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Seven Sentences with Maggie Stiefvater

It has long been a dearly-held dream of mine to meet Maggie Stiefvater, and last weekend it finally happened.

Maggie and Courtney Stevens hosted a workshop called Seven Sentences that took place in a beautiful lodge on a lake outside of Nashville. Chris and I had stayed the night before up in Nashville due to a mini family reunion on his side that coincided perfectly with the seminar I’d signed up for months ago.

The things is… I was totally dreading it.

When you envision meeting your heroes, you imagine you’ll do it as your best version of yourself. Going into the workshop I felt like the opposite of that. My depression was better but still kept me quiet and dull, due to the emotional eating I’m not at a weight where I feel great about how I look, I hadn’t written anything new in a month, and I don’t even have the credibility of being signed with an agent right now. Even so, it turned out pretty good, and I’m glad I went instead of bailing, as I was tempted to do.

Maggie and Court were insightful, hilarious, and their presentation was incredibly well-prepared. They showed slides of their pictures from childhood, detailed examples of their own writing, and fun demonstrations of all the concepts we learned.

The theme of the workshop, of course, is that the first seven sentences set the reader expectations for the book. They are both hook and thesis statement, inciting curiosity and forming a connection with the reader instantly. But the workshop wasn’t so much about composing those seven sentences. Instead it was about getting in touch with our individual emotional expertise as a writer, how to frame scenes and plots to communicate a defined message, and the biggest lesson at all — that it’s okay to fail, and start over.

These are my favorite of the things we learned:

The Wheelhouse

In our workbook we were challenged to identify our personal Wheelhouses. What are the subjects you are an expert in? These subjects come in a variety of topics, including Relationships, Settings, Characters, Genres, Stories, Experiences, Moods, and Skills. It was totally awesome to see Maggie and Court put up their own personal wheelhouses. Here’s Maggie’s:

From here we explored what this really means, and how getting to the core of our expertise can translate to other stories. Here’s an example from Maggie:

In this way you can identify the emotional truths underneath your expertise and apply it to your stories.

Lenses

This lesson totally blew my mind.

Apparently each sentence addresses the reader through one of seven different lenses, from Stranger (presenting facts only) to the Character themselves (intimate personal experiences). Adjusting the lenses adjusts the tone, and even the speed at which a book can develop (Stranger is fastest, Character is slowest).

I loved this activity because a) it was an entirely new concept and b) it showed me that I often focus my writing between Best Friend and Character. I have conflated the creative, descriptive intimacy of Character with ‘good’ writing. Something to think about for the future.

Failure

During the entire presentation, a large stack of boxes arranged in a 7-foot tall Jenga tower waited ominously in the front of the room. I’d heard of this tower from one of the MadCap Retreats (in 2016 I think), and Maggie and Court frequently joked about how they’d encouraged attendees to pour their hearts onto the box… only to burn them on the final night.

Our demonstration was not nearly as fiery.

Instead, at the end of the seminar audience members were invited to come up and literally play Jenga. But the boxes were different sizes, and it soon became difficult to create the tower and keep it standing. Finally the tower grew so large that even when standing on chairs the other writers in the room weren’t able to get the boxes to the top.

“Do I have a tall friend in the audience that could help us out?” Court called.

My entire row looked to me. I knew my time had come:

As any long-time readers or friends know, I’m 6’2 and then some. After only two rounds of this the tower grew so unstable that with Court’s urging we let the tower lose a few levels, then she and Maggie knocked the whole thing down.

“What is the point of Jenga?” Court asked the audience. “To knock down the tower.”

We were so concerned about preserving the integrity of the tower, but nothing bad happens when it falls down.

The lesson?

It’s okay to fail when writing. Nobody dies. No one gets hurt. Don’t take it so seriously, and have fun.

I met several lovely, friendly, supportive writers, to whom I gave my apologies for not being my usual upbeat self. They were very kind and sympathetic, and have my gratitude <3

Also, I got to meet Maggie.

We were outside in the courtyard pictured above, many attendees already heading out. I wore my heart shaped sunglasses and she wore her aviators.

