Category: Reading

The Bechdel Test

The Rule: The Origin of the Bechdel Test

As I’ve been rereading WTRPCPSU during this revision process, I’ve been thinking a bit about the Bechdel Test.

If you’re not familiar with the Bechdel Test, it was based on a comic strip by Alison Bechdel nearly 30 years ago and has since been used to point out gender inequality in movies. Well, it began with movies, but it can just as easily be applied to television shows and literary works.

The criteria for passing the Bechdel Test is as follows:

There are at least two named female characters…

who talk to each other…

about something besides a man.

Now, I can’t speak for other women in this world, but I know that my real life would easily pass the Bechdel Test. Even if you discount the writing-centric conversations I have, I talk to my female friends about myriad topics ranging from politics to economics to petty gossip (I’ll admit to that) to sports to entertainment. Yes, we may talk about our husbands and our children, but those conversations don’t make up the bulk of our communication.

Since the main character of WTRPCPSU is a 15-year-old female, it should be a given that my novel would pass the Bechdel Test, right? Well, I’d hope so, but just because you have a female lead doesn’t mean you’d automatically pass. I mean, look at Pretty in Pink. I’ve watched that movie several dozen times, and I can’t think of a single conversation Andie has with her friends that don’t involve a guy. And that’s unfortunate.

(If anyone reading this disagrees or can prove me wrong, by the way, please let me know in the comments. I’d be happy to help myself to a heaping plate of crow if I’ve missed it.)

Well, I’m happy to report that WTRPCPSU passes the Bechdel Test. Despite the fact that it’s Teen Chick Lit (hey – I’m being honest), there are more than a handful of conversations among the girls that don’t involve a guy. (Of course, as Teen Chick Lit, there are plenty of conversations that discuss guys, too.) Moreover, I think I’ve done an adequate job of representing both genders, meaning that I include conversations between guys that discuss something other than girls.

That the Bechdel Test should be applied in reverse seems kind of unfair when you consider the initial purpose of the test, but I think it’s possible to swing too much in a single direction. And that’s part of the problem.

Gender equality is about equality. Female characters should get at least as much screen time as male characters. We absolutely need more strong female characters on the screen and in books who interact with each other and talk about real-life issues, not just boys. I’m not denying that. It happens in real life; it should happen in fictional works, too.

But I do worry, as a writer of a female-centric work, that I might not afford my male characters the same consideration that the Bechdel Test demands for female characters. It could be, as author Jeff Fecke suggests, that novels with female leading characters might not pass a Reverse Bechdel Test because the main character wouldn’t necessarily be privy to male conversation. (This would help explain why so many movies fail the Bechdel Test, if for no other reason than the main characters are often male.)

It’s a lot to consider, I’ve discovered, if an author wants to ensure gender equality in his work. But if you take the time to watch how people interact with each other on any given day, I think you’ll find that if you focus on portraying your characters in realistic situations as accurately as possible, you’ll inevitably pass the Bechdel Test – and its reverse – quite organically.

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On voice

All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know. – Ernest Hemingway

Voice is one of those things that’s hard to define, but you can recognize a good voice when you read it. As such, I think it’s a hard concept to learn. I mean, the voice is either good or it’s not. But how do you really identify what makes a voice good? (Or worse, great?)

I was a voracious reader as a kid. I haven’t changed much as an adult. I never gave much thought to voice, to be truthful, until I started seriously pursuing the traditional publishing path for WTRPCPSU, and only then because article after article discussed the importance of voice. And then I started paying attention to the books I liked. What did I like about them? What drew me in and held my attention? It isn’t necessarily the story itself that compels me to finish reading. It’s that something, the way the story is told, that makes me want to keep reading.

It’s the author’s voice.

I read an interview with an author who talked about how she developed her voice. She used to mimic other writers she’d read, and as she expanded her reading library, she discovered other voices to mimic until she finally developed her own. I really wish I could remember who the author was and where I read the interview because it’s one I would love to share, if for no other reason than to stress the importance of reading to learn the writing craft.

