“Pretend you’re a guy…”

My male friends know they’re about to be asked a really random question when I approach them with this opener.

“Pretend you’re a guy,” I said to a friend once. “If your best friend liked your sister…”

“Pretend you’re a guy,” I said another time. “If you liked this girl and she totally friend-zoned you…”

I think if I approached people who didn’t know me, I’d probably get some awkward looks. Some may even run from me. But fortunately (or perhaps not), my friends know that I’m a bit of an eccentric and like to humor me.

There are times when I’m writing that I need to check my characters. More specifically, I need to check their motivation. And while I can speak somewhat authoritatively about how a 16-year-old girl might respond to something, I’m unashamed to admit I have no idea what goes on in the male adolescent mind. I mean, I guess I can speculate like I did when I 16, but then my male characters would be ridiculously unrealistic.

So I ask.

I’m an equal-opportunity stupid question asker, though. I’m completely aware that I am clueless, and even worse, I’m a couple of years decades removed from my characters. So then I have to ask even more inane questions to make sure I’ve captured the mindset. But those conversations can be aggravating.

“Pretend you’re in high school,” I said one day to the intern at work. (She’s all of 22 years old.)

“Um, that was a while ago, but, okay.”

I fought the urge to beat her on the head with my notebook but may have still rolled my eyes. (Oddly, it’s less annoying when someone who is 27 years old says that, by the way, though I’m not sure why. Maybe because I’ll accept 10-ish years as “a while” but not five.)

Because I like to write character-driven stories (which is another way of saying I really just like to think up characters, throw them into a setting, and see what they do), pretending is everything. How else can I draw the reader into my imaginary playground if I don’t pretend first?

It’s not just for Young Adult books. You can do it for any character, any age, any gender, any socio-economic class. Don’t believe me? Try it. The next time you get stuck trying to figure out a character’s motivation, take a step back and ask someone else to pretend to be [insert one or two characteristics of your character here].

Not only will you get an answer that either validates or invalidates your thoughts, you’ll have an opportunity to probe the respondent’s motivation further.

“If music be the food of love…”

With all due respect to the bard, I think music serves as the food of memories, not love. But by all means, play on.

Music is my ultimate emotional recall tool. What do I mean by that? I can listen to a song now that I listened to in junior high and have total recall about people, places, and certain events. I can picture scenes in my mind as they happened (or at least as my brain remembers them), including whatever emotions I was feeling at the time.

Some writers will listen to songs from their youth to get back in touch with their inner teenagers. That’s a little tougher for me because while my characters are an extension of me to some extent, they aren’t me. I like to think they are their own people. And I can’t imagine how some of my characters might be thinking about the guys they like if I’m listening to  “One” by U2 or “Black” by Pearl Jam. And perhaps it’s because I’m older now, but “Institutionalized” by Suicidal Tendencies makes me laugh more than remind me of what it was like to be at my parents’ mercy.

I’m not belittling my playlist from back then. Not at all. My “ideal guy” song back then (circa 1984) was “Somebody” by Depeche Mode, and it still holds up:

I mean, who can argue that Martin Gore isn’t singing about the perfect life partner? But it’s old, and from a completely different generation. I’m not saying that kids these days wouldn’t appreciate it, but I’m acknowledging my age, and that’s why I have a whole other Pandora station, strictly devoted to what I think my characters would be listening to right now. It’s more current stuff, though I’ve realized (much to my dismay) that some of these songs are from the ‘00s and are considered “old school.” (If planning my 20-year high school reunion last year wasn’t enough to make me feel old, this certainly did.)

This may be old school, but this is what I’d envision my characters calling the “ideal guy” song now (circa 2007): “I Could Get Used to This” by Everlife.

Same general concept, but with a different delivery. And even I, in my old and jaded adult stage, can appreciate it.