“The Raven Boys changed the trajectory of my writing,” I told her. I still clearly remember that moment in The Raven Boys when the gang enter Cabeswater for the first time. My whole body lit up with goosebumps. “This is magic,” I thought to myself. “I want to make magic like this.”

I have read The Anatomy of Curiosity, a book Maggie and her two friends wrote dissecting how they construct a story. I’ve seen Maggie deconstruct some scenes from The Scorpio Races. I never felt ready to enter that level of analysis with my writing, relying on my same old tricks of instinct. But now, after this seminar, I feel ready to take my writing to the next level.

Just a few more things to edit on Shotgun Girl, and it will be ready to send out into the world.

I’ll let you know how it goes ;-)

<3,

Savannah

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On Being INTJ – And Growing

(Psst! I’m making this blog post available as a Podcast for the first time ever! Check it out here, if that’s your thing.)

Can I be really brave with you guys in this post?

This message has been growing in my heart over the past few months, but I’m nervous to share it with you. I’m afraid that the fact that I’ve struggled so hard with this stuff will reflect poorly on me. I’m afraid of getting this message wrong, or that no one will find these topics as moving and powerful as I do.

But here’s the thing: I really, truly believe in this message. And I made a commitment to be brave this year, and uniquely myself, and I think this post qualifies.

Here’s my truth:

A few months ago I was explaining to a friend the struggle of growing up INTJ and how I’ve changed (and changed myself) over the years. How embarrassed I was by the things I said and did when I was younger, how hard it was to find a place to fit into the world (and sometimes still is), and how radically my job in human resources influenced my growth.

“I know,” she said. “You told me this, once. Years ago.”

Years?

It turns out I have a narrative about myself as someone only recently on the kinder side of things. I guess part of me still feels I’ve only just escaped my old thought patterns. Some part still thinks I have to apologize and preemptively warn people I might slip up and say something completely insensitive, and how hard I’m trying to overcome that.

That blog post I made two years ago discusses the the trials and glories of the INTJ personality type, but I’ve never really explained how I taught myself to evolve beyond the more negative aspects.

In the current political climate I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about this: How does one move past judgmental, detached thinking into empathetic, compassionate thinking?

I want to use this blog post to explain how it happened for me, and condense the years of wisdom I’ve accumulated on these topics to hopefully help someone else who wants to change, but doesn’t know how.

But listen, another (terrified) part of me thinks you might read this and go, “Wow, what a freak. Was it really so difficult for you to like and get along with people like, you know, an ordinary human being?”

Have I not made that clear by now? Yes.

If making friends and just generally interacting with people was easy for you from the start, I’m very glad for you. It wasn’t like that for me. My introversion, my social anxiety, my neurotic logical floundering… I was just built and grew up in a way that made people-stuff hard. And because of that, I’ve had to study and practice and dig to get at the heart of what people-stuff is all about, and how I could bring myself more into the fold.

Here’s what I found:

Continue reading “On Being INTJ – And Growing”

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New Beginnings

So many exciting things are happening, or about to happen–I want to tell you about them all at once! However, this will probably make more sense with a narrative:

In November I was diagnosed with depression.

(Don’t worry, it gets better).

You may remember I mentioned feeling a few scary days of it in this post. Well, I’m sorry to say that the symptoms continued shortly thereafter, undulating in varying degrees through my life over the next few months.

I started seeing a counselor and confessed that I felt guilty to be grappling with this thing: guilty not to have it, but to have so little of it. I had the kind of depression that enabled me to get up in the morning, and be productive at work, and even write. I maintained my relationships, and showering, and I didn’t cry. So it felt weird to claim ownership over the term because while it did take a toll on my mental outlook, I was able to stay productive and reasonably healthy. It’s just that my heart was heavy and lacking in hope while I did it.

Nights were worse, because I wasn’t distracted with work. When it was bad I felt like something curled up in my chest and died. I got impulsive–I wanted to do almost anything to  ease this bad, sick feeling inside. I indulged in a lot of binge-eating and wine drinking. When my symptoms were light, it was a sort of vague, restless discontent. A sense of doom. A feeling of hopelessness. A veil of pessimism.

Definitely something separate from my mood–a physical feeling on top of my mood. At my counselor’s recommendation I got my vitamin levels checked, my iron levels, and my thyroid. All test results were normal, and there was very little to talk about in therapy, aside from some family drama that cycles in and out.

