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#MondayBlogs: Patience in publishing and healing

Patience is something I’ve always had — or at least I’d like to think I’ve always had. Waiting has always been a part of my life. Waiting my turn, waiting for the bus, waiting to get home, waiting to hear back from colleges, waiting for grades… well, you get the picture. These are just micro details; the smaller parts that make up the bigger picture of waiting to figure out who I am and what, or who, I wanted to be. I just didn’t think that so much of following my dreams would include this much waiting.

If you come into publishing thinking that it’s a fast-paced industry, where you’ll sign your agent tomorrow and have a six-figure book deal by the end of the week you’re wrong. Not to say that this doesn’t happen, but it’s rare. It’s the exception. It’s the Cinderella stories that give us hope that we, too, can be the next Stephanie Meyer or E.L. James. I don’t bring up J.K. Rowling here because of the amount of waiting she did, of the amount of rejections she received. She just happened to make it big despite it all.

10409082_10204685365558106_3350743356138276695_nEven if you do get that book deal now, your book won’t actually come out until a year or two from now (at a minimum). This is just how things go. And it took me awhile to accept that, for being a New York-centric industry, it does not move at a New York pace. As a writer, this can be frustrating. And this same frustration has, instead of being focused on the waiting game of publishing, has been focused on how long it’s taking me to heal from my traumatic brain injury, or TBI.

When you query an agent in January, you’d hope to hear back (realistically) in six to eight weeks. Sometimes this takes even longer. Sometimes you never hear back. When I fell in January, I had expected to be back to normal in four weeks. But here it is now the end of July and, well, I’m still waiting.

11825670_10205009280015765_3786229445907326045_nAnd it’s hard to wait. It’s hard to sit have to have days where I’m completely tuned out from work and it’s hard to be completely honest on social media about how I’m feeling. I mean, how professional does it look when your potential editor tweets something like Too depressed to get out of bed today  or Even the Ritalin my psychiatrist prescribed cannot help me focus today.

The thing is, though, I have to be patient and I can’t push myself. I have to only take on as much work as I can handle without prolonging my healing time even further. If a press or agent told me it would be two years before I’d hear back from them, I’d seriously question their professionalism or ability to run a business. But I can’t do that with my neurologist. I can’t look at him, at one of the best neurologists in the area, and tell him that a two year recover time isn’t good enough. Especially when I continuously end up pushing myself in ways that prolong my recovery time.

It’s like when you query an agent, and then you send a follow-up which then puts you back at the bottom of their slush pile.

Advice for querying writers is to get busy with new projects to help them take their mind off of staring at their inbox. Advice for those dealing with post concussion syndrome or TBI’s is much different. We have to relax. Go slow. Be aware of what triggers our anxiety and other symptoms.

13342942_10206754742251230_3583614598801949968_nBut studies are showing that there are certain activities that do help brain injuries heal. There are things I can do that will help restore my balance, my concentration, and my motivation, beyond what I’m doing with physical therapy. As far back as the mid-1990’s, therapeutic horseback riding has been seen as helpful for those recovering from TBI’s. Although physical therapy co-pays have been eating into my riding lesson funds, horseback riding has helped immensely. Not only have I begun to restore my muscles, but it’s a workout I can handle without my symptoms getting worse. Plus there’s the added bonus of being around horses.

This weekend, however, I started a new aspect to my recovery. I started playing a video game. It’s not Pokemon Go (okay, I admit that is on my phone), but a game called Never Alone. The premise is pretty simple but I’m able to work on my coordination, problem solving skills, and helps me work on my inner-ear issues which have been causing massive dizziness when I try and read for prolonged periods of time.

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The point to all of this is that waiting is a part of life. It’s not one of the more fun parts, but there are things we can do to help making the waiting easier. We can rediscover how much we loved something that we used to do when we were younger. We can find the inspiration that helps us move on to another project. Or maybe, just maybe, we find that one reason that helps us get out of bed in the morning.

