Tuesday, December 30, 2014

What I Learned in 2014

Per usual, I'm hesitant to give any kind of writing advice or truths about publishing because I think all of our journeys are different, and frankly, as I sit here in the same pajama pants I wore most of yesterday, I'm hardly a shining example of "how to get it right". That being said, I'm two books in now and I did discover a few noteworthy things this year that hopefully will help some of you.

1. It turns out everyone is a writer. Seriously. Everyone. I'm at my block party or the grocery store or the kids' winter fest and people tell me about the book they've published or the one they're going to write or this big idea they have. And the way my brain processes this is usually in three steps. First: YES! AWESOME! Everyone should be a writer because it's awesome and I want all the people to come to this party. Second: For the love of cheese, I hope you're not in this for the money because that way will only lead to frustration. Third: Oh God, please don't ask me to help you because I don't have the first clue what I'm doing. 

2. It turns out everyone is working their ass off. So you know how you wish someone would email you back? Or that they'd provide you with this stuff you no doubt deserve? Or that they'd send you that one thing they said they'd get to you by last week? Well, the reason that's not happening is they're working their asses off. I'm quite lucky that I get to see publishing from both sides of the desk because patience is hardly my strong suit, so when I say people are working their asses off, I'm not lying. Writers, editors, agents, publicists. Every damn day is a fire drill of some kind. If you're not being attended to, it's probably because you're a smaller fire behind a giant blaze. (Note: this doesn't mean you should allow yourself to be treated badly and ignored for 6 months, but I trust you know the difference here.)

3. It turns out that people in the publishing community are really for you. You will be absolutely astounded at the number of people in the publishing community who want you to kick ass and sell a million books and have all your dreams come true. And they are generally a hundred kinds of awesome about trying to make that happen. They don't owe you shit but they do it anyway because they're good people. So be gracious and thankful and buy their books and love them back. And if they can't always help you sell all your books because they've got shit of their own to deal with, continue to love them and buy their books and be gracious because that's what friends do. 

4. It turns out that writing is hard sometimes. I failed NaNo this year. I wrote 100k that will never see the light of day. I started and stopped about six books. It wasn't the easiest year in writing. That happens. I kept writing anyway because I love it enough to know that it'll come back to me. I also kept writing because of all the great encouraging things people said to me. I seriously love the writing community. (See #3).    

5. It turns out you don't have to do or be all the things. I talked about this over at PubHub, but really it is worth repeating: do not spend time doing a bunch of things you don't love to sell your books. Yes, you're going to have to do some promo. And sadly that promo cannot just be a Lenny Kravitz Pinterest board (though I highly recommend everyone have one of those as a happy place on the Internet). But promo that you sort of hate doing comes across as promo that you sort of hate doing. So I think it's worth figuring out what promo you like and focusing on that. And if you hate all promo, then you can at least be funny about it. My "Teen Vogue lists BLEED LIKE ME as a great YA book to read over the holidays because there's nothing that says Merry Christmas like self-mutilation and co-dependent relationships" FB post got way more likes and comments than my "Hooray my book is on sale" release day post. Of course, my friends may just like my twisted sense of humor, so there's that.

6. It turns out readers are awesome. By far my favorite part about this year is the number of readers who reached out to me to tell me that my dark and gritty books were the best things they read this year. THIS NEVER GETS OLD. Teen readers in particular are effusive and awesome and basically everything I ever wanted out of this writing gig. I don't have the first clue how they found me, but I love, love, love that they have. 

So that's what I got. In preparing for this blog, I also re-read last year's post which I think is still totally valid, particularly the part about having other things in your life. I don't have another book coming out until January of 2016, which means that 2015 will be a year of learning and stumbling and falling and trying all sorts of different things and I cannot wait. As ever, my life is so full and rich because of all the love and support from this community. Thank you, friends!

Happy New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2014

What It's Like To Be Left Behind

I lost my friend Michael two years ago this week. Of course, I wasn't the only one. We all lost someone when Michael died. Even those of you who didn't know him. The world grows a little dimmer whenever anyone decides to take their own life. It all seems a little more hopeless. And those of us left behind ache for more time with them.

Whip-smart and thoughtful and funny and sarcastic as hell, Michael figures so prominently in many of my best memories about college. When I returned to Grinnell earlier this year, there wasn't a place I could go on campus where I didn't recall a story about this amazing man. And I know I am one person of many. My college friends talk about him to me often. Not stories of college shenanigans, but stories of deep emotional connection. Of Michael being kind and compassionate and thoughtful and so understanding.

I have blogged before about the guilt I feel for not staying connected with him beyond Facebook messages and social media. The shame at not knowing how much he was hurting. The worry that this is how people slip away from us. That we see a status update from them and think that means they're okay. These feelings haven't gone away in the past two years.

I don't like walking around in a world where Michael doesn't exist. I feel like that about so many people who I've lost. I told a friend the other day that sometimes I feel surrounded by ghosts. Memories of people who I want to call back to me. At the end of his life, Maurice Sendak said, "I have nothing now but praise for my life. I'm not unhappy. I cry a lot because I miss people. They die and I can't stop them. They leave me and I love them more." That is how I feel about my ghosts. I want more time with them. I want them not to have left me. It's a tremendously selfish thing to say, but I'm saying it anyway. I want them back.

I wanted to write this post because I have so many people who are struggling in their life right now. So many people who are hurting for one reason or another. Who feel hopeless or isolated or filled with sorrow. And I want you all to know what it feels like to me on the other side. That I wish I could build all of you nests and take care of you and make things better. I wish I was more. I wish I could keep you all here forever with me. Remind you that you are loved and the world is better with you in it.