Friday, December 13, 2019

What are you even doing?

The end is near. The end of 2019, that is. Have you taken stock of what's important? I have.

Right now I'm holding a doll. A doll my kindergartener gave me with instructions to "hold her while she sleeps." And as I type these words, I hear in the background my twelve-year-old son (today is his birthday) giving instructions to his new game Exploding Kittens. My 16yo son is practicing vocals for the high school musical tryouts for West Side Story. My second grade daughter squeals as she practices handstands for tumbling, and Mom is asking all the kids about their day at school. My teenage girls are scrolling their screens and watching God knows what!

Sometimes I lose myself. This blogpost deadline came around so fast, I can hardly believe it. Since my last post, we buried my father-in-law, had a blizzard that cancelled our Thanksgiving travel plans to see family, found lice in one of our children's hair, and I only wrote a few thousand new words (including a picture book manuscript). Wow. I'm getting tired.

Sometimes I wonder if I can offer useful advice through our blog. My craft understanding took a big leap when I got into Pitchwars in 2018, but I still am in the early stages of my understanding of writing a complete novel. But bear with me. Because, I can offer something useful.

Still, I have to be honest. Trying to write full-time while managing a busy family of nine sometimes pushes me close to the depressive episodes I've struggled with in years past. This is where I am right now.

While I want to write awesome and unputdownable middle grade stories, I need to recognize the real life demands I face. As a husband to a successful physician (Chief of staff and director of OB at our regional hospital) and wonderful mother, I owe her and our children my fullest attention. My writing will continue, as I can fit it in (I have seven full manuscripts of my 2018 Pitchwars novel out with agents and am working on several new manuscripts), but I am first and foremost a husband and father. I will not cede those responsibilities to others.

Please remember that you are not your writing. You are more than what other people think of your writing - or any of your accomplishments for that matter. I'm trying to remember that too. And though the writing dream lives within me, I will remember everything that's important to me. I hope you will too.

This may be my last blog post for a while, but I'll keep my writing dreams alive. Please keep your dreams alive, too. As this year comes to an end, remember that you are more than any one label you or anyone else might apply. You are an individual. You are capable of great things. Follow your heart. Listen to it. Trust it. You will be fine. So will I.


Friday, December 6, 2019

Healing Through MG Literature

MG Lit is more than fun entertainment or a sneaky way to educate kids. It can also be a healing, guiding part of growing up. Middle grade novels open our eyes to the struggles around us while helping us navigate our own. Sometimes a book really can be a best friend. In this spirit, here's a roundup of middle grade books that tackle tough issues and can help readers heal.

Wonder by R. J. Palacio

"A beautiful, funny, and sometimes sob-making story of quiet transformation." --The Wall Stree Journal

This story addresses issues experienced by a boy with facial abnormalities as well as the struggles of his sister as they both try to find their way in life.

Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper

"This book is beautifully crafted and written with understanding for those people who have disabilities." --The Guardian

This incredible book is about Melody, a highly intelligent girl with cerebral palsy.

We Are All Made of Molecules by Susan Nielsen

"This savvy, insightful take on the modern family makes for nearly nonstop laughs." --Kirkus Reviews

This humorous novel is upper MG, edging into YA in terms of the protagonists' ages - 13 and 14. It tackles disease, death, grief, and blending families.

Finding Perfect by Elly Swartz

"First-time author Swartz creates a clear, moving portrayal of obsessive-compulsive disorder through the authentic voice of middle schooler Molly Nathans." --Publishers Weekly

This compelling book explores the idea that perfection is attainable, showing OCD tendencies and life spinning out of control.

Rain Reign by Ann M. Martin

"It’s about love and fealty, fear, hope, the release from burdens, and what kids — all kids — need but often don’t get." --The New York Times

Rain Reign delves into the mind of a girl with Asperger's syndrome, illuminating her thought processes and revealing how frightening life can be when she needs to adapt to new situations.