I was hoping that after finals ended in early December the cloud of depression would lift, but instead it got worse, indicating it wasn’t exactly stress-related. I was kind of hoping it was, because that would make sense, and be somewhat fixable–I work full time, go to school full time, write, take care of the house, cook to eat healthy, and try to exercise (though I’m not very good at that lately). I also have relationships to maintain, with my family, and Chris, and our dogs (yes, dogs plural! more on that later).

Wouldn’t it make sense if this was caused by stress? Wouldn’t it be better if it was caused by stress, because I could cut back on the number of classes and make other modifications to get back to normal?

But it wasn’t. As my therapist explained, this was just something my brain was doing right then. Which was disappointing and weird, because I’ve always been so naturally upbeat and positive. I felt like it was my fault, even though I was told it’s not.

She recommended I go on anti-depressants, and wrote me a recommendation to take to my family doctor. I’ve never been on anti-depressants before. That was a big step, to me, one I wasn’t sure I was ready to make, even though I longed for freedom from this alien negativity jockeying my brain. Chris recommended I see a psychiatrist, a doctor of brains, so I got an appointment, but it isn’t until early February. I resolved to hang on until then.

And the dark clouds kept rolling over. So there I was: carrying around an extra weight I felt guilty for having, and guilty that while having it, it wasn’t heavier. Depression — a journey of purpose and satisfaction! /sarcasm

During this time, my mantra, my prayer, became Light up my life, modified from a lyric in a Lana del Rey song. I sang and repeated it to myself, looking for something to get excited and passionate about.

Then, Chris and I adopted another dog.

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This isn’t a story about how a dog saved me from depression, because she didn’t. But Grace was a little more light shed on my life, and I’m grateful she gave me something to look forward to and be excited about. A distraction for those brutal, dark evenings.

I’m superstitious about pets–I want to look at a potential new pet and know it’s the one for me. I got that feeling when I saw Bella on Craigslist, and Mia the cat picked me as soon as I went out to go see her behind the break room at work. Chris had wanted another dog for a while, but I just didn’t get that feeling. Besides, I love my Bella-dog like crazy, and didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable or left out. Bella is so perfect, she’s basically a big cat, and new dogs might not fit in with our little lifestyle.  However, one night we were browsing pet finder and came across a picture of Grace.

Shit, I thought. I think that’s my dog.

We put in an application for her and out of many were the only family approved. Grace had what we were looking for–a medium-sized dog to be a playmate for Bella, white like I like, and a Pyrenees-lab mix like Chris wanted. He frequently bemoans that as a Samoyed Bella isn’t very family-minded, and she’s not a good cuddler. Grace is both.

Their first meeting went really well:

It just reaffirmed that she was the perfect dog for us… she and Bella became instant best friends and play all the time. What a joy for Bella, too, to have that in her life :-)

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But again, while that was a very lovely thing (and I’ve been spamming Instagram with pics of her and my other pets), it didn’t really fix my main depression problem. Then, a week ago today, a most amazing thing happened:

It went away.

I know, it sounds weird. Everyone I tell is like… yeah that’s not how depression works. You’re not supposed to feel it come and go. But guys, I’m telling you, I could feel it happen. I was up way too late, around 2am, and I finally made myself turn off my lamp and go to bed. As I lay there, brain too active, trying to find the rhythm to fall asleep, I felt the depression go. It fizzled away like steam into the air.

Yeah. Super weird.

I kept this development close to the chest for a few days, but it hasn’t come back. I feel normal again. I feel like myself again. And, it turns out, this period of depression was a blessing in disguise. Which leads me to the other super exciting thing I’m dying to talk about:

I recently had a Manifest 2017 session with Andrea Scher, and it totally changed my life. Andrea led me through an examination of 2016 and a goal/dream setting for 2017. It was so weird to look back at 2016–the depression gave me short-sighted vision, and I’d forgotten everything I accomplished:

