In March I submitted the first 10 pages of my book to a real-life, bonafide editor! There was nothing to do but wait for the first pro feedback I’d ever receive. Talk about the jitters.
As it so happened, Persona 5 came out just around that time, so getting lost in the stylish streets of Shibuya has been my happy distraction for the past month.
This weekend I finally received my book chapter critique! Now I’m trying to let it settle in. It was largely positive, which I wasn’t expecting. However, the editor did recommend some changes that are currently putting me through mental gymnastics because of the butterfly effect it could have on my book as a whole.
This kind of encouragement is harder for me than if she had hated it, as it means I still have a lot of work to do. I don’t expect many who are not writers to understand that. You have to take a stab at writing a book before Confirmation that I owe it to my story to put that time in is both dreadful and lovely. It means it has a chance at success.
Meanwhile, the voices in my head have returned.
“Tell my story next! Me! Me!”
I need to mull things over for a while.
Note: This critique was an amazing sign-up opportunity through SCBWI, which I highly recommend joining if you are in the business of writing for children.
Summer is finally here in Michigan! It arrived with blistering heat this weekend and no shortage of distractions. I am doing my best to flee from these, but the Social Obligation Committee seems more intense in the sun; I’ve come to the conclusion it is powered by solar energy and tequila.
These socialites simply don’t understand that I do not want to go to the bar every night because I have to get up early. My daily regiment starts at 5 a.m..
“But why would you do that?” they ask, blinking.
“Because,” I say with a smile, “I enjoy being as miserable as possible.”
And I am sarcastic. I can’t express to them how incredibly fulfilled I am after a productive morning at the keyboard. But non-writers don’t get it. If I were not sarcastic, I’d sound like a walking greeting card spouting out vague proverbs on following my dreams and catching mythical worms in the wee hours of the morning. I won’t show them the detailed schedule I have written out because I don’t feel like revealing the extent of my lunacy.
So what do I look like at 5 a.m.?
In theory, I go on my morning jog with our foster dog to warm up my brain cells. I should be done with this and showered by 5:30 a.m., and at my writing desk with coffee by 5:45 a.m. That leaves me two hours to write before I leave for work.
In reality, I am still in bed, wallowing in self-loathing at the productive, aspiring version of myself that came up with this hair-brained agenda. When I make it out the door, usually not before 6am, I am a zombie.
Zombies suffering from sleep depravation are not particularly excellent dog walkers. Especially when you have a Shiba Inu hybrid with the strength of the Hulk. So when I finally make it to my computer, I am crabby, still sleepy, and have lost an hour of writing time. Whenever I attempt to do a shortcut by skipping the run, I fall asleep at my desk.
Sometimes, when my husband comes in to check on me, he finds me in the most cherubic of states.
As a result of my body rebelling against my Muse’s desire to put words on the page, my writing has, well, slowed. But as we learned from the race of the hare and the tortoise, I firmly believe that if I continue the race and continue pacing myself, I will make it to the finish line with an story worth telling.
With my daily “read for an hour, write for 2” routine in full swing, I have been eating up books. Most people go to the deli or liquor store to prepare for Memorial Day Weekend. I went to the book store.
After 20 minutes of searching Barnes & Nobles, I finally gave in and asked an employee where to find the books on writing. Ah, the “Writing & Publication” section. Of course. It’s located at the most inconspicuously low shelf in the store. Why didn’t I think of that? So, I squatted low, beholding the titles until I could no longer feel my legs. And then I sat like a child on the floor in the middle of the aisle and took out the books, one by one.
By the time I’d narrowed it down to two tomes, the clerk was ready to ask if I wanted a part-time gig dusting the floor. It pained me to leave the other, but could not take them both home. You can only share your four-day weekend with one. Books are jealous creatures that way.
But the book I chose rewarded my decision 100 times over.
Inspirational is not quite the right word for Anne Lamott’s “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life.” That word is better suited for poetry on gardening and B-movies on the American Dream. Not that there’s anything wrong with feeling inspired, but these “feel-good” stories are temporal. The motivation they bring passes away. So, inspiring will not do.
And it’s not an instruction manual, either. Sure, there are useful nuts and bolts in every chapter on dialogue, character, and plot, but I’d hardly classify it as a writer’s reference guide. It is bursting with too many deliciously candid anecdotes for that.
So what sort of book is it then? Like I am having tea with a twice-removed aunt I have never met before, but she knows everything about me from my mother. You know the one. She is in her 4os, maybe, and doesn’t go anywhere without a bottle of red wine and a leopard-print cane. She wakes up to a broken cuckoo-clock instead of the alarm on her cell like everybody else just because it sounds more “authentic.”
Don’t roll your eyes just because she may be off her rocker. She doesn’t have time for people like that. You’ll never get to know the fabulous, mysterious, and relatable truths she has stored in her alligator purse if you don’t reach in.
If you want to rekindle your love for writing and find something out about yourself along the way, she will offer a drink from the well–or bird bath–of wisdom that is oh-so-rich.
My husband is an EMT, so occasionally he’ll work super early hours. He had to get up at 4:45 a.m. today, so I used that as an opportunity to get out of bed and work on my manuscript.
