NaNo Day 15: Pause

This has possibly been the least productive day in the history of least productive days.

So far today I read like a hundred pages of a book for fun, watched endless cooking videos on Facebook, got my Book Creators post up (which really just involved pressing the publish button), critiqued a couple of essays for friends, got my NaNo writing done for the day, aaand… that’s basically it. I’m yet to even glance at my homework. Or work on any other work, for that matter.

On the upside: bumming it for a day can be nice?

Either way, I’m back to the grind tomorrow. Here’s hoping I haven’t put myself too far behind on things.

Goal for Today: 1,000
Overall Goal: 26,000
Current Word Count: 26,181

Anyone else hitting pause on life at the halfway point this month? I think we all deserve a good nap.

~Julia

Wordy Wednesday: Afternoon Sunlight

So yesterday was as busy as Tuesdays ever are this semester, so I didn’t get a chance to write. However, as usual, I also didn’t have any writing planned for the day, so I’m at least not any further behind now.

I haven’t gotten any writing done yet today, but as soon as I get my work done for the day, my plan is to hit that Word doc. The goal for today is to write 2,000 words, plus hopefully dip into the 1,500 words I’m still behind.

In the meantime, this week’s Wordy Wednesday is another poem.

**********

Sunlight warm through worn,
dark jeans, legs stretched, toes pointed,
just to feel the delicious pull—
the strain that comes with forward movement:
this is what lazy afternoons look like,
watching Netflix on the floor,
a crewneck snug around my shoulders and
my world pulled tight around me

This place where I live—
this is what makes it home

**********

Thanks for reading!

Goal for Today: 2,000 + 1,500 (from Friday)

Overall Goal: 19,000

Current Word Count: 15,504

~Julia

Labor of Love

Today while doing/procrastinating from my homework, I’ve been listening a lot to “Labor of Love” from the STAR TREK (2009) movie score. This is because I woke up with it playing in my head–that exact song and scene on loop every time I closed my eyes–even though I haven’t watched STAR TREK in probably half a year.

It’s a sad but beautiful song, so I decided I might as well listen to it for real. But I finally just now, after an entire day of having it on in the background, realized why it resonates so much with me: It’s a song about surrendering something very important to you for something even more important.

I don’t really want to go into the details today, although maybe I will in a couple months once everything is definite and past and a layer of dust has settled over it all so it’s not quite as raw. But I did want you to know that I’m going through something noveling-related right now that feels a lot like this song. And while it’s hard, extremely hard, I know that the decisions I’m making today will be better for me in the long run. Even though they hurt right now, these are choices I can recover from, while the others lead to something that I would never forgive myself for.

Sometimes the easiest and hardest things can be the same for different reasons.

I haven’t been posting on social media as much lately, or talking to people as much in general, because I’ve been letting this Thing crowd out everything else in my life. I’ve been so focused on it, it’s become difficult to see the world through any other lens. And I’m sorry for doing that. I’m missing out on life–books and beautiful weather and friends–by doing that.

No more. For all I’ve thought about letting go, surrendering, it’s time I actually just did it.

Here is me saying goodbye to one smaller dream in order to allow myself to keep chasing a bigger one. Here is me committing a Labor of Love (gosh, that’s such a bad pun in the context of the movie).

Here is me saying that I love and believe in myself enough to let it go.

I’m not saying it’s going to be easy from here on out, but maybe it’ll at least be easier. And that’s something I really, really want right now. That’s something I’m willing to work for.

I’m sorry if you can’t follow much of this–I know I’m being cryptic. But thank you, again and again and again, for all the support. I wouldn’t be able to do any of the wonderful things I get to do without you. And while I’ve hit a bit of a roadblock recently, that’s not to say that this is an end of any sort, except maybe the end of a chapter–a single, really lovely adventure–on my way to bigger and better noveling-related things.

