4.26.2016

What Will Your Verse Be?


Blogging has died down over the years, but every now and then, readers still email me to encourage, be encouraged, or let me know they're enjoying my posts. Every so often, there's one from a young writer. I'm really drawn to those. I wrote a blog response back in 2013 to a high schooler who didn't know whether a writing career was right for her. Since joining Wattpad, I've gotten lots of messages like that because of all the teens who hang out there. The messages are almost always from other Asian-Americans, drawn in by my Asian name and my photo, and almost all say: "I want to be a professional writer, but my family doesn't like it. Do you have any advice? How did you push past your parents' disapproval?"

Answer: I didn't.

This post is one I've wanted to write for a long time, but it always seemed to come off as a whiny generalization that all Asian parents are as strict and crazy old-school as mine. So here's a disclaimer: I am not whining or complaining. I am grateful for all my parents have given me. What I share is the truth, but only from my own experience, and I hope it helps a teen writer somewhere push past their own obstacles, parental or otherwise.

In my family, children are taught to be 1,000,000% obedient. Parents are gods. Any disrespect, whether it's talking back or being sarcastic or sighing in their presence, is like spitting in your mother's face. I used to freak out when I heard the way my black and Caucasian friends spoke to their parents, because I would be dead and buried if I ever tried that with mine.

If you are born a girl, these rules are compounded by another 1,000,000%. In my family, girls are not as valuable as boys. Don't get me wrong: my parents loved me very much and spoiled me rotten, but they made no secret of the fact that they preferred my brothers. As males, my brothers had freedom, they were served first at dinner, they never had to do any housework, and they were never, ever subjected to the emotional and verbal abuse I constantly got from my father. (See what I mean? It sounds like I'm whining, but that's the way things were.)

One rule, however, remained the same regardless of gender: the only careers we could pursue had to do with math or science (read: doctor or engineer). Anything else was strictly forbidden, ESPECIALLY the arts.

So here I am, only a girl. Let's add to that the fact that I've always been a natural at reading and writing; let's add all the writing contests I won in school, the spelling bees I dominated, and the high school level reading list my third-grade teacher had to create for me because I was already too far beyond the other kids.

My parents thought it was cute at first. My dad used to take me to Waldenbooks (yeah, remember them?!) and Barnes and Noble and let me pick out whatever I wanted. I had my own bookcase packed with everything I wanted: Nancy Drew, Babysitters Club, Sweet Valley, Saddle Club, and all of my favorite classics like The Secret Garden and Anne of Green Gables. I had expensive leather journals for Christmas and top-of-the-line art supplies for my birthday, and I was allowed to keep my head in the clouds all through my childhood.

The whole time, my father thought he was simply spoiling his daughter. What he didn't know was he had planted a seed that had taken hold for life. He and my mom figured it out when I entered high school. I was 16 years old when they asked me what I wanted to study in college.

"Creative writing, so I can have a career as a published author."

Can you guess how well that went over?

I fought as hard as I could against the box they wanted to put me in. They had trained me to be unquestioningly obedient, yet something inside me said: You WANT this. What they're doing is wrong. You need to live your own life. But when you're a girl in my family, especially a nice, gentle girl, you have no choice but to give in to your father's nonstop barrage of bullying, teasing, threats, guilt trips, and insults. No choice.

I still cry, remembering the time he dropped me off at school after literally screaming at me for fifteen minutes in the car about how I'd be worthless and poor and not able to afford even McDonald's if I chose writing over being a doctor. Somehow I found the guts to get out and slam the car door in his face. He went after me in a violent rage, and I don't know what would have happened next if teachers and students hadn't been standing there.

"Just GO," he spat, in a beyond disgusted voice, to show me I was an utter waste of life.

Have you guys ever seen the Dead Poets Society? I watched it again recently and I cried and cried and cried at the storyline about Neil Perry, who's a boy pressured away from acting and into medicine by his rigid, ruthless father. There are some people who do not understand the choice this character makes at the end of the movie. They are the same people who ask me: "Why didn't you fight harder? Why did you let your dad bully you like that? You should have been stronger." But only when you have LIVED an existence like this do you understand how utterly small you feel, how trapped and hopeless, and how you escape any way you can.

I gave in. I declared pre-med, and when my dad left me at my dorm on the first day of freshman year, he kissed me and told me how very proud he was of me. He didn't care how unhappy I was. He preferred that I be wealthy over being content, and he told me to become a heart or brain surgeon (strangely enough, he was flexible there) and then be appointed president of a hospital so he could brag about me to his friends.

It was misery that saved me. Complete and utter misery at studying so hard yet never excelling, filling my brain with organic compounds and mathematical formulas I couldn't possibly care less about, and struggling to grasp concepts that came so easily to my friends, the ones who went pre-med because they were passionate about being healers and caretakers of humanity... not because their parents jerked their puppet strings. Choosing to let my father control me would make me worthy and enough for him. But when would I be worthy and enough for me? What was the point of even living if I was so hopelessly miserable?

I know this sounds dramatic. I know it sounds like a caricature, an overblown perpetuation of the strict, be-a-doctor, Asian parent stereotype. But this was my reality. I lived through this and I came out the other side even more determined. A lot of people praise my discipline and resolve. "You'll definitely make it as a writer," they say, "because you want it so bad." Well, now you know why I want it so bad. Now you know it is the only thing I have ever wanted, and being bullied away from it has only made me want it more. Now you know that when I pursue this dream relentlessly and struggle through all of my setbacks, I am reassuring myself: This is ME.

Looking back, I realize now my father lived a life of fear. Maybe he still lives one. Who knows? I don't particularly care. But I refuse to live that way. I refuse to be so afraid I don't even try. I refuse to settle into a certain way of life and squeeze myself into a box just because it is safe and it pays well.

I will stand up for anyone I see struggling the same way I did. At a family wedding in September, I talked to my youngest cousin, who is a fantastic soccer player like her brothers and dreams of being on the U.S. Women's Soccer Team. I overheard one of our uncles instructing her to go to Yale or Princeton and study pre-med, and then her mother chimed in to insist that she be an accountant. Believe me, I took my cousin aside and shut that down REAL QUICK, respect to elders be damned. "I hope you play in the World Cup one day," I told her. "Go to the school you want to go to. Do the things you dream of doing. At least TRY. Don't ever be anyone else but yourself."

I don't know why some parents push and push and push against their children's natural inclinations. I guess it's because their fear is stronger than their desire for their kid's happiness. Maybe it has something to do with the immigrant mindset: "Hey, we've made it. We're in America. Go big or go home - but only with the three things on this checklist." Anything else is a risk, a gamble, a possible gateway back to being poor and destitute in a friendless foreign country. But they brought us here for freedom: freedom to believe what we want, to live in comfort and security, to have better lives than the ones they had before.

I don't know if I'll ever be successful as a writer. But I'm starting to understand that I'm already successful when I'm being true to myself, and the last decade of my life has been spent learning that. So if you're out there reading this and some small part of it resonates with you, just know that you have the ability to make your own choices. Maybe you're stronger than I am and you'll fight for it in your teens, or maybe you'll come to it later like I did. But know that our parents brought us here to live the lives WE want, even if they don't realize that themselves.

This is why #OwnVoices is so desperately needed and important. We need more Asians in the arts. We need people to share their experiences and breathe life into stories others can't even imagine until they hear them, because they have never lived them like we do. If you are Asian with artistic inclinations, don't ever, ever let anyone kill that part of you. LEAST of all your parents. You and your voice are needed, and even if it's a gamble - even if you'll never be rich and successful - at least you're doing what you love, and at least you're living life by your own rules. Life's just too damn short to live a fake existence. Be odd and weird and nerdy and quirky and strange and unique and beautiful, and do it on your own terms.

I hope, I HOPE, this helps somebody out there.

4.20.2016

Update Time!


Hey, guys! It feels like it's been a while since I last blogged, so it's high time for an update:

WRITING

Since my last post, I have finished the second draft of FOTL and sent it off to another round of CPs and beta readers! I'm happy with how smoothly revisions went. Basically, I took the feedback I received in January for my first draft and went nuts: I added in more details to enrich the mythology of my world, fleshed out some supporting characters' motivations, made my already crazy main character a touch crazier, and worked on making the narrative less internal. I also tightened up the language and managed to bring the manuscript from 106,500 words down to 104,500 (a shadow of its former self... kind of? Not really).

