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This holiday week, I’m on vacation.  It’s not one of those trips to somewhere exotic or drinking cocktails by a beach.  Instead, I drove 12 hours with my two children to visit my parents in the town where I spent my first eighteen years.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of vacation aspects to it.  My children are pre-occupied with their cousins so I am able to edit the current WIP, I’ve been able to meet up with a couple old friends for reminiscing, and I’ve even gotten to see the sun again.  Hands down, one of the biggest perks of my parents’ house is the fact it’s on a golf course.  Not only does it have a beautiful landscape, no traffic noise, and an endless supply of retirees, it allows me to try my hand once a year on the links.

Golf has always been a big part of my parents’ life.  I took some lessons when I was young and occasionally hit a round of eighteen.  As with anyone under the age of sixteen, my fascination was more with driving the cart than practicing my swing.  (That was until there was a terrible accident where I ran over my mother and she never allowed me to drive again.)  Although the best I’ve ever done is par a hole every once in a while, I can usually hit the ball with minimal occurrences of shanking, topping, and making a total ass out of myself.  But this last round, where my mother invited other family to join, was the worst I’ve ever done in my entire life.

When my cousins rolled up in their serious golf gear, I did the smart thing and started the campaign to lower expectations about my play.  They were very reassuring about nothing was expected from the person who only played once a year.  It didn’t help that my cousin’s daughter, the one I occasionally diapered when I tried my hand at babysitting in high school, is a freakin’ golf star.  Seriously, she kicks ass on her college golf team.  On the first tee, all eyes watched as I teed up the ball.  I took a deep breath, remembered the steps of a successful swing, and went for it.  I topped the ball and it barely trickled off the tee box.  My mom gave me the pity offer of a mulligan and threw me another ball.  Repeat process with the exact same results. I gave an embarrassed smile, shrugged my shoulders, and sulked back to the cart. (Mom driving.)

Every shot proceeded to go like this the entire day.  It was brutal.  My mom tried to offer coaching tips, but nothing helped.  Two years ago I would’ve been cursing at myself from the first mulligan.  The whole day would’ve been consumed by anger at how terrible I was instead of enjoying the beautiful weather and chatting with my family I only see every once in a while.

On the second hole, after topping another one and it barely rolling thirty feet away, I said to my mom:

“One thing writing has taught me is everything takes practice.  If I don’t invest the time, I can’t expect to be good.”  I didn’t go on into the fact it’s also given me the “suck it up” power of not being good at something.  Rejections and online board feedback can do that.  Some of the brutal comments from my first book attempt humbled me to the fact the things you want to excel take a lot of time and practice.

I’ve read some wonderful blogs by people who have agents and book deals where they detail how they work really hard.  They remind it isn’t about natural talent where you can open a laptop once a year and write a best seller.  Writing has become a daily thing where I practice, study, apply, learn some more, listen to feedback, look to hang with experienced peeps, and still be okay when I get rejected.  (Even when I’ve topped the ball for the millionth time.)

Mom and I bailed out on the 8th hole to head back to the house to check on my dad who was watching four kids.  (Everyone was still alive and in one piece.)  But on that last hole, I finally hit a drive off the tee.  One that actually went into the air and made it near the green.  Well, the general vicinity.  Mom picked up the pitch shot and the putt and we parred the hole.

Even though I joked we had to exit on a high note, it had nothing to do with it.  The entire day was a success in my eyes.  (Similar to the success in my writing year.)  I took the mis-hits in stride with a smile on my face and a resolve to try again on the next hole.  I appreciated the good things like awesome weather, great company, and my little cousin’s kick-assery.  This year may have not brought the elusive hole in one or a representing agent, but it was filled with steps in getting there.  Hopefully the agent will come before the hole in one.  When it does happen, I’ll let you know.  Drinks on the 19th hole will be on me.

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It’s agreed the holidays make everyone crazy.  Things like racing around from store to store, children’s activities with a party every day, and baking boatloads of cookies all stacked on top of the already taxed life can break anyone.  So, everyone gets a bye because of the holiday, but January 1st is right around the corner and then it’s all about the possibility.  That might be the moment where this post reminds, “you can do it!”

The other day a new employee to my staff asked me what was my pet peeve.  It didn’t take a second of hesitation before blurting out, “People who say they don’t have enough time.”   I usually follow it up with some annoying cliché of “we all have the same number of hours in day” or “Helen Keller had the same amount of time.”  I really don’t understand my Helen Keller one because what else did she have going on besides learning a way to communicate.  But some play I saw in elementary school must have stuck with me and Helen Keller became some kind of multi-tasking goddess in my eyes.