A few years ago, my sister gave me a Kindle for Christmas. It was (and still is) one of the best presents I’ve ever received. I love that device, and I mean I truly love it. The very first book I read on it was Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, and I downloaded several dozen books within a week of receiving it. One of those was a novel I had wanted to read for some time now but had always intimidated me by its sheer size: Tolstoy’s War and Peace.

Before you think that I was only reading classics, I’ll have to interject that that definitely was not the case. But I mixed things up quite a bit. I read War and Peace, yes, but I also began Ally Carter’s Gallagher Girls series right after it. I mixed up the genres, authors, and time periods. I mixed up subject matter. I read both self-published and traditionally published work.

A crazy thing happens when you read all over the map like that: You start recognizing voices and identifying with them. You subconsciously make notes of what deliveries you liked and what you would do differently. You start to rewrite entire paragraphs while you read – and that is when you are establishing your voice.

I dare you to try it. Pick a book off the shelf (preferably one you know pretty well), turn to a random page, and rewrite a couple of (non-dialogue) paragraphs. Note how you might say things differently. Note how you might use a different vocabulary. Note how you may emphasize different things than the author did.

Those differences? Those make up your voice.

Me? I write the same way I talk. You can read this post and know that if you and I were having a conversation about voice, whatever I’d say would sound a lot like this post does.

That’s my voice.

When I’m writing business communications at work, I write the same way I talk. It’s a bit more formal, and I tend to use industry-specific terms, but whatever I would say in person sounds a lot like my emails.

That’s my voice.

But when I’m writing, I assume someone else’s identity, and I write the same way I imagine that character would talk.

Because that’s her voice.

The Revision Cave

I’ve spent the last couple of days in the Revision Cave, poring over WTRPCPSU with Julia’s notes beside me, carefully scrutinizing every sentence and often wondering how this manuscript (a) passed muster with my beta readers and critique partners, (b) how a small press could have thought it was good enough to publish, and (c) how Julia could have thought it was good enough to represent me!

I was so frustrated by my writing that it made me wonder what others could possibly be submitting. Just the idea that manuscripts out there are worse than my work makes me shudder.

I’m being hard on myself. I know that. I really am proud of my story, and I think my characters are great. I really do love these kids, and I love being able to step into their world. They are so much fun to write. But I found parts of my manuscript that made me circle entire paragraphs and write, “FIX!!!” in letters that can probably be seen from the International Space Station. I yelled at my pages (as if they’re to blame) for being inconsistent and told my husband that I don’t understand why no one questioned how Bianca would be able to see her friend’s reactions when they were sitting behind her in class.

See what I mean? I’m a hack.

[sigh] Okay, I’ll be serious. I am my own toughest critic. Of this, I am all too aware.

Anyway, I have revisions to do, and my goal is to have my first pass at them finished by Tuesday, April 9. I’d then let it rest on the 10th, reread and tweak it on the 11th, then send it to beta readers on the 12th for their perspectives.

Writer’s Digest posted a link on Twitter this morning that I’m taking to heart in soliciting new betas for this pass, and I think I will implement the following strategy in asking for betas:

  • Short survey before: I need to make sure I’m getting a good cross-section of people. I won’t do me much good if everyone reading it is in  my age bracket or in one given geographic location. I need to ensure diversity, and I can’t assure myself of that unless I ask.
  • Deadline: I also need to make sure people can read this in a week and provide feedback. Why so quick? I’m on my own (self-imposed) deadline and expect to have more changes to make after this pass. Plus, it’s a very short book and a quick read; it will probably cap out at around 65,000 words (if even that!). And in order to ensure the feedback I receive covers all the bases…
  • Short questionnaire after: I need to include a questionnaire for my betas to fill out after reading. The questions would be simple; I can even provide a 1-10 scale so they can easily pick one and provide open-ended feedback if they want. But I need to know what people think of characters, of relationships, of events. Is Character X likeable? Did Character Z behave realistically? Does Character Y come across too needy?