  • Wrote Shotgun Girl after 2 years of dreaming about it
  • Made excellent progress on Nameless, especially in terms of story. I made so many brave choices this year with that book, including cutting 30k and letting one of the main characters take a totally unexpected and intimidating turn!
  • Traveled a ton! I went to NYC with my sister, Las Vegas with Chris, Georgia with Susan Dennard, St. Louis with Kat Zhang, and New Orleans with my sister again! Plus a couple trips up to Nashville for concerts, one of which I did all by myself!
  • Maintained relationships with the people most important to me. I developed my relationship with my littlest sister. Chris and I remained happy and in love. That was the wonderful thing about therapy, and my depression, and any issues I have really: my relationship with Chris is never the problem. He and I are always good.
  • Fully healed from a major psychic wound with the help of Susan
  • Implemented a ton of projects and changes at my day job. Was featured in a trade magazine as one of the ’30 Under 30′ in the nation.
  • Asked the writing club at my University if they would be interested in me coming to give a talk (despite the voice in the back of my head criticizing me, “Why would they want to hear from you? You’re not published”), and it went amazing!
  • Worked full time and took 10 classes over the year, and managed to do all the stuff above.

Wow! 2016 wasn’t so bad after all, right? Andrea surprised me when she called me a “creative powerhouse.” Until I step back and look at it all, I don’t realize how much I really work on and produce. It never feels like enough.

But the true takeaway was Andrea’s method for teasing out my hidden dreams and aspirations, and beginning to manifest them into reality by writing them down–and getting specific. Andrea was so great at this. From the tangled word vomit I threw at her, she was able to pull out my core desires and passions like simple, beautiful jewels. She even gently and wisely pointed out a few things to me that I’d been struggling with, but convinced myself to tolerate.

The greatest moment was when she had me write down the characteristics of two people I hugely admire. From there we identified my core goals/values for the upcoming year:

  • To be brave (and bravely make the hard decisions that are best for me)
  • To be uniquely myself (to make the art I want to, not to please others)
  • To be clear and discerning with writing and my career

And as for the issues I was struggling with, she asked me this: What would the people you most admire do in this situation?

You guys, my shoulders just fell. Because I know. I’ve known all along. They would do what’s best for them, and exit the situation. It’s funny how it takes another person to get you to see that. Andrea also made this mind-blowing suggestion that I should be grateful to my depression for knocking down some of my emotional defenses and bringing these issues to light.

Thank you, depression. You really did let something amazing come through.

So I’m making changes. An immediate one you might have noticed is I’ve re-branded my website. I’ve known for years I needed to do this, but I put it off because I adore the special banner picture I commissioned from Corona Zschüsschen. I paid for it, I love it, and it represents me and my work, so how could I get rid of it? But the dark colors, and being bound to such a large header image, were weighing on me. It was a chore to come here and update my website. I always felt icky doing it. As a compromise I will make a print of that banner and keep it in my office so I can smile fondly at it instead.

Another change is that I’ve decided to only take 2 classes this semester, instead of 4. This means I won’t graduate this December like I’d planned. But if I push it off, then I get to use these next 4 months to fit things in my life I really want to do. Why should I have to put my passions and interests on hold for 4 months, to constantly find myself thinking, ‘I’ll do that thing after next semester?’ Why should I risk the side effects that come from all that stress, possibly including returning to depression? Is pushing the graduation deadline really so terrible if it means avoiding all that?

Nope. Not so terrible at all.

This brings me to the third and biggest change: I have ended my professional relationship with my literary agent.

I am so grateful for the support Laura Bradford gave me over the years, and how she continued to stand by me across eight years and three projects with no sales (plus another couple manuscripts that never went on submissions, including Shotgun Girl and the rewrite of Nameless). Her endorsement of me as a writer gave me so much in my life, not the least of which is the experience with LTWF and my lasting friendships and readers from those years. Laura gives amazing editorial feedback that helped me grow significantly as a writer. If your tastes and hers align, I highly recommend her.

I signed with Laura when I was nineteen, and positioning myself as a women’s fiction writer. That is not the writer or person I turned out to be. While this was an incredibly hard decision to make, I feel it’s the right one for me, and I’m very excited to move forward.

The past few days have been unreal. I haven’t felt this good in so long. I feel like I completed a long, hard chapter in my life, and the new chapter is brimming with opportunities.

