Pitfalls and Mountain Climbing

As a writer, I find there are infinite pitfalls of self-doubt and whole periods of time where all I do is question whether or not my writing skills are worthy. Are they good enough for the books I so badly want to author? Do my words inspire others to jump into the lives of my characters and love the story so much that they want nothing more than to drown out the world around them as they race with reckless abandon to the last chapter? Is my prose moving without being ‘purple?’ And for the love of all that is holy, do I have any talent at all?!

pitfall
A different kind of Pitfall maybe, but the writing journey can feel about this treacherous.

It’s frustrating when you’ve been refining your craft for years and still have nothing tangible to show for it. I’ve been writing seriously for seven years, querying for three, and am currently drafting my fourth manuscript. I’ve gotten paid to ghostwrite blogs I’ll never get credit for. I’ve entered several online writing mentoring competitions like PitchWars and Sun vs. Snow and I’ve yet to be selected as a mentee. I’ve pitched in Twitter pitch contests like PitMad and SonOfAPitch. I’ve pitched in person to agents at the Write Angles Conference and at the Philadelphia Writing Workshop. And in the midst of it all, I have made dozens of amazing writer friends* who have been there to support and cheer me on at every step of the game. (As I do for them as well! Writers make really good cheerleaders!)

And yet all of this ‘failure’ on the professional end of things takes a toll on a writer’s ego. (Yes, I know it’s not real failure. It’s *experience.*) One might say it’s all about leveling up. Lots of XP for me!

level up

The fact remains that I couldn’t not write even if I wanted to. So it means the world to me when people around me are supportive of my decision to pursue my passion, even when the going gets rough. Support is everything. I made the decision a few weeks ago to attend the Writer’s Digest Conference in NYC this year. The location alone makes it a pricey conference, but the WDC is one of the bigger conferences with tons of relevant industry info and it offers a great opportunity to participate in PitchSlam—a sort of speed dating for writers hoping to find agents who will represent them and agents looking for writers to represent.

About a week ago, I lamented to my husband about the price of the workshop, feeling guilty about spending so much on myself. (Because until I’m actually making some sort of professional progress, it still feels like a frivolous expense—the same as a pedicure might…only about ten times the cost.) He reassured me that he wanted me to go and that he was going to make sure we could afford it, even if he had to do some eBaying to make it work out.

Fast-forward a day or so and I had a repeat of the same conversation with my mother, only she didn’t offer to eBay anything off for me. No, she waited a couple of days, conferred with my father, then texted me this:

Screen Shot 2018-01-29 at 10.41.06 PM

How do you argue with that?

If you don’t come from an Italian-American household, let me fill you in.

You don’t. You can’t argue. It’s like trying to bulldoze a mountain.

And so I’ll take them up on their offer not because I really have a choice, but because I know it’s not about the money. It’s about having a family who supports my dream unconditionally. It’s about the support they want to provide to me in the way that they can. I’m lucky. Luckier than most.

So, I’ll go to the Writer’s Digest Conference this summer and maybe I’ll reach the summit of this mountain.

Or at least base camp.

Yeah, I could be content with base camp.

 

 

* Seriously, NEVER underestimate the power of amazing writer friends! Xoxoxo!

Who’s Who?

I follow an eclectic mix of people on Twitter, but by far my Twitter feed skews toward the literary. From querying writers to veteran authors to agents to editors, I tend to follow it all. And in my honest opinion, if you’re not following these folks, you’re missing out!

(I think I’ll need to make this a semi-regular segment in my blog, so if you haven’t made this list, don’t worry. I’ll have lots more to share in the future!)

In no particular order:

Michelle Hauck (@Michelle4Laughs)—For up to date information on amazing writing contests, Michelle is one to follow. She’s a smart and fun-to-follow author who writes SFF and gives back to the writing community in abundance! Also, don’t miss her blog!


Dr. Uwe Stender (@UweStenderPhD)—Not all literary agents are created equal. In my years of stalking…er…following literary agents on Twitter for the sole purpose of gaining industry knowledge, I have found that some agents are quick to provide a helping hand to those who are just starting on their journeys. I highly recommend following Uwe Stender. Why? Because his literary advice is real and good and his #askagent sessions are the best. (Bonus: His nutcase files can’t be beat!)