I've already gotten notes back from my fabulous CP, Dianne, who is a super tough, sharp reader. That's what I need at this point in the game - people who are unflinchingly honest and not afraid to tell me what doesn't work. She's given me a lot to think about in terms of world-building, especially with social mores, so I'm eager to see if anyone else has picked up on these issues.

The more I revise, the more I see how much stronger I've become as a writer. I think with each manuscript, it's going to take me fewer drafts to get there... "there" being where I want to be in terms of having the story I've written match up to the story I've envisioned in my head. Because we all know that takes time and a lot of learning and mistakes! (ELEGY had a dozen different drafts!) I'm proud and happy to see things coming together. I am still hopeful that good things will happen (read: maybe a book deal sometime in the next five years??), but I will celebrate this in the meantime :)

So what's next for me?

ADVENTURE BOOK, my new MG project! There are still a couple weeks left of Camp NaNoWriMo. I don't think I'll get to my 20,000 word goal because wrapping up revisions for FOTL took longer than I expected, but I can still get a good chunk written. I'd like to have a completed rough draft before the end of summer, but we'll see what happens. I can't wait to hang out with Clip and Sadie (my spunky, competitive MCs) and see what fun and ridiculous obstacles I can throw in their path!


READING

Here's a little confession: my TBR (to-be-read) pile changes every week.

When I was growing up, my mom would compare my reading habits to eating because I would devour books. Now that I'm a "grown-up," I still link the two because I often get cravings - sometimes for specific books I've read a hundred times (I satisfied my Jane Eyre hunger pangs not long ago) and sometimes for just a general genre. Also, if I go to the library and something catches my eye, or if a book I've had on hold finally comes in, I have to drop everything else and read it first because of the time restriction.

So as much as I'd like to stick to one solid TBR, it shifts all the time.

  • READY PLAYER ONE by Ernest Cline: I'm a little over halfway through and LOVING. THIS. SO. MUCH. I'm not much of a tech geek and I wasn't alive for half of the 80s (the decade heavily referenced in this book), so I was afraid most of it would go over my head. But this book is phenomenal and such a compulsive page-turner. It's set in a bleak future where everyone lives their lives plugged into the OASIS, a high-tech version of our Internet, and competes in a high-stakes video game with billions of dollars on the line. It's so deliciously nerdy and wonderful!

  • THE YOUNG ELITES by Marie Lu: This is one of those aforementioned library books, but I ended up tearing through it not only because of the due date, but because I really enjoyed it. As some of you may know, the MC in FOTL is morally complex, so I was curious to see how it has been done. I loved Adelina. She's so dark and yet you can't help but feel for her. And the ending...! I can't spoil it, but I was totally blindsided and didn't think what happened would happen. I'm not in a rush to read the sequel, simply because I have so many other books to read, but I will make a point to do it someday for sure.

  • UPROOTED by Naomi Novik: Another library book that caught my eye because people have been raving nonstop. I'm on Chapter 3 and have laughed out loud several times already, so that's a good sign! The book has a very old-timey, fairy-tale feel that I love. I actually had to look at the publication date to make sure it wasn't published in the 80s, because it reminds me of Robin McKinley's work. Even the aesthetics of the book - the cover, the type, etc - feel old, which I totally love.


OTHER STUFF

Public Speaking (aaaahhhh): I was recently invited to attend an AMAZING, prestigious writing workshop focused on public speaking. The coolest part? It's usually exclusive to people who are published, not noobs like me! What an honor, right? Unfortunately, I can't make it this year, but I am hoping to attend next spring and will of course be blogging about the whole week!

It's kind of crazy how these things have just been landing in my lap. Last spring, I decided I wanted to go to Ireland, and BAM! I see a tweet from Heather Webb about the Ireland Writer Tours and she encourages me to book a spot for August. And then this winter, I've been working up my courage and actively looking for public speaking classes (without telling a soul) and suddenly I get an email offering me this workshop spot! "Be careful what you wish for" indeed!

Asian and the Arts: I am thinking of doing a blog post soon about growing up creative as a first-generation Asian-American. I've gotten so many messages from lovely Wattpad readers who also come from Asian backgrounds, also love the arts (creative writing in particular), and also have been strongly discouraged from them by parents, and want my advice on what to do.

I've wanted to write something on this subject for a long time, but I didn't know how to do it without sounding first-world-problems-whiny ("Waaah, Mommy and Daddy will only pay my entire college tuition if I study pre-med" etc). But seriously, I think it's an important thing to address, and it's a big part of my life that still affects me and my self-esteem, so I will plan to talk about it at some point. I need to think about it some more first.

Pitch Wars 2016: I will be mentoring middle-grade again this year! I thought about switching to YA, because that was my first choice for last year, but I had such a genuine blast doing MG. The stories are wonderful, the MG mentors are so much fun, and I'm about to write an MG myself (not to mention the word counts are much shorter, which means I'm able to read more full manuscripts AND it frankly makes it easier on my schedule and balancing work/family/real life). So keep your eyes open this summer for the wish list blog hop!



Okay, I think that's a long-enough update! I hope everyone is doing well and writing/revising like the wind!

4.03.2016

My NaNoWriMo Pep Talk!


Happy April, friends!

As most of you who follow me on Twitter and Instagram know, I was in New York City for a few days. You can follow all of my adventures there in photograph format.

I've fallen a bit behind on responding to blog and Wattpad comments, but I'm going to try to catch up this week!

In the meantime, I wanted to share something really cool. Last month, the lovely folks at NaNoWriMo asked me to write a pep talk for everyone who's participating in April's camp. I found out today that they've chosen my pep talk to kick off the entire month!

It was mailed to everyone who has a NaNoWriMo account, but if you do not have or want an account, I've re-posted it here for you guys to read.

I hope it helps you write and/or revise this month no matter what your personal goal is!




Pep Talk: The Beginning of Your Story


Camp NaNoWriMo is nothing without you, our incredible participants. Today, Julie Dao, a fellow Camper, offers you some pep: 
When I first heard about NaNoWriMo, I thought it was the craziest idea ever.
Sure, I’d written 50,000 words before. It’s totally doable in a year or a few months. But 30 days? It sounded to me like a road straight to Carpal Tunnel Valley, floating on a sea of tears, sugary substances, and/or alcohol. And maybe it is for some people.
But you know what? It’s also possible.
What you have to remember is by entering Camp NaNoWriMo, you’re already doing something most people can’t even dream of.
How many times have we all heard, “Oh, I could write a novel if only… [insert lame excuse here]”? Here’s the truth: someone who constantly needs to make excuses about why they’re not writing will never write. Simple as that.
You… you’re different. You don’t make excuses, you make time, and it doesn’t matter whether you’ve ever written a word before. You’re here now, committed, because you truly want to do this. And whether you “win” or not, whether you put down 50,000 words or 50, you’ve taken a step most people don’t bother to take.
Remember that when you open up a blank document or a new notebook. Remember that when you’re struggling to find the words to put down. Remember that your story is one that only you can tell, and it will never exist if you don’t bring it into the world.
What you’re doing requires stamina and courage, because writing is essentially holding up a mirror to see what you look like on the inside. It’s tough and raw and brutal, and it’s a kind of pain—and a kind of peace—no one else really understands unless they write, too.
Be gentle with yourself, and keep your writer buddies close. Anything’s possible if you want it badly enough, and who knows where this road might lead? You might have so much fun that you decide (gasp!) to do it again in November. And maybe again this July.
Because that’s the thing about writing: it becomes a compulsion, until you can’tnot do it. And as hyperbolic as this sounds, it becomes air that you can’t not breathe. At least, it has for me. Maybe this, too, will be the beginning of your lifelong love story with writing.
Wishing you an amazing Camp NaNoWriMo, friends. The world will be a better place for having your words in it!
Appreciate Julie's pep talk? Let her know on Twitter!

3.24.2016

I'm Over at the Writing With the Mentors Blog Today!


Happy Thursday!

Today, I'm over at Writing With the Mentors, home of the Pitch Wars mentors!

The post is all about what it's like working with a literary agent. What has changed? What hasn't changed? What are some pros, cons, and even newer ways to feel neurotic and insecure? (J/K about that last one... maybe.)

I've gathered testimonials from my agented author group, so head on over and check out their pearls of wisdom. Shoutout to Heather, Jordan, Mara, Kati, Austin, and Kevin for their help with this post! Leave your questions there and I'll do my best to answer them.

