now is that I think too much and don’t trust my instinct enough.

I wrote FIRSTS very quickly—too quickly to have room for self-doubt to creep in. I wrote FIRSTS much like the fourth-grade me wrote her stories: fast and furious, with words spilling from my fingertips and somehow fitting into place. But since then, I have encountered bumps in the road with my other WIPs. Run-ins with my inner editor, who tells me to go back and fix what I have instead of moving forward. False starts and massive plot overhauls. It’s not easy to just write without a filter. But in 2015, this is exactly what I’m trying to do.

Because when it comes down to it, it’s so much more fun that way. And that’s the biggest lesson I can take away from my fourth-grade self. That writing is supposed to be fun, above all else. Frustrating and stressful and maddening at times, but also the best feeling in the world.

And while a lot has changed since I started writing, some things haven’t. I still have a love affair with plot twists. I still don’t know what happens from page to page sometimes, and I think that not knowing can be the best part.

Oh, and I never did learn to hold a pencil right.