Lakshmi (@Lakshgiri)—Because her writing is lyrical and moving and her cooking photos make my mouth water, Lakshmi gets two thumbs up in my book. Her blog is filled with poignant stories about parenting and motherhood, and her open adoption story is unlike any I’ve known. She faces parenting challenges with grace and her raw, emotional writing resonates.


Chuck Wendig (@ChuckWendig) & Sam Sykes (@SamSykesSwears)—These guys are a 2-for-1. Why? Because of interactions like this (read this aaalllllllll the way through):

They’ll provide your daily dose of crazy with a side of smiles. Follow them. (And maybe Sam will release another hostage.)


A.S.H (@MizWrlter)—Because I agree with everything she posts and she’s basically my spirit animal even if we’ve never met. Dogs and cats and posts about writing. Wait. Maybe she’s actually *me* in another dimension.


Katie Mack (@AstroKatie) – Because you need a dose of astrophysics & feminism. Bonus: She pipes up in occasional bouts with Chuck & Sam, making my day, week, and even month. And it’s really fun to watch her stop mansplaining in its tracks. Even J.K. Rowling agrees.


Who are your Twitter favorites? Give them a holler in the comments section so I can show them some love with a follow!

Slimming Down

Revision can be painful. Digging into the words you put so much effort into writing, not to mention deciding which of them need to go, can overwhelm a writer with fear. Which words do I cut? Filter words? Entire paragraphs? Scenes, even? What if cutting this particular scene is wrong? What if it changes the entire dynamic of the story?

But slimming a novel down is a healthy part of the writing process. Writing a first draft is basically loading a bunch of paint on the palette and throwing it on the canvas. You know what colors you want for this piece and you might even know the general design, but you can’t begin to imagine the more delicate intricacies until you begin refining the work. The same goes for writing. A first draft gets the basic idea of a story onto paper, but it’s hardly more than an outline, and an outline is not a masterpiece on its own.

When I write a novel, there are entire sections that need to be scrapped before I’m ready to query. Some of these sections are minor, but many (okay, most) impact the story in a major way. Like ripples in a pond, one thing affects another. So if I make one small change in chapter 2, it’s likely that I’m going to have to go through the entire manuscript to make major changes the rest of the way through.

Case in point. I changed a major character’s ethnicity a couple of months ago in a novel that was 85% drafted. I went from having a short-haired blond with green eyes to a Rihanna look-alike. That meant changing a lot of visual cues, quite a bit of dialogue that referred to body image, and rewriting entire sections of her family background.

But revision isn’t always about rewriting what’s already there. Sometimes it’s about taking out what we don’t need. I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve written sections that weren’t needed. Sometimes these segments must be written in order for me to get familiar enough to move forward with my characters, but in the end, there’s always a lot of chopping going on! During the revision process, I erase entire chunks of dialogue and sometimes whole scenes. If a scene isn’t moving the story forward in some way, it needs to go. If it doesn’t show, in some way, shape, or form, the character’s wants and desires, cut it. If it doesn’t present a conflict for the character in some way, delete.

It’s a painful process filled with uncertainty and doubt, but it’s a necessary evil and the sooner you convince yourself that each cut is the right move, the closer you’ll be to having a refined, polished, queryable novel.

Because, seriously…no one wants to read a 186,000 word debut novel. Certainly not an agent.

You know what else is painful?

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Time to dust you off, old friend.

I made the horrible mistake of stepping on the bathroom scale today. Between the stress of spousal health issues (a cancer diagnosis adds a little stress to say the very least), running to constant doctor appointments, and driving back and forth to various kids’ activities, we’ve done a lot of running around over the last couple of months. Suffice it to say that my eating habits haven’t been the best. And to talk about eating habits, I have to talk about anxiety issues.

When I first began having issues with anxiety at twenty-one, I lost weight quickly. My stomach was upset nearly all of the time, I could hardly eat, and anything I did eat went through me pretty quickly. I easily dropped to 99 pounds, a weight I hadn’t seen since maybe freshman year in high school. Meds helped fix the issue, but throughout the years I learned to live and to cope with my anxiety without them.

