Showing posts with label Community. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Community. Show all posts

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

How to Wait Well: Get Out Your Pom-Poms

Confession: I don't always wait well. When I was a kid and I had to wait for something, I would just make a paper calendar with elaborately doodled pages and mark off the days until the SUPER EXCITING THING arrived. But give me a wait without a specified end date, and waiting well quickly turns into waiting cranky. I don't think anyone has ever died from waiting, but dang it if it doesn't feel like a real possibility some days.

Ask a writer what it's like to write a book and you'll get all sorts of answers. It's fun...it's challenging...it's fulfilling...it's exciting. And it's all those things. It's an amazing experience in which we sit at our computers and populate the blank page with words, bringing to life the vibrant world inside our heads as our characters whisper their stories in our ears.

...

Yeah, mostly it's this:


But honestly, I think the hardest part of writing comes once the book is finished, because if there's one thing all writers can agree on, it's that pursuing a career in the book world involves a whole lot of w-a-i-t-i-n-g. In fact, if I were to make a pie chart to illustrate life after writing a book, it would look something like this:


(If my agent is reading this, I promise that "write next book" slice is a lot bigger than it looks.) 😉

And the waiting comes with every stage of the journey. First you wait for agents to reply to your queries, then you wait for them to read your manuscript. Then you countdown the hours until THE CALL, and the moment you can officially announce I HAVE AN AGENT! And once you've waited for your agent to finish reading your revisions, guess what?

YOU WAIT SOME MORE!

Because once you're on sub, then you're waiting on replies from editors and eventually, if you're lucky enough to get a publishing deal, there's more announcements to wait for and more edits to complete, the countdown to publication day, and by then, you've hopefully finished another book and get to start the entire process all over again.


So, how does one survive? How do we wait well and not end up a hot mess, clutching our manuscripts and begging PLEASE JUST LIKE THESE WORDS I WROTE while consuming an entire pint of triple chocolate cookie dough ice cream? "Write the next book" is the suggestion I hear most often (for good reason). And of course, there's always the distraction of that never ending pile of books waiting to be read. But I've found that one of the best (and most fun) survival techniques is cheering on my fellow authors.


A great way to stop focusing on your own wait is to support someone else in theirs. And let's face it. It's super easy to fall into the comparison trap in this business. No matter where we're at in our own journey, there will always be someone who reaches the next stage ahead of us. What better way to beat down the green-eyed monster of jealousy than by celebrating others' success? (Something I need to remember not just in writing, but in life.)

I'm fortunate enough to have a great group of writing friends, both locally and online (looking at you, Pitch Wars 2015 crew) and they've been incredible examples of what it means to wait well and root for one another. My time in the waiting trenches would be ten times harder if not for their camaraderie. The writing world is such an incredible community precisely because of the support we lend each other, so...

Obsessively checking your email? Send an encouraging note to a friend who's in the midst of a first draft. Are the aisles of Barnes and Noble silently mocking you with their rows of bestsellers? Offer to CP or beta read for a fellow writer who desperately wants to be on those shelves, too. Procrastinating on social media? Retweet that deal announcement, blog post, or book trailer. 

While you're waiting for your own time of celebration to arrive, LET THAT CONFETTI FLY.


And, hey, a little retail therapy never hurts, right?


Friday, October 30, 2015

My Pitch Wars Inspiration Story

When the Pitch Wars mentor picks went live, I was sitting on my couch frantically refreshing my browser along with the rest of the mentee hopefuls who had (naturally) broken Brenda's site the moment she hinted at posting the list. My husband very calmly asked me what the website was and proceeded to look it up on his iPad.

Me: "C'MON! LOAD!"
Husband: "Honey, I've got the list."
Me: "I've almost got it! It's loading!"
Husband: "HONEY, I'VE GOT THE LIST."

As soon as I looked up and saw his face, I knew what he was going to say next. (Although it took me a whole heck of a lot longer to really believe it.)

