2010 in Blog Posts

I’ve already revealed what I spent all of this past year doing—revising my novel.

Seven.

Times.

Yes, really.

But now—and I promise, this is the last you’ll hear of me until next year—to celebrate one more year of blogging, here are my most telling posts from 2010, one for each month, except when I break the rules for April:

January 2010

“Why I Write YA”: Why did I give up on wanting to write for adults? For me, the choice was easy. These YA novels say why. [more]

February 2010

“The Day You’re Older”: I want to remind myself how much things have changed. [more]

March 2010

“The Writing Part of Being a Writer”: It feels like I’m back to that point before I was published. The beginning. Where it starts and where it ends: with the writing. [more]

April 2010

Week 1 at the writers colony: I am not used to writing alone. [more]

Week 2 at the writers colony: Maybe it seemed like I was allowed to be here after all. [more]

Week 3 at the writers colony: The opening pages of Imaginary Girls were read in front of human beings for the first time ever in my life this week. [more]

Week 4 at the writers colony: It was magic. [more]

May 2010

“Where Authors Live on Clouds and Sip Pomegranate Cocktails”: Maybe real authors don’t wander supermarket aisles questioning their worth. [more]

June 2010

“Revision Gratitude”: My edit letter has brought out a fire in me. [more]

July 2010

“A More Honest Author Bio”: Let’s be honest here. [more]

August 2010

“Surreal Moments in Book Publishing”: This feels like the first book I’ve ever written. [more]

September 2010

This was a hard time. Hence: “Perspective”: Sometimes the world shifts, violently, and everything that seemed important sheds away to show what is. [more]

October 2010

“Stumbles”: I stumbled this month, in more ways than one. [more]

November 2010

But then! Then, THIS happened: “Imaginary Girls COVER REVEAL!”: Today is the day I show you the jacket image that made me cry. [more]

December 2010

And then guess what? I finished revising my novel! Proof found here: “Publishing Rites of Passage: Seeing Pages”: I pressed the buzzer and held it in so long I could have let a parade of Penguin employees into the building all up to my floor with balloons. [more]

That’s it. My 2010 in blog posts. I’m scrolling through my Google Reader now to read yours.

Happy 2011, everyone. Let this new year take us all one step closer to our dreams.

The Year I Revised My Novel Seven Times

This is the post where I look back on this past year and see what I accomplished. And why not? If you don’t acknowledge what you’ve done to yourself, who will?

First, let’s see where I started. Here’s how I began 2010. On January 1, 2010, I officially finished the first full draft of Imaginary Girls. I had no idea then how much work would still be ahead of me.

But before I get to that, I wanted to tell you what other thing occurred in 2010… something related to books, something good.

Something happened to me this past year—a truly wonderful thing. I started reading for pleasure again. It wasn’t that I didn’t *want* to read for pleasure before this, I love reading; it was just that I’d been working a full-time day job at a publishing company as a copy editor, which is all reading. The job of finding other people’s typos involves such close, concentrated reading that my eyesight was blurred to mush when I got home. At best I’d read one book of my own choosing per month. Maybe.

But then, in 2010, my life changed. I suddenly had more time to read novels for pleasure… And once I started, I couldn’t stop.

It was my month at the artists colony Yaddo this past spring that brought back my hunger for reading. There I was, isolated from E, and from the internet, and from my distracting TV set, and I found myself needing to read books… desperately. I read on breaks from writing. I read before bed. I read every day and every night. I foraged books from the shelves in the house where I was staying, friends sent boxes of books to keep me company, and I was thrilled, truly THRILLED, to get a temporary card at the Saratoga Springs Library, a fantastic library with a great YA section.

That month, I gobbled up books like crazy. This hunger for reading rivaled when I was a kid, when I’d stumble out of the library with a stack of books taller than I was, as many as I could physically carry. Rediscovering my deep love of reading is the best thing 2010 gave me.

But reading wasn’t all I did this year. I also happened to do a little work on Imaginary Girls, the book of mine that will be coming out in 2011.

Ha. I typed “a little work.” Talk about an understatement.

The first draft of Imaginary Girls was finished on January 1, 2010. I then went on to revise the manuscript over the course of this year SEVEN TIMES. One revision before showing my agent. One more revision after showing my agent. Then five more revisions with my editor. Some of those rounds of revision felt—and I think they were—pretty massive. I put my heart into that book. Then I tore it out and put it in again. I worked with an editor who really knew how to dig it all out of me, and the book that stands at the end is one I can honestly say I’m truly proud of… and I’m very hard to please.

All I know is that I’m going to look back on 2010 and be able to say—to myself, without any exaggeration—that I’ve never worked so hard on my writing in my life. I wrote the way Sugar said we should. For the first time ever in my life, I really did.

(I also started two new novels in 2010, which is miraculous now, looking back on all that time I spent in revisions.)