I wonder now if I’m coping a little *too* well. When I’m in a situation that makes me anxious, my stomach immediately feels as though it’s about to rebel. Add in a stubborn streak and my determination to overcome anxiety, and it’s a recipe for disaster. I now view eating as a challenge, and instead of just eating a normal amount (or eating, say, decent foods), I’ll eat more junk just to spite my anxiety. Go figure.

Needless to say, a few months of this results in pounds gained. Throw in the writer’s dilemma of working while sitting on your butt all day, and the problem is easily exacerbated.

So.

Starting today, I’m going to do something about it. Losing weight can’t be much different than revising chapters, right? A little work, a lot of pain, and in the end you’ve got a better version of what you started with. (Or at least a healthier version!)

Slimming down in more ways than one! Who’s with me?

A Brief History of a Perpetual Misfit

I’m hoping to participate in the very selective #PitchWars process this year and potential mentees are encouraged to share a little bit about themselves on their blogs in what is affectionately coined #PimpMyBio. For those of you who know me, most of this information probably isn’t new.  For those of you who don’t, welcome!


Fun Stuff

#novelaesthetics teaser for my #PitchWars YA Fantasy manuscript, A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT

(Disclaimer: Only two of these images are mine. I don’t claim rights to the others!)

A Thousand Years to Wait

What is all this about? Well…

At 18, Moreina di Bianco is a young healer who believes in medicine, not magic, even while possessing a second sight she can’t fully explain. So when a talisman and a thousand-year-old prophecy choose Reina to reawaken an ancient magic and find a way to end a war, she must reconcile her beliefs and learn to master the unknown magic.

Reluctant to accept help, Reina’s only company on her journey is her estranged and mysterious childhood friend and a dashing captain who claims to be her protector. There’s just one problem with her new companions. They, too, are featured in the prophecy. But what woman wants a suitor, let alone two, when she’s busy defeating an evil general, ending a war, finding the true king, and rightfully seating him on the throne?

Random ‘Stuff’ About A THOUSAND YEARS TO WAIT

Reina would really get along with Nadia from The Forgetting (Sharon Cameron) or Mae from White Hart (Sarah Dalton). The three of them could probably be best friends…though they might butt heads from time to time. They’re all pretty headstrong. She also has a lot in common with Feyre from A Court of Thorns and Roses (Sarah J. Maas), but killing stuff isn’t her thing. In fact, she’s a vegetarian.

About Me

An ever changing chameleon, I seem to fit in both everywhere and nowhere at once. I grew up on Long Island, but moved to Pennsylvania with my family when I was 10, making me a lover of both indoor and outdoor fun. Theater, art, culture? Yes! Hiking, camping, and horses? Let’s!

Hiking Bryce
Yay – a camera in hand and hiking boots on my feet!

I love outdoor photography (Hey – that’s a combo of art, camping, and hiking!) and I even blogged about one of my most ambitious travels – a cross-country trip over the course of just 3 weeks. (Two years have passed since that trip and I’m still dreaming about it.)

But my love of art and travel didn’t stop me from also pursuing a love of science and I have an undergraduate degree in Marine Biology with minors in Chemistry and Psychology. (I also earned a Master’s in Business Administration as a parent of two young children just to prove to myself that I could.) But maybe what I love most is actually the world in all its forms, and perhaps its why I’ve never been content to stay in just one place doing just one thing.

My ever-changing career has taken an interesting path to say the least. My titles have included:

  • Microbiologist
  • Pharmaceutical Technical Writer
  • Mom to 2 girls
  • Animal Adoption & Kennel Technician
  • Animal Shelter Administrative Director
  • Marketing Director
  • Freelance Writer
  • And always, always – Aspiring Author

The reason for my leaving any of these jobs was not because I didn’t enjoy them or because I wasn’t very good at them. (Quite the contrary, in fact!) Rather, it was because I always felt that there was something else I *should* be doing, something else that needed my attention, somewhere else that I should be fitting in.