I’ll put out a general “Call for Betas” post as I get closer to completing my revisions.

Will I even get any betas after these requirements, and especially after the glowing reviews I’ve given my own work at the start of this post? I have no idea. But I’m willing to try.

(If you’re reading this and would be willing to be a guinea pig beta reader, please leave a comment including your email info and/or send me an email. I’ll get a survey out to you shortly. Thanks! – E)

Book of the Week: Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

It is no secret that I am not a Steinbeck fan. My earliest introduction to his work came in the sixth grade when Mrs. Rowley assigned us to read The Red Pony. At the time, I was already a fan of Edgar Allen Poe and reading everything I could find by Charles Dickens. Surely someone like Steinbeck would interest me, right?

Wrong. Oh, I was so very wrong. I didn’t care for The Red Pony. My mother (and sister) suggested I try Of Mice and Men, which I did like, but when I had to read The Grapes of Wrath a few years later, I realized that I would rather gouge my eyes out with a spoon than read it. I didn’t care that it won a Pulitzer. It was dry and dull and so incredibly boring.

Several weeks ago, I explained this to a woman in my writing group, and she asked if I had read Travels with Charley.

“No,” I answered truthfully. “I’d heard of it. Isn’t that the one that earned him the Nobel Prize?”

“Yes, I think so. It’s my favorite book of his. I have two copies of it. You can borrow one, if you’d like.”

And the following week, she slid Travels with Charley across the table to me.

Travels with Charley by John Steinbeck

I approached Travels with Charley with an open mind. I’m much older than I was in high school, I reasoned, so I was certain it would hold my attention. After all, I’d read War and Peace and loved it. This was a 277-page memoir. How bad could it be?

Travels with Charley was a slow read. And in truth, I think it was designed to be. By Steinbeck’s own admission, Travels with Charley is a study of America at the end of 1960. It starts off well and has occasional moments that held my interest peppered throughout, but for the most part, I don’t know that it’s a book I would care to reread. His descriptions of the countryside and of the handful of people he writes of encountering are, of course, beautifully written, but he there were so many instances where it seemed he rambled more than I would have liked. I dozed off reading it more than a handful of times, and there were pages I had to reread because I got to the end of the page without knowing what it was I’d just read. But overall, my general feeling following Steinbeck on this cross-country journey seems to mirror the sentiments he expresses at the end of the book: general relief that the journey is over.

I don’t dare dismiss Travels with Charley outright, and not just because it earned the man a Nobel Prize in Literature. It’s an important literary work because it captures sentiments held so strongly in this country in the early ’60s. There were a number of thought-provoking passages that, if I was reading my own copy or reading it off my Kindle, I would have highlighted. And the fact that I read it slowly allowed for additional introspection.

It’s the fact that I felt compelled to discuss ideas within its pages that results in my rating of 3 stars out of 5. I liked it but wouldn’t necessarily pick it up for another read.

Book of the Week: The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger

I’m cheating a bit and posting this review a bit early. Technically, I should wait until Monday (since I’ve been trained in all my years in Corporate America that Monday is really the first day of the week, no matter what traditional calendars say), but I really needed to read a cute book to break my I’m-a-Terrible-Writer funk. (Reading books I don’t like does that to me.)

Today, I took my 5-year-old to Target after his guitar lesson. I needed to restock on his lunch box essentials (apparently, I keep putting in food he doesn’t like), and he had a great guitar lesson this morning, and as I had bribed him with offered an additional incentive to behave during his lesson, I agreed to purchase a toy for him, as well:

Today’s Bribe: A Skylanders Giants 3-Pack

Anyway, while at Target, I decided to treat myself to a few books, including a series I had been eyeing for some time, and I decided to sit down with the first book of the series this afternoon and, well, read. After all, I’m working on a Middle Grade concept and am trying to read more of that genre to get into the mindset of a 10-year-old boy (since I’ve never been one, and all).

