The Things We Are (Not) Owed

| Wednesday, May 30, 2012
Today's Tune: Book of Love

There's a reason humanity loves stories. Stories have purpose, theme, meaning, plot. There's a point to everything. In the majority of cases, things work out in a way that makes sense and feels at least somewhat satisfying. People who are good succeed, people who are bad fail. Hard work pays off. True love conquers all. This isn't the case for every story, naturally, but it's the case for enough of them.

And we cling to that, because life is nothing like stories. Life is messy, and chaotic, and boring, and nonsensical. We don't usually marry our superhot-and-perfect high school sweetheart, because they don't usually exist. We don't usually get the high-profile job right out of college, because the odds aren't usually in our favor and/or our reality disagrees that we're ready to run a successful company at 22. Most of us don't become movie stars, or royalty, or millionaires, or heroes. Sure, there may be a rare standout who can claim an experience worthy of a storybook, but for most of us, life is just... life.

It can be really difficult to come from a world of stories and media that show us glimpses into these amazing existences and not absorb some of it into ourselves. Many stories tell us the same thing -- if you are good, good things will happen to you. If you wait for a long time, you will be rewarded with your dreams. If you are brave and strong and work hard, you will win. If you suffer, it will be worth it in the end. If you're kind and loyal and patient enough, that person you're in love with will realize how awesome you are and fall in love with you back.

If you write for a long time and get beat up by critiquers and query for years and bleed onto the page, you will get the publishing deal.

For most of us, this is a secret hope. But for some, it becomes an obsession, which turns into misdirected anger. Haven't we worked long enough? Haven't we gone through the paces? Haven't we followed every rule, done everything they asked? Surely all of this wasn't for nothing. Surely by now they should come around.

Surely they realize they OWE us.

And there's the rub: no one owes us anything. Approaching anything with the idea that in the end someone else is going to give you something because that's just the way it's supposed to work? Usually a bad idea. First: it makes you lose sight of the now because you're always focused on the insubstantial future. Second: it encourages a sense of entitlement that eventually leads to bitterness. Because let's face it: if you fall into the mindset of all the things the Universe owes you, you will never be satisfied.

It's hard. It's very difficult to accept that we might do things and then... nothing happens. No one cares. It fades into the background. That's awful! It hurts! Even so, it's usually a better idea to channel that disappointment into the next thing, even if it sucks at the time. It's a far better alternative to becoming embittered and hating the Universe and everyone who gets what you want.

Blah blah blah, thanks for the lecture, Steph. I hope you guys know what I mean. We should all hope and dream. We just should also try to avoid letting those dreams consume and control us. I wish life worked the way it works in stories (unless that story is written by Joss Whedon, because he will destroy everything I love), but it doesn't. There are no happy endings or perfect resolutions.

There's only us and what we make with what we have.

/end cheesy inspirational nonsense



| Friday, May 25, 2012
Today's Tune: Loose Ends

I'm going to write a post that I really wish I'd had to read when I was preparing to query (and in the midst of querying), even though I'm pretty sure it wouldn't have helped THAT much. Even so, it might have helped a teensy bit.


I know (oh God believe me I know) that it's incredibly difficult to let loose this thing you've been working on for months, possibly years, into the wild. To feel absolutely terrified that no one will like it, that people will HATE it and tell you they hate it, that all that work and hope and excitement was for nothing.

In my experience, querying writers have this habit of turning into tightly-wound balls of anxiety who pick apart every little interaction for some semblance of meaning. They fret about making the tiniest error, like a little slip-up will cost them their one shot at glory. It's a loss of control, albeit not the highest loss of control (like being on submission HHHNNNNGGGG). When the story's still living in your head and on your hard drive, it's yours. You can protect it, change it, make it better and better. Once it's out in the world, that feeling of control evaporates. Even so...


I don't want to give platitudes about how you have to write for yourself and you should never put your hope and heart behind one book, because I think we all know that's a lot easier said than done. Yes, we suck it up and keep pressing on, but that doesn't make it any less painful to go through. Still, we have this nasty habit of wearing our fingers to the bone wheedling at QueryTracker and our email account and forums and agent profiles and anything else we can use to try and uncover some kind of concrete answer. And it's a fruitless endeavor. You can't make this process faster. You can't find the reasons behind every rejection. You can only breathe and keep on keepin' on.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:

You WILL be rejected. It will happen. You have to accept this. You might be rejected once, or a dozen times, or a hundred times. You can't control it. Even if you write the next work of beautifully staggering genius, agents and editors are going to reject you. It's okay. It means you're getting your work out there. CHILL.

You will not be able to understand why the rejections happen. You can't narrow it down to accidentally forgetting to include an attachment the first time or signing your email incorrectly. You will send flawless queries to agents that sound like the absolute perfect fit, and they will still say no. Stressing over the "why" isn't going to change their answer. Let the sting in, wallow a little, and press on. CHILL.