"Your name is on it!"

And thus began two of the coolest, craziest months ever. They've gone something like this...



I've learned so much from my mentor, Kara Seal. (Seriously, you guys, she's the BEST EVER.) And I've gained the most incredible community of writers, ready and willing to lend encouragement and support every step of the way. This experience is something I will never forget, and I know I will continue to reap the benefits of what I've learned and the people I've connected with for years to come. 

On Tuesday (which, by the way, also happens to be my 30th birthday) all our super-shiny, newly polished novels will get their first peek at the world when our pitches and excerpts go live on Brenda's blog. To distract ourselves from the looming agent-round jitters, some of us mentees are doing a blog-hop to share our experiences and the inspirations behind our novels. In my middle grade novel, FOLLOW ME, twelve-year-old Alivia Hart searches the woods for her missing mother and finds a family tree full of secrets that lead to a place called Wonderland. And here's how it started...

The idea for FOLLOW ME began with a setting. I had just finished watching the movie EPIC with my kids and as the credits rolled, I couldn't stop thinking about the magical world inside the forest, where good battled evil and a darkness threatened to destroy everything from the inside out. I knew I wanted to write a book with a setting like that--dark and mysterious, with just a bit of creepiness around the edges. When I'm planning a novel, flashes of scenes play in my mind, like clips from a movie trailer. I kept picturing a girl, standing in front of an open window, shivering in the cold while she waited for something...

A wind from the woods. 

Carrying a voice. 

A mother's voice. Whispering, "Follow me..."

When I first started plotting the book, I had no intention of connecting my story to Lewis Carroll's Wonderland. But then I had an idea for a scene that required my main character, Alivia, to have the same first initial as her mother. The first A name that popped into my head was Alice. And then I thought...

"What if her mother is THE Alice?"

I love Alice's adventures--they were the start of my classic children's books phase as a preteen--so it was easy to get excited about the direction that idea took me. And the rest of the pieces fell into place from there! (Okay, so there was a lot of hard work and crying and pleading and it felt more like forcefully jamming the pieces into place at times, but it's all good now and if I've gone a little mad in the process it's okay, because all the best people are, right?) 

So that's the story behind my story! You can find links to some of the other mentees' posts here

To all my fellow mentees: You guys are an amazing group of crazy talented people and I can't wait to have a whole bookcase full of your stories! I'll be cheering on each and every one of you in the agent round!

More Pitch Wars:



Monday, February 17, 2014

Empathy in the Real World

Last night all of America grimaced as we watched Bode Miller endure a very uncomfortable--and tactless--interview. My heart went out to him. I was saddened by the story of his brother's death, so glad he medaled, and so sorry that he had to be subjected to a slew of inconsiderate questions at such a vulnerable moment. I--along with many others--simply couldn't understand why someone could be so thoughtless in the face of such intense grief.

It's not the first time in the last week that I've had the subject of grief on my mind. Recently I've been pondering the reality of pain in a media-soaked culture. We make connections with hundreds of people--both close friends and random strangers--every day via social media. This exponentially increases our chances of encountering another person's pain or grief. Last week, on the same day, a friend of mine posted on Facebook the news that she'd lost an old friend to cancer while another woman, who I know only via her Instagram feed, posted about the memorial service being held for her daughter who was stillborn at 37 weeks. And I started thinking: How often do we scroll past the pain in our feeds? I know I'm guilty of it. It saddens me to think that I'm more likely to shed a tear for a fictional character in a book or film than I am for the real live people I see experiencing real live pain.

I'm not saying we do it because we're cruel or indifferent or uncaring. We do it because grief is uncomfortable. Pain is uncomfortable. Especially when you've never experienced personally what another person is going through. We don't know what to say, we fear saying the wrong thing, and so we skip over those posts, those tweets, without saying anything at all.