There’s a difference between giving up and letting go. Today I’m doing the latter, with “Labor of Love” as my soundtrack–something sad but beautiful. Very, very beautiful.

 

 

~Julia

Chasing Excellence

I’m a writer. I’m nineteen years old, unagented, practically unpublished, and I’m afraid I’ve already peaked.

This isn’t a new fear, but it is a pretty dumb one. It crops up every few months, after I reread the comments on a Figment contest entry from a couple years ago or go over a critique partner’s thoughts on an old novel, and suddenly their compliments and gushing praise don’t feel like they’re directed towards me, but a different girl who wore the same face and hands but somehow, despite knowing less about writing, was better at it than I am. That Little Ol’ Past Julia was better at everything.

I don’t know why that girl was, or how, but Past Julia seems to have had a lot more figured out than I do now. After all, she was the one who wrote Dreamcatcher–a novel that needs so much work it’s barely worth rewriting, but my critique partners raved would be taught in classrooms someday as the Great American (Young Adult) Novel. She’s the one who wrote “The Things I Leave Behind”–the first short story ever penned by Julia Byers for a college-level creative writing class, which went on to receive hardly any critique, an “excellent” from the professor, and first place in the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition–whereas everything I’ve written since then has received a “very good” and nothing more.

No matter how hard I try, it has been impossible for me to match the response of that first short story. The people who’ve read it compare everything else I do to it, and always their response is, “Good, but not as good as the Colorado Story,” or “Well-written, but I prefer the voice from the Colorado Story,” and always, no matter what I do, “The Things I Leave Behind” comes out as the best thing I’ve ever written, period. I can’t beat it.

When I wrote that story, I was just afraid of my professor telling me I sucked and that I shouldn’t be a writer. I had just finished the first draft of Cadence a week or so earlier, I’d never had much instruction in creative writing before, and I was used to being a big fish in a little pond, after spending so much of my childhood as Julia the Wonder-Kid-Writer, with constant support and very little competition.

It was pressure, but it wasn’t personal–so it made me nervous, but it wasn’t a big deal.

Now, when I write a story for creative writing class, the game is different. It’s a competition against Past Julia–against the person I was at the beginning of winter semester 2013. I open a blank Word document, and the only thoughts running through my mind are, “Will this one be good enough? Will this one live up to the bar set by ‘The Things I Leave Behind’? Will this one finally beat Past Julia, or at least fall even with her abilities?” Every time I go to work on a novel, the questions become, “What will my CPs think? Will they read this and still tell me Dreamcatcher was better? Will I ever be able to write something better than that?”

It’s been almost two years since I wrote Dreamcatcher–I was seventeen. I wrote “The Things I leave Behind” when I was eighteen. And now, at nineteen, I almost wish I hadn’t written them at all, because they have made it impossible for anything else I’ve written since then to be “good enough.”

Everything I write now is a comparison that falls flat. Anything that is not as good as Past Julia’s best is bad.

What did Past Julia have that I don’t now? I’ve studied those pieces, tried to replicate the parts that readers praised. And when that didn’t work, I tried to write stories that were so entirely different that it should have been impossible to compare them to their predecessors–but still the comparisons came.

I am chasing a shadow that I will never see solidified. Even if I do manage to write something better now, why do I have to be in competition with the things I did in the past?

I want to be proud of my best work, not resent it. My past-self should not be someone I feel like I need to live up to, but instead someone I am proud to have been.

I want to be proud when people ask me what’s going on with the Writer’s Digest Annual Competition, not ashamed that I haven’t written anything better since the piece that won first place. I want to be proud when my critique partners ask me if I’m going to start on the Dreamcatcher rewrite soon, not disappointed that they aren’t as enthusiastic about my current projects too.

I am done. chasing. excellence.

