Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Finding the Passion

This week, after writing my most successful article ever, I learned something about myself. Whether I'm writing, being an engineer, or just living my life, I put forth the most effort and produce the best results when I'm truly passionate about something. For when I am truly passionate, I'm able to find my true voice and really put power, weight and meaning behind the things I am doing. And when those things go well, it fuels my passion and motivation further.

So naturally, knowing that I write and live my life best under those circumstances, I began to wonder how I can start to do this in every aspect of my life. I've found it's really easy to write when I feel passionate about something, but what about the times when I don't have that strong belief or feeling? It's infinitely easier to do my day job when I find the part of it that I truly love and that makes my eyes light up, but what happens when I don't enjoy the work? There's lots of times in our lives where we do things because we have to and not because we want to or because we feel driven to do them.

We all love having that little voice in our head, feeling that drive to excel or finding the wonder in the things we do. But what happens when that voice isn't there or when the drive is absent? I usually ask myself, am I doing this because I have to or because I want to. I have to wonder if I'm asking the wrong question. It's not always about have and want, but about why something is important or why it needs to be done. It's in part finding that silver lining, but it's also in realizing that just because you aren't finding the passion or drive doesn't mean someone else isn't.

I think there is passion in everything that we do on a daily basis, we just have to find it and grab hold of it. Despite the horrible things we sometimes have to do, at some level we could be fueling the passion of others. So the next time I'm struggling to find the passion in my writing, or the drive to finish a work project that's giving me a headache, I'm going to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. I'm going to ask myself, am I driving my passion or someone else's. And whatever the answer, I think knowing that I'm driving someone, even if it isn't myself, will make doing the things I do that much better.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

I Got Ninja'd!

This week was WriteOnCon an online writer's conference for children's, MG and YA writers, that I coincidentally found out about on Monday. (Thank you Twitter!) WriteOnCon is a series of online sessions with agents, authors and editors as well as Q&A's. In addition, they have a huge forum where writers can get advice and post queries, synopsis, their first 250 words, and first five pages for critique from fellow writers. Seeing the interaction on the forum, I decided to make an attempt at a query letter and post it for critique, since I'd never written one before and was seriously dreading it. I started with a summary of my manuscript that I'd written prior to the Missouri Writer's Guild conference and was lucky enough to revise after getting five minutes with a very generous agent at the conference.

When I posted the query a few people critiqued it and I got some great advice. So I redrafted the query a few times to incorporate the feedback and reposted the new drafts. After yesterday people stopped posting feedback and my thread fell to page three. I figured most people wouldn't flip that far to critique so I stopped checking it and subscribed to the thread just in case. No biggie, I was glad some people took the time to comment.

But now onto the best part of the conference. Literary agents and editors patrol these forums under secret identities of the form Ninja Agent _____ . This afternoon, I read through the thread of people reporting in whether or not they "got ninja'd" and caught the eye of an agent. I congratulated those who did and thanked everyone for their critiques and reported in that I hadn't been ninja'd. About an hour later I received an email saying I had a reply to my query thread. As I scrolled through the email, I saw that not only had I been ninja'd, but that mystery Ninja Agent Rainbow had critiqued my query and given me some serious praise. Including the line:

Seriously, I love this premise and almost immediately began to wonder if you don't have the start of a really fun GN (Graphic Novel) on your hands.
 My jaw hit the floor. The only thing running through my mind was OMG OMG OMG HOLY FREAKING S#!T! DID THAT SERIOUSLY JUST HAPPEN? OMG OMG OMG. I think I read the note twenty times and I still hours later am not sure I read it right. Not only had an agent taken the time to read my query, they commented and critiqued it. And on top of it, said very very very nice things. Including that bit above which if I'm interpreting it right means, from my query alone they were already thinking about how to market my work. My heart was pounding out of my chest.

