The Surprises, the Failures, the New Chapters in This Author Life

bluelacesWhen I entered the YA world in 2010, with the impending publication of Imaginary Girls (before that I didn’t feel a welcome part of it because my debut was middle-grade), I looked around at all the authors and thought there was one single kind of career to aspire to, the Best Kind, and of course I should be aspiring to it: The full-time writer who publishes a book a year and reaches out with savvy, fun marketing to her fans (ahem, she has fans) and goes to all the cool conferences and festivals.

This was what I had to try to be, and if I couldn’t, then I would fail at this, just like I’d failed already at trying to publish novels for adults.

I gave it a good go. At one point I was trying to propose a middle-grade trilogy along with a new YA novel, saying I could write both in one year, and then of course both proposals failed before we even showed them to editors because I lost my steam and I began to have this little tickling laugh at myself: You can’t do this. You can’t write this fast. My agent knew it, too, and never pushed me. I was the one pushing myself.

I guess I pushed until I sputtered and fell over.

Time passed. Attempts. Failures. More attempts.

Everything involving The Walls Around Us came to be, and that was good.

And through it all, and in the aftermath of Walls, I’ve been thinking this: But wait. What kind of author do I really want to become?

If I’m going to be honest with myself, what feels right?

It’s funny, but I think at heart you often want to emulate the people who were there to influence you in those eye-opening moments when you first get serious about being a writer. For me, that’s when I was 22. I keep going back to my time in grad school at Columbia University, when I was 22 and starting my MFA in Fiction and writing my short stories. The authors I admired then weren’t publishing a book a year. The authors I admired were so far from commercial, most people outside my circle had never heard of them. The authors I admired—basically, every single one of them—were teaching writing in programs like mine.

So why didn’t I try to teach way back when?

I was too shy. I had no confidence. I was well aware I knew nothing. So instead of trying for any teaching assistantships, I found my way into publishing and chose the most quiet and out-of-the-spotlight position a person could take in book publishing, the copy editor aka production editor. The person no one thinks about until she misses a mistake.

I sat quietly in this job, or another job like it, for about five, six, seven years. Sometimes I walked the hallways of the publishing company I was working at—whichever one—wanting to disappear off the face of the earth with a red pencil stabbed through my neck because no one wanted to publish me. But I needed to live this experience. I needed those years of rejection to make me a better writer, and to want it all the more.

When I found YA and Imaginary Girls got me a good book deal, I waited until the day my advance check was deposited in my bank account, and then I quit my job. I knew I didn’t want to be a production editor anymore, but I would soon find out I wasn’t so good at being a prolific full-time author either.

So what was left?

* * *

It is eighteen years after that fateful August I moved to Morningside Heights to start my MFA, all the light and starry hope in my eyes, and a batch of IKEA furniture on the way to furnish my side of the apartment (I could afford one table and three chairs, one black fabric couch chair, and one bookshelf, all the cheapest models available). Eighteen years later, and I’m about to finish teaching my last week of my YA Novel Writing course at Columbia, the same university where this all began, and went into debt for, and regret sometimes even while knowing those were the happiest years of my life. My Columbia class ends next week, and I absolutely loved teaching it. I’m sad it’s over. I want to do it again.

All along was I supposed to pursue teaching?

Maybe so. Funny not to realize, but now that I’ve been teaching, I’ve come to see how much I do love it—this June I led my third workshop at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program; it was so wonderful, I’m doing it again in March, twice (applications just opened this week). And I have two workshops this fall, coming up at the Highlights Foundation and the Writing Barn (spaces still open in each workshop), and I’m working privately with some writers, and I’m pursuing other things to teach regularly if I can, and I’m doing all of this because I am hoping it will lead me to be like the authors I admired all those years ago, to build the kind of career that feels right after some trial and error at other ways. The goal: Teaching at a college one day, taking the time I need to write my next novel, helping new writers be the best they can be, the way I was helped and have not forgotten.

Working with other writers feels right—it feels good. Not having to be so self-centered and solely focused on my own stuff, my own books, my own marketing chatter, my own author career and where it’s going or where it’s not going… what a fucking relief.

