On Stubbornness

Side note before I begin – doesn’t “stubbornness” look like it just has too many letters? I use Grammarly so I know it’s spelled correctly right there, but it looks strange to me. Oh well.

Anyways. I swear I don’t have voices in my head or anything like that, but when I’m writing, I tend to listen to what the characters have to say. There’s usually a better story if I work that way. Sometimes I ignore them, because I am The Writer and I think I know better, and then it turns out that I don’t.

This happened to me fairly recently. My latest project ended in a fairly melancholic but understandable way. I have this thing where I absolutely refuse to break the rules I’ve set up in a novel, so I thought that this was the only way to end the story. It went through about five or six beta readers and all of them liked the ending. I also sent it to one of my good friends, who happens to be my best/favorite critic, but she was busy and didn’t get around to reading it until recently.

She texted me as soon as she finished and said that she was “immensely frustrated” with the ending. Beta readers are great, but I know that this particular friend would not sugarcoat her opinion if she didn’t think something was working.

Meanwhile, throughout all of this, my characters had been moving around shiftily in the back of my head, poking my brain. They didn’t really like the ending either, but what could I do? I was The Writer. That was The Ending.

My friend’s critique kept gnawing at me. I knew she was right. Like I said, I don’t break my own rules to get characters out of situations, but there’s also that quote that as a writer, you make a contract with the reader. I read through the draft again and tried to figure out what that contract was, and so many things jumped out at me. I had somehow foreshadowed an ending that didn’t happen. I knew it. The characters knew it. My friend knew it. But I was too stubborn to admit that I had messed up, that things shouldn’t have ended the way I wanted them to.

So this week, I went back and did a rewrite after not touching the book for a while. I changed the ending. And it looks like I’m writing a sequel.

I guess the moral of this is all is fair in love and words. And listen to your characters. They might have something important to say.


On Thoughts, Conferences, and Clothing

This is going to be one of those posts where I just ramble, so I’m sorry if you came here hoping to find something enlightening.

I’m attending my first ever writing conference this weekend and I’m excited/terrified/anxious/pumped for it. I’m pitching to an agent and an editor while I’m there, which honestly sounds kind of terrifying. It’s my first time pitching in person to someone that I don’t know so that’ll be fun. I’m reading so many articles and watching videos about how to do it right and I’m just a bundle of nerves.

I also ordered my first round of business cards because I’m apparently a real adult now and that’s something that I should have. Fingers crossed that those get here on time…

It’s too bad that there’s not a guidebook that tells you how to dress for these things, either. My closet is separated into two classifications: hippy-manic-artist and very-super-duper-businessy. There’s no in-between, which is what I need for the conference. I had to go shopping for new stuff and every time I bought something, I just had to keep whispering to myself, “It’s fine. It’s okay. You’re investing in your future.” Here’s hoping that it all pays off.

Well, those are my ranty thoughts for the day. Thank you for joining.

On My 100 Book Summer: Week 1

I haven’t been able to read very much during the school year, but I’ve still managed to collect a ton of books. Right now, there are 55 books in my room at school that I haven’t read, which is an insane number. I’m trying to tackle those and 45 more. Reading is an important part of writing, so I’m getting back down to the basics. I’m trying to do a blend of poetry, fiction, and some non-fiction. I’m also reading a lot of YA that came out over the last few years, just to see what the market has been up to. This is what I read during Week 1 (and a few days before)!

  • Don’t Cry by Mary Gaitskill
  • The Divine Salt by Peter Blair
  • Not That Kind of Girl by Siobhan Vivian
  • The Raven Boys by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Dream Thieves by Maggie Stiefvater
  • Blue Lily, Lily Blue by Maggie Stiefvater
  • The Raven King by Maggie Stiefvater

My favorite from this round was definitely The Raven Cycle. The writing is beautiful and the characters are excellent. I have some more extensive thoughts on the structure of the series but I’m not going to bore you will all of the details. I’m always more drawn to characters than plot, and this series had both. Plus, it’s being made into a TV show, which will be interesting. I can’t wait to see what happens with that. I also really enjoyed Not That Kind of Girl. I think the voice was different than a lot of other YA contemp stories. The Divine Salt is a poetry collection, and it was poignant and well-written. This week, I’m taking on an Irish novel, more YA, and poetry!

