Wednesday, April 17, 2013

A Letter To Hopeful Writers

Dear Hopeful Writer,

You've been in my thoughts all day. (Not in a creepy, stalker-ish way, I promise. If it makes you feel better, pretend I'm writing to myself five years ago. Weird, but perhaps less creepy.)

 I'm in New York this week, for several reasons. But the primary purpose was a breakfast with Various Important Publishing People at Random House. Publishers, Art Directors, Marketing and Sales and Digitial . . . I still laugh nervously when I look at the list of those I met this morning.

So why am I thinking of you, dear writer, on this surreal day?

Because I want you to know this: There. Is. Hope.

I don't know exactly where you are in your writing journey, but I am fairly confident that there has been hard work. And despair. And rejection. And giddy relief. And the satisfaction of doing something you're proud of, even when no one else knows about it. The moment when you find the right phrase. The moment when you solve a knotty plot issue. The singing joy of a character revealing herself to you.

There have been lots of times I have wished that my writing journey was different. I should have started writing earlier, I should have been a more aggressive querier, I should have attended more conferences, I should have spent more time writing or less time writing or lived a more exciting life so I had more exciting things to write about . . . What can I say? I'm a woman, I do guilt really well.

For one thing, every time I turn around in this market are successful women writers who are taking or have taken the publishing world by storm who are significantly younger than me. Shannon Hale, Veronica Roth, Vee Schwab, Kierstin White, Becca Fitzpatrick . . . Becca was my friend before she was published. Do you know what someone at her launch event for Hush, Hush said to me? "You must be Becca's mother."


Deep breath.

I started writing seriously when I was 34. The youngest of my four children was almost two years old at the time. My goal then? To be published by the age of 40.

I turned 44 earlier this year. My debut releases in May. Do the math.

But then I remind myself that, though the book isn't releasing until I am 44, that I had sold it by the age of 42. And two years of my late thirties were spent doing childhood cancer treatment with my second son and dealing with traumatic adolescent depression with my oldest son. So that gives me a break, right?

See what I did in that last paragraph? I'm trying to rationalize what, in my heart of hearts, I see as failure. Writers: too often we live and breathe failure. We feel it in our bones. We taste it in our throats. For every success (personalized rejection, partial requests, full requests, getting an agent) there is failure (rejection, rejection, rejection.) Virginia Woolf wrote: "Literature is strewn with the wreckage of those who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others." Raise your hand if you often mind beyond reason others' opinions.

But here's the truth: I am a success story. When Becca Fitzpatrick sold Hush, Hush at auction and became a NYT bestseller, I told my family, "This happens to, like, I don't know, five percent of writers. Now that I know someone who's done this, it won't happen to me."

But then it did. I sold three books at auction to Ballantine Books. I have the editor of my dreams. I have the agent I was always waiting for (Tamar Rydzinski, you are worth every painful rejection I got over the years--Fate meant me for you.) I have cover art that is outstandingly, fabulously beautiful. My books have the titles I chose (a small detail, but one that moves me.)

And I had today: people I've never met telling me how much they love my story. How they love Dominic and Minuette and Will and Elizabeth. I have a book that's gone back for a second printing one month before release. I have authors who've read and blurbed it for me whose generosity makes me want to cry (besides the fact that I have blink every time I read their names and realize. This. Writer. Read. My. Book.) And I got all that today with my daughter standing next to me. Emma is a writer. At 14, she has written more words than I had by my thirties. She is knowledgeably proud of me, and nothing feels better than that.

Tonight, Emma and I saw Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway. One of my favorite songs is Impossible. And I had tears in my eyes tonight listening to the lyrics: "Impossible things are happening every day."

Yes, they are.

And that is why I am thinking of you, dear hopeful writer. Because I want to you know that I have faith in you. I believe in your dedication and your dreams. I believe in hard work that is its own reward and I believe that someone is waiting for the story that only you can write. I won't tell you not to be discouraged, because that is part of this journey. But I will add this: The only way to fail, is to quit.