See ya! ♥

3.17.2016

Invisible Returns


You know in those cartoons when someone's torn between choices, and a little angel and a little devil appear over their shoulders and duke it out?

Most days, that's how I feel about writing. It's this constant struggle between "I'm good at it!" and "I suck, big time." It doesn't have to be triggered by anything. I don't need glowing validation or crushing rejection to buy a ticket on the Emotional Rollercoaster; it's just there all the time. I have to constantly act as mediator between these two parts of myself.

Here are some things I've learned about writing over the years:

(1) Luck matters. Maybe not as much as talent and hard work, but it does matter. In the minestrone soup of publishing, talent is the broth you start with, hard work is the vegetables you sprinkle in generously, and luck is the flavoring that takes it to the next level. Unfortunately, it's out of our control. So much of this is out of our control!

(2) Obvious rewards and milestones are few. I've been pursuing this passion nonstop for years and have not seen a single penny for my trouble.

Meanwhile, my baby brother will soon graduate with a Master's in his passion, engineering, and right away he will make three times as much money as I do in my full-time job. He will love his work, be able to afford to buy and do anything, and sleep at night knowing that every ounce of his effort will pay off tangibly.

That's called non-writer privilege, my friends.

But here's another thing I've learned:

(3) Just because you don't SEE rewards the way you do in other fields of work doesn't mean they don't exist.

It's just that in writing, they tend to manifest in smaller, quieter ways that build up and hit you when you least expect it. That's what happened when I got an agent. That's why I didn't feel - and sometimes still don't feel - like I deserve one. I had been working so hard for so long, with no tangible reward, that I achieved the milestone before I got used to the idea that I'd earned it.

You see, I'm used to putting in effort and seeing something for it. I study, and I become a straight-A student. I put in 100% at work, and I get a raise and/or promotion. I spend time at the gym, and I run faster, longer, and farther.

But writing and publishing don't work that way. Not immediately, and not for everyone.

I am not an overnight success. I am not a groundbreaking sensation. I'm not even that young of a writer anymore. If I get published now, at the age of 30, no one will write a raving article about my youth. Also, in some ways, the deck is stacked against me as a woman of color, writing about characters of color.

But all that aside, I have quite a collection of invisible returns. They've built up silently in dusty corners and appear when I've had time to reflect after another bout of feeling like a worthless failure. You can't work and work and work for years without gathering these. It is impossible NOT to get better when you keep pushing yourself, even if you don't have an agent, or a book deal, or an international world tour to show for it, a.k.a. the visible markers of success.

Want to hear some of the invisible returns I've racked up over the years?

  • I've developed crocodile skin when it comes to criticism about my writing. Rejections will always sting, but I bounce back faster now. I know they aren't personal and and I know they'll help me, even if it's just by giving me closure. I'm actually suspicious now of feedback that is overly positive, because it doesn't help me improve. "Ok, great, but what I can fix?!"

  • My pitches are leaner and meaner than ever. I've always enjoyed writing query letters, and now I'm getting comfortable with synopses, too. All of those contests I entered are coming in handy!

  • Resisting the urge to edit while drafting is now a cinch. I credit NaNoWriMo for this. I have no trouble putting a draft down fast, even if I know certain sections suck. I just keep my eye on "The End" and look forward to cutting out the stinky stuff later.

  • My rough drafts are WORLDS apart from what they were a year ago. They still need work, of course, but I've gotten better at getting a good foundation down that I can build upon later. What's really rewarding is my CPs have noticed it, too!

  • I've reached a point where giving up is no longer an option. Not just because someone else is relying on me to write now, but because I've gotten so far that it would be crazy to stop. There's that saying: "I didn't come this far to just come this far."

  • I'm nice. I attract needy, lonely people, both online and in real life, for whom I am their only friend or a sponge to absorb their insecurities. Dude, I have enough insecurities of my own. When it comes to writing - my lifelong, pathological passion - I refuse to let anyone stand in my way. The road is hard enough without toxic potholes trying to keep me down. I've learned to weed those out and surround myself only with people who lift me up.

  • I'm better at recognizing issues in my writing before they can spread. See: Backstory Dumping, Too Many Dialogue Tags, and the Overuse of "Smiled," "Nodded," and "Shrugged." (You don't want to know how many of those I found in my rough draft!!)

And there are so many, many more.

The point of this post is: I'm going to remember my invisible returns. I'm going to fight those feelings of failure and inadequacy harder than ever.

I will smile (with clenched teeth) and change the subject when people tell me, "Oh, you're still doing that writing thing? Huh. I wonder why nothing's happened for you."

And when my younger brothers are wildly successful and buying mansions and sports cars, and I'm still a nobody struggling with revisions, I will remind myself of the word I chose for 2016: TRUST. Trust that my hard work will pay off. Trust that I'm doing what I love. Trust that one day things will become clearer.

What are some invisible returns you've collected over the years?




2.20.2016

Thoughts On Pitch Contests


You guys know that I'm a veteran of the query trenches, but that I got my agent through a pitch contest. I think querying is the most surefire way of getting your manuscript on someone's desk, and you get to decide who you want to see your project, as opposed to putting it out there for anybody who's interested. That being said, pitch contests can be super fun and rewarding! (Clearly, in my case!)

So here are some pros and cons I've come across during my time on the contest circuit:


PROS

  • It's a fast, easy way to hook interest. It's basically querying on crack. When you send letters out, it could take up to 2-3 months to hear back (if you ever hear back at all). But generally pitch contests take place within a compact, designated time frame, and if you get interest, you know it'll come within that hour/day/week. That being said, even if you get a bite, you still will have to wait after you send your pages. In my experience, agents who requested from me during contests tended to be more excited and read faster, but this is not a hard-and-fast rule.

  • If you're good at writing short book descriptions, this is the way to go. Pitch contests favor those who are skilled at condensing their novel into a very short space, whether that's 140 characters on Twitter or 30-word paragraphs. If you're not into writing queries or synopses, and/or if your book has amazing comp titles that pack an immediate punch, pitch contests are a good thing to try.

  • It's a great way to make friends and find CPs. I'm still friends with both of my Pitch Wars mentors (I'm meeting one of them in person next month!) and most of my Pitch Wars teammates, and one of my coaches for Cupid is now my CP. It's a fantastic way to find people whose books you'd be interested in and who might like your books, too. I recommend exchanging a few pages or chapters before diving in headfirst, though. Just because you're great friends doesn't always mean you'll suit perfectly as CPs.

  • You can build up interest and a potential readership. My #PitMad pitch was one of the most highly requested in March 2014, and I saw a huge spike in Twitter followers and blog views. I also started following a ton of new people after I read their pitches. Plus, it's fun to see careers begin that way! I actually first started following one of my mentors, Nat, when I saw her popular pitch in a contest that won her a big agent. A year later, she mentored me in Pitch Wars and her book (that began as that pitch!) landed on my doorstep.

  • It's a good way to attract agents you might not otherwise have queried. I don't know if I would have queried my agent with my project. I was intimidated by her client list and sales, and didn't know if she'd want a quieter story like mine. I almost didn't do #PitMad that day, and I'm so, so glad I did.


CONS

  • It's open to the public. So EVERYONE will know if you don't get requests. If this is something that bothers you, you may want to consider straight-up querying, because at least then whatever happens is restricted to your inbox. Also remember that having no requests is not tied to your talent, self-worth, or likelihood of getting agented. (See the post I linked to at the top.)

  • You may be giving someone ideas. This shouldn't come as a surprise to anyone, because what you're essentially doing is sharing the premise of your unpublished manuscript with the world. And where there are ideas, there will be people who steal them, either unconsciously or on purpose. It's never pleasant to see a pitch that has your hook, your premise, and your "unique" spin on it (and even a direct phrase from your query) a year later in the exact same contest you entered, being sent to the exact same mentors who mentored you. Yes, this happened to me, and yes, my Twitter inbox and email were spammed by people saying "OMG Jules did you see this pitch..." But this is a risk we take, and in my case, it paid off because I got an agent!

  • You may feel pressured to submit to people you don't want to submit to. In my case, it was editors. I knew --- I knew knew KNEW --- I wanted an agent to manage my career. But it was still tempting when editors from great, reputable imprints requested from me. I had to resist submitting to them because I knew they weren't what I wanted. Some friends got requests from very green agents, when they preferred more experienced agents from better agencies who had actually made deals before. That's okay and a totally valid thing to want. If someone gets annoyed because they requested and you didn't send, well, that's unfortunate for them. You did them a favor by not wasting their time.