I saw this book about a year ago and knew that I had to have it. I mean, it’s Star Wars! How can you possibly go wrong with anything that references arguably one of the greatest movie franchises ever? It was available in a softcover form at my son’s most recent book fair, but I didn’t buy it then because I really wanted it in a hardcover. (All the books I’ve bought with the intention of passing them down to my son are in hardcover.)

Here’s the gist of the story:

Dwight is quite possibly the weirdest kid in middle school, and in addition to a few other eccentricities, he walks around with a paper Yoda on his finger. It’s bit bizarre, yes, but Origami Yoda knows everything. He knows who likes whom, he knows about pop quizzes before the teacher knows, and he’s just all around, well, knowing. And The Strange Case of Origami Yoda is a collection of case studies that were compiled in an effort to prove – or disprove – Origami Yoda’s authenticity.

Each entry is told in three parts – four if you include the illustrations. It’s so cleverly done, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I had more than a few laugh-out-loud moments. And it was so cute!

It’s a quick read (it’s a Middle Grade novel, so I wasn’t expecting Tolstoy’s War and Peace), and thoroughly enjoyable.

Would I read it again? Most likely, mainly because I’ll be reading it with my son.

Would I recommend it to others? Yes, absolutely.

And for that, I happily give 5 out of 5 stars.

Book of the Week: Adventures in Funeral Crashing by Milda Harris

Let me preface this by sharing an idea  from yesterday’s post that I think bears repeating:

Reading is incredibly subjective.

There. I feel a bit better.

I do, however, feel the need to say that the opinions expressed in this review are my own, and my taste in books (or food or fashion or anything else, really) is just mine. So, take whatever I say in this post with a grain of salt, and if you happen to disagree, well, I’m all for open dialogue.

(Can you tell I’m not looking forward to this review?)

The book I chose for the week is Adventures in Funeral Crashing by Milda Harris. It has a Copyright date of 2010 and was self-published through Smashwords. It was a free book for my Kindle when I picked it up a few months ago (and it looks like it still is).

Adventures in Funeral Crashing by Milda Harris

I chose a self-pubbed book because I think they are just as relevant to the landscape as traditionally published books, and I will likely keep them in the mix of books that I review. After all, no one browses on Amazon or Barnes and Noble, looks at a book summary and says, “Hmm, this seems like a really good premise, but it’s self-published so I don’t think I’m going to buy it.” Quite the contrary. I firmly believe that if it’s a great story, it doesn’t matter how it got to the shelves, be they physical or digital.

And this is how I found Adventures in Funeral Crashing. I happened to stumble upon it while scrolling on Amazon.

Here’s the premise (directly from Amazon):

Sixteen year old Kait Lenox has a reputation as the weird girl in her high school, mostly because of her ex-best friend turned mean popular girl, Ariel, but maybe it has a little to do with the fact that Kait has a hobby crashing funerals. At one of these, Kait is outted by the most popular guy in school, Ethan Ripley. Yet, instead of humiliating her for all the world to see, he asks for her help, and Kait finds herself entangled in a murder mystery. Not only is the thrill of the mystery exciting, but more importantly Ethan knows her name! A little sleuthing is well worth that!

Interesting, right? And it was a free book, so my only investment would be time.

[sigh]

I wanted to love this book. I really truly wanted to love it. Or at least like it. And I picked it up with every expectation that I would not only finish it, I would devour it like I do so many books.

First, I love the title. It’s great! It’s a little bit dark, it’s quirky, and it sets the stage perfectly for a fun read. Once I cracked open the book booted up my Kindle to the first page and began reading, I was excited. Kait’s voice is funny and snarky and quirky and sweet, and I just liked her.

But then Ethan showed up, and everything I liked about Kait just kind of *poof!* went out the window.