You have to focus on what you CAN control, not what you can't. I totally understand the compulsion to check your email constantly and try to decipher every Tweet. I've been there. All it does is make you feel like a giant bag of stress. You can't control the whens, hows, or whys. You CAN control your manuscript. You CAN control sending out new queries. You CAN control working on a new project. Regain your sense of control through those means. CHILL.


You have to find whatever way you can to feel like you're not coming apart at the seams. The struggling author who goes through their painful paces is kind of romanticized, even though it's really not fun to go through. It's difficult not to wig out about every little thing, but for the sake of our stress levels, we have to try.


How do you chill out when you're in the trenches of querying or submission?

Neil Gaiman on Art, Writing, & Being Free

| Wednesday, May 23, 2012
Today's Tune: Is There a Ghost
So if you haven't heard yet (and if you haven't heard, I mean, like, what are you doing with your time), Neil Gaiman recently gave a lovely commencement address for the 2012 graduates of The University of the Arts. You should watch it. Because it is lovely.

While giving the aforementioned speech, Mr. Gaiman said something that struck a chord in me. Here's the gist: when he was first starting out as a writer, he didn't know what he was doing, really. And that was a good thing, because he wasn't bound by all this structure and indoctrinated education and rigid rules. He could do literally anything he wanted to do, and as long as someone hadn't made a rule against it YET, there was nothing anybody could do about his coloring outside the lines.

I love this concept, even though I am and will likely remain a firm proponent of teaching yourself about your art and knowing its rules. I've written about it a bunch of times (and I often use Neil Gaiman as a reference lolololol). I do believe there's a difference between rule-breaking and just being lazy. Not ascribing to all the preconceived notions of what supposedly makes a "good" book? Rule-breaking. Refusing to learn the basics of writing structure and grammar and claiming unintentional comma splices are your "style?" Lazy.


One of the reasons I love Neil Gaiman's work so much is because his stories often straddle multiple genres. He doesn't really work within set conventions, and as such, individual readers will often give his stories different genre specifications. Horror, fantasy, science fiction, "weird," whatever. I also love pushing the boundaries of genre. True, this sort of writing can limit you because it can't be placed into a neat little marketing box, but it's what I love to write.

I love the idea of sitting down to write and refusing to be bound to what I'm "allowed" to do. It's one of the main reasons I'm so drawn to writing for children and teens -- the pre-constructed ideas of genre, structure, prose, typesetting, and more can be thrown out of the window. Experimentation is allowed, even encouraged.

Gaiman also told a nice anecdote about how he didn't really have set career goals for his writing. He just had a list. A list that said things like "write an adult novel," "write a comic," "write a children's book." When he completed one, he went to the next thing on his list. Obviously we can't all be Neil Gaiman, but I do smile at the idea of not having this big scheme about how I'm going to be X kind of author. That's part of the rule-breaking, I think. We don't have to be limited to one specific sort of book or writing. Yes, there are legitimate marketing reasons behind building a knowable brand for your writing. Still, the little bird that lives in my ribcage really likes to idea of being able to fly whichever way she wants when I let her out.

And that's really what it's about, isn't it? Freedom. Freedom means you'll probably fail, but it also means you can soar as high as you possibly can.

Like the man says: make good art.

And back again.

| Monday, May 21, 2012
Today's Tune: Young & Lovely

Aaaaaaand I'm back. Feels like it's been a while! I don't exactly have a grand re-entrance planned, so I'll just sit here and give you a finger-waggle wave. Hi guys! I missed you! I enjoyed my break. I went here.

Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, Nevada

I went lots of other places as well, but this was an obvious highlight. It was my first time in Vegas, and I'm not going to lie, most of it isn't really my scene. I'm not really the walk-among-millions-and-drink-till-I-can-barely-walk sort. I'm more of the find-a-quiet-place-to-watch-the-stars-with-a-glass-of-wine type. Still, there were a few things that stuck out and caught my eye.

Dancing water. Hanging flowers. Paths of colored tile. Costumed ballerinas flying through the air and fighting with swords. Tiny plates of food with more flavor than everything I normally eat in a week. Lights shining gold-crystal-crimson-iceblue into the sky.

That sort of thing.

Outside my desert adventures, I've mainly been resting my brainbox. How's everyone else been doing? Get me all up to speed! I'll try to have something a little more substantial for you on Wednesday ;)

Teensy Blog Vacation

| Wednesday, May 2, 2012
Today's Tune: If I Am

Soooooooooo. So. I've decided to take a (brief! short! be back soon, promise!) blog hiatus. I'm a touch burned out on blogging at the moment, and *more excuses here*. Mostly, I'm just tired, heh. Anyway, I'll be taking a short break, probably 1-2 weeks, and then I'll be BACK IN THE GAME.

In the meantime, here is a picture of a catbus. See you all soon!


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