I am frustrated, sure, that it took me this long to realize this kind of career would be a better fit for me—imagine how far along I’d be if I’d known, imagine how much angsting I would have saved myself—and yet, it is what it is.

I think of a writer from one of my workshops who recently sent out queries for her beautiful work and I am hoping she finds an agent who believes in her writing the way I do. I think of all the writers I’ve worked with over these brief few years I’ve been teaching, and the struggles some have had in this industry, and I wish and hope I can be a helpful light when the doors keep closing in their faces, the way hundreds of doors did on mine. I think of the writer whose unpublished novel I was reading last night and how stunned I was by the last page I read, and how I know it needs to be published and I wish I could snap my fingers and make it happen, but I know that’s not possible and maybe the feedback I’ll give her to work to make it the best book it can be will help in another way. I think of the writer just at the beginning of a novel and all the potential and spark I see in there, and how I said, please email me when you’re ready, even if it takes years, I won’t forget you, and if I can do something to help when the time comes, I will. I think of all the writers who work hard through all the madness of writing a novel, even when that novel won’t get published in the end, a fate many novels have, and I want to tell them it’s not wasted work and it doesn’t mean they won’t make it, and to keep trying, keep writing, keep reinventing yourself. I did.

This is the thing: The kind of author we want to be can change, as we grow as writers, as we realize who we are meant to be. It can expand. And maybe it can shock and surprise you.

It does not have to be what everyone else sees as successful.

You do not need to covet a seat at the popular lunch table.

You can carve out a new path for yourself. Start your own table. Pull up a few more chairs. Change the dream.

One day in the far future when I let myself go gray (I started going gray at 20 and I’m still dyeing, thank you very much), I want to know I gave back as much as I put out in the world, in my own small way.

Advertisements

Filling the Well

the well

I hear this advice often—I think I read it first from Julia Cameron, author of The Artist’s Way, one of the books I borrowed from my mother’s bookshelf way back when. Artists need time to “fill the well,” or replenish our creative resources, especially after we’ve completed large, all-encompassing, energy-draining projects such as novels that have taken huge chunks of our hearts, heads, and souls to get on the page.

How do you fill the well? You take in inspirations. You let yourself ponder and wonder and think. You take a look at the world and collect (people, ideas, fragments, overheard conversations, images, notes, pieces, pebbles, seeds).

So maybe this post is about this need and this process.

Or maybe this post is about that moment after you’ve published a book and the pressure that comes to write the next book.

And how this moment can expand into days. Weeks. Months. Years? (Help me, I’m quoting The Walls Around Us—that’s how connected I am to that book still and proves it’s been hard to move on and let go.)

This is me: I just published a new book. My fourth. I’m proud of it. It feels complete. There was the fear of what would happen when people started reading it, and I survived that, and the nerves of what would happen when it got published, and if it would change my life (we writers, no matter how realistic and jaded we get, still hold the secret hope that the next book will be the one to change our lives), and I think it did, in an internal way that feels very personal and wonderful, but I don’t necessarily think it did in the splashy ways most people ask about or expect.

This is a two-book contract, I should add. And the second book on the contract is a whole new novel, completely unrelated to Walls. It’s a creation from scratch. And it’s due.

This winter, after a short stint at an artists colony, I turned in a very wobbly and paper-thin first draft of my next book, and then got feedback, and was set off on a course to rewrite and reimagine it. I agree with the feedback. I know there is a lot of work to do—I love hard work. But even as I knew all that, The Walls Around Us was coming out, and there were promotional things to do, online and in-person, and I kept going away to conferences, and I kept telling myself I would really dig in deep when I got home, and I slipped in work in between things and time kept passing without much progress made.

What I needed was for time to stop. I needed permission to take a little break from trying to get the novel into shape and just close my eyes and let the shape nudge itself together in the darkness.

Lately I’ve been thinking about all of this. And I discovered something:

When forcing yourself to hit an arbitrary word count every day doesn’t help… And when guilt-tripping yourself into a stupor doesn’t help… And when comparing yourself to the productivity and publishing schedules of other authors doesn’t help… And when effectively tying yourself to your desk chair doesn’t help…

Know what helps me? Doing something tentatively connected to writing that has nothing whatsoever to do with this novel.