As I go through revisions for WTRPCPSU – and also as I inch my way through The WIP, I’m relying on my Pandora station more than ever. I don’t feel like it’s enough for me to tell a story or paint a picture. When I was younger, my favorite books made me feel. They drew me in and made me cry and laugh and get angry with characters. That’s why it’s so important for me to get these emotions right. It’s not enough for me to remember what it’s like to be a teen. I want to capture what it’s like to be a teen today.

I may not be able to walk in their shoes (I wouldn’t pass for a high schooler anymore), but I can listen to their music (or, at least, something more current than my high school soundtrack) and let it speak to me. And while themes haven’t changed over the past 25 years or so, it’s still nice to feel like I’m getting a fresh perspective.

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.

Pretty pictures (or, Preparing for the Author Photo Shoot)

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve given some thought into how I’d like to form my Author Platform (oh, yes – even before Julia submits my work to the publishing world, I’d like something substantial in place), I realized the obvious: I really need pictures of myself.

I’m a mom. And though my high school drama coach liked to tease me because I could almost instantly find center stage without needing tape markers, I’ve been more inclined to stay behind the lens than in front of it since, oh, maybe sixth grade. The result is that I have thousands of photographs of my darling little boy (and several hundred of random things he has created), but hardly any of myself. Even worse, the few photos I have of myself are usually group photos.

So, no, there aren’t very many pictures of just me.

Julia emailed me several weeks ago asking for a photo and a brief Author Bio for her website. The biographical blurb was pretty easy for me to write. I struggled with it for a few hours, but once I found my beginning, I kind of ran with it. The photograph, on the other hand, was much more difficult to find. I found a picture of me – just me – from several years ago, but I decided then that I really needed to schedule an appointment to have real Author Portraits taken.

I told a handful of people about my plan, and several told me, “I’ve got a really good camera! I’ll take your portraits!” And while I’m sure they do have great cameras (and lenses because, let’s face it, the lens makes the difference), I really wanted to hire a professional photographer. And I wasn’t talking about going to one of those in-store studios at Target or Sears or JC Penney, either. While those are reputable places, I really wanted to go to someone who would work with me.

And so I booked my appointment with Ansa du Toit, a fabulous photographer in the Orlando area.

I know Ansa personally, and I’ve seen her work, so I knew that she would absolutely capture just the right images of me for me. She’s got a mobile studio and is able to set up just about anywhere, but since I booked the appointment the morning of The Boy’s Field Day at school and only had a few hours, I asked if I could meet at her house.

For a few days leading up to my appointment, I agonized over what I wanted to wear and how to fix my hair. And I culled the following photo shoot guidelines based on things I learned in my own photography classes many years ago, conversations with Ansa, and helpful photography websites:

