Turning Points: Guest Post by Stephanie Burgis (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is author Stephanie Burgis revealing hers…


Guest post by Stephanie Burgis

When I first sat down to write this entry, I froze up. Too many choices were tumbling around my head. Which turning point do I talk about?

Here’s my first major turning point: the moment in 2001 when I made the absolutely illogical choice to attend Clarion West, a writing workshop I knew I most definitely could not afford. Against the advice of many smart people, I put $2,000 on my credit card and flew into the unknown for six weeks, acting as if I were a real writer whose work deserved the investment—as if my writing could ever be worth a $2,000 expense!

As if. I was physically shaking as I stepped onto that plane from Pittsburgh to Seattle. I couldn’t believe what I was doing. I was so terrified that night at our first group dinner, I actually felt like I was floating above my own body as other workshop members asked me respectfully about my writing.

I smiled and I came up with answers somehow, but inside I was thinking: Can’t they tell I’m just an impostor?

Yes, I had known since I was seven years old that I wanted to be a writer—but that was just a crazy fantasy, a pipe dream! Yes, I’d won my acceptance to the competitive workshop—but that was a fluke. It had to be! Couldn’t they tell just by looking at me that I didn’t belong with Real Writers like them?

They couldn’t…and by the end of those six weeks, neither could I. By the end of the workshop, I was calling myself a writer out loud for the first time in my adult life. Those six weeks changed everything for me—not just my writing (which improved so much there), but my whole life, as well.

Less than a year later, I was flying into the unknown again, getting onto another plane—and this time, it wasn’t just for a six-week trip. This time, I was moving to England to live with the amazing man I’d met at Clarion West, one of my favorite writers in the world, and the single reader whose opinion matters most to me.

Even beyond that, I was part of an active critique group I’d joined because of Clarion West. I was writing and submitting stories to professional magazines, coping with rejections and sending those rejected stories right out again. Everything about the way I treated my own writing had gone through a massive shift—I was finally turning my crazy dream into a practical plan, and that made all the difference.

Without having attended Clarion West…well, I would still be a writer. I’ve been a writer ever since I was seven years old. But I wouldn’t be where I am right now, not physically, emotionally, or professionally.

But that’s not the only major turning point for me and my writing. Four years later, I had to choose between finishing my PhD in music history or making another, even scarier commitment to my writing.

I was halfway through my PhD thesis when my funding ran out and I had to take a full-time day job. I knew by then that I didn’t want to be a professor, but after spending three years in a PhD program, it seemed crazy not to finish the PhD, just to put a cap on all that work. Moreover, I come from a family of academics: three of my close relatives have PhDs, and a fourth is in a PhD program now. Education, and degrees, mean a lot in my family.

“No problem!” I told everybody I knew—especially myself.

I just planned to do it all: work the day job during the day, write my fiction at lunchtime, and write my PhD thesis at night. I could finish the thesis within a year, and have that PhD diploma to make me officially a success. Easy-peasy!

Well. Guess how long that plan worked out?

I think it was on the second night of my new schedule that I started crying helplessly when I sat down at my computer, completely overwhelmed. That was when I realized that I’d made a fatal error in my planning: I’d forgotten to schedule any time with my husband, or, in fact, any time to decompress at all.

That was not a livable schedule for me. So, something had to go.

The obvious answer? Fiction writing. After all, although I’d finally published a couple of stories by then, my career certainly hadn’t taken off in any way. No one in the literary world would miss me if I just stopped writing for a year. I could always pick it up again after a year, once the PhD thesis was finished…

…Except that I couldn’t. I genuinely could not do it.

Ever since I was seven years old, I’ve known I wanted to be a writer more than anything else in the world. Writing is like eating to me; it’s like breathing.

No one in the literary world would have missed me that year…but I would have missed myself.

Because without writing, I am not myself. It comes right down to that.

Giving up the PhD was hard. It was hard to admit that I was not going to be the super achiever I had planned to be. It was hard to admit to my wonderful supervisor and advisor that their hopes for me were not going to pan out. It was hard to admit to everyone I really wanted to impress that I was not, in fact, as impressive as I had hoped.