When Ethan isn’t around, Kait is cool, strong, sure of herself. I mean, she makes it a point to remind us (several times) that even though her ex-bestie Ariel has turned into a total witch monster (my words, not Harris’s), she keeps her head down and refuses to let people know that Ariel’s taunts and rumors  bother her. So why should it matter so much what Ethan thinks of her? (Fine, he’s cute. But there’s more to a great guy than his looks and his social standing.)

As much as I loved Kait’s voice and liked her inner monologues, there was just so much of it. Moreover, it was so repetitive. Yes, I get it: She thinks Ethan is hot. And yes, I understand: The peanut butter banana smoothies at Wired are awesome. (Harris mentioned them five times in the first ten chapters and 14 times in the entire book. Senor Kindle counted for me.)

Harris employs great chapter transitions, though, which successfully kept me turning the pages until about Chapter 8, but by then, my interest started to wane. Even with a murderer on the loose and Really Hot Guy suddenly paying all kinds of attention to her, I wasn’t motivated to keep reading. I pressed on, only because I hate to leave books in the Did Not Finish pile, but by the middle of Chapter 10, I was dreading picking up the book again.

That’s how I knew it would be best if I didn’t finish it.

Here’s the thing…. I love to read. I love getting caught up in characters’ lives to the point that fiction and reality start to blur. I’m the kind of reader who finishes a book and is suddenly sad because the story has ended.

I didn’t feel that with Adventures in Funeral Crashing.

Yes, there’s a mystery. And yes, there’s that question of whether or not she’ll hook up with Ethan – and if when she does (because it’s kind of a given that she will), how will the rest of the school react? But I got as far as the middle of Chapter 10 and decided (a) I don’t care who did it, why they did it, or how they did it, and (b) I really don’t care what happens with Ethan, mainly because I’m not as smitten with him as Kait is.

So, it’s with a heavy heart that I award this review a DNF badge, as I didn’t finish it.

It’s gotten some good reviews on Goodreads (3.7 stars from 249 ratings), though, and some folks at Amazon seem to like it a whole lot (4.2 out of 5 stars with 50 ratings is nothing to sneeze at).

I’m just not among them.

(If you read Adventures in Funeral Crashing and felt differently about it, please let me know! Likewise, if you think The Grapes of Wrath is one of the greatest American literary works of the 20th century, please let me know that, too!)

Reader Dilemmas: When you really don’t want to finish the book

Objectively, Picasso and Dali were masters of their craft. Subjectively, I adore Picasso and wouldn’t hang a Dali in my house if you paid me. – Sara Megibow

I love this quote from Sara Megibow with the Nelson Literary Agency. I follow her on Twitter (of course I do) and have discovered that she posts some very insightful gems about publishing, writing, and agenting. (Translation: Go follow her. And if you should discover that she reps the kind of stuff you write, you might consider querying her.)

At any rate, I keep this quote top of mind when I’m reading. I don’t think everyone will like everything, and that’s okay. I could not stand reading The Grapes of Wrath, for example  – or almost anything by Steinbeck, for that matter – though I know lots of people who swear that it’s one of the greatest American novels of the twentieth century. It may very well be; I just didn’t care for it. At all.

(This also is why I’m not likely to ever win the National Book Award or the Pulitzer, since The Grapes of Wrath was a winner of both.)

I’m struggling through a quirky YA book right now, which I decided to make the book that I’ll review this week. A part of me feels like I need to finish it to say that I’ve read the whole thing, but I’m in the middle of Chapter 10 now, and I’m so tempted to just shelve it.

I don’t particularly care how this story ends (I couldn’t tell you what’s at stake), but I hate putting books in the Did Not Finish pile.

Is it ethical to write a review on a book that I don’t actually finish?

The Importance of Blogs

It seems everyone has a blog these days. (Hell – I even have two.) But I don’t think it needs much argument that some blogs are infinitely more useful than others.