As it turns out, this time I woke up before my creativity did. I spent a good chunk of the time staring at the screen, trying to stay awake. While I am already seeing the value of setting aside 2 hours a day for my story, I am also seeing the value of sleep.
I’ll get used to this. And I will remember the coffee and wake-up work out for tomorrow.
A few Saturdays ago–and I say that because I am utterly losing my sense of time– I attended a critique session with the “Mitten Meet Up” for the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators.
Battling down the usual anxiety of exposing my manuscript to fresh eyes, I decided that it was in the best interest of my story to go–after all, the feedback I’d received from my beta readers had been insightful. Plus, the last SCBWI meeting had been very informative. I thought, “I’m a grown woman, for Pete’s sake. I have no time for these petty insecurities causing me to lock my manuscript away from the world!”
The lovely ladies organizing the event suggested each in attendance bring 500 words to pick apart over a two hour critique session. That’s right, just 500 words. Out of, you know, over 62,ooo.
On one hand, I wanted to impress the mittens off of my fellow Michigan peers. But what was the point of that? It really put me in a tight spot and made me reconsider what type of feedback I would need the most.
I wasn’t going to stroke my own author ego; I was going for my story.
Given the twists and turns in my plot, I decided to start from the beginning. I know, I’m so creative. But ch. 1 sets the tone of the story, and it’s where both of my main characters are introduced. I knew already that I needed to develop both, at least a little more. And when better than a first impression? Besides, you need a strong hook to stand out to literary agents and publicists. Mine was somewhat decent, but nowhere near where I wanted it. So, I printed out 5 copies of my first chapter and set forth on the journey that would lead me to oh-so-many revisions…
At the meeting, I quickly settled in with the small group of YA authors. We nestled in at a baroque conference table in a library right off of a page of Harry Potter. Not only was the setting lovely and rich with inspiration, but it placed us far enough from the boisterous laughter bouncing in the hallways (thanks to the illustrators and children’s book authors). It was a nice change of pace; at the last meeting, I slipped away with the quickness only an introvert knows.
But safe within the library, I was thrilled to talk with “others” like me. After introductions, we took turns reading the stories aloud. The drafts were all in different stages, but all had brought a chapter from the beginning, or near it, of their manuscript. At least we were on the same page! As we went through them, what became apparent to me was that Michigan has some serious talent brewing. Look out, agents! When it was my turn to read another author’s chapter, I cracked up several times throughout my narration and had to recompose myself. I was quite enjoying it all until it was my chapter’s turn. That’s when the anxiety kicked back in.
There is nothing quite like hearing a stranger read aloud your book for the first time. Especially when a middle-aged man with a deep voice is reading lines meant for a 14-year old girl. After buttoning my mouth, I sat in a paralyzed daze. The dialogue sounded so pedantic and heavy-handed. The tone was dark, but not deep. It was like hearing daytime TV melodrama.
Does it really sound like that?
But it seemed so much better on the page!
What is happening?
Despite the mortifying doubts storming my brain, somehow, the group gave me a positive consensus. They were interested. Even wanted to know more about this world in my head. Hey, maybe it’s not as bad as I think? +5 confidence points!
Then they gave me something more valuable–honest criticism. The kind I could take home and chew on. I asked for more details, and they were happy to support that with specific examples.
“At the start, you tell us X, but instead show us Y here, here, and here.”
“I love this character, but I want to know more about them. How can you bring out this quality?”
“How about adding a scene like this?”
There are shortcomings in your writing you will most definitely be blind to because it is yours. You know how it is supposed to sound. In your head, you have already filled in the blanks. The author’s omnipotence is dangerous to the story because it can end trapping you in a common pitfall without ever knowing why or how you got there. This peer meeting gave me the invaluable perspective on where to go from here when I thought I had already run chapter one into the ground.
Energized, I got in my car. The muses danced with the turning of its wheels. I couldn’t wait to get home and put these fresh, inspiring thoughts down on paper. This feeling lasted for about 20 minutes. And then I realized that fantasizing about writing is a lot easier than actually putting words on paper.
Chapter one would require more time, careful revision, and coffee.
Let me tell you about the best feeling in the world: two and a half year’s work, printed and bound in my hands.
Me: “I could die right now.”
Printing Services Employee: “Please don’t do that.”
Me: “No, it’s okay. It’s a good thing.”
I wanted to hold it up right there in the store like Rafiki presenting Simba. In the amphitheater of my mind, I heard the music.
See? THIS is what I’ve been working on!
So high was my exuberance leaving Office Depot that I even followed the receipt online and gave the staff 5-star quality reviews.
When my husband took my printed copy to work, my heart swelled with quiet pride. But handing this same manuscript over to my mother was another matter. She’s the one who taught me to love books and introduced me to fantasy. She also teaches middle school language arts, making her a shrewd editor and an excellent judge of my work hitting the target audience.
Meanwhile, I have a few other beta readers, all with varying schedules and reading speeds. I just found out one is already half-way through the story–I emailed her the copy 4 days ago.
So, while I put my foot in my mouth and attempt to give my beta readers the space they need, I will be researching agents. I already feel like I’m in over my head.