But I have never, ever regretted making that choice—any more than I’ve regretted the fact that, a year later, I chose to finally change literary streams, switching from the darker, adult fantasy novels that had won me my first agent to write the book of my heart instead: a lighthearted, funny MG fantasy adventure set in Regency England, which has since been published as Kat, Incorrigible. I’d been writing darker, adult books because I thought that was what a Serious, Important Writer would do—and surely I had to be impressive in some way, right? Right?

Wrong. It turned out that I wasn’t Serious or Important after all…but what I really wanted to write was so much fun, I couldn’t bring myself to care anymore about what other people thought. And that was the real reward, in itself.

In the end, all of my most important turning points have come down to those moments when I had to step forward and make the choice to believe in my own (quirky! implausible! embarrassing!) dreams…

…Which really means believing in myself, the person behind all the social masks, the person I really am: not Serious, not Important, not capital-I Impressive. Quirky. Human. Me.

I don’t know a scarier step to take—but I don’t know a better one, either.


Stephanie Burgis grew up in East Lansing, Michigan, but now she lives in Wales, surrounded by mountains and castles. The first book in her MG Regency fantasy trilogy, KAT, INCORRIGIBLE, was chosen by VOYA as a Top Shelf pick for Middle School Readers. Her second book, RENEGADE MAGIC, was published on April 3, 2012. You can read the first three chapters of both books on her website: www.stephanieburgis.com


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed and personalized* hardcover of Stephanie Burgis’s new middle-grade novel Renegade Magic! The winner is…

Shila Ah

Congrats, Shila! Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

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The Isolating Writer

When I have a ton of work to do—like, for example, right now with freelance copyediting deadlines, teaching responsibilities for my writing class (which I think is going really well! I love my students), and novel revisions and a nice, solid book deadline I have noted in beautiful panic red in my calendar, among other things, because there are always other things—I do tend to regress and do this thing that helps me focus and get calm and breathe: I isolate.

Here I am writing in bed in my writing sweater, which I love wearing during isolation. Photo by Laura Amador, taken at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program.

It’s comforting to be in a cocoon of my own making, where my mind can find some quiet, and where my panic can slither away and leave me alone so I can get shit done. It’s comforting to avoid all social interactions and let my roots grow out because who cares what I look like. It’s comforting to sit on the floor of my dark apartment eating a tub of blueberries and thinking about the climax of my novel until the “aha!” moment comes. But this kind of behavior doesn’t help me keep friends. Truly, I don’t know if anyone understands when I do this. Sometimes it’s all I can do, you know?

The good thing about isolating in the face of deadlines is I feel like my mind gets sharper, which is a necessary thing for solving plot issues in a novel, and also for getting through freelance jobs. I’m just a usual introvert who needs some Alone Time, as we call it in my house, to recharge. And sometimes this Alone Time spreads out over weeks.

I hope no one takes it personally.

How do I explain this to people so they understand? Fellow introverts, let me know what helps you and how you keep your friends and families intact during and after times you need that comforting, and necessary, bout of isolation to keep your head on straight.


p.s. Change of subject. Do you want to win a signed paperback of Imaginary Girls? The paperback comes out next month and you’ll have chances to win a signed one here on this blog, but in the meantime here’s the first giveaway as a part of Laura Pauling’s Spies, Murder and Mystery Marathon (oh, how I wanted to add a serial comma!). I wrote about mysterious girls from books who catch my imagination… Comment and tell me the “mysterious girl” characters you love, and you could win a beautiful paperback of my book.

Enter the giveaway right here.

The new cover look is gorgeous. This picture doesn’t even show how glossy and delicious this paperback is in person. Wanna see?

(Pre-order links can be found on my website!)

Now back to isolating…

Turning Points: And Now for Something Completely Different by Bethany Griffin (+Giveaway)

This guest post is part of the Turning Points blog series here on distraction no. 99—in which I asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is Bethany Griffin revealing hers…


Guest post by Bethany Griffin

I once sent my former agent an email with that subject…And Now For Something Completely Different. It didn’t turn out very well. But, since we are discussing turning points, it seemed a good place to start! My first agent signed me for a book called Handcuffs, and she loved that book very much.