It doesn’t matter if my critique partners like Dreamcatcher more than what I’ve written since. It doesn’t matter if “The Things I Leave Behind” remains the best short story I have to my name. Because while I want to believe that someday those statements will no longer be true, my chasing after that elusive “excellent” scrawled at the end of each story I turn in for class is not helping Present Julia become a better writer, or Future Julia be the best writer she can be. All it’s doing is making me look back at someone I can never be again and wish that I had never left her behind to become who I am now. And that isn’t fair to anyone.

I’m doing amazing things with my life right now. I’m living out dreams I never thought I’d be able to realize, and I’m sick of the paralyzing fear that comes with looking back, trying to reach into the past to shake some answers out of the memories I never thought would be important at the time. I’m sick of people comparing me to Past Julia, but more than anything I’m sick of the comparisons that come from myself.

Maybe what I’m writing now isn’t as good as what I wrote back then, sure. But that doesn’t mean I’m not good enough. Because I am. And it’s time I let Present Julia admit it.

I’ve changed. My writing has changed. I’m done chasing after the writer I used to be. It’s time to chase a new kind of excellence–becoming the best writer I can be now. No comparisons attached.

I will continue to get better with every short story and novel I write. I will continue to grow, and improve, and someday I will stumble across “excellent,” just like I did before. But it’s not going to happen as long as I’m sitting here drowning.

I wrote this on the whiteboard on my desk the other day:

If you know where you're going, don't look back.2

It’s time I started living by it.

No more comparisons. It’s time to let Past Julia stay in the past.

I know where I’m going. I’m not looking back.

 

~Julia

This Is a Book: Chapter Twenty

Wow, can you believe we’re already up to Chapter Twenty in This Is a Book? Yes?

Well. It probably would have been more dramatic if I’d been able to remember what day of the week was Thursday more often, thus actually allowing us to get chapters out biweekly like we’re supposed to (and, you know, instead of on Monday). Whoops. I blame summer vacation.

Anyway, here, finally, is Chapter Twenty. And watch out soon for my post on polling for all those awesome characters you came up with! (Potato.)

Don’t know what This Is a Book is? Follow this link.

Need to catch up on previous chapters? Follow this link.

**********

Chapter Twenty: Al Capone Does My Shirts

            Rose is kidding. She is absolutely kidding.

            “What do you mean you can feel your heart? You’re dead, remember?”

            Wrong thing to say. Without even gracing me with a reply, Rose stalks off in the direction of the castle. It’s hard going. After only a step, she hunches over, dress balled in her fist at her chest, a low, frustrated scream escaping from between her lips. I turn to exchange looks with the pixie, but he’s gone. Of course.

            And now I am alone in a funky other-world with a ghost who has turned from levelheaded to constipated in a matter of seconds. Yay me.

            Then it occurs to me: Whatever is in that weird, sleek castle, it’s affecting Rose. Nothing ever affects Rose. She’s a zombie-ghost-thing.

            “Oh my gosh,” I say, stepping around Rose’s still struggling body so that I’m in front of her.

            “What?” she manages to get out from between her teeth.

            “I think you’re right. I think it is your heart. Because you’re acting almost real.”

            “Yes. Because not… being able… to walk,” she struggles, “seems… really… realistic, Mary.”

            Ignoring her, I say, “Here, let me help you out…” I reach towards her and she bares her teeth. I jump back, not sure if the other ghostly characteristics besides her ability to walk through walls (and, ya know, air) have begun to waver as well—like maybe she could possibly actually bite me now. “Or not.”

            “I need…” she grunts, “… to get… to… it…”

            “Why?” I ask, then something on her face catches my attention and I lean closer again. “Whoa. Rose. Your eyes are all bloodshot. How is that even possible?”

            “We… are in… a differentdimension,” she feels the need to remind me.

            “Good point.” I step back and cross my arms. “So why do you need to get to the castle? You really think your heart is there?”

            “I don’t… think… it’s there… I… know… it’s… there…!” she gasps out.

            “Okay, okay, okay,” I put my hands up, “don’t get testy with me.”

            “Are… you… serious… right now?”