Helen Keller probably feeling a to-do list during this portrait.

Helen Keller may have to drop down to position number two after reading this blog by Super-Agent Joanna Volpe.  She is beyond awesome with some killer clients that are my faves, like Allan Woodrow of Zachary Ruthless, Kody Keplinger of The DUFF, and Veronica Roth of Divergent.  (They probably sound familiar because they are books I’m always trying to shove down your throat in casual conversation.)  I must say I was really excited to read about the day-to-day schedule of an agent.  It’s not because I have so little life I want to read other people’s day planners, but from what I see, they work ALL. THE. TIME.  Ms. Volpe’s post pretty much confirms it.  But what she also hits on is the fact she chooses her time this way because she loves it.

Ms. Volpe's fresh face after 168 hours of non-stop work (or her Twitter pic.)

I’ll be the first to admit there are times where I over-book.  It drives Hubs crazy when I have three extra minutes and I put the time into a project instead of arriving three minutes early for something.  But I look at it as an opportunity to get a jump on something on my list.  (Yes, I have lists going at all times.  There is one next to me as I type.)  My standard answer when someone asks to add something to my already packed schedule is “I’ll get it done.”  With that, comes my word I will meet the deadline or re-schedule a new one with plenty of time, not an hour before it’s due.  (Go ahead, ask my boss.  She’ll confirm.)

The question often asked of me is “How do you do it all?”  It’s the same answer as Super-Agent’s.  Because I want to.  When something is important, you prioritize to make sure it gets time.  It’s the things we value as less important which fall to the bottom or get swept under the carpet.  It has nothing to do with time, but with what you value.  For me, I had to cut out television.  It wasn’t giving enough back for the amount of time it consumed.  When I made the break, I was able to write and started down this novel path.  I haven’t missed it a bit.  Another commitment was not taking the time from the kiddos.  They still get me after work until they go to bed.  My writing life starts after that or the times where they don’t want to hang with me anyways.  (Example: Right now Lego Batman is waaaay cooler than Mom wanting to clean the house.)

What I’m trying to say is when you are making your resolutions for next year, don’t let time be the deterrent.  If you really want to do it, meaning it gets moved up to the top of the priority list, time won’t be the problem.  You will need to assess the lesser important thing to devote less time to or give up entirely.  It’s not an easy thing but, remember as Ms. Keller and Ms. Volpe have proven, anything is possible if you want to do it.

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November brings one of the writing world’s most advantageous challenges–NaNoWriMo.  For dedicated writers out there, it shares the mob mentality of writing fifty thousand words in the month of November.  (A ginormous feat, people.)  To the non-writerly people, it’s an impossible name to pronounce and instead sneer like it’s a venereal disease when a writer says they are going to try to do it.  Hopeful writers begin the month with heavy optimism, which flickers out about day three.  It’s similar to the mad rush of Weight Watchers enrollees on January 1st only to give up by mid-month. 

For the last three months I’d been looking forward to the upcoming NaNoWriMo.  I’d been knocking around an old idea I’ve spent a lot of time outlining in my head, which would make it a good contender for the fast paced month of writing.  The major obstacle between NaNo and me was meeting the self-imposed deadline to finish the first draft of my current WIP by October 31st.  I knew I wanted to have that locked up to allow the distraction in November  from the project to allow it to breathe.  But the end of October crept up quickly between Halloween costumes, day job work events, and the normal family fare.  It was October 20th when I realized I wasn’t going to make the deadline and therefore would cop out of NaNo.

The realization was paralyzing.  The feeling of standing at the dock while the party barge of writers sailed on without me.  The disappointment dripped over into all aspects of my life where I was grumpy at the day job, biting the heads off my small children for interrupting, and overreacting when something didn’t go my way.  (More than usual, Hubs.)  It didn’t make any sense to have such a negative reaction to something which wasn’t that big of a deal.  This wasn’t a deadline at work where there could be financial impacts.  As an unsigned author, there isn’t an editor or agent waiting for the copy.  Instead, the date was only a parameter set by me so I could work on another project.  But it didn’t matter, the damage was done.  I wasted the next four days writing crap.

At the end of my rope with my pity party, I made a new date with myself.  This wasn’t a number on the calendar, but instead a solo outing on a Friday night to the local Starbucks with my computer under arm.  In their seating section, I treated myself to a coffee, enjoyed my iTunes clashing with their very loud overhead of eighties tracks, and sat uncomfortably close to some douche who insisted on taking the chair right next to mine.  And it was great.  I pumped out a few pages, tweeted some hilarity, and got my chi back on before heading home to put the kids to bed.