The problem, though, is that there are so many blogs out there. I mean, seriously. There are about a thousand blogs for every topic you can think! Mind, I haven’t found one for bass fishing while wearing a tutu, but (a) I honestly haven’t looked for one, and (b) that’s probably a bit more specialized than the casual fisherman/reader would want. (But you never know.)

Now, as a writer who is [ahem] several years a couple of decades older than the characters she writes, it’s important for me to know what is going on in the YA world, especially trends that YA readers are getting tired of seeing and themes YA readers would like to see explored.

And by “YA readers,” I mean “YA Book Bloggers.”

The blogs I’ve come across and chose to follow are truly valuable. Seriously. I specifically took out all traces of profanity (though I left “Oh my God” because, well, I had to draw the line somewhere) based on my niece’s advice and after contemplating a rather interesting post I read. I rewrote an entire scene in which a character originally commented that another character was dressed as “a slutty Dorothy” for Halloween when I realized, after reading another post, that wasn’t the kind of thing I would want this character to say because he wouldn’t be so degrading – and nor should the hero of any story refer to any girls in that way. I took out the phrase “girly-girl” after reading yet another post that discussed the subliminal misogynist messages in YA literature because I agreed that I used that phrase as a kind of shorthand to describe a character.

And as minor as these tweaks may seem, to an impressionable 10-year-old who might pick up my book, these details are so important because words have the ability to shape what people think of themselves and how they feel about others around them.

I will be honest: I don’t go in search of these blogs. As much as I would like to, I can’t. I work, I’m raising a precocious 5-year-old, and I’m writing my next novel. But I do the next best thing: I follow a bunch of YA folks (authors, agents, bloggers) on Twitter, and I can glean information that way.

You can imagine my delight, then, when Nicole of WORD for Teens announced she was creating a Reader Report and sending it out via email. As soon as she posted the link to sign up on Twitter, I signed up straight away. You see, WORD for Teens is so much more than just a book review site (though she does review books on occasion). Nicole discusses all kinds of topics, insightful things that someone my age (who has been out of high school longer for more years than she was in age when she graduated but is still a few years from having a child in the pre- or teen years) hasn’t considered or given much thought to in recent years. Important things that are just as relevant now as they were *coughs* years ago but carry different weights because of technology or the pervasive media or [insert way things are different now than they were back then here].

So, I got the very first Reader Review in my In Box yesterday. I wasn’t able to get to it straightaway because I was in my writing group and trying to work out the end of Chapter 3 so that I could move the story along, but I opened it and carefully read it from the comfort of my reading/writing chair once The Boy had been safely tucked into bed.

In a nutshell, for someone like me who doesn’t have the time (or, let’s face it, the energy) to devote to looking up current trends in YA literature that readers would like to (a) make disappear or (b) see more of, the Reader Report is a godsend.

The issue I received yesterday included some of the following topics:

  • Does sex have a place in YA?
  • The new New Adult genre
  • The controversy over ‘sick lit’
  • Are retellings fanfiction?
  • Clichés

See? Really handy!

There are giveaways, too, and, as the newsletter is in its infancy, includes information about advertising. But I love it because I can quickly see recommended posts from (what I have found to be) a reputable source that discuss topics of interest in the YA Book Blogging community.

While I may have my own opinions and disagree with some of the blog posts mentioned in the Reader Report (blogs are, after all, opinion platforms at the end of the day), I often finish reading them with a new or updated perspective on the subject.

And as a writer, having this readily available is, in itself, an incredibly valuable tool.

Nature v. Nurture (or, Talent v. Tenacity)

Before I began the quest for my Dream Agent (which has happily ended because I already signed with her), I compiled a rather lengthy list of Agents With Whom I Might Work Well and followed them all on Twitter. (If you’re a writer hoping to be agented and published, I highly recommend you do the same. Not only will you get a sense of their personalities as people – because, yes, they are people, too – you’ll also get a sense of what kinds of submissions they’d like to receive and what absolutely not to do.)