It was a book about this horrific place called high school, and this blog post is about the meandering path—as I’m not sure there was one clearly defined turning point—that took me from writing a book set in high school to writing a post-apocalyptic slightly steampunk (or at least speculative historical) retelling of a classic Poe story.

I still love my first book in the whole slightly-cringing doting-parent sort of way. It was like trying out a hairstyle that, while flattering, didn’t really work out. And while I’ve moved on, and grown as an author, there were parts of that book that were so honest, and so me, that they still make me uncomfortable. Like this passage:

That’s how shyness works. You want to talk but you can’t. People look at you with scorn. Being an ice princess is infinitely better, even if some people think you’re a total bitch. A snob. Reserved. Those are choices a person makes, to be reserved, to be quiet, or to be a snob. Shy isn’t a choice.

I will never be able to read that passage and deny that this book is a reflection of middle/high school me, perhaps more so than fiction should be (though the plot is purely 100% fiction). But what was I doing writing a realistic contemporary novel, anyway?

As a kid, I read any and everything, but my first love was fantasy. LOTR, The Prydain Chronicles, The Chronicles of Narnia, A Wrinkle in Time, so many awesome books. In middle school I veered off into reading historical novels for several years, and then something weird and wonderful happened: My mom started giving me all these gothic…romances? By authors like Victoria Holt. I won’t argue that these were great literature, and I think my mom gave them to me because I was reading above grade level and those books never had any sex in them, but they also had all these dark haunted manor houses and moors, and secret passages, and mysterious deaths. In middle school I also read Poe for the first time, and his work obviously had an impact on me, but my love has always been the novel, which may be why I took it upon myself to take the essence of Poe and try to make it into a novel, who knows?

In early high school I read everything ever written by VC Andrews, twice, and everything by Stephen King, and then I restarted with fantasy, science fiction, and every other weird bit of speculative fiction that I could get my hands on.

What this history of my childhood reading habits is meant to show is that if there is a particular type of book that I am well-suited to writing, that type of book is NOT realistic contemporary.

So that crazy weird dark mix of genres that I mentioned in the first paragraph? My post-apocalyptic steampunk reimagining of the world created in Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death? Add in speculative history, and maybe a dash of dystopia (since there is an evil dictator) and maybe that’s what I was meant to write. Or at least what I believe I am best suited to writing. And I guess figuring that out is the turning point that this post is meandering toward.

At the time when I composed the email to my former agent, gave it a lovely Monty Python–inspired title, and hit send, I hadn’t quite figured out what I wanted to write.

But I simply wasn’t that excited about doing another realistic book, so I sent her this other manuscript that I’d written during this dreamy state that I’d drifted through during my first pregnancy. It was a weird little fairy tale that I still sort of love. But, I mean, you can’t really spring a surprise like that on a person who is expecting a book about high school and expect anything good to come from it. My former agent said the voice was fantastic, but the rest was vague (it was) and that if I wanted to write fantasy I’d need to start from scratch and define all the rules of my world before I even started writing.

So, I never mentioned that manuscript again. Not to anyone. Not until right this minute. I didn’t respond to that email, I didn’t ask questions. I mentally shelved it forever.

And I went on to write a realistic contemporary manuscript that was probably as good as my first book, but wasn’t really where my heart was, and it didn’t sell.

At that point I didn’t really feel like a writer at all. Certainly not a successful one. And I had an idea for my next story that was huge and awe-inspiring and daunting, and I wasn’t sure I could do it. But that’s the sort of thing that speaks to me (huge and daunting, very dark and quite disturbing), so I jumped in.

My former agent had left the business, and I was agentless, making it a good time for reinventing myself, though the process, for me, was never that deliberate. I was still me, just a me who had become daring enough to create the sorts of settings and characters and stories that I was more qualified, and possibly uniquely qualified, to write.

I’m sure my current agent, Michael Bourret, will be reading this, since he’s also Nova’s agent, and if I wanted to be all sentimental (I don’t) I could say that signing with him was also a turning point, because he really got what I was trying to write, and I really needed someone to get it. These words from an early email, describing my writing—It’s dark, and sexy, and just the slightest bit wrong, but all in such a delicious way—expressed exactly what I was trying to do!