In some of these jobs, I felt as though I had almost made it, that I almost assimilated, but there was always some small part of me that knew I was only fooling myself. I could “almost” fit in anywhere, but it wasn’t until I joined the writing community online that I began to feel as though perhaps I had finally found my tribe. A misfit among misfits, and I couldn’t feel more at home! If you, too, are a misfit writer and bibliophile, I hope you’ll find me on Twitter and say hello!

 

And Now – Random Trivia

My Loves: 

  • Landscape photography
  • Hiking
  • Travel
  • Music
  • Good NY pizza
  • Dark chocolate (Seriously, what is life without chocolate?)
  • Books (Duh…) – particularly well-done fantasies that take me deep into new worlds
  • My children & my husband (Duh, again… This is a given, of course. I’m so, so very lucky!)

 

My Current Obsessions:

  • Planning vacations I can’t take
  • #resist with @botresist
  • Sweetgreen’s harvest bowl (Yum!)

 

Things I despise (not necessarily in this order):

  • Narcissists (I worked for one for a long time – never again!)
  • Willful ignorance
  • Cancer (The disease, not the astrological sign. We crabs need to stick together.)
  • That Thing currently occupying the White House (See also: first bullet point.)

 

Things I think you should know:

  • Myers-Briggs: INFJ
  • I will hold my bladder as long as humanly possible if it means I can avoid using a porta-potty.
  • I love stories about time travel and/or reincarnation (Maybe why I resist the porta-potty—too many past lives without modern day plumbing?)
  • I don’t shy away from hard work, and Persistence is my middle name. (Actually, I don’t have a middle name, but if I did, this would be it.)

 

One More Thing:

(I debated adding this section, but I think it’s important enough that it should be included. I want to make sure that anyone who wants to work with me also knows where I stand on #OwnVoices.)

I’m not an #OwnVoices writer. I don’t come from the marginalized community and I can’t tell the stories that should be told by #OwnVoices writers. I am, however, a strong supporter of diversity and equal opportunity and will do whatever I can do to help advocate diversity in the publishing industry. So, a shoutout to my many writer friends from the marginalized communities who are making a difference every single day by using their voices to tell the stories that need to be told! Thank you for sharing your story! The world needs it. I need it!

How I picture Reina, Quinn, and Niles:

Two Worlds Are Better Than One

I used to think that everyone lay down at night and imagined stories in their mind before drifting to sleep. My routine each and every evening throughout my childhood and, if I’m honest, well into adulthood, was to create an amazing world I could slip into, characters who would be my new friends, and an intrigue that somehow only I, as the courageous heroine, could solve.

I think it was really the sheer and utter exhaustion that came with having a colicky baby in my mid-twenties that finally stopped me from my nightly storytelling ritual. (Parenthood has a way of depleting us of our own dreams as we trade them in for dreams of who our children might someday become.)

Telling stories to myself as I waited for sleep to come was so engrained in me that I never thought to ask anyone else if they did the same. I just assumed they did. It’s only recently that I realized the truth of it.

Most people don’t actually do this.

I haven’t done a formal poll, of course, but I’m willing to bet that internal storytelling is a trait reserved for the creatives—those who write, paint, photograph, and perform. These are the people who dream infinitely about what could be. These are the people who live in two worlds simultaneously.

Creative types have mistakenly been labeled as eccentric (or flat-out crazy) for centuries, but I don’t think most of them are. (There are exceptions, of course. Cutting off your own ear is pretty nutty.) They were simply living in two worlds at once, a feat not many can successfully accomplish or understand.

Creative minds like the great writers and artists throughout the years find a way to reconcile the physical world they live in with the world they’ve created in their minds. They switch back and forth between the two worlds effortlessly and when they’ve finished with a creation, they invite you to experience it, too. Just think of every movie you’ve fallen into, every book you’ve devoured, putting aside your thoughts of the “real” world and forgetting all your responsibilities. It’s the creative genius who’s invited you to his or her world to experience it along with them, to forget about your own life for a moment or two. And yet, your body hasn’t gone anywhere. You’re still curled up on the couch, book in hand, maybe sipping a cup of peach tea while you allow yourself to tag along with a main character through all his trials and tribulations.