The first thing has been my teaching and the private manuscript critiques and mentoring I’ve started doing. I love working closely with other writers, and digging in deep to their novels even when I’m feeling faraway from mine. Somehow that’s helped.

The second thing has been a project I’ve been doing for the month of May, or Short Story Month. I’ve been reading a short story every day—if you want to see which stories, here is the list I’m keeping updated. Pressure-free reading. It’s working wonders on my head.

The stories don’t take long to read. And most of the stories I’m choosing to read are not YA, so I don’t have to think about the industry. I just have to absorb. Admire. Experience. Fill the well, I guess.

It’s been a wonderful experience so far. Inspiring. I feel lighter. I feel happier. I feel less tied to my author-self and more connected to my writer-self, the one who just loves words.

I’ve learned this about myself: I need time in between books to not be writing the next book. I always need this time, and I always fight against needing this time. I always feel bad about myself. I always force the work, and this takes me on detours, and ends with me having to undo what I forced.

If this always happens, you’d think I’d have this figured out by now, but I’ve also learned that I’m a work-in-progress and still learning.

Next time, I would like to remember this and give myself the well-filling recovery time I know I’ll need. Now I’ve had it, these new ideas are percolating and my heart is beating fast again and I can see the end of this novel glimmering in the distance and I want to run to it. I have the energy, once again, to run.

What THE WALLS AROUND US Means to Me

The Walls Around UsMy new book, The Walls Around Us, was published today! I would be so thrilled and honored if you considered buying it this week from your favorite independent bookstore or ordering it through your local library—first-week sales do help authors so much, that’s the truth. But most of all, however you may get your hands on it, from a good friend, from an enemy, from an amazon, or from a Dumpster, I do hope it speaks to you somehow. I hope you like it.

This is a book that I wrote for myself, wholly and completely. I wrote it for the girl I was, back some time ago, and the person I am today. I wrote it because I needed to.

I wrote it because I reached an ugly place inside myself full of itching doubts that made me question every single idea I was having and every single line I was writing, and I wanted to free myself somehow. How ironic, then, to write a book that takes place mostly inside a prison to make yourself feel free. But it did. It shook something loose in me.

Last night, if you happened to be at my launch event at my favorite local bookstore McNally Jackson, where I was being interviewed by one of my favorite authors and people, Libba Bray—damn, am I lucky, damn—you may have heard Libba call this my “middle fingers book.” She says this because she witnessed me at the café table talking about writing whatever the hell I wanted without boundaries or censors and raising my middle fingers high to the ceiling while saying so, a funny image, yes. But also, it’s true. That’s what this book is for me.

me and libba
(Libba Bray and me at the launch of THE WALLS AROUND US on March 23 at McNally Jackson)

Sometimes you have to stand up for yourself in the face of all that doubt and so-called expectation and write the book you most want to write. Even if—especially if—you’re scared to do it.

The book you’d go out with in a flash of fire and smoke if you could.

The book that has no regrets.

The book that is as weird and wild and yourself as can be.

That’s The Walls Around Us for me.

I risked a lot—and now here I am, with it out in the world and no take-backs, and I feel good, I feel proud, I feel pretty OK.

One of the strangest things to realize is: When I gave myself permission to write simply for myself… When I told myself to go wild, go crazy, go all-out and see what happens, THIS is the book that seems to get more attention than my previous books. It was named the #1 Kids’ Indie Next Pick by the American Booksellers Association for Spring 2015! An Amazon Best YA Book of the Month for March! It has gotten five starred reviews!

???

Isn’t that some kind of life lesson, you think? That we should be honest and brave and so completely ourselves with the novels we’re putting out in the world. That we shouldn’t try to write what we think other people want us to write, what the industry is looking for, what readers supposedly want from us, what the world at large says. We should tell our own stories, with conviction. We should be fearless and risky and wild and true.

Even when we’re scared.