  1. Bring three or four outfits to be photographed wearing. This may seem like overkill, but what looks good in real life might translate differently in a photograph. I know I have a lot of outfits that I think look cute when I’m wearing them, but as soon as I see myself in a picture wearing it, I wonder what I was thinking. Plus, each outfit you have will give you and the photographer extra options to play with backgrounds and lighting.
  2. Bolder is better. Colors, that is. Pastels have a tendency to get washed out in the light. Of course, a skilled photographer can make (almost) anything work, but bolder colors tend to show up better. But whatever you wear, just make sure you’re wearing a color that looks flattering on you.
  3. Beware of all black or all white. Again, a skilled photographer can ensure your photo doesn’t look like you have a disembodied head floating in the center of the picture, but you can hedge your bets and make it easy for everyone involved. Be mindful of the backgrounds you might use and dress accordingly.
  4. Think “classic”. It’s very rare that a particular style has an ability to transcend time and place. Three-piece suits with solid colored ties are classic outfits. Denim jackets are fairly classic. Solid sweaters are classic. So beware of prints and anything trendy unless you want to redo your photo every year. While your photographer won’t have a problem with that, your bank account might.
  5. Avoid sleeveless or strapless tops. I got some flak on Twitter for posting, “Unless you’re 16yo or have skinny arms, avoid sleeveless or strapless tops. The camera adds 10 pounds – TO YOUR ARMS!” It’s a terribly harsh statement, but it’s so true! Arms look bigger because of their proximity to the camera. Think about it. If you’re facing the camera with your arms at your sides, everything remains to scale. But as soon as you turn your body, your shoulder and arms are now closer to the camera than your face is. It may only be a few centimeters’ difference, but what a difference it makes! So even if you think you might not turn your body even a fraction of a millimeter, just play it safe and avoid showing off your arms if you can help it.
  6. Wear a little more makeup than usual. If you’re a man, ask if there will be a makeup artist on site and/or purchase a clear translucent powder. If you’re a woman and wish to do your own makeup, just wear a touch more than you usually do. Why? Well, the flash of a camera has a funny way of washing out features. Even more, it has an evil way of highlighting every shiny spot on your face. Even if you’re only taking photos outside, you’re going to want that powder to help you even out your skin tone. And besides, I’ve yet to meet a photographer who photographs portraits outside but eschews the flash altogether. The flash is there to help even out lighting; the powder evens out your skin. Wins all around.
  7. Keep an open mind and don’t be afraid to play. I didn’t study a lot of authors’ photographs before my photo shoot, but I know I should have. Luckily for me, Ansa is a pro and knows portraiture. I knew I wanted to have some outdoor shots, but she suggested we start with some photos against a white background, and then we switched to a black background before going outside. This was brilliant because I was able to get every kind of photo I could possibly want. Something for a poster advertising a professional seminar? I’ve got that. Book jacket? Got that, too. Julia’s agency website, my Twitter avatar, my Linked In picture, my Google accounts photo – you name it, I’ve got a photo to fit it.
  8. Listen to your photographer. A good photographer can look through the lens and has the ability to translate that image from 3D to 2D. A great photographer can provide direction to capture the absolute best pictures of you. This is another reason I suggest contracting the services of a professional photographer instead of going to one of the store photo shops. But, of course, that direction only goes so far if you don’t heed it.
  9. Have fun! Nothing is worse than sitting in a studio (or in a tree) and straining to feign a smile. After two hours of this kind of smiling, you’ll probably be sick of it, and your jaw will hurt. But if you let yourself have fun, it will come across in the photos. And your photographer might catch some of the best shots of you just making goofy faces, cracking up at a joke, or just being your usual, interesting self. Besides, that’s the side of you that you probably want the world to see.

Ansa, the pro that she is, had proofs for me to review just a few days after I met with her. Our shoot was on a Thursday; I had proofs Sunday night, about a hundred in all to sort through and decide which ones I like best. I’m still wading through the list; I’ve narrowed it down to about 50 and want to pare it down to about 15 or so. Once I narrow it further and secure the rights to my photographs, I will, of course, share them. But there are so many great photos that I’ve got my work cut out for me.

But when you’ve got a great photographer (who magically erased about 20 years off my life with just lighting alone!), pick out the right things to wear, and have fun with the process, you’ve increased the odds that you’ll flip through the proof sheets and find the photo that makes you say, “That one! I want to look like that forever!”

And if you really love it and want it replicated with multiple outfits? Well, a great photographer can make that happen, too.

Ansa du Toit owns and operates Picture This by Ansa. She is the consummate professional, and she’s available for event photography as well as portraits. And should you get stuck in a tree that you insisted on climbing so that she could photograph you, she’s also kind enough to not immortalize this embarrassing moment and will help you down. You can check out her gallery at www.PictureThisbyAnsa.com.

My thoughts on the “New Adult” genre

One of the new(ish) buzzwords in the publishing industry is “New Adult”. I can’t go a day without someone mentioning something about it in my Twitterfeed or seeing it talked about in a blog post or in a writing-related article.

New Adult is, for all intents and purposes, really just a shelf label. It’s a marketing tool, just like “Young Adult” and “Middle Grade” are both marketing tools. I mean, it was coined by a publishing imprint. If that’s not a sign of being a marketing tool, I don’t know what is.

