Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Finding New Inspiration from an Old Source

After my publisher Booktrope announced that it was going to close its doors, I went through a really tough time. In some ways, I’m still going through it. I’ve questioned my legitimacy as a writer and have been wondering if it’s what I should be doing.

One of the things that has plagued my mind is that my books seem too short. I look at all these other books in the young adult genre—the bestsellers like the Twilight series, the Hunger Games, and the Divergent series—and they are these really thick, big books. Mine, on the other hand, top out at a little over 200 pages—if I’m lucky. Some are a tad shorter.

Am I doing something wrong? Should my books be longer?

I’ve attempted to make my books longer, but they end up being just words without meaning. Every word that is put into a story should further the plot in some way, but I find that I’m just sticking things in there to make the book longer. Surely, that can’t be the right way to do it either.

It was frustrating and disheartening. I was convinced this was why I would never be a well-known author with movie deals. I put down my pen (yes, I still write my first draft longhand with a pen and paper) and tried to figure out what to do. I also decided to go back to a source of inspiration that encouraged me to become a writer in the first place.

When I was in junior high and high school, one of my favorite authors of all time was Christopher Pike. He wrote these amazingly dark young adult books that I devoured. I decided to pick up a few again and reread them to see if they still had the same effect on me as they did back then.

There’s an inherent danger going back and rereading something from your past. It’s possible that time and experience will change how you view those stories, and they may not hold the same power they once did. In a way, you’re viewing them through a new set of eyes, and they might not be the same book they had once been.

This was absolutely not the case when I went back to read these books. They were still just as powerful and amazing as I remembered them being.

What Christopher Pike did when he was writing his books was start a new trend in YA stories. He didn’t back away from controversial teen issues like drugs, drinking, and sex—they were right there on the page (not in vivid detail, granted, but present nonetheless). He talked to teens on their level, he didn’t treat them like idiots, and they loved it. I loved it. I still love it.

I also loved how his books dealt with the supernatural and alien beings. They were horror without being in-your-face scary. His books encouraged and inspired the dark within me.

And most of his books aren’t much longer than 200 pages.

As I thought more about it, I decided that it’s not the length of the book that matters. A story needs to be told in however many words it needs to be told in. If it takes 300+ pages, so be it. But if it takes less, that’s fine too.

One of the things I enjoyed and still enjoy about Pike’s books is that I can read them in a relatively short amount of time. I can immerse myself in the worlds he’s created and get to know the characters, but I don’t necessarily have to spend a long time doing it. If I want (and I have) to finish a book in an afternoon, I can. And it’s amazing. They are the perfect afternoon getaway, then I have the opportunity to move on to another world or get back to the real one. (The latter is usually the case. I have a family to take care of.)

That’s something that can’t always be done with longer works. However, with longer books, readers have the opportunity to be immersed in these magical worlds for a lot longer. They aren’t confined to an afternoon, they are there for days or weeks—maybe even months. Reading is supposed to be escapism, and sometimes we readers don’t want to come back to the real world, so having a longer work fulfills that need.

There’s no wrong or right way to write a book. Well, there is, so I should probably phrase it that there are no rules to the limit on how long a story should be. If the story is only 200 pages, it’s only 200 pages. If it’s longer or shorter, it’s longer or shorter.

What it boils down to is I have to write the book I want to write, and that book is one that I would want to read and enjoy in an afternoon. Again, there’s nothing wrong with longer works, they obviously appeal to a lot of people, but they just aren’t my thing.

Is that the reason I haven’t reached stardom and have movie producers and agents knocking down my door? Maybe. It’s possible it’s also my subject matter. Maybe my stories don’t appeal to what the world is looking for in a book. But I’m fine with that. I’ve always been the type of person who marched to the beat of my own drummer. Since I was little, I’ve been told that I’m weird because I didn’t always follow the status quo. That doesn’t discourage me, in fact, it propels me forward.

Being different means I have a unique way of looking at the world, and I try to put those ideas into my stories. So I may never be famous, and that’s okay. There are still readers out there who enjoy my books. And that’s all I can ask for. I’m not going to betray who I am because it might make me famous. Again, I’m going to write the stories I want to write. That makes it more fun.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Emotional Roller Coaster that is Writing

This is something I’ve talked about before, but I feel it bears repeating. Being an author is an emotional roller coaster ride. It is filled with highs and lows, and both of them can be extreme. But how do you cope when you’re in one of these moments?