And I needed that validation.

So, I set out to write something different and unique, and what I came up with was Masque of the Red Death. The voice, the world, the setting, the characters, they were all exactly what I was meant to write. The sort of story that came naturally and felt right, and happily, I think it’s the sort of thing some people will enjoy very much. At least I hope so, because I’m going to leave realistic novels to the authors who have so much more to say in that genre. I’ll stick to weird dark gothic stories, with horror, adventure, and secret passageways. And scary crocodiles.

And just maybe, the occasional love triangle.


Bethany Griffin spends her days coaxing teenagers to read, and her evenings writing books that someone else can coax teenagers to read. She spends too much time reading and on the internet, and not enough time doing anything else, but rationalizes that everything else is overrated, anyway. Masque of the Red Death was just released on April 24, by GreenWillow Books.

Visit her online at www.bethanygriffin.com.


GIVEAWAY WINNER ANNOUNCED!

Congratulations to the giveaway winner of a *signed and personalized* hardcover of Bethany Griffin’s new YA novel Masque of the Red Death:

Celeste

Congrats, Celeste! I will email you for your mailing address. Thank you to everyone who entered—and to the author for the prize.


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

When You Wish You Were Another Writer

Why can’t I write ________?

  • faster?
  • sexier?
  • shorter?
  • BIGGER?
  • better?

Why can’t I write books like the ones _______ writes?

  • Libba Bray?
  • Gayle Forman?
  • John Green?
  • Sara Zarr?
  • Holly Black?
  • Karen Russell?

Those are just a few of my fill-in-the-blanks, and I’m sure you can slip in your own words or author names to finish those sentences.

This is just a little writer public-service announcement that we are all only ourselves—and our best writing comes out when we recognize this and embrace it. My stories are my stories, and my way of writing them is simply… how I write. Yes, I spend a lot of time admonishing myself to seek out bigger plot points and shove out larger word counts, but I’d much rather look at a manuscript I’ve finished and know it’s wholly mine. That I didn’t hide who I was. That I didn’t try to be anyone other than this flawed, over-wordy, flighty, weird, cryptic writer whose body I happen to be in. Thankfully, 17 & Gone is this manuscript—and that’s not for lack of insulting myself and telling myself to do something else.

But also there’s this: We can be inspired by these other writers and methods of writing. We can admire their world-building and their important, beautiful, memorable, thrilling stories. They can help us stretch and grow to be stronger writers.

Thus ends my lecture to myself as I revise the novel I happened to write… which is mine as much as anything could be, for good and bad and worse and better, till death do us part.

Turning Points: Guest Post by Claire Legrand (+Giveaway)

The Turning Points blog series is back with more guest posts! I’ve asked authors the question: What was your turning point as a writer? Here is debut author Claire Legrand revealing hers…


Guest post by Claire Legrand

My turning point didn’t come when I wrote the book that got me a publishing contract.

It came with the book I had to let go.

First of all, I have to say as a disclaimer that I’ve already told this story in bits and pieces on my blog. But the more I talk about it, the stronger I feel, the more encouraged, the more determined. So, here it is again:

I still remember how the idea for that story—the one I had to let go—came to me. The summer after I graduated from high school, I visited Washington, D.C., with my family. On the flight home, while staring out the window and daydreaming, I had a vision. Calling it that makes me want to roll my eyes, but it happened. An image popped into my head, one I had to explore.

It would later become one of the final scenes in the final book of a trilogy that I have yet to write.

Two years later, halfway through my undergraduate degree, I changed my major and left music behind, at least in a professional sense. Part of the impetus behind this decision was that vision that wouldn’t leave me. The story of it haunted me, begging for existence. I changed my major rather listlessly to English literature. I didn’t know what I was going to do with myself, at that point. But I knew I was going to write this book.

I spent the next two years brainstorming. I scribbled aimlessly in notebooks and wrote fan-fiction for characters that have yet to see the light of day. I composed glossaries and encyclopedic essays, designed clothing, and dreamed up spectacularly elaborate fictional histories, maps, wars.