I’m so grateful for everything that’s happened with The Walls Around Us so far. (And stunned. And flummoxed. And thrilled. And… and… and I could go on!)

1509708_10153172049491346_1363674085147565626_n
(My publisher shared this wall of WALLS today!)

 

For more about the book

Thank you so much to all the wonderful, wonderful people who have been so very supportive of me and this book. I will not forget. I am so thankful.

In another post, once I have more photos, I will share with you how my first-ever-ever launch event with special guest Libba Bray went! (SPOILER: IT WAS AMAZING.) But for now, I will breathe. And be grateful for every last moment.

And try to be brave again with my next book.

cookie and pillow 610
(At my launch event with one of the cookies my publisher surprised me with, and a pillow my mom made for me!)

 

The Obligatory Old Year / New Year Post

I came home from my writing retreat right before the New Year. I can’t spend that night apart from E.

Yaddo is a secretive place. I cannot post photos or give many details, but I can say I shared some inspiring conversations, laughed and learned many things, and slept with the light on because I saw a ghost (maybe) in my bedroom my second or third night. I wrote and wrote, too, which was the whole point of going. My writing studio saw me through the writing of almost 30,000 words. That was my goal for my stay, and though I was 1,448 words shy of making it, I am close enough that it feels successful. I left feeling good.

I found illuminations. I sizzled with inspiration. I felt on fire. I found myself at low points and then I found ways to raise myself up. I looked out the crisscrossed-diamond windows at the tall pine trees over the rooftop and thought of who had done the same, in this very studio, years and decades before. I went to town and visited a wonderful bookshop that didn’t carry my books, but I forgive them. I covered my entire desk in colorful sticky notes of ideas, plans, to-dos, and daily word counts. I ate dessert quite a few of the nights (so hard to resist) and carrot sticks at lunch every day.

There is magic there. You don’t have to believe in it for it to find you. The echo of everyone who came before you surrounds you in each room, through each hallway, heading up and down each set of stairs.

There is a quiet that contains the quick-quick panic of an anxious, deadlining heart.

And when real life intrudes, as it did on my last few days in the form of a blistering on/off headache and the stress of some worries waiting for me at home, there was still the quiet to escape to, the gift you were given to be here.

You are welcomed. You are not the only one awake in the night.

If you go down to the living room, Katrina will be there watching you. If she’s proud, her eyes will show it in the painting. If she wants more from you, her eyes will be honest and stare hard at you, telling you to go back upstairs and sit your butt in that chair. (She would probably say that more elegantly.)

On my last night, Katrina’s eyes were smiling.

It was a wonderful end point to my five-year chapter, as I wrote about in this blog before I left. It capped off my 2014.

I came home on the Amtrak, and E met me in Penn Station. We had talked on the phone every morning and every night, but I missed him, terribly. Seeing him there in the crowd made my heart leap. We spent a calm and quiet New Year’s Eve together as I’d hoped and I wrote down all my goals and dreams for 2015. Now it’s the morning of January 1, and I’m in my favorite morning place—my writing café, at a table near the outlet, my back against the wall—and it’s almost like my time upstate didn’t even happen. I’d been in a bubble, and the bubble has burst. Everything’s fading, which I guess is why I wanted to spend some time this morning writing that down.

This may be a stressful year, but I am also determined for it to be an amazing one.

So much is happening:

I am teaching a new online class that starts next week and beginning one-on-one mentoring with some talented writers who’ve already signed up to work with me. I am going to my first publisher-sponsored conference ever in my life in February. The book I put my all into is coming out in March.

I’m scared of what’s coming, I’ll admit it. I’m definitely on the edge of a new chapter in life and I have a big birthday coming up this winter.

But I’m also really proud of how far I’ve come.

My publisher posted this wonderful photo and I want to share it. 2015 is here!

tumblr_nhexugfjG21syfzyxo1_1280

The Calm Before the Who-Knows-What: 110 Days to Publication

walls arcs 400I write this to you from a quiet moment in my publishing life. It is December 5, the year 2014, and I am in the room at the rear of the café at a table beside the outlet where I can safely sit with my back against a wall. I am all alone in a room full of noisy people, which is both literal and symbolic at the same time. I write this nervously, of course, and with hope, always, about what the future might bring. My new book comes out next year, and next year is close. The pub date is March 24, to be exact, which I can see ahead on the calendar and which feels breathlessly about to happen and also at the same time safely still far away.