            “Fine. Here. I’m going to help you.”

I reach out to touch Mary on the shoulders, hoping that she truly has become solid enough that I can do that (what a weird thing to be hopeful for), but the instant my skin comes in contact with hers, my legs turn to lead and the air gets sucked out of my lungs so fast it’s like I’ve been punched in the throat. Everything turns crimson, running in rivers, dripping from the sky, bleeding from beneath my fingernails. I stumble to the ground, and the moment I lose contact with Rose, everything turns back to normal. Well, as normal as it is in these parts.

“What. The—” Before I can finish my outburst, Rose cuts me off with a wave of her hand. Her eyes go cold as she takes one last step towards the castle, then gives up. As soon as she stops struggling, she goes back to normal as well. The pain leaves her face and she stands straight, floating a good foot off the ground.

I glower up at her, choking on air. “What in PWNBEIBER’s name did you just do to me?”

Me?” she snaps. “I did not do anything! It’s the magic of this place!”

I grunt, force myself to stand, and square my shoulders at her. “Rose, whatever’s in that castle, it’s obviously not good if it just nearly killed me. And did—you know—whatever it did to you. As the only member of this team whose actual life is at stake here, I vote we find that pipsqueak pixie, force him to take us to America—the real America this time—and get the heck away from the creepy king and your tell-tale dead heart and whatever else there might be lurking around here in this alternate dimension.”

“Who died and made you queen?” Rose asks, crossing her arms.

“Your sanity and Benjamin Franklin. Because, as I will remind you, you work for me.”

“I will remind you,” Rose says, “your supposed alien invasion is not the most prominent problem at the moment.”

“Have you always been like this, or did death make you grouchy?” I ask.

“You would know.”

“Yeah?” I ask. “And what’s that supposed to mean?”

“It means you are the most insolent dolt I have ever had the displeasure of meeting, Mary. And, believe me, I have met quite a few of your type. It means—”

“Wait.” I put up a hand, glancing over my shoulder towards the castle. Rose stops midsentence.

Her words are quiet as she says, “What is it?”

“It’s not just me. You’re being affected by it too.”

“Affected by what?” she asks. “All I’m aware of is all the bleeding, bloody blood everywhere.”

There is pressure behind my eyes, growing stronger with every taunt. I stare at the dark, glossy castle on the horizon. It’s almost… pulsing. Growing with our anger.

“Rose, if your heart is in that castle, I don’t think you want to get it back.”

“And why’s that?” She plants her hands on her hips.

“Because it’s evil.” A shiver runs down my spine, spreading heavy cold to my limbs. I am at a loss for clever comebacks.

There’s a little pop to the right of me, and we both jump. The pixie has reappeared.

“Okay, Frank Sinatra,” I say. “What’s going on here?”

“The King,” the little fruit bat says seriously, like this is explanation enough.

“Yeah, and?”

“He is imprisoned there.” It gives me a look like this should be obvious.

“By what?” I’m starting to think I might actually rather not know.

“The other one knows.” It nods in Rose’s direction.

I laugh. “Hear that, Ugly #2?” I say to her. “Pipsqueak, here, thinks you know what’s going on.” The laugh turns into a full out snort as Rose’s expression darkens. She opens her mouth to speak, and I stop. “Wait, you don’t really know what’s going on here, do you? You’re lost too, right?”

“No,” says Rose. She stares at the castle, one eyebrow lowered, her lips pursed.

“‘No,’what?” I pause. “You don’t know what’s going on, do you?”

“No,” she repeats. “No, actually I do.”

**********

So, reminder to watch out for the polling post, and Chapter Twenty One will be up on Mel’s blog soon! Hopefully we’ll eventually get back onto our regular schedule.

 

~Julia

Update on that “Waiting to Edit” Situation…

Yeah, I sort of failed at that.

 

Oh well, I guess?

 

Shhh… don’t tell the Editing Fairies.