I am also really excited to entering the querying trenches as a writer informed about the industry and my creative self, so different than how I did it the first time. For years I gave advice to other writers on various blog platforms. We’ll see if I can’t put my money where my mouth is :-)

Talk to you soon,

<3, Savannah

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Defining Yourself by Work, not Success

These tidbits from the February 2016 Nelson Literary Agency Newsletter (not my agency but their newsletters are great!) really struck a chord with me:

Your Writing Should Not Be Your Main Source of Validation For Who You Are as a Person – Kristin Nelson

I think this can be the most debilitating mistakes an aspiring writer can make. There be dragons if you start down this mental path.

But here is the reason you need to start thinking like an agent and less like a writer when it comes to submitting your material. If someone passes on your work, that rejection is not a commentary on your qualities as a human being. In a lot of instances, it’s not even a commentary on your ability or talent as a writer!

No matter what an industry person’s response is to your written work, your writing is only one facet of who you are as a human being. Don’t make it everything, or you may lose your joy of writing and find the whole business very depressing indeed.

Ms. Nelson’s article is inspiring and reassuring, but I have a different perspective on her ultimate conclusion. Writing absolutely defines who I am–but my writing career does not, and the difference is an important one.

I used to define myself by my ‘career.’ Ever since I decided in fourth grade I was going to be a writer (abandoning dreams of ‘flying’ as an astronaut), I judged myself by my talents. For many years I was thankfully blind to my faults due to the attention I received from friends and English teachers. I say ‘thankfully’ because if I knew how bad I truly was I might not have written so much or dared to dream so big. And in high school it was fairly easy to shine–I even had an article published in TeenInk which bolstered my cockiness significantly, not to mention the medium-sized but sincere following at Fictionpress for Nameless.

Although it hurt my ego not to have a novel published while still a teenager, like my imaginary rival Christopher Paolini, I did sign with my agent at age 19 and that was a comfort. But even as my understanding of my weaknesses increased, so did my expectation that my worth was defined by my ‘success.’ And for the first year of having an agent, that was good enough. But selling a book just sort of… kept… not… happening. Around me, friends and colleagues were signing deals left and right. But it didn’t happen for me.

I’m on the far side of my twenties now. Still a baby, to most! But my perspective is a lot different than when I was on the other side. At the time, it seemed like there was no tomorrow. If I didn’t catch the debut circles of 2009… 2010… 2011…2012… Then I’d miss the boat entirely. No writing career. No success. Thanks for playing, goodbye.

Maybe it’s because I truly joined the industry in those years, and thought the writer circles I was aware of would be permanent and unchanging, that the big names of 2010 would be the big names for all time. That the incredible frenzy of debuting would always surround the new writers I’d come to know and admire.

But it doesn’t.

And slowly, my awareness expanded to realize that despite how it felt, writing isn’t a race. It’s a marathon. And you’re not really competing against anyone but yourself. Sure, you can see the other runners’ times if you want to, but the only marker for success is the one you place for yourself. Look, I’m 6’2. I weigh 200+ pounds. I’ll never be able to sprint along at an eight minute mile for miles at a time. But when I ran a single (12+ minute) mile without stopping for the first time in my life I was as proud as if I’d completed a full 26-mile marathon. For me, for my journey, that was a win.

Writing is the same. As Maggie Stiefvater put it, it’s not Maggie versus other writers, it’s Maggie versus Maggie. I’m not trying to keep up with anyone else anymore, I’m simply trying to do the best I can in comparison to myself. The market–that’s out of my control. You know what isn’t?

Writing. I can’t stop telling myself stories. I can’t stop imagining new situations, characters, heartbreaks, exchanges. It’s part of who I am. I don’t have a book deal, but that hasn’t stopped me from working on the novels clamoring to break out of me. I would keep writing books my whole life even if I never sold one, because that’s me.

And I think it’s okay to define myself like that. I’m a writer. I’m not an author–yet–but you know what? That word never really did it for me. Writing is exciting. It’s a personal journey with a magnificent destination at the end. It’s a way to share the things that grow inside my mind–A truly bizarre concept, by the way. Why on earth do I feel the need to express these made up scenarios just to describe a fabricated sense of emotion I’ve never felt in real life but want to synthesize because it’s fun? No idea. But having the kind of mind that creates those abstract things, and honing my skills so I can better express them–that’s an irrevocable part of who I am.