The moment is quiet still, because nothing has happened yet. There have been no trade reviews yet. It is too soon to do much promoting, or to weigh any reactions. I haven’t had to dress up at an event for this book yet and talk about it in front of people. Anything is possible at this point. The book comes out in 110 days.

There are 110 days to go, and the book is mine still, even though some people have been reading it and kindly telling me so on Twitter.

Today, someone tweeted me something I said a while back. I guess I said, “When I was writing The Walls Around Us, I decided to be simply and only myself.” And that’s true. I want to remember that, no matter what happens.

Everything is about to be up in the air next year. Where I’ll live. What work I’ll be doing. What will happen with my writing career. How this book will do out in the world. How that will determine everything else, including, though I’d hate to let that happen, my self worth.

I don’t know yet. I can’t know yet. We’re waiting on news about our apartment. I can’t do much to figure things out for next year because I’m about to go away and be offline for three weeks. The book I’m writing now is due next month, and it’s the last book on my contract. I don’t know what I’ll write next.

The best thing I can do for myself is have no expectations. To look ahead into the future and see a complete and total blank. When I get my hopes up, it’s dangerous. When I skew too negative, it’s far worse. When I keep myself busy, and try not to think about anything beyond next week when I’ll take the train upstate to finish my novel, it’s okay.

So let’s just be okay today.

I wanted to write to you from this moment in my life. From before.

If you, too, are on the edge of something and want to imagine someone sitting next to you in the noisy waiting room crowded with other people all going about their lives, I’m here. I’m feeling quiet. But I’m here.

p.s. I’m too tired to check my math. If it’s actually less than 110 days, don’t tell me.

The Two-Month Countdown and the One-Track Mind

legs in san franToday is November 15. That means I have two months to finish* this Thing* and turn it in.

*Just finish the first draft—there will be revisions!

*See my previous post for why I feel safer calling it a Thing. For the TLDR lazypants who don’t feel like clicking: By Thing I mean my novel.

So I have two months to go. Two months. Much to do. Only two months. I’m keeping up the momentum as best I can, with other deadlines and work-ish commitments getting in the way, but I keep telling myself: This is only the exploratory draft. Doesn’t need to be right yet. Doesn’t need to make full sense yet. Doesn’t need to have everything you want in it yet, because you can’t know everything yet!

I am making choices and decisions in this draft simply to try them out—they don’t have to stick next draft. I’m not drawing my novel in a patch of wet concrete, so when it dries it will be stuck that way forever.

I am discovering my characters as I go. I am not sure what they’ll do next, or how they’ll react to certain things. But after this draft is done, I will know them far better than I did before.

And while, yes, I do revise as I go—chapter by chapter, going back to the beginning when I’ve come upon a significant change that then needs to be seeded in—because this is how my brain works and how my hands like to work, I am making progress. Every day I sit down at my desk, I’ve moved forward in some way even if the word count doesn’t show it.

Maybe I should be panicked at this point, but I’m not. I’m deep in it, enjoying the process. Because why write otherwise?

The only problem right now is the rest of life. When I have a good writing day (yay!), everything else is unequivocally a mess. And when I get on top of everything else (sort of), then my writing suffers. For someone as easily distractible as I am (hence the name of this blog and my way of using parentheses in the middle of sentences because I keep having more than one thought I want to get down) I have such a one-track mind.

I’ve been like this for a long time. I wanted to be a writer, and once I gave up photography to start my MFA in fiction I didn’t want to be anything else. No other creative pursuits or hobbies or real passion in my day jobs or really any side avenue to run along on when the writing’s not going well. And there are many days in life when the writing is just not going well. In my personal life, I don’t want a family, don’t want to be a mother, barely contribute to society, despise going to the gym though I’m trying to anyway, am a horrible burn-the-good-pan can’t-get-the-black-spots-out-with-scrubbing cook.