Whatever you’re waiting for, just remember that you’re not alone. No matter what happens, there are people in your life that love you and support you. Even if you’re like me and can’t remember someone’s cell phone number, what day of the week it is, or something that could’ve been said five minutes ago.

We’re all waiting for something to happen. We just have to keep living our lives despite the wait.

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#MondayBlogs: Finding Focus

Focus is something I had once, I think. I’m not sure how else I was able to work full time, plus part time, plus take classes full time, plus work an internship, plus write one book and edit another. There had to be some sort of magic that I was tapping into, some superpower.

And there was. It’s called denial.

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It’s not just denial in the sense that I was ignoring blatant facts. Well, not exactly. I was ignoring my own needs just because I was able to multi-task. I could work while binge-watching a show while working on discussion posts for school. I had social media platforms running all day. I read manuscripts in the tub. I was at the height of this multi-tasking process when I was living in Arizona. I was living in a familiar city, but didn’t know many people, and my husband and I only had one car. With his set work schedule (instead of the rotation he’s on now), I had a routine. I grocery shopped on the same day every week. After he left for work, I’d walk the dog along the edge of the alfalfa field that grew next to our development. When it wasn’t insanely hot, I’d sit by the pool to read (while still paying attention to Twitter). All of this felt perfect because I felt like I was finally, finally, in control of my life. There was order. I was working on making my dreams come true.

 

All of this made me think that I was doing what my body needed me to do. I was eating healthy, I was exercising, I was seeing plenty of sunshine, and I found the perfect doctor who helped me get my vitamin and thyroid levels straightened out. I was living in an apartment that felt like home because I picked the colors for the walls and I could afford to decorate it the way I wanted to.

But I was denying myself the rest, relaxation, and fun. I was able to make one writing group meeting and I left feeling amazing and inspired. I barely saw the friends I do have in Phoenix, but when we did we were checking out local breweries — something I really love doing. Something I don’t do now that I’m back in Buffalo. Something I didn’t do when I lived in Buffalo before.

The thing is, I worked the way I did when I lived in Arizona before I moved across the country. I’d been working full-time, whether through one actual full-time job or through multiple part-time jobs, since I was a freshman in undergrad. I was focused: I had bills to pay and I wasn’t going to let things get in the way of that. I lost friends; friends who didn’t understand that when I said I didn’t have free time, I meant it.

11951952_10205116461175227_1018979658808439871_nThat’s how it is now. At least, that’s what I’ve convinced myself. Now that I’m back to functioning on a semi-normal level after my TBI, I want to deny myself relaxation. Self-care. Having fun. I feel like I need to make up for the past seven months of not being able to make deadlines, of taking classes, of relaxing. I need to focus on re-establishing my old work routine that includes taking on as much as possible.

But I need to deny myself that life again.

I want to focus on my career and work as much as possible. I want to focus on making my life everything I ever dreamed it would be. But that’s not what I need to focus on.

What I need to focus on is making sure I can keep working. That this burnout I feel after working hard three days in a row doesn’t last longer than one day. I also need to focus on not being mad at myself, or feeling guilty, if I need to take an extra day for myself. I need to focus on me, on what makes me happy outside of work.

I need to focus on figuring out who I am as an adult who doesn’t need to be working eighty hour weeks. On finding out what I love about Buffalo again. On setting up my house in a way that feels like mine.

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#FridayReads: Research for my new book

I’ve been tweeting very quietly the past few nights about the new book project I’ve been working on. This has been a book idea that I’ve been kicking around for a little while now. An early draft of the opening was even used as my final fiction project for undergrad (and was ultimately the project idea that helped get me into Goddard). So how does this whole starting a new project thing work for me, anyway? Well, you can have the girl take a break from her MFA program, but you really can’t take her out of the MFA way of doing things.

Seriousness aside, I even have a Pinterest board for Hallucinogen.