On Introspection

Writing a book takes a lot out of you. I like to think of it like I have a mental reservoir of words somewhere, and writing a book uses that reservoir. It’s exhausting and mentally draining and that’s amplified by the fact that I was also finishing up my semester while writing. Querying is an emotionally stressful process. In the midst of all of this, I think it is so important to take some time for myself and do a few projects before starting on a new book.

I already have the idea for the book and part of me is itching to write it but I know that it’s the most ambitious project I’ve taken on, and I need to give my mind some time to rest. So I’ve been working on my 100 Book Summer project (I read 7, I’ll post about them in the next few days) and working in general, and doing a few things around my apartment. But I’m also taking some time to re-evaluate my goals. This is something I do every six months or so, and I think it’s a nice system to have.

So I have a planner and in January, I wrote down my goals for the year, and a few long-term goals that I’m working to achieve. So far, I’ve crossed out half of my yearly goals (publish a poem, publish a story, write a book, make Dean’s List, etc.) and I’m making decent progress towards my life goals. I don’t want to keep working on a goal that I no longer want, though, so I take this time to do some soul-searching and see how my wants have changed since the last time I thought about them. Then I write these down, and I usually write myself a letter saying who I am, what I like, what I love, and what I want. I keep these letters in my email.

It’s so great to have a physical record of everything I’m trying to achieve and what kind of person I am when I’m working towards them. It’s also good reinforcement that it’s okay to fail or abandon certain dreams. Sometimes they’re not your dreams anymore and there is nothing wrong with that. And it’s amazing to look back at my goals from, say, freshman year and see how much I have changed over the years – and how much I’ve accomplished. It really lightens the feelings of failure that come with being a college student in the twenty-first century.

I hope this inspires all of you to go write down your goals! You’re more likely to achieve them if you have them on paper, I’ve heard, and putting things on paper is apparently one of my favorite things.

On Submitting Short Fiction

I think I’ve talked about this before (maybe not?) but I’m an assistant editor for a literary journal. Over the last few months, I’ve read roughly 200 stories. This is my first gig editing/selecting short fiction, so I’m happy to share some things I’ve learned with you!

  1. Don’t get discouraged if you get rejected.

I cannot stress this enough. Our submissions opened on March 1 and I am on a staff with nine other fiction editors, where we each get assigned anywhere from 12 to 25 stories a week. Sometimes we’re doubled up, sometimes we’re not. Basically, because of the volume of submissions, if I don’t like a piece by the end of the first two pages, I’m probably going to pass on it. A lot of stories are passed on. To be honest, I’m really only supposed to approve five to ten stories out of each hundred to move forward, so we have to be incredibly selective. Sometimes, it’s nothing against the writing itself, but the piece might not fit our mission statement. For instance, if I read something told from the perspective of a younger kid or something that’s obviously religious, I’m going to pass. It just doesn’t fit with what we publish. I can’t say this enough, but go back and see what the journal has published before to see if your work fits. This is actually important.

2. Please, for the love of God, follow the submissions guidelines.

We specify that the submissions should be blind. I cannot tell you how many submissions have names on them. My editor is chill and doesn’t check or tell us to downvote those who have identifying information, but it always makes me roll my eyes a bit. If a journal specifies that submissions should be laid out a certain way, there’s probably a reason. Please please please read the guidelines before submitting. And please do not submit something in Courier font with 2-inch margins (why does anything need 2-inch margins??).