In 2008, I finally started writing. I still remember the feeling of sitting down that first day and typing the word “Prologue,” my fingers shaking. (Yes, prologue! Haters to the left.)

This was the beginning of the book that would get me published. I just knew it.

Funny how things so seldom work out the way we thought they would.

I finished that first bloated, ridiculous, beautiful first draft about a year and a half later, in the summer of 2009. Immediately, I started querying this book that was approximately 200,000 words too long. (Yes.)

Part of me was very practical about this whole process, this dream of being a published author. I was in graduate school, after all; I would earn my librarian degree, I would have a back-up plan. Not that I would need it. This mammoth book would be my ticket to the big time.

How could I have possibly thought such a thing?

I think a lot of it stemmed from fear. It was like I knew, somewhere deep and unacknowledged in my gut, that this wasn’t going to work like I hoped. That I needed to do more research, take time to learn the craft. I scorned words like “craft” and “process” because I was confident that I somehow knew it all innately. That sounds like arrogance, but really, truly, it was fear. Fear that, if I took that extra time to research and plan and hone, the window of opportunity would close for some reason. Fear that, at any moment, someone would pop up, point and jeer, and say that I wasn’t good enough.

I therefore rushed into things way too fast, before my poor, bursting book was even halfway ready.

I queried, and queried, and queried. My original query letter was two pages long. Two pages long! I didn’t include the word count. I didn’t do anything that I was supposed to. Somehow, miraculously, I still managed to get requests, and my rejections were always kind (bless the hearts of those nice agents who could have laughed me into smithereens, but didn’t). However, they were still rejections. These requests never panned out.

Until this one, about six months after I started querying. They say it only takes one.

They’re right. Well, sort of.

I don’t remember how I stumbled upon Diana Fox, exactly, but somehow I ended up at her blog in November 2009. She was going to attend a conference near me in the spring, and I thought, “How fortuitous!” I sent her my query and the first few pages of my prologue. A couple of weeks later, she requested my full manuscript.

And it was a fortuitous thing that I didn’t say how long my book was in that query, and that Diana requested it anyway. That she didn’t open up the Word document, curse, laugh, and send it back to me with a standard rejection.

In February 2010, I checked in with her. In response, I received the longest, most thoughtful email I had yet received from any agent. She had read my book. She liked many things about it, she said, but lots of things still needed work. Perhaps we could talk about it over coffee at the conference in April? I agreed. I probably danced a happy dance of some kind.

April 2010. I went to the conference, all dressed up and sweating profusely. God, I was nervous. This would be, I was convinced, The Day. Sure, Diana had some reservations about my book, but if she saw me in person, if she heard my passion firsthand, she would change her mind. Maybe we could talk revisions, with the promise of representation afterward. Maybe! Maybe!

But a voice kept whispering in the back of my mind, “You know that’s not going to happen, Claire.”

The voice was right. That didn’t happen.

What did happen was that Diana and I sat on the poolside patio of her hotel and chatted about—well, everything: writing, books, my book in particular, life—for three or four hours. I nodded and smiled and said, “Uh-huh” and admitted numbly that no, I hadn’t read that book . . . or that book . . . or that book. I took notes. More sweating.

She did not offer me representation. She did, however, tell me to stay in touch.

“Stay in touch.” The three most evil words since “It’s not you . . . ”

Later, when I got home, I cried as hard as I did when my parents told me they were getting a divorce, as hard as I did the first time someone broke my heart.

I cried because it had finally hit me: how much work I needed to do, how much time I had wasted, how this was the end. I would have to stick my characters in a drawer somewhere until neglect eradicated them.

I cried because Diana had been so ruthlessly honest, and yet so kind. She loved it, but not enough. I had been so close.

A couple of days later, I started revisions, struggling to incorporate everything Diana had suggested, not pausing for one second to think that rushing into this wasn’t a good idea. Instead, I plowed through, revising and re-writing and re-thinking.

It still wasn’t good enough, though. I wasn’t good enough. Not only was I not living up to my own standards, I was also letting my characters down. I wanted to be good enough for them because the feeling of them in my chest was like solid, warm little knots, made up of me and embedded in me and breathing through me.