This is seriously one of the biggest highs in my life and it couldn't have come at a better time either. Just a week ago I was sitting at a table with a group of writers seriously doubting my work and wondering if what I had was unique enough to catch an agent's eye. Now I have my answer. And if this is what catching a agent's eye feels like, I don't ever want to doubt myself again. I will take this feeling any day of the week, even if it means I'm left completely speechless. Even though this is a small taste of what is hopefully to come **fingers crossed**, I'm glad I can now say 'So that's what that feel's like' and it's a feeling I'm not willing to let go of.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Humble Beginnings: Writing for the First Time

I never wanted to be a writer. I much preferred the simplicity of numbers and math. So in first grade when we had monthly writing assignments this was a huge source of struggle for me. The class was given a story starter once a month and our job was to finish it. This should have been something fun for a child but for me it created anguish and stress. The sunday before each assignment was due, I’d sit at the kitchen table and stare at the four walls waiting for inspiration to strike. Occasionally, I’d get an idea that I would quickly dismiss because it sounded stupid to me.

After what always seemed like an eternity of watching a blank page, one of two things would happen; I’d start complaining, or my mother would ask what the problem was. I didn’t know what to write and I felt stupid doing it. My mother’s response to this was write whatever you want. And then the whining would start. My ideas are stupid, I hate this assignment, why do I have to do it, and on and on. My mom was always a good cheerleader and would try to console me. She said, “No idea is stupid. Look at Hansel and Gretel, it’s about two kids lost in the woods following bread crumbs. Now that sounds pretty silly doesn’t it? But it’s still a story. So just write something.”

Although her pep talks were pretty good, they never seemed to help. I was lucky if I wrote one or two sentences afterward. My three year old sister on the other hand, who listened to each and every one of these monthly exchanges, would dance around the kitchen and spew out idea after idea after idea in a matter of minutes. It annoyed the hell out of me. I wondered why she got the creative gene and I didn’t have a single imaginative bone in my body. This was the biggest source of frustration for me because while I couldn’t think of one idea, she could sit in the corner and play with her fingers. I couldn’t wrap my head around how easily my sister could rattle off a million ideas and I was stuck in the uncomfortable kitchen chair with nothing but silence in my head.

After an hour or two, I’d get so frustrated and embarrassed that I’d reduce myself to tears, and still I wrote nothing. My frustration and tears eventually got to my mother and the yelling began.  I wanted so badly to find a great idea and I kept coming up blank. My mom kept telling me to write anything it didn’t really matter. But the situation drove everything from my head. And even at age seven the thought of stealing one of my sister’s umpteen ideas never crossed my mind. The crying and yelling continued, until finally my mom felt sorry for me and listed off a series of ideas and said pick one. Angry and exhausted from all the crying, I’d take one idea, which I still wasn’t happy with, and wrote as the tears dripped onto my paper. After a paragraph or two, I’d cram the page into my language arts folder and stuff it into my backpack embarrassed for anyone to see it. To which my mom said, “See that wasn’t so bad.” But it was. I was drenched with tears and I felt like a broken pencil without lead; completely useless and stupid.

As I continued on through school there was one thing I hated more than anything, writing papers. It was always a nightmare. They took forever and they were horribly painful and boring. I was so disinterested in writing, that when I finished my last English class in college, I never wanted to write again. It was a good thing my degree was in engineering. Too bad no one told me about the numerous lab and technical reports I’d be writing over the years. But somehow I made it through each and every painful writing experience.

It wasn’t until I was working full time as an engineer that I actually started to write something of my own choosing. Without homework, I found myself looking for things to do in my free time. Out of boredom, I started researching the meaning of names. From those names, I started creating characters that belonged to them and then imagined up a world they could live in. Little did I know, I was successfully being creative for the first times in my life. This piece, at the time, ended up being the longest thing I’d ever written coming to around fifteen thousand words. But it was flawed. I broke every rule in the book. The story started with my main character shooting up in bed because her phone rang, waking her up. This was promptly followed by an explanation of her looks as she stared at herself in the mirror. I think there are at least a billion things wrong with that segment alone and it only went downhill from there. It began with a boring ordinary start that everyone says to avoid. It was extremely cliché.

Despite the horrible writing skills and the fact that I’ve now hidden that piece away where no one will ever see the embarrassment it holds, I learned a lot from it. I found my creative gene that was hiding for all those years. I figured out how to write something interesting and not let my brain get in the way. And I found a way to use words besides just for talking and getting to the point. Those days spent crying at the kitchen table aside, I learned to trust in myself and go with it. No idea is stupid. In fact some of the simplest ideas can be spun into the most interesting stories.