There’s more to this revision story, and maybe one day I’ll tell you why I ended up revising the book so many times. But I think the lesson here is that it is worth it to work hard to make the book as good as it can be. Even if you’re tired. Even if you think you can’t do it. (And I was tired, and I admit I thought I couldn’t do it.) It’s worth it to put your all into this again… and again… and however many times it takes. I have to tell you now, standing on the other side of it, it feels incredible.

Now… I can’t wait for 2011!

You’ll see this out in the world in six months, and all my hard work will have been for a reason:

Imaginary-Girls

What was the best thing that happened to you in 2010? And what was the hardest thing you did in 2010?

What a year, huh?

The Race No One’s Running

I used to be in a race. With every writer I knew. With writers who had no idea who I even was. With you. With myself.

I thought I was running toward something and that I had to get there, or else. And I thought how long it took actually determined my worth as a writer.

I used to tell myself that if I didn’t “make it” by such-and-such age, then that would mean I’d failed. That age came and went without a published book from me. So I upped the age. Then that age came and went. I upped the age again and told myself all I needed to not be a failure was to have an agent by a particular age. Just an agent. Just the one thing. Guess what? The day I turned thirty was the day I didn’t make it.

I spent a lot of time comparing myself—unfavorably—to other writers I knew. Many people I knew from the graduate-school workshops I took part in during my early twenties had already published their short-story collections and their novels—quite a few of which I remembered critiquing in class. I was happy for them, I was. But I was very disappointed for myself. I thought I’d never reach the place they did. I thought it was over for me, all because I’d crossed over that arbitrary line in the sand.

I cringed when other authors called out their young ages in their bios, like it made them more worthy because it took them less time to publish. Like they were bragging. Like how long it took them meant anything at all in comparison to how long it was taking me.

And, yes, a lot of this comes from jealousy. It’s hard not to compare yourself to other writers, isn’t it? It’s hard, when you’re treading water and whispering in your own ear that you’re such a failure, to innocently walk into a bookstore and see all your former classmates’ books on display. That sounds childish. But, yes, it’s hard.

I once got what I thought was The Phone Call, while I was at one of my day jobs, from an agent who had been considering my full manuscript submission. This was the second novel I wrote since graduate school; I’d already given up on the first one.

When I got this phone call, my heart was in my throat. I thought, THIS IS IT! I thought it was “happening.” A dump truck of fantasies poured itself out onto me as I closed the door to my office and took the phone call.

But, really, the phone call was only to tell me that my novel (one I have since trashed) had potential and could use some revision and she’d take a look again if I did so.

Then this agent asked me how old I was. I told her. “You’re young still,” she told me. “You have time.”

Time? I thought. How much time? I felt like a ticking clock. I felt like I’d expire soon and never get this shot again. I felt like I could have said the wrong number and she would have replied, “Oh, well, you tried. Too bad you didn’t query me a few years ago.”

This agent—generous enough with her own time over the years to read that manuscript and give feedback not once, not twice, but three times—did not turn out to be my agent. That manuscript did not turn into a book I got published. I stopped revising it. I stopped considering myself “young.”

I also stopped writing my own novels.

And querying agents.

And trying to publish a novel at all.

Yet the clock kept ticking. And so I thought I had to keep running.

The race I was running all alone took me through a detour I didn’t expect, where I did a whole lot of work-for-hire writing under pseudonyms, and where I lost the will and energy to keep trying at my own books, and then the race swept me on another detour, where I got the chance to write Dani Noir, a book I never expected to write, and what a wonderful detour that was, and then suddenly when I thought I’d never get the chance again I was leaping hurdles with the pages of Imaginary Girls and getting the perfect agent and getting the book deal I dreamed of and then I looked around and realized NO ONE WAS TIMING ME.

There is no stopwatch.

There isn’t even any finish line.

Guess what? This wasn’t ever a race.

It didn’t matter how long it took. And want to know how long, if you’re curious?

  • First-ever agent query, for a now-deceased novel 4/16/02
  • “The” phone call mentioned above 10/30/03
  • First agent offer, for Imaginary Girls 4/29/09

It’s taken me many years to learn that life lesson, the one about how we all have our own timetable; we live life at our own pace. The one where it doesn’t matter what other people do or how fast they do it.

So I’ve stopped running the race-that-isn’t-a-race. Dani Noir came out, and I got the agent I always wanted, and Imaginary Girls will be out in about six months or so. Maybe it’ll be successful—I sure hope people like it—but I’m not going to hold it up to other books and compare my experience to anyone else’s.

It took me as long as it took me.

I’m standing still now and just enjoying the moment. I worked really hard and I wrote a book and, soon (SOON, as in next month when ARCs are ready), people will get to read it. That’s where I am. That’s today. “Be Here Now,” my sister and my mom both always say.

I am.

Here.

Right now.

And I don’t care anymore how long it took me.