Every author has their moment of being on top of the world. Whether it’s getting their book accepted by a publisher, reaching a certain amount of sales, or perhaps even getting a movie deal, something will happen at some time to make the author feel invincible. And this high can last for a long time—days, months, years, even. When things are going well, it’s easy to be inspired and motivated. I know that readers are waiting for my work, so I go out of my way to get it to them.

When things aren’t going so well, when it’s a low period, it’s harder to find that motivation and inspiration. This low can come in many forms: rejections, a bad review, sales not going as well as planned, whatever. If you’re like me, it just might be a cycle of your writing. Some days I’m highly motivated, others I’m not. On those other days, I might feel guilty about not getting any writing done, which pushes me into a low.

Getting through these times is a bit trickier. There doesn’t seem to be anything out there that inspires or motivates me. In fact, most things just end up pissing me off and making me wonder why I’m writing at all. So how do I push through?

I’m going to be honest: I don’t always push through. Recently, I’ve been in a low cycle. I’ve sat down numerous times to work on a story, and nothing comes. I can’t put words on the paper. So I don’t. I do something else. I pick up a book or watch TV or hang out with my kids. Sure, I feel bad about not writing, which then upsets me and I think that I’ll never write another book in my life and I’ll just fade into obscurity but what does it matter because no one reads my books anyway...and on and on.

But if nothing’s there to write, why force it? And I think that’s the important thing to remember. Writing for me is supposed to be fun, it’s supposed to be an escape. I’ve made peace with the fact long ago that I was never going to get rich off my stories. I’ve known for a while that I won’t find an agent and get published by a big house—and I’m fine with that. I’ve re-evaluated what it means to me to be successful.

However, when writing stops being fun, that’s when I need to take a step back. Highs and lows will happen no matter what. I’m an author, I’m an emotional and passionate person, and those emotional swings are exhausting. When I get tired, I need to take time to re-energize and recoup.

It’s okay to take a break from writing. It’s okay to be sad during the low times. But always keep in mind that they won’t last forever—just like the high times won’t. And I’m not going to say to keep the high times in mind, to remember how fantastic they sure, because, yes, they were wonderful and fantastic and amazing, but if you’re like me, when they aren’t there, it can be even more depressing. If you’re like me, you might think they are never coming back. I absolutely appreciate the high times and I hope to have more in the future, but sometimes it’s hard to see the forest for the trees.

Through it all, however, I am always grateful the for friends, readers, and fans that I have. Without you, I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today.

In the end, I’m the one who has to decide how to move forward. I’m the one who decides how deeply the highs and lows will affect me. The most important thing to remember is that I have to do what is best for me and what makes me the happiest.

How do you make it through the highs and lows?

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

New Adventures and New Schedules

Last week, I started a new job. It’s a work-at-home editing job, so it’s quite a change from what I’m used to. (I used to go to an office every day for work, and I’d have to dress nice. Now, I don’t have to shower if I don’t want to [although I normally do] and I can hang out in my sweatpants [heaven!].) I wanted a stay-at-home job, and I searched for a long time before I found this one.

Whenever I tell people I’ll be working at home, they usually have two reactions: 1. You’re so lucky. I want to do that and 2) I would never be able to get anything done at home. I’d get too distracted with other things.

It’s definitely been an adjustment. Working at home means that my kids are generally here with me. We’ve already talked about ground rules and times when I can’t be bothered, but it’s still a challenge—especially when the boys get bored and start messing/fighting with each other.

I’ve been trying to find things to keep them busy, such as chores, but that lasts for only so long. If anyone has any ideas, shoot them my way!

I generally don’t get distracted very easily. I’m a Type A personality, so I’m pretty good about getting to work and staying focused. I try to schedule my day so that I can get everything done and take breaks when I need to. One thing about working from home is that you never have to stop working. I could be doing something all hours of the day, so it’s important to find a good work/life balance.

And the company I work for is a big promoter of that. They are amazing about training and giving me the skills I’ll need to be successful, but they also encourage me to have fun. Some days I can’t believe I actually found this amazing job.

My writing hasn’t been going very well lately. Part of it is because of the schedule change, but the other part is just being too tired, which can be partly attributed to the schedule change. My brain feels like it’s in a fog, so when I sit down to put words on the page, nothing comes. I’m sure it’s just a phase. I’m sure once I get settled and get some rest, the creativity will flow freely. And if it doesn’t, it doesn’t. I’ll cross that bridge when I get to it.

All in all, I’m very happy with where I’m at right now. I know once I get settled in, this is going to be the best option for me, and I’m looking forward to it.