As I learned more about yoga and meditation last year I realized that writing is my spiritual practice. It’s expression and self-improvement rolled into one. It is the art that compels me to improve myself in all aspects, and to pursue wisdom about life and being human.

Writing is the garden I work in. Bearing fruit will be satisfying, but that’s only a few minutes of sweetness. Do you think any reasonable person would put in all those months of labor just to eat a single, consumable piece of fruit at the end? No, they’d trot down to the store and buy it instead. But I’m not laboring for the moment of fruition. Not really. I’m doing it for the work itself, for the deep satisfaction of growing something, especially because sometimes that something is me.

And yes, part of my spiritual practice is to keep my eyes on my own paper and focus on writing the best book I can, and to not worry about the rest of it.

Savannah versus Savannah.

Savannah is winning.

As long as I keep writing.

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To Live Up to the Spirit That Is In Me

to live up to the spirit that is in meThis image has been the cover to my Pinterest board about life and writing ever since it was created. Some people have boards about life advice, and some people have boards for writing, but for me the two are so interconnected I didn’t want to separate them.

I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot these days. I’ve been looking over my past posts, and particularly drafts of posts chronicling the long journey towards publication. I’ve had a lot of internal ups and downs, and when I’m finally able to make that exciting announcement about a book deal, I want to be able to share with you how I felt in those moments of hope or despair.

These days, however, mostly what I feel is calm. It’s taken a lot of hard work to get to this point, and today I’d like to talk a little bit about that journey.

When I stepped down from Pub Crawl two years ago, I felt lost. I knew I needed out–out from the cycle of talking about writing instead of actually writing, out from the hamster wheel of social media, out from the sense that I was failing, stagnant, unwanted. I didn’t know it then but I’d reached a plateau with my writing, and the only way I knew how to fix it was to go back to my roots. I needed to be alone, to break my habit of watching TV instead of reading, to focus on me and my writing journey instead of constantly comparing myself to others.

Continue reading “To Live Up to the Spirit That Is In Me”

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Songs to Get Your Mojo Back

Feeling less than confident? Use these songs to get pumped back up and remind yourself that you are CAPABLE and CONFIDENT, and on the right path towards success.

Heartlines, by Florence + The Machine

Song rating: G

Key lyrics:

Just keep following the heartlines on your hand
Keep it up, I know you can
Just keep following the heartlines on your hand

Superstar, by Lupe Fiasco

Song rating: PG (one mention of a ‘sexy lady’)

Key lyrics:

If you are what you say you are
A superstar
Then have no fear
The camera’s here, and the microphone
And they wanna know

Touch the Sky, by Kanye West

Song rating: PG-13 (a handful of swear words)

Key lyrics:

You gonna touch the sky, baby girl
Testify
Come up in the spot lookin’ extra fly
‘Fore the day you die
You gonna touch the sky 

212, by Azealia Banks

Song rating: X (seriously, the lyrics are pretty explicit, but the chorus is PG-13 and will blow your socks off. If you want to skip straight to it just forward the video to 1:46)

Key lyrics:

What you gon’ do when I appear?
Wh-wh-when I premier?
B**** the end of your lives is near
This sh** been mine, mine!

Bonus anti-laziness bridge:

Hey yo
I heard you ridin’ with the same tall, tall tale
Tellin’ ’em you made some
Sayin’ you grindin’ but you ain’t goin’ nowhere
Why you procrastinate, girl?
You got a lot but you just waste all yourself
They’ll forget your name soon
And won’t nobody be to blame but yourself

~

 What songs would you recommend adding to this list?

~

PS: The five days at home with my sister was wonderful… I added over 9k to The Cobworld story, bringing us up to almost 20k! Here’s some of the guest audience that attended these writing sessions:

<3, Savannah

 

 

 

 

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On Not Giving Up

One of my favorite industry blogs is from the Books & Such Literary Agency. I look forward to their posts every single day, and love all the wisdom and commiseration that comes from them. Today they posted this article, which discusses 9 reasons to give up on publishing. The very last reason was this:

You think anything else—anything—might make you as happy as writing does.