Publishing Rites of Passage: Seeing Pages

Guess what? I think my book is really going to be a book. After all the hard work, harder than I’ve ever worked on a piece of writing in my entire life, so much of me poured into those pages (and I have to tell you I’m feeling happier about the novel than ever), I almost didn’t believe we’d reach the next step. When I wouldn’t be writing anymore. When it would be time to… you know, have people outside my publisher read it.

A shiver ran through me as I typed that.

But yesterday was a big day. I got a phone call that 1st pass pages were ready for me to review. Calmly, as calmly as I could manage with my heart beating up in my throat as it was, I gave out my address and then waited for the messenger. I live about a seven-minute walk* from my publishing house, so the wait wouldn’t be all that long.

Soon enough, the buzzer rang. I picked up the intercom and a voice said, “Delivery from Penguin.” I pressed the buzzer and held it in so long I could have let a parade of Penguin employees into the building all up to my floor with balloons.

The messenger came bounding up my four flights of narrow, twisty, downward-sloping Village steps and held out the package to me. He’s delivered to me before, but this time he didn’t have to ring the bell on my door. I was waiting with the door open, hopping from foot to foot, so excited to sign for the package. I wanted to embrace the guy, shriek, “Do you have any idea what’s in here! It’s my novel!” But I kept my hands to myself.

Then I closed the door and instant-messaged E to tell him the package had arrived and that I was afraid to open it. “Open it!” he told me.

One slice of the scissors and there they were, the pages:

Imaginary Girls pages

Like I said, I think they really are going to publish my book!

What’s funny is I’m used to seeing 1st pass pages—they get messengered to me from other publishers, but for an entirely different purpose. I freelance as a proofreader and a copy editor. So I’m that person with the red pencil peeling my eyes for your typos and writing cryptic little symbols in your margins. It’s so important to me to do the best job I can on this—to be that invisible net to keep any mistakes from getting through, without the author even having to worry—because I can easily put myself in that author’s shoes.

I’m there right now.

I really think it’s happening:

Imaginary Girls chapter opener

That there’s the first sentence you may remember from the plot summary. It took me forever to get that sentence. Months of going back to it, sculpting and resculpting it, and now, finally, there it is. Wow!

I’ve made an album for Imaginary Girls photos on my Facebook author page—look for the “IMAGINARY GIRLS photos” album; you don’t have to be my friend on Facebook to see it.

Next step after this is… ARCs! I’ll definitely be taking pictures of those.

_____

* Random aside: Know how I know it’s a seven-minute walk from my publishing house to my apartment building, if you take certain streets and walk at a good speed? I used to work at Penguin, some years ago. I bet some of you know that, but if you don’t: I got my start in copyediting as a staff Copy Editor for the mass merchandise division there! So there were many mornings I took that seven-minute walk—longer, if I stopped for a mocha—to reach my desk, piled up with pages to read. And, yes, if you were wondering, I did spend many days in that Penguin building dreaming that one day I might be one of their lucky authors with their more prestigious hardcover imprints. I’d pass those imprints in the hall, peek at their book covers on display… sigh a little. I worked there for four years. The truth is that Penguin had been my top-choice publisher since I first started paying attention to the logos on the spines of books. My having worked there had nothing to do with me getting this book deal—that is all thanks to the magic of my agent, who if he’s not magic must at least have superpowers—and at times I worried if my past with Penguin would hurt me, since maybe the powers-that-be would think of me first as a copy editor and not an author. But, somehow, they saw me as a writer first, which is what I want to be. The beauty, and utter weirdness!, of this moment isn’t lost on me.

What’s Behind the Dresser

I’m feeling different about myself lately, more confident, or at least accepting of where I am and what I am and what is. It’s nice. Deadline Monday and I’ll feel even better.

Last night I had dinner with my very first workshop professor from my very first class at my MFA program years and years ago when I was 22. I loved the way she remembered my short stories.

This was the wall hidden by my gigantic dresser—when the dresser was moved across the room, these taped-up pictures were revealed. I forgot I put them up.

Wall Revealed

Things are changing, but I’m still the same person in here.

Have a good weekend!

Want to Know a Secret?

…I love being edited. (Caveat: By a good editor. Better yet, by the right editor.)

I love going in deep and teasing the meaning out. I love discussing possibilities. I love facing hard truths, really I do, if it makes the book better. What I love is when someone knows your characters and your story as well as you do—sometimes, you suspect, better than you do, if that’s possible, is it? Recently I’ve had a hunch that it is.

I love when a good editor smooths out my sentences. Line edits thrill me.

A good editor always knows just the right thing to cut.

I love being edited. Even if it’s work on my end. Even if it’s tons of work. Even if I’m afraid I can’t do it. The more scared I am to face the challenge, probably the better the editing is.

What my novel is after edits is worlds better than it was before. (A good editor would surely edit that sentence.)

Before this year, I had no idea how much an editor can be involved in your novel—and how much better your novel can be from it. I used to hear a rumor that editors don’t edit anymore. Who are those editors? In young adult publishing, the brilliant editor is alive and well. And we’re all better for it.