It has now been a little over three weeks since I finished the first draft of Dreamcatcher, and since then I’ve done a second draft myself, had one of my amazing critique friends do a critique (and implemented her changes into a third draft), and now I’m eager to do more revising, just as soon as my other two amazing critique friends finish up. And then I’m giving it to my mom to edit. And then I’m giving it to one of my English teachers to edit (believe it or not, I currently have multiple English teachers — that’s what happens when you’re way too obsessed with English).

… And, in conclusion, I’m probably going to have like a billion and one drafts done by the time my “two month waiting period” is up and I actually get to the point where I’m allowed to look at it.

So… oh well?

Happy Easter Weekend!

~Julia

The Trials and Tribulations of Waiting to Edit

This is what I look like whenever I realize I need to edit something:

 

… But you know what’s even worse than that? When I try to follow that oh-so-popular rule of waiting to edit after I’ve finished a first draft…

… for TWO. FREAKING. MONTHS.

It’s been less than a week since I finished writing the first draft of my current novel, Dreamcatcher, and already I’m dying to get the red pen out.

I swear I’m about to have a mental breakdown.

What do you think about waiting so long between drafts? Is it a good thing — because it allows you to better separate yourself from your work — or do you think it would be better to start right away so you know that all of your ideas are still fresh in your head? Let me know in the comments!

~Julia

Writer’s Digest Conference Weekend: Friday Morning

Proof that I should not get up before 7:00 AM:

  • 5:45 — I tried brushing my teeth with my retainer still in
  • 5:50 — I painted my nails and then immediately took all of the polish off of one when I tried screwing the cap back onto the paint bottle
  • 6:00 — I thought I lost my straightener and went into a fit, only to realize two minutes later that it was right where I left it
  • 6:52 — I’m currently making a blog post listing embarrassing things that I did this morning (this totally counts)

Hey guys! My mom and I are just finishing packing up right now before we head to the airport, and I AM FREAKING OUT!!!! 😀

(Remember this face? It’s back again. WHOOOO!!!)

I’m so scared I’m going to forget to pack something, but hopefully that doesn’t happen, right? (I’m eyeing my packing list as I type this. If anything goes missing, it’s totally the paper’s fault, not mine. Yup.)

Talk to you all when we get to New York!

T-minus 0 DAYS TO THE WRITER’S DIGEST CONFERENCE AHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!

~Julia

Editing Tips

Originally I was going to do this as my Wordy Wednesday (1-18-12), but I’m up early and can’t think of anything else to write about, so:

Editing Tips.

I wrote the novel I’m currently editing during my freshman year of high school (it was actually a NaNoWriMo Young Writers Program project, but that’s another story). I then did a base edit of the story during my sophomore year, decided it was perfect-beyond-perfect, and sent it out to a bunch of literary agents with a crappy query letter and no prior writing experience for my bio paragraph.

Needless to say, I got rejected by all of them.

Question: Why? Why was my perfect-beyond-perfect novel rejected without a single full manuscript request???

Answer: Because it wasn’t perfect. Because it was too long, poorly constructed, and riddled with typos and errors that were so glaring that I’m lucky a satellite didn’t fall on me in response (like, really lucky).

However, since my sophomore year publishing exploits, I’ve (thankfully) learned a lot more about Publishing and its very important little sister, Editing. 🙂