As an author I want to evoke emotions in my readers. And that's not a bad thing. My own favorite books and movies are the ones that make me laugh, or cry, or--preferably--both. But I never want to feel more empathy for a fictional character than I do for the real people that I encounter each day.

I would challenge you--challenge us--to stop next time we're tempted to scroll a little faster. Don't shove empathy aside. Instead, take the time to hit "comment" or "reply". It can be as simple as saying "I'm sorry you're going through this." Or "You're in my thoughts." No words? Even an emoticon heart is better than silence.

And that's the great thing about the internet and this crazy online community that has become part of our reality: While it gives us more opportunities to be confronted with pain and grief, it also gives us more opportunities to do something about it.

Let's not waste it.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

What's On My Bookshelf

Today's post is part of a link-up happening over at Anne Bogel's blog, Modern Mrs. Darcy. I love Anne's blog. She's one of those bloggers who has the ability to make it seem like you're just having a chat over coffee. Her blog has such a great variety of posts on books, beauty and fashion, and just...LIFE.

This week Anne asked her readers to share their bookshelves. If you know me (or if you've ever taken a gander at my "No Place Like Home" Pinterest board), you know what a perfect prompt for a blog post this is for me. I believe a home without books is no home at all, and someday I pledge to have at least one wall of floor to ceiling shelves. So, without further adieu, a peek into my living room...



These guys get the highest shelf, partly to be out of reach of small, dirty fingers, but mostly because it's my favorite shelf. This one holds all my vintage books, including some of my favorite classics. (Alice in Wonderland has a bookmark in it because it's inspiration for the NaNoWriMo novel I'm working on this month.) The best ones have inscriptions on the first page. You can read the most darling inscription in this Instagram photo.


What it looks like when you have more books than shelves. Confession: There's a book on this shelf that I bought this summer and still haven't read. But this shelf also holds the series I've read and re-read the most times: The O'Malley Chronicles by Dee Henderson. I met my husband, who was a firefighter at the time, right after reading The Protector. Needless to say, it's my favorite of the series.


This shelf holds some of my favorite, most magical children's/YA books, plus (randomly, I know--I'm surprised the cross in genres doesn't drive me crazy...) Blue Like Jazz and Start--two of the books I most often, and most highly, recommend. My Flavia deLuce novels get special attention with their poison bottle companion. And the thing that really makes this shelf awesome? The manilla folder you can just make out in the shadows to the right. That's my children's book manuscript, in all its printed glory.


And lastly, the overflow stacks. My bookshelves have pretty much reached their max capacity, so several books have wandered to the half wall between the living room and kitchen. As you can see, they don't always stay between the bookends. This is where the currently-being-read books (and a few favorites) live along with the novels visiting from the library and the pile of Relevant magazines.


Okay, one more (then I promise I'm done). My kids have their own shelves in their room, filled to overflowing. (Plus there's a basket tucked in next to the bookshelves in the living room that holds another pile of picture books, chapter books, and easy readers borrowed from the library.) One of the biggest goals I have as a mom is to pass on my love of reading. Yesterday my daughter finished one book she'd already started and then went on to read an entire Ivy+Bean novel. Mission accomplished.

Thanks for checking out this little peek into my world! Want to see what other bookworms are reading? Visit the link up post at Modern Mrs. Darcy and browse their shelves!

Friday, July 26, 2013

Oh Hello, Irony

There are times when the truth slaps you with a load of irony.

It goes something like this: First you're like, "whoa", and then there's this awkward moment when you realize you're going to have to admit you were wrong, and then you do and you feel SO much better.

At least, that's been my experience.

You may recall a post I wrote a couple weeks ago involving unicorns and writer's block. Well, the reason I was so desperate to overcome my creatively stuck position, was because something awesome was about to start and I had made a goal--a goal which I had shared with a major author and a couple thousand people.

Let's flashback a bit and this will make more sense...