But I wasn’t. Every query ultimately led to a rejection. So, I put my first book away—and that right there, that decision—changed everything. I put one book away, and I started another one.

This book was something different. This was not a story requiring glossaries, prologues, and an encyclopedia. It was fun, it was creepy, and it cleansed me. For so long, I had been stuck stubbornly trying to hammer out this story that was too big for me. I had focused on it at the expense of all else—reading, researching the industry I so desperately longed to be a part of, developing relationships with other authors.

My turning point came when I realized all this, and took steps to fix it.

When I said good-bye to the book of my heart and started a new book, a step I had never imagined I could stomach taking.

When I admitted that I had work to do, and did it.

That’s when everything changed.

I finished this book, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, and sent it to Diana, with whom I had stayed in casual contact. She requested it, and by the time all was said and done, she had offered me representation, as had two other agents.

I chose to sign with Diana. A couple of weeks later, we started submitting to editors. A couple of days later, we had our first offer, and we ended up selling the book to my brilliant editor Zareen Jaffery at Simon & Schuster.

I like to think that that first book, the book of my heart, was the hand scrabbling resolutely at the door to the publishing industry. It left behind some blood, some fingernail splinters. But it wedged that door open a smidge, just enough for my Cavendish-shaped foot to slip in and open it fully.

What will happen to that first book? I honestly don’t know. I know that I think about it often. I know that I’ve re-written the prologue, that I’ve re-tooled much of my world-building. I know that, when Diana speaks of it, it is with genuine enthusiasm, and I know what couple she ’ships (an aside: there are many awesome pairings to choose from; I’m just saying). I know that I will return to it, someday.

I also know that, without that first book, without the vision on that plane, I might not have started writing again. You know, I might not even have changed my major. My ambition in life might still be to play in the New York Philharmonic, and I might be spending money on mouthpieces and piccolo trumpets instead of books and printer cartridges and BEA.

We all need that first book, that book of the heart. This isn’t to say that all the books we write aren’t from the heart. But there is always that one book that gets us started, that inspires and propels us. We all need that book—to write it, to slave over it, to get it out of our systems.

Sometimes we even need to let that book go. I know I did.

But whether that book gets published or sits in a drawer, whether it becomes a best-seller or not, whether people love it or hate it, it is the book that made me dream.

And that, the dreaming, is what makes all the difference.


Claire Legrand is a full-time writer and former librarian living in New York City (although she will always be a Texan at heart!). Her first novel, The Cavendish Home for Boys and Girls, will release on August 28, 2012, from Simon & Schuster Books For Young Readers. Her second novel, The Year of Shadows, is due out August 2013, and her third novel, a re-telling of The Nutcracker called Winterspell, is due out the following year, both from S&S BFYR.

Links: blog | twitter | facebook | goodreads | tumblr


The giveaway is now closed. Congrats to the winner: Hannah Jones!


There’s more in the Turning Points series. Catch up with any posts you may have missed here.

Finding Your Writing Confidantes

For the longest time after grad school, maybe in reaction to being workshopped so much I could hear twelve different responses to every line I put down on the page, I crawled into myself and stopped showing my writing to very many people. Friends would have to beg to read it, and even then, once I’d been persuaded to show them my mostly unpublished stories or certainly, definitely unpublished novels, I couldn’t be in a room and talk to my friends about what they read. It embarrassed me to have it floating there, off the page, where people could praise it or punch holes in it or whatever they chose to do. I didn’t want to face even compliments, and any talk of my writing made me painfully uncomfortable and fidgety, desperately seeking changes of subjects or any reason to run away. (Is that the phone ringing? Whoa, do you smell fire? Gotta go!)

The whole point of writing is to be published and have people read you, is it not? I did want to get published—I just felt so uncomfortable talking to people who read my stuff. (Yes, for years I called my writing “my stuff.” I still do sometimes.)