And here are some more things to think about if you're planning on doing a pitch contest:

  • Have someone who has read your manuscript also read your pitch. Does your pitch do justice to the story? Does it include everything it should?

  • Have someone who HASN'T read your manuscript read your pitch. Do they get the gist of the story? Is it confusing? Does it make them want to read the book?

  • You can usually find pitches from previous years in the archives or on the contest hashtag. Which ones got the highest requests? What do they have in common? How were they phrased?

  • If you're having trouble writing a pitch, talk about your manuscript out loud. It doesn't matter if you're talking to your boyfriend, your dog, or a mirror. Describe the book in a concise, exciting way. Sometimes talking it out can help you through a block on paper.


I hope this helps those of you who are thinking about doing one of the many pitch contests this year!

P.S. This is super early, but I am planning to mentor again in Pitch Wars this August. So if you have a middle-grade manuscript, think about submitting to me maybe? :)

If anyone has more advice or feedback on contests, please feel free to sound off in the comments!

2.07.2016

A Few Updates, and a Cool Microsoft Word Thing I Learned


Hey, everyone! It's been a while since I've updated, so I thought I would check in and catch you up on what's been happening lately!


♥ PPP On Wattpad

PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS is about to hit 200,000 views on Wattpad. Which means that it's well on its way to reaching a quarter of a million views or more within less than a year of being posted there. For a book that multiple savvy people assured me would not do well, that's pretty amazing!!! I'm so grateful to be able to share the manuscript with my target audience this way!

I've got something fun planned for my readers once we get to 200K. Not a sequel, not yet, but hopefully something they will enjoy. If you have been reading, commenting, and/or spreading the word, thank you SO much for doing that.

I know this is, in reality, a very small accomplishment (it's not like I sold 200,000 copies of a book or anything like that!) but it makes me happy and it makes me feel like a REAL WRITER. Wattpad seems to be a truly valuable marketing platform to reach potential readers, and if anything, it's a great way to find validation. It's a lower priority than the projects I do hope to get published, but I will 100% keep it up.



♥ Current Projects and the Pomodoro Technique

Speaking of projects I do hope to get published, I've been trying something new this week: alternating between revising my YA and drafting my new MG. It's actually been a really helpful way to work nonstop without getting mentally exhausted, because switching to the other manuscript has a weirdly refreshing effect on my brain.

Have you guys heard of the Pomodoro technique for time management? It involves setting a timer for 25-minute increments, during which you work intensely, and then take a 5-minute break before beginning again. After four increments, you get an hour-long break or something like that.

There's a fancy app you can download and a timer you can buy, but honestly? I just use my phone. I prefer to set it for 30 minutes (because then the number of increments you do calculates nicely into hours a day) and write hard during that half-hour. I'm not as easily distracted because I know I have a time limit and the minutes are ticking away. Then I get a 10-minute break to stretch or walk around (or read a chapter or two, as in the case of this week, since I was obsessed with E.K. Johnston's A THOUSAND NIGHTS... highly recommend).



♥ 25 Steps to Traditional Publishing

Chances are, if your boss / co-worker / friend / boyfriend's little sister / mother-in-law knows that you are a writer, you have been asked for publishing advice. Multiply this by 100,000 if you are represented by a literary agent and/or actually have a book or book deal.

The way they see it, you have the Magic Formula (ooh!) and you must, MUST share it with them, so that they may too quickly become agented and/or published. Emphasis on the quickly.

This was discussed in one of my writer Facebook groups, and somebody suggested that when faced with these overzealous would-be writers, you should send them this blog post written by Delilah S. Dawson. It's called "25 Steps to Being a Traditionally Published Author: The Lazy Bastard Edition," and it is HILARIOUS. Most importantly, however, it reinforces the idea that writing and publishing are much harder than people expect, and require a lot of work.

I don't know where the misconception comes from that publishing a book traditionally is easy. But I admit I had it at one time (straight A's in English and creative writing mean nothing in the real world) and some of my loved ones still do. "There are SO many books at Barnes and Noble! Look how easy it is! Everyone can do it!"

NOPE.



♥ Real-Life Updates

I am hoping to go back to work full-time soon! This writing sabbatical has been glorious and amazing and everything I've dreamed of, but it's time to jump back into the real world. I will be forever grateful that I got to experience what it might be like to be a full-time writer, and I managed to write an entire new novel during these months off. But, fingers crossed, I am looking forward to juggling work with writing once more. Whoever said "The less time you have, the more you get done" is completely right. Nights and weekends have always been my special allotted writing time, and I'm looking forward to hopefully having that again.

Next month, I am heading back to NYC for a couple of days. I'll be meeting up with some writer friends, and I think it will be an absolute blast. We've had this planned for quite some time and will definitely be photo-documenting the hangout! I'm hoping to pop in and say hi to Tamar, too, so it'll be a fun time!



♥ Microsoft Word Trick!

This is a pretty neat trick I learned for revisions.

When I send out my manuscript to CPs/betas, almost all of them leave bubble comments in Word as they read. So a couple of weeks ago, I got my manuscript back from four people at once, and I wanted to see whether they had the same reactions to certain sections of the book. I had heard of merging multiple Word documents into one before, but didn't know whether this would carry the Tracked Changes and comments over.

I hopped on Google to find out how to do this, and BAM!

Merge comments and changes from several documents into 1 document

My favorite part of doing this is getting to see "OMG!" "OMG!" "OMG!" "OMG!" in four different comment bubbles on the same sentence.




How are you guys and your writing projects doing? If you're on Wattpad, send me a message there and I'll follow you. Also, let me know if you try the comment-compiling trick in Word and whether it helps you or not!

1.20.2016

A Little Write Music #34: Woodkid and Diplo


Earlier this month, I started drafting my first middle-grade book since PPP! After writing two very dark-themed YA books, it was a relief to tap into a lighter, more humorous voice again.

This is the first book I've ever written where the title didn't automatically appear alongside the story idea, so for now, I'm calling it Adventure Book. It's an action/adventure fantasy about a rival brother-sister duo who get caught up in an elaborate game, and I am psyched out of my mind about the concept! I've had the idea for some time (this seems like a common theme with me, doesn't it?), and I'm thrilled to be working on it at long last.

Unlike my previous stories, Adventure Book's inspiration soundtrack is a lot more action-y and fast-paced. The challenges my characters face are athletic, so I've been listening to a lot of my workout music. Unfortunately I can't share most of it because it's all rap and hip-hop, and the songs tend to have a lot of... um, scandalous lyrics. If I'm aspiring to be a hybrid MG/YA author, my blog needs to be professional, classy, and a safe place to come to for young writers/readers, too (which is why I try hard not to drop f-bombs). I'm aware that kids come across these things in daily life, but I'd rather not have them do so here.

Anyway, here are two songs that represent the playlist pretty well!

I really like "Run Boy Run" by Woodkid. It has just the right intensity, and the lyrics fit my story pretty well: Run boy run, they're dying to stop you / Run boy run, this race is a prophecy.




"Revolution" by Diplo is another song that fits Adventure Book nicely. I almost thought about putting it on my FOTL inspiration playlist because of the lyric: The monsters in my head are scared of love. But the beat and intensity really remind me more of this new book! This is the Run DMT remix:




I have my work cut out for me for the next few months, what with drafting and edits! But I will 100% keep blogging here as regularly as I can.

Recently, I joined the Pitch Wars mentors' official blog and I will be doing a guest post in mid-March about what it's like working with an agent! I've polled the Lucky 13s, my awesome posse of newly-agented-but-not-yet-sold writers, so you will be getting a gold-mine of information and insight. In the meantime, check out the blog for great tips and advice from the other mentors!

I hope you are all having a great January so far!

1.04.2016

How I Revise A Rough Draft


Happy New Year!

2016 is going to be a good one, and I can't wait to see what it has in store for all of us!

There are some fantastic books coming out, including THE RAVEN KING by Maggie Stiefvater and CARAVAL by Stephanie Garber, which was incredible in draft form and will be even more so as a published novel, I'm sure. These are two of my most anticipated reads! My TBR pile is growing by the day, especially since I got a bunch of Barnes and Noble gift cards for Christmas, but... it's a good problem to have! I'm also looking forward to reading my critique partners' brand-new projects.