This week’s #FridayReads is a list I’ve complied to help me research this new project. I tackle some big, dark issues–things I haven’t experienced personally but know that this is a story that needs to be told. The following list is incomplete and, for me, too heavy on some subjects and not focused on what I need to make authentic characters. This is the real problem when it comes to writing outside our comfort zones, outside of our own experiences: becoming authentic.

To combat this, I’ve added the following memoirs to me reading list:

  • In My Skin by Kate Holden
  • Portrait of an Addict as a Young Man by Bill Clegg
  • Eating Animals by Jonathan Sofran Foer
  • How to Stop Time: Heroin from A – Z by Ann Marlow

Since my writing so is so character driven, memoirs are always my go-to for understanding experiences outside my own. Not only do I get to digest the experiences of these memoirists, but I also get to learn from their voices and the way they tell their stories.

But memoir is only going to help with one aspect of this project. For the rest, I’ve put together a smattering of literary fiction, dystopian, and young adult novels as a jump off point for inspiration, as a way to learn new techniques, and insight into what has already been done before. The positive of never shutting off an editor brain is the comparison between what was done and what could’ve been done better is always there. I’ll be learning from:

  • Smack by Melvin Burgess
  • Zero K by Don De Lillo
  • Barkskins by Annie Proulx
  • The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall
  • The Scorpion Rules by Erin Bow
  • The Water Knife by Paulo Bacigalupi
  • Candy by Luke Davies

Even though I’ve started to outline the manuscript and even started to write the first draft, these books are still going to be important to read. The first draft is always, always for the writer. As I work my way through this reading list I can make notes for myself on ways to improve scenes, on ways to change things around, or even add in new scenes when I go back to edit.

Doing research is such an important part of pre-writing that I rarely hear authors talk about. Even when we’re writing what we know, it’s important to hear opposing opinions or even see the topic from a different perspective. Otherwise, how are we going to be able to truly write fiction (instead of a semi-fictions novel that’s mostly just our memoir)? How are we going to write actual truths, instead of our own truths?

Research your books before you write them, writer friends. Read broadly and deeply. Read outside your genre and inside your genre. Read nonfiction. Understand who your characters are and who they aren’t. Understand exactly what your book is about and become an expert on the subject.

Learning is never, and should never be, over for writers.

What other pre-writing steps do you take before you start new projects, if any? If you don’t take any pre-writing steps, why not?

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An Army of Specialists

I’m not sure what I expected my late twenties to look like, but I don’t think this would’ve been it. Ten years ago I was going to be a Communications major and get into journalism–or something. I knew that Communications was a marketable degree, which meant I had a good chance at getting a job out of college. I was supposed to graduate with my B.A. in 2011. After that, my options were limitless. I could get into politics, I could stay local, I could move away. At 17, I really believed that the world was my oyster (and every other cliche in the book). But that’s what my high shool inspired me to believe. That we, women, could do anything we wanted because we had four years of rigorous college prep to back it up.

But college didn’t go as planned. I got married before I even graduated. I ended up getting a degree in Creative Writing even though I hadn’t convinced myself that I’d end up using it. The B.A. was meant to be a stepping stone to the MFA, where I’d zip through and get a degree that would get me a job on the university level.

Fast-forward to today. I still don’t have my MFA, but I’m close. I’m a Publishing Director at an amazing small press. I’m a freelance editor. I’m a (published) freelance writing and a published author.

It’s the fact that I haven’t finished my MFA that’s bothering me. The fact that I’m currently on a break from school that has made me second guess every accomplishment. I had a

I had a six-week follow-up with my neurologist today. We made appointments for physical therapy and cognitive remediation therapy. So in a matter of fifteen minutes, the amount of specialists I was working with doubled. It’s a slow process that may take even longer now–two years, instead of one–even with the added therapy. Progress is going to be made. I just need to have patience.

It’s like me with horseback riding and learning dressage. I’m retraining my body, the way I think, the way I move, so I can be mentally and physically strong. So I can control a 1200 lb animal. So I can not fall off again. But I can’t be down on myself when I have a bad lesson and I can’t expect to be the same rider I was a few years ago. That doesn’t mean that I’m a worse rider, or that I’m back to square one. It just means things are different now.