Let me share with you another list:

  • HR Director
  • Police Officer
  • FBI Agent
  • Boutique Owner
  • Lobbyist
  • English Professor

These are all careers I have seriously considered. Those are diverse positions listed, but all of them appeal to some of my core desires: to do right and good, to create and uphold beneficial rules, and to use my skills and ethics to help others. I’m the type of person that easily develops loyalty and only with great force manages to let go of it. If I clamped onto another career it would become my passion in life, and I would mold myself to fit around it.

The problem is I already have a passion in life. Sometimes I wonder where I would have ended up if my parents hadn’t read to me so much, or if I hadn’t discovered such wonderful books in my childhood that I felt driven to create work as amazing as they were. Sometimes I find myself reading about the hypocrisy of those in public servant positions and long to be the systemic change that brings about improvements.

Each time I feel my heart extend towards some ideal, only to withdraw once it realizes I’ve already found my calling. Rachelle Gardner put it perfectly: You should quit if you think anything, literally anything at all, would make you happier than being an author.

And the truth of the matter is that, for me, nothing else would. The pursuit of telling stories, and making a career out of it, is an inherent part of my life. I don’t even feel the overwhelming impatience of nothing happening yet anymore. Because there will never come a point where I’ll say, “That’s enough.”

That’s the final rejection. That’s the final chance. The final manuscript sweated and bled over.

I will never give up because there’s nothing to give up. Writing is part of who I am.

So to the fearful reader who thought me tweeting that link and highlighting #9 meant I was considering giving up–

Never. Never. Never.

<3, Savannah

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On Growing Ideas From Inspirations to Novels

A long-time reader and friend (who wants to one day perhaps venture into novel-writing) asked me to write a post detailing how an initial inspiration becomes an entire novel. Therefore, in this post I talk about where ideas come from, how to get them, and how to turn some of them into full-fledged, novel-length stories.

“Where do you get your ideas?”

It’s the question writers are asked over and over, and the answer is inevitably the same: Everywhere! (Further delineated into: Dreams! Conversations! Books! It popped into my head!) But what does ‘idea’ really mean? What happens after the initial idea is found? Why do some ideas become novels and others… don’t? Here are my thoughts:

Continue reading “On Growing Ideas From Inspirations to Novels”

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Things I’ve Learned After 9.5 Years of Writing

This is my list of things I’ve learned about writing that I didn’t know the first time I wrote a book:

Sleep is paramount. I’ve learned the hard way that not enough sleep equals absolutely no energy to be creative with. If I want to write after work, I must have slept well the night before.

Reading feeds your subconscious. Where does writing come from? The subconscious. You have to feed yours if you want it to spit out amazing ideas. I’ve learned that if I don’t read new work consistently I sputter into non-creativity.

You must be true to the vision, not the words themselves. This is a tough lesson for every writer to learn, but eventually you do learn that your words are not sacred. And yes, you will have to kill your darlings. You will have to swallow the fact that your readers all agree a certain scene or phrasing isn’t working for them, and give up the individual words to make the brain-picture you desire come across clearer.

Speaking of readers, let me quote this article about John Green where he says, “We must strike down the insidious lie that a book is the creation of an individual soul labouring in isolation.” Everyone gets edited. Even presidents. Even the Pope. Even best-sellers. Even Stephen King. We all NEED editing because of the blindness in our own brains.  We cannot create gold in the darkness. We need the light of other peoples’ eyes to make a great book. Good critique partners will improve your work every time.

I have also learned that people who love books but don’t have any publishing knowledge don’t make the best critique partners. Use people who know about selling books, not just reading them.

You should know acceptable manuscript lengths, and chapter lengths, BEFORE you start writing.

I was fine with being a pantser when I was younger, but now that my writing time is shorter and I’m more focused on creating a sellable product, I’m definitely a plotter. I want to make sure the story works, and is marketable, before I put hundreds of hours of effort into it.

If I can’t envision the first scene, the story probably won’t work out. This is something it actually took me 9.5 years to figure out. For all of the books I actually finished, I had a definite starting point in mind. For all the ideas that are glorious but occur midway through the story, I never actually figure out how to write.