3. Grammar is so important.

There have been stories that I connected with but I ultimately passed on because they just weren’t well-edited. Take the time to make sure you’re presenting the best possible story that you can. You’re making yourself vulnerable by giving me this little piece of your soul – don’t you want it to be as close to flawless as possible? I’m actually insane, so seeing a lot of typos in a piece instantly makes me dislike it. Sometimes if it’s well-reviewed by other editors, I’ll read all the way through, but I generally don’t advance those pieces myself. Take the time to have a friend look over your work for you before submitting.

4. Submit to multiple places.

This probably sounds like it goes against my mission statement point, but editing has taught me how ridiculously difficult it is to publish a short story. Not going to lie, it’s a confidence boost after getting so many rejections myself. You don’t suck – there are just a lot of writers out there. Submit often. Have a working portfolio on rotation so that as soon as you get a rejection, you can edit if needed and fire another one out. I strongly recommend subscribing to the CRWROPPS-B list (Google it) to find out about submissions opportunities year-round.

5. Have confidence.

If you don’t believe in your writing, readers won’t, either. Honestly, this is the most important lesson I’ve learned both through writing and editing. Believe. In. Yourself. Make it happen. Set some goals and go out and crush them. Publish all the things. You can do it.



On Beta Readers

This time around, I am adding a step into the editing process that I probably should’ve considered last time. When I finish a book and edit it, I usually only pass it around to a few close friends for opinions. I don’t want to take chances on this manuscript, and I want opinions from people who aren’t afraid to hurt my feelings. I’m a member of a few different writing forums and I’ve noticed people seeking out beta readers in the past. I decided to give it a try. I beta read a story for someone, just to get my feet wet, and so far I’ve primarily done swaps since then.

Beta readers are AMAZING.

I’m usually blind to the flaws in my story (unless they’re structural because I’m actually pretty good at completely restructuring a manuscript). Even if I give it some time to air it out, I’m too close to the prose to genuinely find a lot of nit-picky errors. My beta readers asked questions that I haven’t even considered, and beta reading for other people has been genuinely enjoyable. It’s a great eye-opener to see how many incredible writers there are out there.

I would suggest emailing back and forth a couple of times, especially if you’re trying to build a partnership with the other writer. It might also be helpful to exchange a couple of chapters first to ensure that you’re interested in the material and will be able to finish the manuscript in a timely manner.

If you’re thinking about getting more involved in the writing community, I would recommend joining a forum like AbsoluteWrite. NaNoWriMo is also a great option, and the forums there are fun to look through if you’re bored or seeking inspiration.

On Reading

Hi yes hello. If you’ve been following along with my ramblings over the last few weeks, then you have probably discovered that I am stressed out by the querying process. No surprise there. In the midst of all of this anxiety with the production side, I feel like I’ve lost sight of the reason I’m doing this in the first place – I really really really love books. A lot. I grew up in a family of readers. According to my parents, I learned to read before I was two. Some of my earliest memories involve books. Since I’ve been spending so much time reading and stressing, I have completely abandoned reading.

It’s time to change that.

I have the feeling that every issue I’m having with my writing can be solved by reading more books and learning from those who have already been published. “Learning from those who have been published” is a bit of a shitty way to put it. I want to learn from the people who tell the best stories, the people who take words and turn them into beautiful worlds and glimmering landscapes, the people who have made my heart flutter and imagination explode over the last twenty-one years.

I’m going back to my roots, so to speak. I have created a challenge for myself. I love books and I have this habit of buying a lot of them at once, and not reading them for a long time. Classes end on April 21st for me. Starting on April 22nd and going until the first day of next semester, I am going to read 100 books. I’ll call it my 100 Book Summer. I just went through my room at college – not even my room at home, where a lot more books live – and I have 55 unread that I’ve collected over the last year or so.  They are books of poetry and fiction and non-fiction, classic and contemporary. I feel like this will be a good way to restore my shattered sanity. I’ll still be writing and editing too, of course, because I don’t know how to function when I’m not actively creating.

I’ll try to post a weekly update or so on how I’m doing but we all know that I’m bad at consistency. Comment if you have any recommendations!