At this point, I don’t know if finishing my MFA is going to be possible. But that doesn’t mean I can’t keep learning, growing–becoming a better writer and editor. I just need to find specialists to help me in the areas that I’m weak in. Specialists who I can reach out to when I start going down the wrong path, or who can help me with specific problems with my writing. Weak secondary characters, for example. Or creating deeper scenes and character conflict. With editing, it’s learning more about all of the genres (which means reading more widely) and staying on top of industry standards and market trends.

In the meantime, I’m writing everything down. I’m updating my to-do list every week. I’m sending out e-mails when I can’t make deadlines and setting realistic deadlines for myself with new clients. I’m taking notes as I read through manuscripts and doing multiple read-throughs. I’m taking my time. I’m learning to be patient with myself so I can be one of many specialists for my clients.

But none of this is going to be easy.

 

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#MondayBlogs: What the writing community used to be

So many of us crawled onto our couches or into our beds last night and watched The Tony’s. Well, okay, we watched Hamilton win basically everything it was nominated for. But no matter who the winner was, or what the award was, the message that came across something that’s been missing from the writing community these days.

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When I first starting roaming around the writing community on Twitter, everyone was very welcoming. Enthusiastic. Encouraging. It was an inclusive group that, while some of us were farther along in the publishing journey than others, we were all on the same path. It was like an exclusive club, a secret society, a sorority, that I felt so happy to be part of.

Maybe that was part of being a new writer. Maybe it was naivety.

But I don’t think it was.

During the Tony’s last night we heard words of encouragement, of not giving up, of love, and of dreaming. We heard winners talking about what a great family the theater community is. How close everyone is. How encouraging everyone is.

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We used to be like that, you guys. Before contests took over, before we focused more on what divides us than what brings us together. And no, I’m not saying celebrating our differences is a bad thing. Diversity, inclusion–these are good things. But we’re so quick to turn on each other and I don’t understand why. So many beautiful, brilliant, and deserving voices are being shouted down. Are too afraid to come forward and share their thoughts, their fears, their ideas. Are too afraid to reach out and make new friends or find critique partners because what if they say or do the wrong thing?

Being a writer is full of rejection. Handling it is difficult without the support of our fellow writers. And after what happened in Orlando, how deeply it affected all of us, we need to stand together now, more than ever. Let’s get back to the way things used to be. Let’s learn how to love and support each other again. Let’s be each other’s cheerleaders even when our friends move further along in the publishing journey than we are. Let’s not be scared to speak our minds or ask questions when we don’t understand something.

I’m not looking to carve out a space for myself in safe spaces I don’t belong to. I know many others like me aren’t either. But the writing community on Twitter was my safe space–just like it was a safe space to so many others. It was a place we could talk where we felt understood, where we felt like we were part of something bigger. Much like the theater, our writing friends on Twitter were our family. Now we have distance. So many of us are on the outside, looking in through windows because there’s too much shouting, too much anger and hatred and jealousy. There’s encouragement that’s generic and as cold as a greeting card.

I love you, writing community. I love being a part of you. But it’s so hard to be active.  It’s so hard to share my fears, my anxieties, or even my achievements because the undercurrent of compassion and encouragement is gone.

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And, in light of everything, of Orlando, I’m desperate to get it back.

 

ARC Review: I Let You Go by Clare Mackintosh

Author: Clare Mackintosh
Source: eARC via NetGalley
Publisher: Berkley
Publication Date03 May 2016

Rating: 4/5 Stars

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Summary:

On a rainy afternoon, a mother’s life is shattered as her son slips from her grip and runs into the street . . .

I Let You Go follows Jenna Gray as she moves to a ramshackle cottage on the remote Welsh coast, trying to escape the memory of the car accident that plays again and again in her mind and desperate to heal from the loss of her child and the rest of her painful past.