Earlier this month, I responded to a blog post by Jon Acuff, in which he gave a Safety Not Guaranteed-esque call to those willing to go on an unspecified adventure. If you were willing to embark on said adventure, without knowing any details, you were to email him your name and mailing address. And in true clandestine fashion, the blog post was set to self-destruct in 24 hours.

Thus began the Start Experiment. A group of individuals from all over the world, taking a chance and ultimately being grouped together to encourage and assist one another in the pursuit of a dream or a goal, punching fear in the face in the process. One of the first things we were asked was what we were each willing to risk--what would our goal (to be moved toward over the course of 24 days) be? I immediately knew what mine would be: To write the first draft of my second novel.

Hence the need to be able to actually write.

The entire foundation of Jon's experiment, and the theme of his latest book, START, is that fear needs to be overcome in order for you to move toward your goal. So I was going to overcome the fear of stalling out, the fear of not being able to write, the fear of running out of ideas. Fear was going down!

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the fear smack-down. After coming out of the first week of the experiment with a super lame word-count, I had an epiphany. I suddenly realized that my risk was actually driven by fear. 

Helloooo, Irony.

You see, I finished editing and polishing my first children's novel in May, and queried my first agent the beginning of June. And instead of taking time to celebrate my accomplishment and focus on getting an agent/getting published, I immediately put a huge bunch of pressure on myself to write a second book. I convinced myself that one book wasn't enough to make an agent feel I was worth his/her time, that I needed to at least have a second one started to prove I was a real author and not a one-hit wonder. 

And then I wondered why I felt stressed-out, overwhelmed, uninspired and generally unhappy with my writing.

And so, after a jolly good laugh, irony and I parted ways and I took a new path. Now my risk is pursuing my dream of getting published by focusing on my finished book and preparing more queries to send out in the next couple of weeks. I've created a neatly ordered list of agents that I would love to have represent me, and I'm going to start tailoring my individual queries next week. I'm also continuing to write by working on some picture book ideas that I've been cultivating. This has been much less stressful and--hallelujah!--FUN. And come November, I will happily don my novel writing hat once more and leap into the literary abandon of my fifth NaNoWriMo. Until then, I will pour my heart and soul into a project fueled by hopes and dreams, not fear.

So, in case that was a lot to follow, here's a quick recap:

Fear 0 - Ashley 1


Friday, May 31, 2013

Appreciating Platforms

A couple weeks ago at writers' group, we started talking about the recent trend of publishers and agents wanting authors to have an established platform. Several people in the group were less than excited about this fact, feeling overwhelmed at just the thought of trying to juggle writing, blogging, websites, and social media accounts, all at the same time. I totally get it. It takes a lot of balance. There are times when I start to feel overloaded, and it's not like I have a huge following to interact with. But at the same time, I understand the value of this idea because I appreciate it, not just as a writer, but as a reader.

The easiest way for me to explain this is to share with you some of my favorite people to follow, and why: 

I'm lucky enough to have a few signed copies of Erin's novels on my bookshelf, thanks to contests and promotions on her Facebook page and blog. Not only is she a phenomenal writer, but she's the most kind and open author I've ever had the privilege of interacting with online. She's constantly engaging in conversations with her fans, asking and answering questions, and passing on encouragement to those of us who aspire to be as successful as she is. Her blog posts are always inspiring, honest, and real. I don't think you could find a better example of how an author platform should be used.

Jon's book START (see my review here) is all about figuring out your dream and turning it into a reality. What better topic for aspiring writers? Not only does Jon offer lots of encouraging and inspiring tweets and posts, but he's also hilarious. From comedic observations of every day life, to TV and sports commentary, to his knack for finding extremely awkward Pinterest posts, it's impossible to follow Jon and not laugh out loud at least once a day. 
  