Speaking of brand-new projects, I recently turned in the second draft of FOTL. I had a self-imposed deadline of December 31 and I squeaked in a few days early! It was a bit rough because I had to literally rewrite 85% of the book. I scrapped a subplot, changed the arc of the main plot, and tinkered with my characters quite a bit.

I probably wrote three new scenes for every one I deleted, which is why the word count grew from 95,000 words to a final total of 106,500. (About 326 pages in Microsoft Word for non-writers who want to know!)

So, because I promised to blog about my revision process, here is a quick look at how I fix up a rough draft. Yes, it is a LOT of work. No, it won't be effective for everyone. I'm very organized and methodical in the way I revise, which takes the magic out of writing for many people, I know. But it's how I operate best and it has helped me come up with many relatively clean drafts for readers!





  1. Reread the entire manuscript. I gave myself one week off after completing the rough draft, and then read the entire thing from top to bottom.

  2. While reading, I made a chapter outline. That's what you see in the top two rows in the picture. I typed a brief overview of what happens in each chapter, then printed it and laid it out chronologically. This shows me the scope of my entire book in one glance.

  3. While reading, I made a list of things to fix. I noted down problems that I saw and ideas on how to fix them. They were as simple as "Describe the surroundings more in the market scene" and as complicated as changing the arc of a relationship, which requires adding/deleting scenes, adjusting dialogue, and occasionally even rewriting an entire character.

  4. Organize the list of things to fix. The list turned out to be about 6-7 pages long. I broke them up into categories: Plot Revisions, World-Building Revisions, and Character Revisions, then printed them out. That's what you see in the third row of the photo.

  5. I killed a ton of sticky notes. I scribbled the needed edits on sticky notes by color (I was only halfway done in the photo above!). Yellow meant plot changes and new scenes, green meant characterization changes, pink meant world-building, and purple meant line edits. Then, on the chapter outline, I stuck the changes wherever they needed to go. This gave me a great visual before revising and helped identify problem areas, AND I could move the edits as necessary when scenes shifted while rewriting. I moved the stickies many, many times before the end.

  6. Begin revising. I'm a plotter, so having that brand-new chapter outline --- complete with everything I had to fix, organized by chapter --- was a godsend. It helped me feel less overwhelmed, because I could take one page at a time and focus on the sticky notes on that page. Then I'd work on the next page, and so on, until the whole book was done. Some changes took hours to make, while others took entire days. Aside from that week off after finishing the rough draft, I worked nonstop every single day (including Christmas Eve and Christmas Day) to complete these revisions. I think it was worth it, because I'm pretty happy with this draft, even with the kinks I know still need to be worked out!


Before I get the inevitable "You know you can do that in Tracked Changes?" or "You should buy Scrivener," I have to point out that this process helps me because it is away from the computer. I am touching the scenes with my fingers, and physically moving them around on the sticky notes. I find it effective to do it this way before jumping back in front of a glowing screen.

I'm planning to revisit these steps after I get feedback on the manuscript. Hopefully it won't be as extensive (fingers crossed), but I fully expect to do several more rounds of revision before the manuscript is "done"!

I hope this helps those of you who've asked about my revision process! We all have different techniques that work for us, so feel free to try any part or none at all, if you're not type A like me or writing a fantasy, which I feel requires a lot more organization and planning.

How do you guys revise? Do you see any similarities between our processes? And if you blog about how your process, please leave a link in the comments as I would love to check it out!

12.19.2015

2015: Looking Back!


What a year it has been! I got a little farklempt drafting this post because I couldn't help remembering this time in 2014. That December, I was beyond burnt out and discouraged from the endless, maddening cycle of querying, revising, and entering contests, and I'm pretty sure this week was the week I texted close writer friends to tell them I was giving up on traditional publishing at last. I simply didn't have what it took.

"If it was meant to be," I told them, "then it wouldn't be this hard."

If I ever publish an autobiography one day, it would be titled "Close, But No Cigar: The Julie Dao Story." There is nothing that punches the heart harder than getting riiiight up there to that elusive door, and then having it slam in your face, over and over and over. Honestly? I would have preferred not getting into every contest I entered. I would have preferred form rejections over R&Rs that never panned out. At least then, I would have known what to fix. I would have been able to move on. It drove me CRAZY that I was clearly doing everything right, I had a query letter that worked, and I had written a tight manuscript, and still couldn't get over the hurdle for some reason.

This Adele song, "Chasing Pavements," was my freakin' anthem in 2014.


Should I give up
Or should I just keep chasing pavements
Even if it leads nowhere?





JANUARY

There is nothing quite like being a depressed writer... unless it's a depressed writer with a broken leg. Last winter was quite possibly the worst winter of my entire life, and keep in mind I am a native New Englander. But there is nothing anyone can do to prepare for EIGHT FEET of snow. It was nor'easter after nor'easter, and I wouldn't be surprised if some Bostonians broke out into hives at the words "winter storm warning."

And, because snowbanks twice as tall as me weren't enough, there was also plenty of ice! Yay! I was on my way to work when I became a landing cushion for a woman who had slipped. Let me rephrase that: my left kneecap became a landing cushion for a woman who had slipped. Luckily, I worked at a hospital, so a doctor checked it out right away. My x-ray showed a horizontal crack right across the patella. My first broken bone!

I am so grateful I didn't need knee surgery, though. I just had to shuffle around with a brace (to keep the two pieces of the bone together, and prevent them from cracking apart further) and go to physical therapy. And I'm happy to report that my knee is pretty much back to normal, except for the fact that I still can't kneel on a hard floor. Found that out the hard way when I dropped a pen under my desk... OUCH.


FEBRUARY

I won't go back into this story, because you guys know all about it. Suffice it to say, I was in a state of complete and utter disbelief for two weeks. I kept pacing, panicking, and wondering how I had tricked these incredible agents into liking my book and liking me enough to offer. They were supposed to say "no" like everybody else! I was 100% sure they would back out and say, "Oh, sorry, I didn't mean to offer to you. I confused you with someone else." But they didn't. They opened the publishing door for me.

The day I posted this on Twitter felt unreal. I remember it took me three whole days to respond to all of your comments and messages on Twitter, Facebook, email, and this blog, because I wanted to make sure you all knew how much I appreciated your words. Luckily, I was snowed in and couldn't go to work because the trains had been shut down all over the city (big surprise), so that was what I spent my time doing! It was glorious!



MARCH - APRIL

I dove into final revisions with more enthusiasm than I ever thought I'd have, considering I had read this manuscript approximately 85 billion times. But this time, I had Tamar to tell me if I was screwing up or not. What a world of difference that made, to not have to go it alone anymore.

It also hit me then that this was getting pretty real. Like... I was one step away from literally achieving my dream. (Well, not one step, technically. But still a LOT closer.) So I kept doing what I was doing with my online "platform," or whatever (meaning I messed around on Twitter when I should have been brainstorming my new project). And, after Googling myself and finding a hundred other Julie Daos, I officially added my middle initial on all of my social media.

And then this happened in April:




What Happened In My Head

Friend: So, why are you going to New York again this weekend?
Me: (casually picks at nails) I'm trying on bridesmaid dresses with my cousin, and catching a Broadway show. Oh, and I might grab coffee with my agent. No big deal.


What Happened For Real

Friend: So, why are you going to New York again this weekend?
Me: (incoherent babbling)


Yes, I am a dork and I get REALLY excited about things that other people probably just take in stride. I've actually been criticized before for being too cheesy and sappy and rose-colored-glasses-y on my blog. But you know what? That's who I am. When big things happen in my life, I am going to celebrate them to the fullest. Life's too short to be cool and collected, and my writing road has been too hard. So I took my over-excited self on a train to NYC and got to meet Tamar and Laura and tour their office!


SUMMER

This year has been a phenomenal one, but also a really hard one in different ways. (See: autobiography title above.) My manuscript and I reached a point that some writers never, ever get to. After all this time, I was getting signs that... maybe I do have what it takes. I wanted to give my full attention to my next project, FOTL, and just get it written. The idea had been in my head since I was 13, but I had never felt ready enough to write it. Now, at last, I had the confidence to try. So I made the choice to do something a little crazy and maybe not so smart, but something I needed: writing full-time for a short while.