  1. Don’t edit while you write. I know, I know. It’s difficult. You want to go back and fix all of the grammar in that scene at the end of chapter two while you’re writing chapter five. DO NOT DO IT. Unless it’s something that’s extremely pertinent to the plot, like changing a character’s name or something, do not edit while still writing the first draft. Editing Mode and Writing Mode are two very different things and you can’t be in both of them at once.
  2. Write quickly, edit slowly. Whereas while you’re writing it’s good to get everything out as quickly as possible in order to maintain focus and not lose your inspiration, it’s good to let yourself take breaks and think things through while editing. It’s that whole “write for yourself, edit for the reader” thing. Don’t rush it.
  3. Let it sit. As I just said above, don’t rush it. Let your novel sit for a couple weeks, maybe even a couple months between drafts. While you don’t want to lose interest in your story, you also want to give it (and yourself) some breathing room.
  4. Get help from other people. If you ever find yourself thinking, “THIS IS HORRIBLE AND I’M NEVER GOING TO SHOW IT TO ANYBODY EVERRR BECAUSE IT’S AWFUL AND IT STINKS LIKE MEDIEVAL STREET SEWAGE AND I’M GOING TO DIEEE!” then it’s probably time for you to send a copy to your writing friends to critique for you. At one point or another, you’re going to get sick of your story and sick of your writing and just sick of yourself, and at that point you need to let your story go for a little while and let somebody else deal with it. When your writing friends send it back, you’ll have had the time and distance away from your novel you needed, along with a fresh insight into your story.
  5. Edit as many times as you can bear! Never be satisfied until you have no choice but to be. Don’t feel like you’re going to throw up if you read your novel ONE. MORE. TIME yet? Then you aren’t done editing! The only reason you should ever stop trying to improve your writing is because you can’t stand to do it anymore (and believe me, I’ve been there). You just need to keep pushing through, and bend until you break — you’ll thank yourself for it later.
  6. Be open to suggestions. Back to what I said about getting help from other people — they’ll offer you fresh insight into your story. Sometimes you’re not going to like that insight. Sometimes the change seems pointless, or stupid, or like it wrecks your story. But sometimes it saves it too, and you just have to be willing to listen to what your writing friends are telling you. (But if it’s something like, “Ehmmm, well, I don’t like that Harry ends up with Ginny instead of Hermione, so you should def change that, yeahhh!” then you probably shouldn’t take that advice. While listening to your readers is good, it’s also good to think on your own two feet. Don’t let somebody else change your plot because you don’t want to offend them or you think they’re a better writer than you or something. Don’t be a pushover, stand your ground. You’ll know if something’s worth fighting for.)
  7. Be okay with not being perfect. Face the facts: Your novel is never going to be perfect. That doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be good, it just means that you’re going to have to accept that there will always be mistakes and there’s nothing you can do about it. Try to make them the smallest, tiniest, most miniscule mistakes possible, obviously, but understand that you’re going to make them and you’re just going to have to suck it up and live with them.

Got any editing or writing tips of your own? Share them below! 🙂

T-minus 5 days to the Writer’s Digest Conference!

~Julia

(Heigh ho, heigh ho, heigh ho, now back to the world of editing I gooo…)

Editing, Why Art Thou Cruel?

I bite my thumb at you, Editing. I bite my thumb at you.

I really hate how you’ll look at your novel and go, “Oh my goodness, this is perfect!” and have a little party with yourself or whatever, and then you send it off to your friends to edit, and they send it back with all those friendly red marks all over it, and you’re like:

… And the worst part is that your friends are right about all those friendly red marks that are so prevalent, it looks like your manuscript was just attacked by an ax murderer.

How in the world did I miss all of that? Like, really, these things should have been obvious! (Kind of like how I just learned this past week that there’s a difference between Past Perfect Tense and Passive Voice. How did I not know that?)

So now I’m desperately going through edits and revisions of my novel in hopes that it’ll be ready to go (again) by the time we leave for the Writer’s Digest Conference in a couple of weeks, and I’m kind of freaking out that it won’t be ready on time, and yeah.

Deep breaths, Julia. Deep breaths.

At least these edits have less to do with your-plotline-sucks and you-need-to-completely-rewrite-this as much as you-don’t-know-how-to-use-Past-Perfect-Tense (which is the majority of them). But I am still freaking out because my mom and I have gone through this novel a thousand and one times ourselves and never caught these things.

Anybody have any interesting revising stories or tips? I’m all ears. 🙂

~Julia