At some point between writing out of boredom and finding a hobby in reading, I was bitten by the writing bug. I find that ideas and stories overwhelm me and often take over inside my head refusing to sit unwritten. I spend countless hours of my free time writing and studying the craft because I no longer would know who I am if I didn’t. Who would have thought the girl who cried over her writing assignments and was so happy to have written her last paper, would ever grow into a woman who aspires to be an author one day? Somehow in my horribly rocky start, I found the writer within myself. And despite the pain writing caused me over the years, I never forget where I began, because it defines me as a writer and as a person. We all have to start somewhere but how we move forward from our humble beginnings and what we learn from the past is what really matters.

This post first appeared as a guest blog post on Writing for the First Time. If you want to write a piece about your literrary beginnings, they are still looking for contributors.

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Never be Above the Praise

This evening I fell into a twitter discussion about whether or not meeting authors could make you more excited about their work or possibly even turn you off to it. My initial response was depending on the encounter, for me it can do either. But as I dove into the topic further I realized there was something in there that I felt very passionate about without realizing it until now - the importance of letting praise continue to humble you.

As a writer, I'm constantly seeking praise and approval. I'm always looking for someone to tell me, hey you write well, or I really enjoyed your story, or I can't wait to read more. There's moments where I need some sort of validation but I only want it if it's sincere. I never want someone to blow smoke up my behind. But in the praise I sometimes receive, I find the strength to push on and tell my stories even when things seem impossible to continue. Everyone needs a cheerleader right?

So when I looked at why I decided not to continue reading certain authors after meeting them in person, I was left scratching my head. I get that author tours are very very stressful. They often cram several events into one day and you spend each night of your tour in a different city only to wake up early, hop a flight somewhere new and start all over again, often leaving home for weeks at a time. As glamorous as author tours sound in theory, the reality is they are probably more like a sleepless nightmare. However, I know most authors are excited to get out there and meet their fans. It's evident when you see them at signings. They are ecstatic, that the people that buy and read their books take the time to come out and see them on tour. They understand that without readers, their books are just pages on a shelf waiting to be read.

Taking all that into account, I've met one or two authors that couldn't even speak to me let alone crack a smile when I brought their book up to be signed. (And I'm not a scary person I promise!) The shear thought of those kinds of reactions baffles my mind. As a writer and aspiring author, I find I'm so overwhelmed and excited when someone just asks to read my stuff and I'm over the moon when they compliment it. A simple thanks never seems like enough in return for the smile they bring to my face and the happiness and strength that comes with it. So I have a hard time understanding why an author would have any reaction outside of joy when meeting their fans (and I'm not talking about rude people that show up to signings, I'm talking about true fans). Heck I'd be happy to have one fan of my writing right now.

I know everyone has bad days and it's possible I hit one of those when I met some of these authors, but a good meeting always makes me want to support an author more because everything suddenly becomes a bit more personal. I met them, they are cool and I want to support their career by buying and enjoying their books. And if I really love an author I'm compelled to tell others how truly awesome they are. However, if the encounter goes badly, I instantly want to shy away and wonder why I'm still reading that author that doesn't seem to appreciate me as a fan. Their books suddenly don't seem as good or as exciting because the person behind the words was a bit of a disappointment. On a slight side but related note, because the discussion mentioned above was initiated by an author, I now want to run out and buy her books for the simple fact that she's taking the time to research what turns fans on or off when it comes to meeting author. I love when authors (or celebrities, athletes, etc.) engage their fans or in this case a crazy person who feels strongly about a subject.

I realize that because I am somewhat new to writing, I have a sense of nativity and euphoria when people praise my work. I'm always flabbergasted to hear any kind of positive remarks about my writing. I know the road to becoming a published author is long and difficult and has many highs and lows along the way. But on that journey and beyond, I hope that I never lose that sense of excitement that occurs when someone tells me I really enjoyed your story. I know every time I hear it, I'm still unable to form the right words of thanks. And as tough as it is to be a writer and not have the right words at your fingertips, I wouldn't trade the joy that comes with it for anything.