So much of it is about trust, you see. Not everyone is a good reader of fiction-in-progress. Some people can say an offhand thing that can crush you for months. Some people like everything and so you can never really know when something’s not working because everything works for them. Some people would never read your work in the real world—it’s just not to their taste, or interest—so why bother forcing them to be your audience today? Some people read your “stuff” and then months later show you their stuff and it’s so similar to your stuff in weird ways and you’re not sure what to say or how to say it or who influenced who. I could go on. It’s difficult to find a good reader for your work, someone who has the time to read when you need them to, and gives you the kind of feedback you need to move forward and not get you stalled in mud and self-loathing and despair. It’s a lot to ask of a person, too. I mean novels sure are long.

I’m thinking of this today because I have very few readers. Very, very few.

One of them is the person I share a bed with: E. Of all the novels I’ve written over the years, and the multiple drafts these novels have gone through, I think it’s safe to say he’s read my books dozens of times. Talk about patience. And generosity.

I’m revising 17 & Gone and coming up against a big question—like an enormous riddle my genius of an editor has set out for me, and I want to come back to her with a solution. I want her to like said solution. So inside me is this roar of questions and a battery of hammers telling me I’ll never get it right, and I keep coming up with this idea or that idea or this other one, but I realized, I can bounce these ideas off of E. We can talk it through. And I wanted to fall to my knees in gratitude for not being so alone in this.

A writing confidante will help you feel less alone.

The thing is, yes, I have an editor and yes I have an agent, but it’s not smart to show every little version of something to either. I want their fresh eyes on my strongest work. When I turn in this revision, I want them both to say I hit the mark… or I’m very close to the mark if I just move over a few feet to the left. I don’t want them to have seen five different choose-your-own adventures and a muddle of who-knows-what so they can’t even keep things straight anymore and they just want me to be done with it already so it can get off their desks. An editor or even an agent shouldn’t be treated like a critique partner… no matter how much you trust them.

I also think it’s important to find writing confidantes whose taste you trust. I showed the previous draft of 17 & Gone to two writers. I trust them—as people—and I also trust their taste. I like the books they like. And maybe more importantly I think they are amazing talents themselves. I believe in their vision. (Not to mention that they reached out to me to say they wanted to read my book; I’d never show someone if they didn’t ask me first.)

But even showing them was immensely difficult at first. In the past, feedback from others on a manuscript could cause me to give up on a book forever. Or just lead me off in a wrong direction until I’m left with a broken, crumpled mess of stilted words. In this way, it’s more me than you. Because timing is everything. I am now very careful to not show my writing too soon. I have to hold it close for as long as I need it to be cradled and only when I can read it back without cringing can I hit Send.

Thus ends today’s sensitive-creature confession.

Who are your writing confidantes? We all need at least one.

Confessions of the Overwhelmed

I’ve been apologizing left and right for not being able to keep up with plans for this blog, and I think it’s time for a more public apology here.

While I did plan to start up the Turning Points series again once I came home—full of guest blogs from amazing writers, many I solicited and many who reached out to me… I have to admit that this has proved harder than expected. Doing a blog series, especially with giveaways, is a lot of work, a lot more than I realized, and I think this all came to a head when I was putting up the debut interview series a couple weeks ago after I came home from Djerassi. I’ve also been doing freelance projects to bring in income while I’m between book advances, and I’ve started teaching that writing class with Mediabistro (which is such a joy! and it’s a priority now, so, yes, it takes up a lot of my time), and let’s not forget the books I have to write and their deadlines. So what you haven’t been seeing is me chasing everything and trying to catch up. While I focus on teaching and writing—and while I refuse to ever miss a freelance deadline because I need to be reliable—one thing has fallen by the wayside, and I’m afraid that’s this here blog. (And emails. Oh, emails.) I’m sure this all doesn’t sound like much to others, but I’m having a hard time keeping up, and that’s the honest truth.

I have some beautiful Turning Points posts that were sent to me before I left for Djerassi, and I will be putting them up to share with you. I just needed a break to get my head on straight. I’m making some plans and hoping to start posting those next week. And if you’re one of those authors, I will be emailing you.

And thank you to everyone for your interest in the series! I can’t take any more posts, I’m afraid, but thank you!

Finally, there were some author interviews I’ve planned, and they may be late, but I still hope to be able to do them.

And after all that, this blog may have to return to what it was once before, when fewer people were reading: Just me and the thoughts in my head.

Thanks for listening!