I’ve been giving the whole New Adult thing a good deal of thought, since it currently seems de rigueur for an author to at least be thinking about a New Adult concept, or at least have an idea of how she might approach it. And here’s what I’ve decided:

New Adult is that time when you’ve left the structured confines of school and/or living at home and you’re striking out on your own for the very first time.

It’s not an age, per se. A New Adult novel could have a protagonist who is a recent high school graduate, someone in their mid-twenties, someone in their late twenties, or even someone in their early thirties. It’s not about age: It’s about the life stage.

“What are you talking about?” you ask. “Give me some examples!”

If you’d like to watch a few movies that illustrate the time period I’m thinking of, check out Reality Bites. (No, really. Click on the link to the trailer above if you haven’t seen the movie before, or if it’s been a really long time, or if you just want to drool over Ethan Hawke in all his yummy GenX glory.) This is definitely New Adult. St. Elmo’s Fire, too. I think Singles is on the older end of New Adult, but it definitely qualifies in my mind. Want something a little more recent? How about American Reunion?

Are TV shows more your thing? Consider Don’t Trust the B* in Apartment 23 or see if you can catch earlier episodes of Melrose Place. And of course Girls on HBO is a perfect example of what I would consider New Adult.

If Middle Grade is about capturing a time when anything is possible and Young Adult chronicles a time when everything is tragic, I see New Adult as the combination of the two. Anything is possible, but any failure is tragic. Gone are the rigid confines of school (though I think characters in grad school, law school, and med school would still qualify) and parental authority. Now the burden falls entirely on you, and you no longer have that safety net to catch you.

You’ve been on your own long enough to let your crazy side loose (if you have one), so you’ve already Been There Done That.

You’re embarking on your first career, maybe planning a wedding, maybe watching your friends get married and wondering if you’ll ever meet That Guy.

You’ve experienced just enough to think you’re worldly but haven’t quite realized there’s a hell of a lot more that you don’t quite know yet – and you hate it when people condescendingly pat you on the head and say, “Yeah, well, you’ll learn.”

You’ve survived adolescence and are back to thinking that you can do anything you set your mind to doing – and that’s awesome because you haven’t yet learned that there are limits to what you can do.

Like I said: I think New Adult is a life stage. Maybe your character is newly out of high school and is thrust into the very scary Adult World. Maybe your character is still in college and figuring out how to pay tuition and bills and expenses on her own. Maybe your character is a new college grad desperately seeking a job – any job – to make ends meet.

There’s way more drama in New Adult than in Young Adult, but on such a different level. There’s a lot more at stake – real things, like the potential of getting your car repossessed or facing eviction from your apartment. Sure, your character can believe anything is possible, but she’s got a whole lot more on the line if she fails because Mom and Dad aren’t going to be there to help pick up the pieces. (And if they are, she wouldn’t want them to be.)

Am I right in my approach to it? I have no idea. I’m not a published author (yet), nor am I an expert on the publishing industry. From what I can tell, the general consensus lumps college experiences in with New Adult, but I respectfully disagree. I also disagree with those who think New Adult is just “sexed up YA.” But I do agree with those who say that New Adult stories represent that time between being an Angsty teenager and being an established woman.

And based on my experiences, there’s no magic age when you’re suddenly “experienced.” That title comes after a lot of – you guessed it – experiences.

Sometimes, you need an advocate

I think I’ve already discussed at length why I chose to go the agency representation route with my writing career. One of the reasons I didn’t want to self-publish WTRPCPSU is that I would prefer to have the backing of a publisher’s marketing group to help me market my work, and, as such, I would prefer to have an agent help me navigate the still unfamiliar world of publishing.

Note my use of the word help. I’m fully aware that I will have my own role in all of this, too. What that role entails, of course, I’m still figuring out.