I think it took me a shamefully long time to find my place in this world. I didn’t know, or maybe it was just that I didn’t understand, that people just like me really do write for a living. They tell stories. I spent years trying to convince myself to succeed in other careers – first science, then nonprofit work, before I gave in to the call of full-time writerhood.

Now that I’m here, I wonder. Why did I think that I needed to fit in anywhere else? Why did I waste so much of my energy trying? 

(The obvious answer, of course, is that I needed to make a living. I needed an income to keep a roof over my head and food in my fridge. That part hasn’t changed, but with some adjustments to my lifestyle, I’ve managed to make things work…for now.)

Since reconciling the fact that I really am meant to write, that this is, indeed, a big part of who I am, I’ve been infinitely happier with myself, satisfied that I’ve finally found a home. My biggest lesson:

Never accept just one world if you’re meant to live in two!

I Write.

I am a writer.

Say it again.

I am a writer.

That’s more or less my daily mantra these days. I’ve been writing as long as I can remember. I was 8 or 9 when I made my first real attempt at writing a book. It was called The Magic Rollerskates and it was about a girl who bought a pair of skates in a secondhand store. After she cleaned them, she put them on, laced them up, began to skate…and promptly left the Earth as she flew. I think I made it about 50 grueling, hand-written pages into that book (complete with illustrations) before it got lost in a desk drawer in favor of whatever it is 10-year-old girls end up doing on their own time. (Angsty diary entries, maybe?)

A few years later, I ventured into a joint writing effort with my cousin. We were older, wiser, and knew that a lot of the great authors liked to team up from time to time, so we were going to do the same. This time the subject matter was one of my absolute favorites – time travel. But, newsflash! Working with a partner is harder than going it alone. I’m pretty sure we never even made it a full chapter in. It seemed as though I was in love with the idea of writing more than I was with the actual writing itself.

And therein lies the crux of every writer’s dilemma.

We don’t write because it’s easy, because words, stories, and characters flow through our fingertips into the keyboard keys and onto the screen. We write because we have to. It’s in our blood, in the very essence of our being, whether we want to admit it or not. And being a writer who doesn’t write is like being a duck without water. Miserable.

I grew up, of course, and focused on other things – school, college, a career, but I never lost that passion for writing, that dream of completing a book and going on to write another. In college, I began my third quasi-serious attempt at a novel. Romance this time, but with an adventurous kick in the deep jungle of the Congo rainforest. Elements of magic had not been ruled out and remained a distinct possibility. I made it three and a half chapters, about 75 pages, before my interest waned. I had stacks of research, drawings, notes – an entire folder filled with the information I needed to carry on with the story, but the story had stopped speaking to me.

In retrospect, I realize that this wasn’t the case. It wasn’t that the story had stopped speaking to me, but that I had given up when it got difficult. Writing is hard. Let me reiterate that. I’ll even give it its own paragraph.

Writing is hard. (I can still hear my high school calculus teacher’s voice, “Rocks are hard. Writing is difficult.” Whatever. You know what I mean.)

As a kid, I thought that writers knew everything about their stories, and I felt that I could just never quite figure it out. I knew the beginning, certainly, and I knew where I wanted to end up, but how to get there…  Well, there weren’t even chirping crickets in my head for that one. Complete and utter silence. Simply put, “the middle” of the book scared the bejeezus out of me. In fear of writing the wrong thing, my terrified imagination ceased to work when it came to filling in the blanks. So instead of the wrong thing, I ended up with nothing.

Guess what?  Editing nothing is a whole lot harder than editing the wrong thing. I have only recently figured this out. (“Recent” being the last ten years or so.)

It’s taken me a long time to finally say both to others and to myself, “I am a writer.”  My novels haven’t been picked up by an agent or publisher (yet) and the only published writing of mine exists in the form of blogs I’ve ghost-written for others or in my own travel blog from a 2015 cross country trip. Nevertheless, I AM a writer.

And if you’re reading this blog, I’m guessing you probably are, too. So let me give you some words of encouragement. Don’t give up. Don’t let that unknown monster of “the middle” scare you. Repeat after me.

“I am a writer.”