Some Kind of Happiness by Claire Legend

"Sometimes stories are a means of survival...A layered, thoughtful exploration." --Kirkus Reviews

This book tackles depression and despair in a melding of real life and a mysterious fantasy kingdom, where hope and healing can emerge.

What are some of your favorite healing novels?

Monday, December 2, 2019

10 Lessons From a Decade on the Roller Coaster

With the decade drawing to a close, I'm seeing lots of 2009 vs 2019 selfies, and a number of tweets reflecting on changes, dreams, or achievements since 2009. Which got me thinking: I signed with my first agent in 2009, but (surprise, surprise) my writing life and career hasn't all been smooth sailing since then. The roller coaster, it seems, is a constant. But you know, over the past decade, I've learned to be okay with the roller coaster, and even to enjoy the ride (mostly).

For my last post of the decade, here are ten lessons I've learned (and am still learning), and for me, they've made a huge difference in my well-being and productivity. Free bonus! Dog pictures, because why not? Dogs are awesome.

1. Write every day...or don't. You might've heard the idea that "real writers" must write every day without fail. If it works for you, great; absolutely draw up a schedule and stick to it. But as a shiftworker and mother of four, I was glad to discover that books can be written in 15-minute chunks of time at hockey arenas and swimming pools, in cafes and cluttered kitchens.

2. Write what you know...or what you want to know. Following that old "write you know" advice, I could easily get stalled, because hey, how much interesting stuff do I really know? But it turns out, my best writing often comes when I'm writing what I want to know--what makes me curious or fascinates me--and when I'm passionate about the topic or theme.

3. Set goals...but be flexible. I knew it was important to set realistic goals for the things that were actually in my control, but life happens (and some things are more important than writing, no matter how much we'd like to give priority to our writing time). When I stopped beating myself up and started giving myself a little grace, I was happier and healthier.

4. Listen to feedback...but trust your gut. This is something I'm still learning--to trust my instincts. It's tough. I need feedback, for sure (but there's definitely a "too many cooks" line I try not to cross). When the feedback is consistent, and when it resonates, it's easy. But when it doesn't resonate, trust your gut. The gut knows.

5. Write badly. I have a hard time setting aside the desire for my words to be good, but oh, it's so freeing when I'm able to take the pressure off. Creativity flourishes when we give ourselves permission to write badly, even to fail. So maybe, don't take your work too seriously.

6. Write well. Write a lot. Rewrite. Study craft. Keep getting better. Keep reaching for your personal best. Keep stretching yourself creatively. (Those stories that feel daunting and beyond your abilities? See #5 above, and write those stories.)

7. Use whatever tools get the job done. Try all the "hacks" and embrace whatever helps: drafting in comic sans, writing longhand in colorful ink, building playlists, Scrivener, Word, yellow legal pads in cafes. (I've discovered that cheap notebooks and expensive pens make the perfect combo for me, for brainstorming and free-writing.) If you get stuck, mix it up -- a change of scenery, a switch to longhand, working on a different scene or project. Whatever it takes.

8. Write the next thing. In this industry, there will always be more waiting. And the waiting often ends in rejection. So when you finish one thing, start the next thing. For me, focusing on a shiny new project makes me less invested in the old project, which both takes my mind off the wait and lessens the blow if it does end in rejection.

9. Find your people. I'm so thankful for my community of writing friends. Can't imagine riding this roller coaster without them! We need people who "get" us, and who understand the challenges of writing and publishing. Encourage, and be encouraged; support, and be supported. Find your people.

10. Hang onto joy. A while back, I decided if there was no joy in the writing, it wasn't worth it. Creativity should be fun. We need to play, to make the things our heart wants to make, to find our worth and our joy within us, rather than having it all hinge on things that are largely out of our control. Remember what you love about writing, and nurture that.

So that's what I've been learning this past decade. Maybe you can relate to a few of these things, or maybe some will offer a bit of help or encouragement as you step into a new year--and a new decade--of life as a writer.

What lessons or truths about the writing life have you discovered over the past years?

Happy writing...