This may sound odd, but I think of my agent as my boss. I mean, I sort of interviewed for her representation, and she chose me to be part of her team of writers. My job, as I see it, is to produce quality stories for her to then turn around and sell.  We will have dialogues about my work. I may pitch ideas that she knows the market is not buying, and she will advise me to shelve those concepts until either my ideas are more developed and/or there is a renewed interest in them. I will send her manuscripts that I’ve painstakingly edited and revised to the point that I think they’re perfect, and she will provide feedback (including what works, what doesn’t work, what needs to be fixed, and what needs to be scrapped). And it is my job to take her expert advice to heart and execute her directives to the best of my ability.

In short, I expect to have the same relationship with my agent that I have with my non-writing world boss.

I absolutely adore my non-writing world boss. She’s fabulous. (And as she doesn’t know this blog exists, I’m speaking truly from the heart.) We maintain a very open dialogue about the different projects I work on, and I let her know when someone comes to me with a request for something that requires total reprioritization, especially when it falls outside my normal scope of duties. She provides valuable feedback on how I can be a more effective analyst, on how to look at things from a different perspective, on how to take my skills to the next level.

But her most important role? She ensures that no one takes advantage of me.

That last point perfectly sums up not only why I would walk across hot coals for my non-writing world boss but also why I chose to pursue the path towards agency representation. And the fact that Julia is based in Europe and has contacts on both continents is why I anxiously pursued her (or would have, anyway, if I took the regular querying route).

I’m the type of person who needs someone to remind me to keep my own interests in the foreground. I know not everyone is like that, but I firmly believe that we all should have someone looking out for us.

Embracing each scene

Nothing is particularly hard if you break it into small jobs. – Henry Ford

I did something with The WIP that I didn’t do with WTRPCPSU: I wrote out the synopsis first.

Now, I like having the synopsis handy. It acts as a guide to keep me on track. If I forget the general plot or find myself getting sidetracked, it reels me back in. I know the ending, I know what needs to happen to get there, and I can steer the manuscript in that general direction.

I sort of had written one for WTRPCPSU. I had general notecards for each scene. I knew what the ending would be, but as I plotted each scene on paper (for the first few chapters, anyway), I realized that the scene I envisioned wouldn’t work, so I ended up changing it. The general course of events went as planned, but actual scenes got moved around quite a bit.

I’m starting to wonder if I wasn’t onto something with my note cards, though.

When you only write a single scene, there’s a kind of freedom in doing so. There’s a beginning. There’s an end. There’s a certain level of action that is required to happen. Maybe a new key character is introduced. Maybe the protagonist is having a revelation. Maybe she’s fighting with the antagonist. Maybe she’s running through a wooded forest in search of the love interest. Whatever it is, it’s there to move the plot forward.

So as I contemplate the impossible task that is my novel, when I take a step back and reframe it (as an old therapist advised I frequently do with things I have difficulty embracing), I see that it’s really nothing more than a series of small jobs.

And each job, or scene as it is in this case, can – and should – be addressed and completed independently. (Stitching them together is what the second draft is for, anyway, right?)

Perhaps I need to return to my synopsis and figure out what those specific scenes are now. And I have an entire stack of index cards willing to assist me.

This could be me

I first discovered the brilliant genius of Debbie Ohi during NaNoWriMo while I enjoyed her art in the daily comics released in conjunction with the challenge. I love her artwork. It’s charmingly simple, yet so full of character. It appears so effortlessly easy, though I know it’s not.

Nothing that seems effortless really is. It takes a lot of work to make something look like it’s easy to pull off.

Now that I’ve given myself permission to  walk in this race known as The WIP, I’ve contemplated this odd journey I’ve taken thus far as a writer and why I’m consumed with so much self-doubt.

It’s not that I think I’m undeserving or that I’m really a terrible writer. I know better than that. I absolutely love WTRPCPSU, and not just because I wrote it. It’s a book that I could probably reread several times and still get giddily caught up in the lives of the characters. It’s just that much cooler that I created them!

It’s more that, as much as I enjoy the story, when I read it, I can still find things that need tweaking, things that I need to fix, things that aren’t exactly right. (And it is for this reason that I am so glad that I have Julia to help me make it better.)