On October 31st, I accepted I needed another week (maybe more) to finish this draft.  A writer friend from Twitter asked if I was going to do NaNo. I explained although I had plans to, it wasn’t going to work out like I’d hoped.  She said she did it last year and was going to give it a go in 2011 as well, but may need the occasional poke to still keep with it.  She went on to explain she didn’t write for the first two weeks last time, but got caught up after pumping out 14K words in a weekend.  After the obligatory mental joke about “pumping out,” the reality hit.  Missing the deadline didn’t mean I couldn’t participate in NaNo, it only meant I had to go at it a different way.  (Please insert you own “going at it a different way” joke.)  Maybe my NaNo is 25K words on the new project in half a month.  Maybe it’s tweaking 10K words on the current WIP and outlining the next.  Or it could be just getting as far as I can by December 1st.

On Tuesday night, with the burden of the looming deadline erased from my mind, I had a great night writing the WIP.  It rejuvenated a fire to continue with the hope of finishing sometime soon.  Because what I found was if I let the deadline take over the project, nothing salvageable will be created anyway.  And if that happens, instead of only missing a deadline, I may have killed an idea which could have been something great.

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There was an immediate request for paper to be folded into the shape of a small, green wise man the moment my son picked up the book Origami Yoda.  It continued in an incessant whine with each chapter, but I held off with the promise I would create it when he finished the book.  Although I didn’t hold out until the very end, he happily finished the book and I folded paper.

As always, I’m amazed with how you can learn to do anything from the internet.  It’s where I started my cookie creating, learned how to fix my washing machine, and most recently learned how to fold Origami Yoda.  Not that the instructions in the back of the book didn’t give step by step instructions, because it did.  But the act of watching the video made it much easier to understand the concept and what each fold should look like.  But afterwards, Yoda wasn’t enough.

The first Yoda and Darth Paper met a sad fate when they were left in someone’s pocket when his pants went through the washing machine.  Their demise was confirmed when two balled up wads of paper got pulled from the pocket.  Tears were shed, a funeral was requested, and the only way to move past the loss was the promise of Mom heading to the craft store for actual origami paper.

What I didn’t know when I paid a large amount for small squares of paper was there would be endless requests for more creatures when I returned home.  After Yoda was revitalized, a “ninja star” was requested.  So I loaded up the internet and thought I could whip out a ninja star in about five minutes.  Thirty minutes later and my blood boiling, I was ready to chuck the whole thing in the garbage. But, I couldn’t give up because we used the only piece of gold paper in the package of one hundred.   Boy stared with wide eyes and checked in every two minutes to see if I was done yet.  The clock ticking in my ear only added to the frustration.

I watched the video time and time again, but couldn’t figure out how two separate pieces went together to form a star.  I tried another video, this one in Spanish, but still no success.  At my wits end, with a clump of hair in my hand from tearing it off my head, I limped together the two pieces and called it quits.  Boy was happy.  He said it looked great.  But I knew it wasn’t the real deal.

Hubs strolled out of the bedroom to see what we’re doing (and what I’d been cursing about.) 

“Oh, a ninja star.  I loved those when I was a kid.  Made them all the time,” he said.  Daughter pushed Hubs back into the bedroom to make another out of plain old printer paper.  In less than three minutes, she triumphantly danced out with a well-constructed ninja star flying out of her hand and attempting to decapitate her brother.

I should have drawn on the lessons writing has taught me when I knew I was in trouble with the star.  Self-instruction and determination only get you so far at times.  There are circumstances which call for a fresh eye and leaning on the support of a community to get to the best product before self-loathing takes over and puts doubt in your mind.   This reminder came at a good time.  The next couple months are going to be important in my novel’s life when I move from finishing a draft to refining it with critiques.  If I let fear of inferiority drive my decisions, I won’t push myself to make something better.  To think I can do that alone is arrogant.  Admitting it sooner will save heartache, frustration, and rejection later.

I haven’t yet asked Hubs to show me how the two pieces fit together.  Instead, I’ve bestowed him the title of “Ninja Star Master” and send the children to him with their multiple requests.  (There has to be some repercussions for letting me hang out there while he sat in the other room hoarding all the knowledge.)  But one day I’ll ask, I’ll learn, and I too will become a Ninja Star Master.