Don't quit. I believe in impossible days--and your day is waiting for you to show up.

With love and hope and encouragement,


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Where Do You Get Your Ideas?

Where do you get your ideas? This has to be the most asked question every writer hears. Luckily, it's a fun one to answer. Ideas abound absolutely everywhere, but I didn't always believe that.

When I was a teenager I attended an event featuring George Lucas (you know, that guy who did Star Wars and Indiana Jones?) and someone asked him The Question.

Oh yes, I thought. That's brilliant. I can't wait to hear this!

I was in total awe as he replied that coming up with ideas wasn't the problem, that he, in fact, had many more ideas than he could ever hope to work on. I sort of tuned out just then, right when it might have been wise for me to listen. That's why he's a brilliant film maker, I thought. I could never be like that.

Turns out, I was wrong. Not about the film maker thing, but about the having too many ideas thing. When you open your mind, it's frankly hard to shut them out. Most of the time anyway.

Idea Starters

Dreams: Twilight. Need I say more?

Fears: Ray Bradbury was a big proponent of this. I managed to churn out a middle grade novel involving a terrifying nightmare I had of Santa Claus kidnapping me in his UFO as my parents joyfully waved goodbye to me on Christmas Eve. It's not as marketable as Twilight. Who knew?

What ifs: "We need a vision of what the world could be." Another thing George Lucas said at that aforementioned event. I think he meant it as a positive idea starter, but millions have been made off of all the horrible ways the world could be, too.

Spin Offs: We've all seen them. A peanut novel hits the big time, suddenly there are scads of peanut novels. Some possibly bigger and better than the original. Shakespeare was fond of borrowing ideas and improving upon them. No shame in that.

Combinations: Take two or three of your pet ideas and twine them together. Sometimes the happy creation ends up wildly better than the sum of its parts. Sometimes it just kind of ends up to be a mess...but we're not focusing on that right now.

Character: A fabulous character can make the whole book. You think of someone, plop them into a world and let them go. It's nice when your characters do all the work. Which, okay, they never do, but it's nice when they do a lot of it.

And let's not forget: ideas people say you should make into a book, books you always wanted to read but don't exist, silly things your kids say, jaw-dropping news stories, historical tidbits, re-interpretations of archeological artifacts...okay, maybe I'm getting a little too weird here. The point is, ideas are a blast and they are all around. 

Idea Inviters

One thought here. Write them down. All of them.

Yes, you know That Idea won't work. Yes, you know it's probably been done better. Yes, you worry it's dumb.

That's not the point. Write it down. Do it now.

My muse gives me good ideas when I acknowledge all of her efforts. If I squelch her whisperings, she gets miffed, scared, dejected, and leaves me. When you open yourself up to ideas, get ready to receive them.

Plus, in retrospect, some of them are not as bad as you thought.

Idea Killers

I recently read something Jonathan Stroud said about a story just begun being weak and needing protection. I have heard this thought from more than one author. I suggest protecting your idea, fleshing it out, strengthening it, until it's ready to see the light of day and the critical eye of readers. 

This includes protecting it from yourself. 

You know that rewriter in you? The idea stage is not the time to invite her to the party. The idea stage is fun, it isn't about where to put your ellipses. Just like a baby needs the basics to grow, your idea does, too. Later that baby can learn to ride a bike, but give it some time to develop with your loving care before getting too demanding.

Others would disagree. They feel stymied without an audience to give them feedback, any feedback. 

So, if my nurturing sort of advice doesn't work for you, pay attention to what kills your ideas. Then hide, run from, or fight that evil influence.

Because without your idea you'll never get to The End. 

So open yourself up to ideas, write them, nurture them, and get ready to answer The Question yourself. Over and over and over :) Luckily, as I said before, it's a fun question to answer.