Essentially, if I’m thinking of the book in sentences, we’re good to go. If I only have pictures in my mind, it’s a dead end.

Trust your instincts. If you get advice that doesn’t resonate, don’t take it. (Of course, sometimes you get advice you don’t LIKE, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t resonate.) If you get that suspicion your plot isn’t working, figure out why.

Let your characters tell you what they truly want, instead of trying to wedge them into your plot. Usually what they really want is far more interesting than what you had planned anyway.

Sometimes you have to be firm with your writing space and schedule, and not let anyone pull you away, and not give in to your own need for distractions.

Everyone works differently. You don’t have to be a word machine to be successful. You don’t have to write a 500-page worldbuilding document before you begin, although some find it helpful. You are not any other writer, and your path will not be the same.

There is no singular throne. No one has to be toppled for you to succeed. There is only your own glorious ascension ;-)

~~~

In personal news, I’m renovating my guest bedroom for when my BFF comes to visit for a week next month. I’m also finishing up the last edits on ACORAS (this battle scene was killing me omg). Other than that, I’m very boring right now.

What have you learned about writing that you didn’t know before your first book?

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Celebrating 9 Years of Novel-Writing

Today is the 9-year anniversary of the first time I finished a novel. I wish I had something more profound to say today, but the truth is my life has kicked into High-Gear Overwhelmingness.

My day job company has been moving buildings, and as the coordinator for this effort my life has been consumed by the move. The month-long process should theoretically be over this weekend, but even once all the physical items are moved there’s still the myriad issues to deal with that come with a new building and figuring out new processes.

Boring stuff aside, I have gotten to do some really fun things lately, like going up to Nashville two weeks ago for an all-day writing session with my friend Kat Zhang. I wrote 5.5k on Nameless that day, and the momentum has been carrying me forward ever since.

Or going up again last week to see Toni Morrison, my favorite author and writing idol, give a speech to Vanderbilt University (trip made possible due to the generosity of Kat). Though I was running late for yet another work event, I managed to slip into her book signing and stand two feet away from her as she signed my book. Even if we didn’t technically get to meet (the woman has more handlers and security than I thought possible), I was there, I saw her speak, and at the end of her speech she blessed the audience, so I’ve been carrying that gem around with me.

Sleeping Beauty just got back from its last critique partner so along with the conclusion of my company’s move I feel like I’m getting back to my regular groove. I’ve been Corporate!Savannah these past few weeks, and I’m excited to feel like Writer!Savannah again.

The rewrite of Nameless is going swimmingly, and I’m stunned and thrilled to learn that even after all these years the characters still have some surprises for me. I think going back to the adult category was definitely the right choice. I’ve also decided to let go of nearly a decade of ‘canon’ and just let the characters tell me what they truly want and who they truly are. I realized that when you start to write a book, your first book, at 15, and you don’t really know much about writing and character development, and so maybe you shouldn’t hold on to those long-ago established ‘facts’ if they are blocking the true story’s development.

With all the rewrites of Nameless before, I sometimes felt… icky is the best word for it, I guess. Like this was just the same old crap I’d always done, and rewording it was like putting fresh lipstick on a pig. An amazing pig, mind you ;) But outdated. No heartbeat underneath. A zombie Nameless, if you will.

This draft has life.

Over the past 9 years I’ve written 7 individual novels, and completed countless revisions and rewrites. The funny part is, when I think of myself as a writer it feels I’ve been that way for eons, but I’ve only been a novelist for approximately 9.5 years. I look at other writers I admire, Toni Morrison included, and look at how many decades they’ve spent perfecting their craft. I know I have a long way to go, and I’m actually grateful.

In the YA community especially I feel like there’s always the sense of ‘now is the only time you have’. And aside from the existential truth of that, I try to remind myself that today, this year, is not the only chance I have to be the best I can be.

All those writers I admire, who make me bemoan my own writing… they have been writing so much longer. I am so grateful for the progress I’ve made, and so excited for the hopefully many, many years to come when I can improve myself and get to the point where I feel like I’m doing my best.

Or maybe that point never comes. But doing better, definitely. Writing at a level equal with those I admire? That’s my goal.

For however long you’ve made the noveling journey with me, thank you <3