After consulting with Tamar, I also decided to post PUMPKIN PATCH PRINCESS on Wattpad. It terrified me because I wrote this book when I was still learning how to write well. The thought of posting a beginner effort for the public was scary, but having it languish away on my hard drive made me sad because I love it so much.




Well, it turned out to be the right move because within months, it got Featured Story status on the front page of Wattpad, hit #39 on the Teen Fiction list out of millions of books, and got almost 150,000 views. Those numbers, and the overwhelming response I've gotten from teen and tween readers (the people for whom I actually write!) gave me the boost of confidence I needed. Many of them have been kind enough to jump onboard and follow me, saying they'd buy a print copy of PPP or anything else I publish. I knew if I could convince them to like a book I had written years ago, I might be able to write something else they'd also enjoy, now that I've spent all this time learning the craft.





In August, I got another boost of confidence. I went on the Ireland Writer Tours trip led by Susan Spann and Heather Webb, and their feedback on my early pages of FOTL was amazing and smart. Heather told me that when my pages came in, she called Susan and they discussed how much they loved the story on the phone! I did have to tone it way down, though, because they thought it was adult epic fantasy (it's YA). And then Susan gave me the idea for the ending of Book #1 and helped me figure something out that I'd been stuck on for months. I returned home with a better understanding of my characters and the whole arc of the series I'd envisioned. I am hoping I get the chance to write the second/companion book one day!

Also, this is a thing that happened over the summer:





If you know me at all, you know I am the BIGGEST Maggie Stiefvater fangirl. It's no secret that I think she's one of the greatest YA writers living today, and SCORPIO RACES ripped me apart and changed me as a writer. Basically, she is just a little below J.K. Rowling on my list of author heroes, and that's saying a lot. I won a sheet of her Tarot card illustrations on one of her Twitter contests, and she mailed it to me with a gracious note, and has been following me ever since! I sometimes wonder if she'll catch on to the fact that she never unfollowed me and has been seeing all of my annoying inspirational tweets and Instagram pics littering her timeline...



FALL AND WINTER

I was a dutiful Pitch Wars mentee to N.K. Traver and Stephanie Garber, and gave them what they'd always wanted: a GRAND-MENTEE! Yes, I added the lovely and talented Lorien Hallama to our little writer family tree. Her query and full manuscript knocked my socks off when I was in Ireland. I got so many amazing entries that I wish I could have picked them all, but in the end, I chose Lorien.

What an experience it was to help someone through the hurdles I'd jumped myself just a year ago. To this day, I still email Nat and Stephanie in a writing crisis, and I knew just how important it was to have a mentor and friend who'd gone through the same thing. I wanted to be that for someone else, which is why I jumped into Pitch Wars mentoring. And I intend to do it again next year!




Finally, just short of 95,000 words, I finished the rough draft of FOTL. I have been revising ever since (read: rewriting almost everything because I didn't really figure the true plot out until I finished drafting) and will do one more read-through before I hit "send." Self-imposed deadline is end of 2015!


- ♥ -


In summary, this year has been pretty great. Things happened that I honestly believed never would. And amazing things happened to many close writer friends, too: several of them snagged agents and/or book deals, some self-published, and one scored an enormous book deal AND movie deal. So if you are in the boat I was in last year, just remember: next year could be your year. Anything can happen.

After all this time, I've at last learned not to make goals based on things I can't control. So my resolution is to write three brand-new books next year --- I'm planning two middle-grade books and a YA --- and to make them as great as possible. I'm going to go back to work, but even though writing will once more happen only on nights and weekends, I am determined to accomplish this goal!

Thanks, as always, for sticking with me and my blog. I will never forget how much you guys have helped me! Here's to a bright and happy 2016 for all of us!

11.24.2015

DIY: Giving Thanks With Framed Quotes!


So, this is my blog's SEVENTH Thanksgiving! It is definitely an old lady in blog years, and I am proud that it's still around and kicking.

One of my goals is to use this blog to show my progression from baby writer to better writer, to agented writer, to published writer (come on, universe!). Those types of blogs always encourage me the most because they show that 1) getting better at writing takes a ton of time and hard work, and 2) it can be done. And isn't it fun to read someone's early blog entries and discover that they, too, struggled with querying/revising/coming up with an idea/typing words?

The one thing you'll find out about me is I am disgustingly optimistic. My positivity is a cockroach that can't be killed. Each time I sink into a puddle of misery and anxiety, I bounce back even more determined than before. So I'm still holding out hope that I will achieve this blog goal. Only time will tell...

Anyway, every Thanksgiving, I talk about things I am thankful for. And even if I don't mention them, my writer friends are always near the top of the list. They keep me sane and afloat, talk me off ledges, push me to finish my new projects so they can read them, and believe in me absolutely.

They treat my successes as their own, and trust me, that is hard to find. The friends I choose to keep around are the ones from whom I never have to hide good news. And I refuse to rain on my own parades anymore in a business where the parades are few and far between!

This year, I wanted to return the favor to my writing buddies. I wanted to show how much I believed in them, and to give them support and encouragement. So I took one day off this weekend from revising (I know, shocker) and spent it doing something fun and crafty for some of my pals!

BEHOLD!


The DIY Framed Quotes Project!

I am obsessed with inspirational quotes, as you can tell from my Pinterest board HERE. I pin them, I write them on sticky notes, and now... I frame them.

I found these cute mini wooden frames at a craft store nearby (scroll down to see), and they gave me the idea for the project! I searched Pinterest and Google for quotes I loved and made me think of the friends I had in mind for one reason or another.

Once I had my list, I traced the wooden frames on cardstock (I had postcards!) and then hand-lettered the quotes with black and/or purple gel pens. The ink kept smudging, which was annoying, but I think the trick is to let it dry a bit between steps next time.




I also think I'll use colored cardstock next time, instead of using colored pencils because that also made the ink smudge (even after waiting a good long while for it to dry!). But I still really like the way they turned out, especially after I cut around the frames, leaving half an inch around the border for glueing purposes.




Each frame was pretty thin, so I had this idea that I would glue two framed quotes back-to-back. So if my friends got bored with one quote, they could flip the frame over! Voila!

I used a glue stick, because I didn't have anything else on hand, but I would definitely use liquid glue next time. Hopefully the frames are staying together... they're in the mail right now.




And here is what the finished product looks like! Cute, right?!




I flipped them all over and here are the quotes on the backs:




I had so much fun with this project, and I think it's a nice, unique way to say "Thanks!" and give encouragement to writer buddies in turn.

Let me know if you try anything similar, because I want to see pictures!

Happy Thanksgiving if you are celebrating it this week. I hope you get to spend it with people you care about, and also some delicious food!

11.18.2015

Recharging Your Writing/Revising Batteries


Here's the thing about writing as a full-time job: it never really ends.

I love waking up every day excited to work. I love it so much, I've been writing all day, all night, and almost every weekend. And when I'm doing other things, like eating, showering, or (gasp!) being social, I'm feeling antsy and guilty about not writing.

But that's a recipe for burnout, right? And today the burnout hit. I'm currently revising my fantasy, which is super, super fun because of the world-building and character-expanding that I get to do. But as excited as I was to rewrite my chapter, I found when I sat down that I felt... tired. Restless. Stuck.

So I gave myself permission to take the rest of the day off, seeing as I haven't really done that in weeks. I told myself that other typical full-time jobs don't require working around the clock, nights and weekends included. Plus, it's healthy to get away from the manuscript.

I still feel a tiny bit guilty, but it's not like I need to be in front of the computer to be working.

I can be productive and recharge the creative juices in other ways:


  1. I can work out. For some reason, I make a lot of breakthroughs at the gym. I'll be on the elliptical or running on the track, listening to inspiring music, and whatever plot problem's been bugging me suddenly becomes clear. I really think getting up and moving around helps my writer brain work in different ways.

  2. I can read a book. I like to keep a variety of books on my nightstand, and switch it up whenever the mood strikes. Right now, I'm reading my agent sibling Laura Andersen's BOLEYN KING, a stunning alternate history about what might have happened if Anne Boleyn had given Henry VIII a son. I'm switching it up with Anne Bishop's Black Jewels trilogy, which is high fantasy, and am also rereading Maggie Stiefvater's SCORPIO RACES. So just among those three alone, I have inspiration for court politics, epic storylines, and atmospheric settings. All of these are part of the book I'm currently writing.