At the same time, the novel tracks the pair of Bristol police investigators trying to get to the bottom of this hit-and-run. As they chase down one hopeless lead after another, they find themselves as drawn to each other as they are to the frustrating, twist-filled case before them. Elizabeth Haynes, author of Into the Darkest Corner, says, “I read I Let You Go in two sittings; it made me cry (at least twice), made me gasp out loud (once), and above all made me wish I’d written it . . . a stellar achievement.”

Review:

I wasn’t sure what I was getting into when I requested this book. I was in the mood for a slow burning thriller, one that I could escape into, one that reminded me of The Girl on the Train. When I started reading Jenna Gray’s story, I wasn’t sure what to think, or who she was. At first glance, she’s the grieving mother, one who will do anything to escape her home town to find some peace and quiet.

Peace is what Jenna finds when she moves to a small Welsh beach town. The community is small but they look out for each other. They care about each other but are weary of strangers. It’s a place Jenna feels like she finally found peace. At least she thought she did.  When her history comes back to haunt her, to try to kill her, we finally see the truth of who Jenna is and what she’s gone through. She’s more than just a grieving mother. Mackintosh does an expert job layering Gray’s character in such a way that when the truth is revealed we, too, are relieved to finally have understanding, to finally have closure.

The inclusion of the two Bristol police officers, while it kept the tension of the novel up, drew me out of the novel. Their story, the focus on the struggle of job versus relationship, career ambition and family life, was something that was deeply personal to me. But it detracted from the importance of Jenna’s story, what she’s gone through, and ultimately her ability to grieve.

Overall, this was a great read. I couldn’t put the novel down. I wanted a deeper look into Jenna’s life, and what she’s gone through, but that would’ve pushed this novel into a different genre entirely.

If you’re searching for a slow burning thriller, I Let You Go is definitely for you.

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#WritingWednesday: Post launch blues

I debuted yesterday. If you count a self-published novel a debut, which I do. I put handwork, tears, blood, and money into making sure this book was the best it could be before I sent it out into the world. I set up a support system as best I could. I did the best I could and I’m proud of what I put into the world.

So why am I not happy?

Maybe this is just some post-publication slump. The past six months have been leading up to yesterday and finally, FINALLY, my words are out there and I can’t touch my book anymore. I didn’t know what to do with myself. I curled up on the couch, didn’t celebrate, didn’t go out, didn’t throw a launch party. I relaxed. I grieved.

As a perfectionist, it’s hard for me to see books as completely finished. I pick up a published book and am often finding ways I could’ve made it better. When it comes to my own work, I’m never going to be happy. I’m never going to feel like I’m finished, like it’s good enough. Of course I’m proud of it, and I did the best I could by the deadline I made for myself. But the book could have always been better.

I’m starting to think that this is the big secret of being a writer. That happiness doesn’t come from meeting a milestone because there’s always another milestone to meet. I published a book but now I’m refreshing my reports to see how I’m doing with sales. I’m seeing what marketing strategies are good or post-publication. I’m always looking at what’s next and on what can be done better and more efficiently.

There is a learning curve with publishing, no matter what path you take. Despite being in the industry for a few years now I’m still searching for the answers to so many questions:
When is enough, enough?
When is it time to shelve a project?
How many critique partners/editors should I have look over a manuscript?
Am I really doing this whole writing thing… right?

So this is more of an existential crisis than any real depression. Now that I have something off my plate, I have the ability to take a step back and really look at my writing career. I’m considering my next move. I don’t feel like I’m ready to start a new project. I have some ideas kicking around but nothing that’s viable yet.

So I’m going back to Lake Effect. Back to editing for my clients. I’m going to focus on getting myself into shape, mentally and physically. All the while, I’ll be thinking about the lessons I learned from Without Benefits. I’ll be figuring out how to do it bigger, and better, the next time around. I’m proud of the book I put out. But I’m never going to be happy.

It’s the burden of being a perfectionist and a writer.