Being a writer is my one thing, and everything else suffers.

I can see the red warnings flashing.

I don’t want a hobby, though. I really do like being consumed like this. I like thinking about writing and talking to other writers and teaching writing classes and reading books written by other writers and yes, also sitting against the wall at this café knowing today’s Saturday and I have hours ahead to do my own writing.

I like it like this, but it’s also a very small world. I’m inside a tiny bubble. Very few people on the outside understand the panicked excited doomsday delirium that comes by saying a book deadline is fast approaching and I have to be creative-on-command, and why would they? I feel alone in this very often. I feel frustrated with myself on a regular basis. If this is all I’m doing, shouldn’t I be doing way better at it? That kind of thing.

Sometimes I think about taking a break for a short while. I went to a small, interesting college—Antioch College, very different from the entity that exists under its name now—where we had what was called the co-op program. Basically, three- or six-month periods spent working off-campus for course credit, and then you’d write a co-op paper at the end about what you learned. I co-oped for a symphony, an early attempt at an online newspaper, a literary journal, an activist organization in the basement of a church, a public-relations office, and as editor of the campus newspaper. Sometimes I think I need a co-op from my real life. I’d write a really great paper about it after.

But if I look back, I know I tried out a bunch of things to discover, deep into my thirties, that this is really all I wanted. I am content with doing only this. Being a writer.

So in the difficult moments, in the tear-out-your-hair and scratch-out-your-eyes moments, in the pits of despair and in the frenzied clouds of delirium, I guess I just want to remember that.

You like this. You chose this. You’re the one who feeds off deadlines, REMEMBER?

Some days I want a little cardboard sign around my neck, colorful and tied with yarn, the way my mother made me when I was in Kindergarten in Saugerties, New York, taking the school bus for the first time, so I wouldn’t get lost. Maybe all children in my Kindergarten class had these signs for them made by their parents. I think the signs had our names and our classrooms on them. I remember wearing my sign strung around my neck with yarn and knowing I was meant to be somewhere. I had a destination. The sign wouldn’t let me forget it.

Trying not to forget where I’m headed today. In two months, to the day, I have a new novel due. I’m on the bus now, but I’ll get there eventually.


Do you want to join me at my YA novel workshop-retreat at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Northern California this coming June? The first two workshops were a glorious success, so I’m thrilled to do it again in 2015. Now accepting applications!

And oh hey… Do you want a signed and personalized copy of The Walls Around Us? Well, unless you go to one of my book events this spring, there is only one way to get one: By pre-ordering through my favorite local bookstore, McNally Jackson. Preorder with a note for how you’d like me to personalize the book here!

Writing a Novel and Seeking the Magic Fix

My state of mind while writing lately.
My state of mind while writing lately.

I am writing what will be my fifth published novel. Five is a number I like, so you’d think this would be a glorious experience, but nothing is ever as easy as I’d hope it to be, most of all writing.

This novel I’m writing was originally slated to come out Spring 2016, a year after The Walls Around Us, but I’m still writing it, so maybe it will come out Fall 2016. I don’t know yet. It all depends on how this draft goes, and if I make this deadline in January, and what my editor thinks once she reads this Thing.

By the way, I feel calmer when I call it a Thing, rather than a BOOK.

A Thing is a hairy little monster. Ugly. Misshapen. It yowls. It drools. No one expects a Thing to be polished and proper and un-embarrassing.

A BOOK is expected to not spit up on the floor. A BOOK is contained. It makes sense.

Right now, I’ll keep working on my Thing, thank you.

So I’m thinking, what are the optimal conditions in which to write a draft of a Thing/BOOK quickly?

(Also note: I said draft. There will be many drafts. This is just the first one. I don’t have any illusions that the Thing will be perfect when I turn it in.)