Anyway, on this list was Michelle Witte from Mansion Street Literary Management. She’s funny and provides tons of great insight (and she knits bracelets – how cool is that?), and I like reading her tweets.

Yesterday, she tweeted something to intentionally spark discussion among those of us in the Twitterverse:

Pervasive yet untrue philosophy among writers: You don’t need talent to be a writer. Practice, hard work can overcome lack of natural ability.

When I read this, my eyes about popped out of my head, only because she actually put it out there!

What she was saying is that there are some people who may really enjoy doing something but just aren’t as good as others. We see it at the start of every American Idol season. Just because I can carry a tune and like to sing, it doesn’t mean that I can should compete against someone whose talent is so much greater – and quite frankly, there aren’t enough voice lessons out there that will make me sing as well as Lea Salonga. It won’t keep me from singing; I just know not to be crushed when someone tells me that it’s not my forte.

For the record, I completely agree with her statement. I’ve been on Wattpad for almost a year now, reading some of the most cringe-worthy words  storiesthings out there. Some are really good, and you can tell these kids (I say that because a lot of them are under the age of 18) have real talent. But then there are some that are just God awful, to the point where you don’t know where to begin with providing constructive criticism (because saying “Please start all over or, better yet, just stop” would be too mean).

But then you read the comments people leave for the latter group, and you wonder if they’re reading the same thing you are. There’s so much praise, so much bull-shit (for lack of a better word) that you’re wondering who these sycophants are. And I can’t help but wonder if these “critics” really understand what a disservice their false bravado provides.

When I was in high school (and about the age of most of the Wattpad users writers), I wrote a lot. A lot. And I have a feeling it was almost to the point of irritating my friends, though they still kept asking for the next installments of my stories. And while I don’t think what I wrote was terrible, it was still, well, juvenile. Pedestrian. Rough and unpolished. But if I listened to what my friends were saying back then, I would have been submitting my work to agents and editors as it was (and collecting tons of rejection letters). Instead, I listened to my English and creative writing teachers, people who knew quality writing (and were always extremely encouraging with their comments and critiques of my work). I studied journalism for a while in college and discovered exactly how much there was to the art of writing well that I never knew.

And the more I learned, the more I learned how much more there was still to learn. (And even now, the more I read, the more in awe I am of other writers.)

I never stopped writing, though it was mostly done in journals instead of attempts at the next Sweet Valley High series. I read a lot, soaking in whatever I could. In college, my mother gave me Colleen McCulloch’s Masters of Rome series, and they’re  still among my favorite historical fiction books.  I devoured every Regency romance that Jayne Ann Krentz released as Amanda Quick, often reading them three or four times a year (and sobbing every time). I spent entire paychecks at Barnes and Noble and read just about everything I could get my hands on. And I dissected just about everything I read in an attempt to understand how an author used words to elicit such strong feelings while I was reading.

But while I was reading and writing, I also lived. I graduated from college. I got my first job. I learned from my first job – and from every other job I’d had since. I moved across the country, met new people, tried new things. I experienced some amazing high points, sank to devastating lows, and persevered through it all to keep going.

And I think know I’m a better writer now for having gone through all of that.

I have a favorite quote that serves as encouragement whenever I feel start doubting myself:

Hard work without talent is a shame, but talent without hard work is a tragedy. – Robert Half

Am I among the two percent of the population with a real aptitude for writing? I don’t know. That’s up to a publisher and ultimately the general public to decide. But I’d like to believe I am. (I know I’m not among the two percent with a real talent for singing, though I still like to do it.)

I’m not saying that sites like Wattpad or Authonomy or FictionPress are not good for writers. They are. They’re great for soliciting feedback and creating a sense of community when people directly around you in the physical world aren’t big readers or writers. And I highly recommend people join these sites and connect with fellow writers.

But there’s a fine line between offering encouragement because you truly believe in someone and just saying the nice thing.