  3. I can watch a movie. I just rewatched "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon" for the inspiring fight scenes and the star-crossed love story. And I definitely jotted down some notes about random things like clothing, furniture, weaponry, and food! Counts as research!

  4. I can color. My lovely CP, Melody Marshall, bought me this coloring book as a little pick-me-up present. I haven't colored in a long, long time, but I'm glad I've started again because it seems to have the same effect as working out. While my body's focused on a repetitive motion, my brain is wandering and finding corners of my story I hadn't considered before. It's also calming and stress-relieving.

  5. Talk it out with a writer buddy. Even if I'm just telling my CP about a scene I wrote that day, their reaction and comments can be invaluable. And I can store them up for my next writing session.

  6. Blog. I know blogging isn't so hot anymore, because hardly anyone keeps up with it, but I still love it! And I still get good traffic, even if most people lurk without commenting nowadays. (That's fine, I don't judge!) I find writing about writing to be relaxing and inspiring, and it usually does the trick.


What do you do when you're recharging? What do you find to be restful and inspiring?

11.11.2015

Stretches For Writers!


Back in June, I blogged about taking a temporary "sabbatical" to focus on writing full-time.

Now, into my fourth month of the experiment, I can confirm that it is 1) amazing to have only my story occupying my thoughts from morning til night, 2) sometimes really stressful to have only my story occupying my thoughts from morning til night, and 3) pretty damn hard on the body. Especially the, uh, lower body.

Okay, I'll just say it... my butt muscles hurt from sitting too much.

As successful as the experiment has proven (seeing as I typed "The End" on my rough draft last Tuesday), it has also been more stressful on my joints and muscles. Before I traded in blazers for sweatpants, I would at least get up to go to the cooler, or walk to the cafeteria with a coworker, or shepherd my students around the hospital. When the weather was nice, we'd walk a few blocks to Starbucks or watch people play Frisbee with their dogs on the quad.

Now I'm just at my desk constantly. I go to the gym three times a week, but those are only 1-2 hour spurts of exercise. The rest of the time, it's butt-in-chair-hands-on-keyboard.

So, I've been making a point to do a 30-minute stretch routine after every long bout of writing, usually 2-3 times a day. Most of the stretches were recommended by my physical therapist, who helped me get back up and running after I busted my knee in January. I can report that I feel a LOT better after each stretch break, and more energized and focused. And, it's a nice excuse to get away from that glowing screen!

I thought it might be fun to share a few of my stretches with you guys (and timely, because of NaNoWriMo).

I stretch on a yoga mat, but you can probably just do these on a nice open floor space anywhere.




BUTT AND LEGS

  • Hamstrings

    • Hamstrings get SUPER tight when all you do is sit all day. Here are a couple of stretches that target these muscles behind your thighs.

      • Hurdle Stretch: Sit on the floor. Stretch both legs in front of you. Bend the right knee sideways, pressing the bottom of your right foot against the inside of your left leg. Reach for your left toes and hold 30 seconds. You should feel the stretch on the back of your left thigh. Switch legs.

      • Bed/Sofa Stretch: Standing about a foot away, rest your right heel on the bed or couch. Lean forward and touch your toes, holding 30 seconds. Switch legs.

  • Glutes

    • This is my favorite butt stretch (that sounds so weird).

      • Adapted Pigeon Stretch: Lie on your stomach. Bend your right knee sideways and underneath you, so your chest is resting directly on it. Stretch your other leg out behind you. You should feel the stretch in your right glute. Hold for 30 seconds, then switch legs. (Here's a picture of this stretch.)

  • Hip Flexors

    • These muscles also get super tight from sitting. If you have knee issues, do this on a soft, folded-over blanket.

      • Hip Flexor Stretch: This is like a kneeling lunge. Kneel on your left knee. Lean forward by pushing your right foot forward on the floor, keeping your back straight. You should feel a stretch on the front of your left thigh. Hold 30 seconds, then switch.

  • Calves

    • This is a good stretch if you have access to stairs. Hold on tight!

      • Step Stretch: Stand with both feet together on a step. Holding onto the railing, place the toes of your right foot on the edge of the step, and lower your right heel down. Hold 30 seconds, then switch.


NECK AND SHOULDERS


  • Neck

    • You can do this while standing or sitting. Be REALLY gentle with these stretches and don't put too much pressure on your neck.

      • Side Neck Stretch: Tilt your right ear toward your shoulder. Place your right hand on the left side of your head and apply gentle pressure. You should feel a stretch on the left side of your neck. Hold 15 seconds, then switch sides.

      • Diagonal Neck Stretch: Same as above, but this time, lower your chin to the right side of your chest. Apply gentle pressure to the back of your head. Hold 15 seconds, then repeat by lowering chin to the left side of your chest.

  • Shoulders

    • This one's perfect if you have access to a doorway. It looks a little strange (someone once caught me doing it, looked around, and said "Where's the camera?" because it looked like I was awkwardly posing/modeling) but it's sooo worth it.

      • Pec Stretch: Stand in an open doorway. Brace your left arm inside the doorway and step forward with your left foot. You can put your right hand on your hip if you want. You should feel this in your left armpit and left side of your chest. Hold 30 seconds, then switch sides.


HANDS AND WRISTS


  • Hand Stretches

    • You can do this standing or sitting. Again, be super, SUPER gentle with these stretches. We're writers. Our hands/wrists = our livelihood, so you don't want to pull too hard and hurt yourself.

      • Palm Out: Stick your right arm straight in front of you, palm facing out like you're directing traffic. With your left hand, GENTLY bend your right fingers and thumb backward until you feel a stretch in the wrist. Hold 15 seconds, then switch.

      • Fingers Down: Stick your right arm straight in front of you, fingers pointing down to the floor, palm facing you. With your left hand, gently bend your right fingers and thumb toward you. Hold 15 seconds, then switch.

      • Reverse: Stick your right arm straight in front of you, fingers pointing down to the floor, palm facing out this time. (Like you're about to backhand some deadlines.) With your left hand, gently bend your right fingers and thumb toward you. Hold 15 seconds, then switch.


If you give them a try, let me know what you think! (And if you find my directions too confusing, you should be able to find pictures of these online.)

Happy writing/stretching!

11.01.2015

A Little Write Music #33: Loreena, Penny Dreadful, Adele


Happy November!

I can't believe how fast October flew by. At the beginning of the month, my draft of FOTL was 11,000 words heavy. Earlier this week, I crossed the 87,000 word mark. I still have a few scenes left to write, so it looks as though this first draft will end at close to 95K. That's 10K longer than my estimate, but no big deal... just gonna roll with it!

I'm pretty happy with how this draft has turned out! I've said this before, but no matter how much I try to plot beforehand (and it does help, clearly, because I threw down over 75K in one month), there are things that just need to be written first before I can figure them out.

For instance, I knew how my world was laid out because I drew a map, but I didn't know the exact details until I traveled through it with my characters. I knew where I wanted my main character's general arc to go, but now I get it even more because I've spent 300 pages with her. I laid out the rules of magic before I began writing, but now that I've seen characters use it, I understand them better.

I'm wrapping up this rough draft in a few days, and then I'm taking a week off to do research, reread the manuscript, and make a plan of attack for revisions.

I remember feeling this confident before I revised ELEGY for the last major time... and it got me an agent! I really feel like I'm getting stronger as a writer with every manuscript. I pour everything I have into studying what works and what doesn't, and listening carefully to all of the critique I get, even if I don't quite agree. There's a nugget to be taken from every piece of feedback, which is why the best thing we can do for ourselves is to listen. Getting defensive is a reflex, but it's also a crutch... an excuse not to get better. And what's the point of writing if we don't think we can/should get better?

So that is my plan for the month of November.

That, and cheering on my wonderful Pitch Wars mentee this week! Her MG mystery, BITS AND PIECES, is going to be featured during the Agent Round and I'll be support-tweeting like crazy! Check out Lorien's blog here.

And without further ado, here is some music that has been inspiring me as I wrap up this draft:





I've been a fan of Loreena McKennitt since I heard her music in the "Mists of Avalon" movie (terrible adaptation, btw. Read the book instead!). Her music and Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble have been heavy influences on FOTL since the planning stages. They always successfully transport me somewhere far away.





I am obsessed with Penny Dreadful and Abel Korzeniowski's haunting score. There is one character I am studying relentlessly, because they do horrible things, yet they're one of my favorite people on the show. It's a lesson that the darkest characters can get away with anything as long as your audience feels deeply for them.