Well, in an ideal world I’d be in a quiet place with my own writing room and we’d have no bills or student loans to worry about so I wouldn’t have to work on the side and stress over finding more work and there’d be pancakes made-to-order from phantoms in the kitchen every morning and I would be totally healthy and not so tired all the time and I’d have a kitten to play with, because hey why not, in an ideal world I wouldn’t be allergic, and I’d have an intern to deal with all my emails and other randoms on my to-do list like remembering to pick up the almond milk, and, best of all, the internet would be down for months. Seriously, months.

But I live in this world. I live in a shoebox in a very loud city. (And I kind of need the internet! I might be addicted, plus I have a book coming out in March and I don’t want you to forget me!)

So I need to create optimal conditions here at home, in my loud shoebox surrounded by the internet. We all have to find ways to write in the cracks and corners of real life, which is something I said once when I was trying to write during one of my demanding day jobs (the old post is set to “private,” and I’ll keep it that way). But if I did it then, how can I not do it now?

In order to finish this novel, I need:

  • To stay off the internet for large swathes of times like a mature adult with some semblance of self-control.
  • To organize my time so I reach all my work and other writing deadlines and don’t get overwhelmed.
  • To find quiet and isolate when needed. (I’ve talked about this need before.)
  • To have momentum.

That last one is key. Momentum. Really, it’s everything. Because once I have momentum, I don’t care so much about the internet, and I make way better use of my writing time because I am so very FOCUSED.

The way I get momentum is to force myself to write every day. Every. Single. Day. Even when I have work deadlines. Even when I have somewhere to be. Even when I’m sick. Even when I’m sad. Every day.

Some days I might get 500 words. (That’s my optimal—and realistic, if I’m even bothering to count words.) Some days, like yesterday, more than 1,200! And some days, quite a few days, I get 8 words. Some days—many days, since I edit as I go—I am in the negative.

But the point is that I’m keeping up momentum. I’m working on my Thing every day, even for twenty minutes. I’m keeping my Thing (it’s a BOOK, or it will be) always in my mind.

This is why watching NaNoWriMo from the sidelines always cheers me up. I tried to do it once and failed to reach 50K (and ended up not using any words from that draft… they were crap… not worth salvaging). Writing that fast is not for me, and not my process. BUT what works really well for me is the rhythm of writing every day, even a little. And that’s what’s at the heart of NaNoWriMo.

So this November, and December, and into January, I, too, will be writing every day.

I may be getting -8 words or 500 words at best, but I’ll be doing it. Because when I keep up the momentum, I feel inspired. I feel close to my characters and my story. I feel connected. I feel overtaken. I feel on fire.

That’s what I need to write this Thing in my loud, busy shoebox. That’s all.

The kind of quiet I'm craving. (Taken at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, when I was teaching a workshop earlier this year.)
The kind of quiet I’m craving. (Taken at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, when I was teaching a workshop earlier this year.)

Next month, though, I do have a bonus.

One lucky break that fell from the sky into my lap is that I got a residency from Yaddo in December, and I’ll be there for a little less than three weeks, which is pretty much the longest I can be off the grid at this point. There’s no internet in the bedrooms or writing studios at Yaddo, which is a true blessing, so I hope to stay away from the noise as much as I can. I want to try to stay off Twitter and Facebook and Tumblr and all else, if I can. (Unless there’s some news about my book I have the compulsive need to share.) I want to take a break from emails, unless they’re from my publisher or my agent. E will visit for the holiday, and I’ll attack him with pages and talk about the progress of my Thing—which always helps, he’s the only one I can talk to when I’m in this delicate first-drafting place—and then I’ll dive back in. I hope to come home for the New Year with many, many, many words. I hope. Because, once I get home, that deadline is days away.

But even so, I know that Yaddo, or any colony or retreat or residency or stay in a glorious hotel, isn’t the magic fix. All your problems and flaws follow you to a colony, you know. You still have to do the hard work once you get there.

The magic fix for me, no matter where I am, really is momentum. The fix—what will get me to deadline, and what will get me a worthy manuscript to show my editor—is putting in the time and effort and gaining forward movement every single day.

Even if it’s twenty minutes in a notebook, twenty minutes stolen in the cracks and corners of real life, like so many of us have to do.

What do you need in order to finish your novel? Bonus points for saying a kitten.