Am I this neurotic because I didn’t spend years (or even months) in the querying trenches? Would files of rejection letters make me a more confident writer? Does the fact that I don’t have completed manuscripts languishing in a hidden drawer mean that I’m really not worthy? Or am I just lucky for having read as widely as I tend to, juxtaposing the works of Leo Tolstoy and Alexandre Dumas with that of Lisi Harrison and Ally Carter? (I actually do this, by the way. A couple of years ago, I read War and Peace just before I began All Carter’s Gallagher Girls series, and I followed that up with The Count of Monte Cristo and, later, Alphas by Lisi Harrison. It gave me an appreciation for the unique voices.)

Whatever the reason may be, I could have just as easily become one (of many) writers afflicted with Obsessive Compulsive Editing Disorder. But as luck (or fortune, or perhaps fate) would have it, I took a chance and entered a contest on a whim. Ready or not (okay, it was mostly ready), I put myself out there.

And the rest, as the saying goes, is history.

I’m not finished with WTRPCPSU – not by a long shot. Julia will give her input for revisions and edits (two very different things) before she submits it herself, and once it’s acquired, I’ll be tweaking it even more.

But the lesson I learned? At the very beginning of this journey, sometimes “good enough” really is. (And it’s okay to let go.)

Marathon writing

“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. Then gradually I write one page and then another.” – John Steinbeck

I take a perverse comfort in knowing that a winner of both a Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize in Literature felt the same trepidation and prevailing sense of failure that I feel when faced with my own work in progress.

The problem with successfully writing a novel – and a good novel, no less – in 24 days is that it becomes the new expectation. Mind, I’m the only one who expects me to repeat this feat, but the pressure, however self-imposed, is still so prevalent. And as such, it becomes frustrating that The WIP seems to be taking so long.

Most people do not write novels in 24 days. I have to remind myself of this fact. Moreover, it usually takes a great deal of time to put words on paper (or onto the screen) in such a way that the prose and dialogue reads easily from the printed page. And yet, despite this knowledge, I refuse to believe that WTRPCPSU is an anomaly. In my mind, there’s no reason this can’t be the norm. I mean, why can’t I spew a couple thousand words each day and have them make perfect sense?

My approach to The WIP has been different from WTRPCPSU, though. In fact, everything about it is different. I mean, when I initially sat down to write WTRPCPSU, it was just for fun. I did it for the challenge. But The WIP is different. It’s not just that I’m terrified of the Sophomore Slump. It’s not just worrying about disappointing my agent or this overwhelming need to prove that I’m not a fluke.

It’s like when I trained last year to run my first 5K. I wanted to prove that I could do it. And I did it. It may not have been the best speed ever and my older niece may have run it faster than I did, but I didn’t care. I did it.

The next race was a 12K, and it wasn’t a much fun. Oh, sure, I did it, but my approach to training for it was different, and because I had expectations, it was harder. Even worse was the next 12K, but for that race, I really didn’t train much at all for it. I had fun doing it because I was with my sister and our friends, and I was euphoric when it was over, but I didn’t feel that same enthusiasm for it that I did with that first 5K, and I didn’t finish it as fast as I expected to.

And I think that’s where my problem lies. I have expectations. Normally, that’s not a bad thing, but in this case, it’s become debilitating. Back when my expectation was just to finish a story without regard to its quality, writing was no big deal. Now I feel like each of my words carry an untold weight. I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do.

I need to view each book as its own race, independent of the one before it. Maybe WTRPCPSU was like a race on a fast, flat pavement. The WIP, then, is like a race on hilly terrain, making it a very different kind of race. As such, I need to remind myself that it’s okay to take more time to finish this.

Just like I was always careful to take care of myself and ensure I didn’t injure myself when I was training or racing, I need to allow myself the same courtesy while I write. After all, I gave myself permission to take breaks whenever I ran.

I need to be good to myself when I write, too.