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A couple weeks ago I was lucky enough to have a break from the day job.  The plan was to have the week to myself with the kids in school all day and nothing pressing on the agenda.   My goal was to experiment with writing in the morning hours instead of stealing a few after the kids go to bed.  I decided my vacation was to live the life of a what I imagine of a full-time writer.  Here are some of the things I learned on my “writing staycation.” 

The first glaring fact of this week off was the fact it really only boiled down to three days.  The benefit of a holiday took the first three days to family time.  On Tuesday, the public school district, with it’s tricky first day of school sham, was actually only an intro for an hour before shuffling the kids back home.  WTH?!?  When Wednesday arrived, I was chomping at the bit to send the kids up to school and get my writerly groove on.  After typing away for a few hours at my dining room table, I needed a change of scenery.  What writing staycation would be complete without a trip to Starbucks with the laptop.  So I did.  I looked pretentious as all people do who work while sipping on cappuccino, and pounded out a few pages in between baristas shouting orders.  I tweeted a few lines of observations, gave some FB updates, and checked writing tips off their WiFi.  For those two hours, I felt like a writer.

Thursday brought distractions.  My full-speed ahead to knock out much needed pages was like walking through curing cement.  Frustration turned into self-deprecation when I found myself tweeting more lines than adding to the work in progress.  Needing more inspiration for creativity, I turned to cookies and books.  When I wasn’t icing, I was reading Ashes.  This may have seemed like a waste on a writing staycation, but it actually fueled the fire of creativity more than I thought it would.  I got two blogs out of it and was pretty damned excited when I was able to send cookies of a lead character to the author. 

By Friday, only the third day of the writing staycation, real life took over.  Hubs and I had a date to meet up with another couple to enjoy a night out at a concert in the park of Men Without Hats, Human League and the B-52s.  Although I got in a couple of pages,  most of the day was spent prepping food and drinks.

In the end, I didn’t finish the novel which I had grand visions of doing before the week began.  It would have required the commitment of constant writing the entire week.  It could be done, and some have done it, but it’s not the type of writer I want to be.  I enjoy these other things in my life because they add to the person I am, which translates to the characters I create. 

I did set some ground rules before starting out that included not being distracted by laundry and household chores.  (It was more difficult than I imagined.)  In the end, the staycation was nothing like I thought it would be when I started.  (Kinda similar to stories with a rough outline, but take on something different when applied.)   But it doesn’t mean it was a waste or I didn’t get something great out of it.  The biggest takeaway was the experience of living like it was my full-time job, even if it was for a short time.  I learned my current status of full-time employment, wife, and mother of two works just as well because this is the writer I have am.

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My favorite shirt when I was seventeen was a white tee with the Parental Advisory sticker image on the front.  At the bottom, the correct verbiage was replaced with “Explicit Fucking Lyrics.”  I loved that damn thing.  In my mind, there was an edge because the F-word was right there for everyone to see.  I was stickin’ it to the man. 

This weekend, I bought the new album by Mumford and Sons.  What drew me to the band and the purchase was their song “Little Lion Man.”  Sure the acoustic guitar is catchy and who can pass up a fast moving banjo?  But it’s the chorus that sucked me in with “But it was not your fault, but mine.  And it was your heart on the line.  I really fucked it up this time.  Didn’t I, my dear?”  The way the singer emphasizes “fucked” commands an emotional reaction.  I understand the seriousness of the situation and perk up to what happened.

Even with age, I have an affinity for the word “fuck.”  One of my current favorite song titles is “Hatefuck” by The Bravery.  Awesome.  Don’t you already have some idea of what the song will entail?  Go ahead, check it out to see if you were right.  It’s an effective adjective, a poignant verb, and the best exclamation a girl could hope for (good or bad.)  Think about it.  Doesn’t it really tell the whole story?  If it doesn’t tell the story, it certainly adds some flair, you have to admit.  My mother has the differing opinion that  it shows you have no skill to find a better word for the situation.  At times when writing, I agree.  But in my every day life, I find it’s the word I like.  The one I’m drawn to even when I have a dictionary of perfectly proper words to choose from.

Some may wonder how I could have this opinion when I am the mother of two small children.  To me, it’s just a word.  One word doesn’t get more power or meaning than any of the others.  We have a choice to use any one we want to convey any thought we want.  That’s the power in them.  I’ve realized this more with diving deeper into the world of writing.  Even the most innocent sounding words can have much bigger impacts depending on their context.  “I’m disappointed in you” or “I don’t love you anymore” or “You’re a failure.”  These are much more powerful than a simple four letter word deemed vulgar. 