And of course, the queen... Adele! The lyrics in her new song are perfect for my two lead characters.


What are your plans for November? Are you doing NaNoWriMo, or are you hanging out with me in the revision cave?

10.28.2015

My Halloween Read Recommendations!


Halloween is only a few days away!

If you're still looking for a creepy, spooky read, I got you covered in all categories. Here's a list of my recommendations for end-of-October books:

ADULT

  • THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE by Shirley Jackson. This is my all-time favorite scary read. Do not, I repeat, DO NOT read this after dark if you scare easily like I do. There is one scene in this book that made it very difficult to sleep for a few nights. The book features a group of  investigators who move into the abandoned Hill House and quickly discover it has a mind of its own. There is psychological disturbance and unreliable narration... two of the best plot devices when it comes to horror. Who do you trust when you can't trust any of the characters?

  • THE HISTORIAN by Elizabeth Kostova. This is a massive tome of a book, and from what I hear, you either love it or you hate it. I personally loved it. It's the story of a girl whose father's disappearance launches her into a search across Eastern Europe for the truth about her family's past. And it might just link up with her dad's research on Vlad Tepes, the infamous inspiration for the legend of Dracula. Gorgeously written and well-researched, and there was a scene on a train that creeped me out for a long while after. 


YOUNG ADULT

  • ANNA DRESSED IN BLOOD by Kendare Blake. This book was equal parts creepy and oddly touching, and features a believable teen male protagonist who puts troublesome ghosts to rest for a living. It's when he comes across Anna, the vengeful, angry spirit of a brutally murdered girl, that he begins to question who his true adversary is. I recommended this to a CP who writes horror, and he loved it too! 

  • MARY: THE SUMMONING by Hillary Monahan. This is another one you should read during the daytime, and far away from any mirrors. If you ever locked yourself in a bathroom with friends to play the "Bloody Mary" game (I did, and we never made it past saying her name twice before getting the hell out), you'll know exactly why this premise is so terrifying. What happens if you not only summon Bloody Mary, but she begins to stalk you through every mirror and reflective surface you come across?

  • LONG LANKIN by Lindsey Barraclough. If you're a fan of the classic ghost story or Gothic haunted houses, check this one out! It's moody, atmospheric, and dark (my favorites!) and features two girls sent to live with a crotchety old aunt who is hiding troubling secrets in the shadows of Guerdon Hall. Be warned there are creepy ghost kids, so if that's not your thing, you might want to read this with all the lights on.


MIDDLE GRADE

  • DOLL BONES by Holly Black. I've been recommending this book to everyone who will listen. It's amazing! Poppy, one of the characters, is haunted by the ghost of a murdered girl. Her spirit is trapped inside a doll, which was made from her ground-up bones. Poppy and her friends must find the girl's grave and bury the doll to put her at rest... or be cursed for all time. Wrapped around the ghost story are themes of growing up, growing apart, and letting go. It's just so gorgeously written!

  • NIGHTBIRD by Alice Hoffman. If you're not into scary stuff, this book is a great Halloween-ish read without the frights! It's a good one to read to kids, too. NIGHTBIRD is the story of Twig, who lives in an autumnal, magical New England town reputed to be the home of a monster. There is a family curse, a witch, and two star-crossed romances that intertwine later on in the book. The setting is my favorite part, being a New England girl myself and in love with local fables and legends. The whole book reads like a blend of folklore and mythology. Check this one out!



I get scared easily, but honestly... creepy, spooky, atmospheric reads are some of my all-time favorites. Just in small doses. And with all the lights on, of course.

If you have any Halloween book recommendations, feel free to share them in the comments!

10.21.2015

Rocky Road (The Rough Draft, Not the Ice Cream)


Man, I miss blogging! I just made the rounds through my blog buddies' latest posts, and it's so nice to hear what everyone has going on. I mentioned before that I'm going to try to switch to a weekly blog schedule (key word: try). I'm not doing too bad so far...

So, what's going on with me?

I am wrapping up the rough draft of my YA fantasy. I'm at about 70,000 words total right now and shooting for an end count of 85K-90K, so I should be done within a couple of weeks. I'm pretty proud of myself, because I'm getting better at the famed FTJW ("eff this, just write") technique. What helps me is having a blank Word document open alongside the one with my story in it. Anytime I think of something, see a plot error, or realize I need to make a change, I don't fix it. Instead, I open that blank document and type a note to myself in it to address whatever it is later. And then I keep plowing forward.

Finish a scene with cringing dialogue? *shrug and move on*

Realize I've forgotten about a plot point or character? *eat 5 Kit-Kats meant for trick-or-treaters and move on*

Added a new part to my world that will have to be introduced early on? *pour a glass of wine and move on*

Add to that the luxury of focusing on this book completely, and that explains my productivity! I won't lie... some days, forcing out 3K is like pulling out wisdom teeth, but for the most part I am chugging right along on this draft. It can be a rocky road, but it's also exhilarating to see the bare bones of the story unfold.

I fully expect to spend all of November rewriting and revising, and hopefully sending the draft out to some CPs and beta readers by/before Thanksgiving!

As soon as this book is done, I have two other ideas ready to go. I ran them past Tamar over the phone yesterday (very tentative pitches since I haven't had time to really sit down and flesh them out), but I'm going full speed ahead on my MG action/adventure next! It has been a VERY long time since I've written in the MG voice (I haven't done it since PPP!), so I'm really looking forward to that. I love that I can bring more humor into my MG stories.

My YA books are so DARK. I'm a super cheery person, so it's weird that my voice in book form becomes this different, melancholy, sometimes scary/disturbing thing, but it's also fun to explore that side of my creativity. The book I'm working on after the MG is another super dark one. I'm not going to talk about it to anyone yet (so far, Tamar's the only one who has heard the premise) but I'm really pumped to get into it. That's all I'll say for now!

I hope everyone is having a productive October, whether you're reading, writing, or doing both!

10.11.2015

My Favorite Cinderella-Related Things!


Cinderella has always been my favorite princess.

When it came time to do a fun, fractured fairy tale retelling, there was no contest --- I wanted PPP to be a fresh, original, creative spin on the story. But almost every variation out there is told from the perspective of the cinder-girl herself. I think it's important, when doing your own version of something well-known, to make it as different as possible from everything out there. So my teen fairy godmother, Noelle, was born!

Here are some of my favorite Cinderella-related movies, shows, and music, from which I took PPP inspiration:




"Ever After" is my favorite movie version of Cinderella. The way they spun the tale into a more realistic story is lovely. And I love the idea of Leonardo da Vinci playing the role of the fairy godmother... or godfather!

I've also had George Fenton's gorgeous soundtrack for it in my iTunes playlist forever:






Of course, I can't make a list of my favorite Cinderella things without listing the original Disney movie. When I was little, it and Sleeping Beauty were the only movies I would watch over and over and over again.





The Rodgers and Hammerstein musical has amazing songs. I haven't gotten around to seeing it on Broadway yet, but I would love to. I saw a huge advertisement for it when I was in NYC seeing Phantom at the original Majestic Theatre, but haven't had time!





And you can totally judge me for this, but I love that super cheesy version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella starring Brandy and Whitney Houston. I think it is so creative the way they brought in a colorful, diverse cast --- Cinderella, one stepsister, the fairy godmother, and the queen are all black, the king and the other stepsister and stepmother are white, the prince is Asian, etc. I absolutely loved it!

The ballroom scene was a huge inspiration for PPP. The choreography and the colors blew my mind. I can't find a clip of it on YouTube anymore, but here's the music:





"Enchanted" isn't a straight-up Cinderella retelling, but I also love the music in it. This is the song that inspired a ballroom scene in Chapter 25 (to be posted this Friday, for those of you who are reading PPP!):






And these are some great Cinderella-related books:


  • SHADOWS ON THE MOON by Zoe Marriott: A Japanese retelling of Cinderella!
  • ASH by Malinda Lo: An LGBTQ version of Cinderella. Loved this one.
  • CINDER by Marissa Meyer: I haven't read this one yet (still in my TBR pile), but I've heard great things!
  • ELLA ENCHANTED by Gail Carson Levine: One of the comp titles I use for PPP. I love the humor and the heart.



Can you recommend any other Cinderella-related books, movies, or music?
 
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