Tony DiTerlizzi (@TonyDiTerlizzi) 
If you follow author and illustrator Tony DiTerlizzi on Twitter and/or Instagram, you'll get to see a constant gallery of his sketches. I love seeing his process when it comes to creating the beautiful images for The Spiderwick Chronicles and The Search for Wondla. He's also replied to several of my tweets, sometimes answering questions, and other times simply thanking me for a compliment. It's awesome to get an inside look into his books and their stunning artwork.
  
Ksenia Anske (@kseniaanske/kseniaanske.com) 
There are so many reasons I love following this woman. Blogger and up-and-coming author, she delights in interacting with her followers. Every day you'll find her answering questions, giving pep talks, celebrating victories, and generally boosting moral in the Twitter writing community. Do you need someone in your corner who will push you to write, write, write and never give up? Follow her. She has an incredible work ethic and is a great example of what it means to be dedicated to writing. And not in an intimidating "I'm so much better than you, you could never compare" manner, but in an uber-inspiring "You can do it, too!" sort of way.

I could add so many more...Bob Goff, Isaac Marion, Don Miller, Becca Rose, Kristin Lamb...the list goes on. 

Inspiration, encouragement, support, humor, writing tips, a glimpse into the lives of my favorite authors...all because of  their Twitter/Facebook/blog. All because they take the time to interact with me--the reader, the follower, the fan. I think if you can experience the excitement that comes with interaction like this, the idea of being able to provide the same for your own followers will seem a little less stressful and a lot more fun.

Friday, April 5, 2013

In Good Company

One of the things I love about being a writer is the amazing community I'm part of, just by being a storyteller. There are so many people out there who are passionate about writing and there's an instant connection as soon as you find out someone is a fellow wordsmith. You get each other. You have a mutual understanding of the quirks and thought processes and emotions that come with the job description.

As a writer, I have a constant flow of characters, scenes and plots running through my head. Ideas come at random, and almost always at inconvenient times--like in the shower or the moment the lights are out and I'm snuggled in bed in blissful comfort. I mumble to myself a lot. I have emotional attachments to people who aren't real. I drift so deeply into my thoughts, I respond to my husband's questions and then three seconds later realize I have no idea what I just agreed to. The annual family Christmas letter goes through at least three drafts before I've deemed it ready to send out. Movies and TV shows are over analyzed--especially mysteries, which always beg the question, "If I was writing this story, who's the who whodunit?" On a good day a great book inspires me, on a bad day it leaves me feeling like I could never, ever write something that good. I battle a constant war of confidence and doubt, determination and despair.

Thankfully I have an incredible husband who loves all my crazy and wouldn't have me do anything else but pursue my dream (and he's learned to make sure I'm making eye contact when he has something important to tell me). But there's something wonderful about meeting people who are the same kind of crazy. Which is why I love social media and the ability to connect with other writers all over the world. And even more than that, I LOVE the writing group I'm blessed to be a part of.

I've heard it said over and over by so many authors that one of the best things you can do as a writer, if you're serious about pursing your craft, is join a writing group. And it's true (and if you're a writer and not part of one, you should be. Go find one. Now.). Last fall I decided to start a group with a good friend of mine, and I am so, so happy we did. It means more than I can say to have a safe place to share ideas and receive helpful critiques. My novel is so much better because of the time my friends have taken to point out the wrinkles and applaud the good stuff. These wonderful people have become a steady source of encouragement, knowledge, and motivation to keep writing, keep creating, keep chasing my dream.

The connections I've made through my writing amaze me. From right here in my hometown, to continents on the other side of the world, so many people have helped and inspired me. It's a pretty incredible thing to know that no matter our differences, the common love of words unites us. So to everyone I've had the opportunity to get to know--even if it's just been through a tweet or two--consider this the acknowledgements page. Thanks for being part of my awesome, crazy writing journey. I look forward to seeing where it takes us.

Are you a writer? Have a book, a blog, or a Twitter account? Feel free to share links in the comments--I'd love to learn more about you and your work!