I make no apologies for my draw to saying, using, loving the word “fuck.”  It doesn’t mean I don’t calm it down when I’m hanging with my “churchy” friend because I respect her.  But she also never judges when a bomb drops in her presence because she knows it’s me.  But you know you have arrived in your love for the word when a Twitter acquaintance, @tragic_spinster, whom I adore and stalk sends this message today, “I just noticed that the very first word of dialogue in my newest WIP is “Motherfucker.” I thought of you.”  

That’s fuckin’ awesome.

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Writing is like high school.  You’d think I’d be keen to this idea since I spend my nights acting like a teenager.  (When I’m writing Young Adult…not bumping ‘n singing with gal pals.)  But the idea brings with it all the ups and downs of high school too.  The writing world is most similar to adolescent insecurity with its clique breakdown.  Authors are divided out into groups of coolness whether they like it or not.  And when there is a top, there is always a bottom.

The Uber Popular Upper Classmen:

This is the granddaddy of all awesome.  The percentage allowed into this very small group of people is so small, there aren’t enough zeros to go before the decimal.  Here you will of course find JK Rowling.  She could put out a book about Harry Potter’s dog and there would be a crush to make it a best seller on the pre-sale alone.  She can do this because she is that good.  You can’t even look at her directly for fear your eyes will melt because she is that far out of your league.

The Ugly Duckling:

We’ve all seen it.  There was a summer vacation where the nerdiest person took three months to bloom into someone unrecognizable.  They went from a shunned outcast to being welcomed into the popular crowd with open arms.  I imagine Stephanie Meyer in this group.  Her story of quick success is as lucky as getting your braces off, rocking a hot new rack, and highlighting your hair perfectly all over a three-month hiatus from school.  She will never be able to shed her nerdy past and some will remind her of it on a regular basis, but it doesn’t matter.  She still scores with any dude she wants.

The Populars:

As they were in high school, the popular crowd was a mixed bag.  Some were pretty cool and some were assholes.  But it was agreed by all they were popular.  They strutted their stuff in the elite crowd and those of us on the outside wondered what it was like.  Was it all keggers and making out with college guys?  This is the world of an agented and/or published author.  They’ve broken out from the majority who are still working hard to pair the right material with the right skill like a well-designed wardrobe.  The Populars are close enough you think you can touch them like they are real people, but sadly admit you aren’t friends.  Today, I’m putting Tawne Fenske in this group (as one of the cool ones, of course.)  She’s one of those Populars where it totally makes sense because even the cynical you can’t deny she’s got great charm.  She doesn’t get lost in her superior status, instead choosing to talk to everyone like they are equals,  which only makes you love her more.  You may be jealous of her standing, wishing you could be just like her, but you can’t deny your want for her to do well by supporting her bid for class president.  (Or debut book release…have you bought Making Waves yet?)

The Fringe:

This is the group that’s on the outside.  It’s the purgatory like status where you don’t really know what you are.  You may deem yourself cooler than the Nerds because you have a nice core set of friends and get the occasional nod from a Popular.   But you are still awkward at times in trying to figure out where you fit into the social structure.  As it was in high school, I think this is my group.  I’ve done some work to understand the writing world a LOT more than I did three years ago, but no where yet in the universe of the Populars.  There’s been no life changing summer from junior high to high school to give me Ugly Duckling hopes.  Instead I will need to continue working hard if I want to bust through to the next social status.  Hubs famous line about my high school self when we started dating, “You were the coolest out of your nerdy friends.” 

 Neeeeerrrrrds!

While usually this term is associated with the intellectually advanced, in the writing high school cliques it’s the naïve.  We’ve all been there with the wide eyes of excitement at the thought of completing our first novel.  We had no idea how bad it stunk.  Instead we walked around in unknowing bliss with toilet paper hanging from our shoe and “kick me” posted on our back.  It doesn’t take long to realize people are distancing themselves from you like the plague.  The subtle hints of stacks of rejections make you aware that plaid and stripes do not go together. 

What brought on this breakdown of writing cliques?  When a Popular retweeted a message of mine and I considered calling everyone I know at ten o’clock at night to tell them about it.  I felt sixteen all over again.  I often wonder what it would be like to be in their shoes.  Do they have insecurities about who they are and what they’ve written?  Or is there comfort in being agented, published, and knowing you’ve gotten farther than the majority? 

I’ll let you know when I get there.

Uh, yeah, of course I retweeted it!

 

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