Kid Rock taught me something about writing. No, seriously.

So, last night, Mike and I were watching The Daily Show. You know, the one with Jon Stewart. This was my husband’s selection. I was just watching until it got to the end so we could watch an old episode of Medium on NetFlix.

Remember, Mike = love of politics. Brigid = trying to keep up with politics for her husband’s sake.

Then the featured guest on The Daily Show was Kid Rock, and I rolled my eyes at my husband and said, “I’m really not a fan of Kid Rock.” I mean, I like that song with Cheryl Crow, and I guess I like that one about summertime, but I’m really not a fan of grungy screaming music, like Badwitdaba. And I’m definitely not a fan of grungy dirty men. It’s just not my thing.

But we watched anyway, because my husband loves Jon Stewart, and you know what was interesting? Jon Stewart started talking about how much he respected Kid Rock, because Kid Rock knew his business. He knew what went on in music production, he know how to handle himself on tour, and he took good care of his kids and was a good father.

After watching that clip, I have new respect for Kid Rock.

But I keep thinking about the part where Jon Stewart was amazed at how much Kid Rock knew about the business. When he asked about it, Kid Rock said that he’d started out sweeping up in a record company. He learned all the terms and grew from there.

But I think it’s more than that. I think there’s a tendency, once you start getting somewhere, to forget that there’s one person in control of your destiny: YOU.

Just because you have an agent or a book deal doesn’t mean you should forget about the publishing industry. I still read industry blogs every single day. I read Publisher’s Marketplace to see what’s selling. I read agent blogs to see what they’re looking for. I read editor blogs because they’re jaded and funny. NO! I’m totally kidding. I read editor blogs because I’m curious what they’re looking for, and they have a different insight from the agent blogs.

I read links about new e-Book advances. About new e-Readers. About self-publishing phenoms. About teens having books banned in their schools. About what people are reading. I read the local news, and not just for my locality. (I love going to CNN and reading all the US links. And I mean all of them.) I want to know what’s going on in the world. You want to know where you can really get some good ideas to jumpstart a story? Read some local news articles. In Incendiary, the sequel to Elemental, I wanted to write a scene at a party where some kids would be goofing off with fire, using aerosol cans and a stick to make a homemade blowtorch. I thought to myself, “Would kids really be that stupid?”

And then the next day, there was an article on CNN about teenagers messing around with aerosol cans and a bonfire, and getting injured.

So yes. Kids would really be that stupid.

But I digress.

There’s a natural tendency to get to a point and let the experts handle what they handle. And that’s okay. There’s a reason you want an agent and an editor. They are your experts, and their opinion matters a whole lot. (I’m so lucky to have such great ones.) I don’t keep up on industry news so I can nitpick and second guess. I keep up on industry news because I want to be as informed as I can. I want to be a professional artist, not someone who has to be dragged out of a ladies room at 3am, coked up with hair a mess, with a handler hissing, “You have to be on Regis and Kelly in three hours!”

I want responsibility. 

I want to be in control of my destiny.

In short, when I grow up, I want to be just like Kid Rock.

 (Here’s a link to the clip of the show, if you’re curious: http://www.thedailyshow.com/watch/tue-july-12-2011/kid-rock)

Elemental news

Guess what? I have back cover copy.

For the non-publishing people, that means I have the words that are going on the back of my book.

My amazing editor sent me three choices, and said I was free to pick one, or I could mash them together and create my own. Let me tell you — you think writing a query letter is hard? You only need one person to pick that up and want to read it. These are the words going on the back of the book. These are the words people are going to use to decide whether to read the first few pages.

These are the words I’m going to share with you right now:

Earth, Fire, Air, Water – they have more power than you dream.

Becca Chandler is suddenly getting all the guys—all the ones she doesn’t want. Ever since her ex-boyfriend spread those lies about her.

Then she saves Chris Merrick from a beating in the school parking lot. Chris is different. Way different: he can control water—just like his brothers can control fire, wind, and earth. They’re powerful. Dangerous. Marked for death.

And now that she knows the truth, so is Becca.

Secrets are hard to keep when your life’s at stake. When Hunter, the mysterious new kid around school, turns up with a talent for being in the wrong place at the right time, Becca thinks she can trust him. But then Hunter goes head-to-head with Chris, and Becca wonders who’s hiding the most dangerous truth of all.

The storm is coming . . .

So there you go. Back cover copy. What do you guys think? I know, I know, not as exciting as front cover copy, but still fun. 

I also have a new release date. May 2012. May has traditionally been a good month for me: I got married in May, bought my first house in May, my son was born in May…so I think this is an excellent omen.

And lest you think I sat here and toiled away on that cover copy on my own, I didn’t. As always, I owe great thanks to my awesome agent, Tamar Rydzinski, my awesome editor at K Teen, Alicia Condon, my awesome writing friends, Bobbie Goettler, Alison Kemper Beard, Sarah Fine, Sarah Maas, and Erica O’Rourke.

It took four times as many people to create that cover copy as it does to create a baby.

Elemental is also up on Goodreads, if you’d like to check it out

~~

So when do I get to call myself a writer?

I first started writing as a teenager. I was all right at it, I guess. But I didn’t identify myself as a writer. My English teacher practically had to arm wrestle me to get me to submit anything for the school’s literary magazine. I didn’t write poetry, I didn’t write short stories. I didn’t hang out wearing black, going to readings, or smoking cigarettes. I wrote books. I still have looseleaf binders full of novels written longhand.

Ironically, the four brothers who appear in Elemental originally appeared in the first novel I wrote in high school. Imagine carrying four teenage boys around in your head for almost two decades.

That sounds kind of gross.

Moving on.

When I was 19, I landed an agent. Now this was when the internet was in its infancy. I landed an agent through sheer luck. Some guy on a writing board on AOL was like, “A friend of a friend is starting a literary agency, and I think he’d like your stuff.”

Right now, I want to go shake that nineteen-year-old Brigid and say, “YOU HAD AN INTRO TO AN AGENT. YOU FREAK.”

Then, I was like, “Huh. ‘Kay.”

So that intro turned into a real agent, and my book went out to publishers. It didn’t sell. I let the agent relationship peter out into nothing.

Even then, even when my book was on submission, I didn’t tell people I was a writer.

Years later, when I was married and started looking into this writing gig for real, I still didn’t tell anyone I was a writer. They say you shouldn’t talk about it until you have a book deal.

I don’t know who “they” are, but they’re right.

I remember getting my first partial request, and telling a coworker. He told another coworker, and then half the office knew.

And here’s the problem with that: publishing takes a long time. People were all excited for me at first, but then I didn’t land an agent, and I just felt embarrassed. When people don’t know how much time and energy it takes, they seriously don’t know. When I eventually landed the amazing Tamar, I told my best friend I’d finally found a literary agent. She said, “Why is that a big deal?”

She honestly thought that finding a literary agent was as simple as opening up the yellow pages and throwing a dart at a name.

Ha. Hahahaha.

Even after I had an agent, I still didn’t identify myself as a writer. Still!

And now I have a book deal.

Is the time now? Can I tell people I’m a writer? When people ask me what I do, I still rattle off my regular job. My day job.

Do I wait for the book to come out? Do I wait for the second book to come out?

Where are the industry blogs about these life altering questions?

Do you guys identify as writers? When did you start? When will you start?

On being cool.

First, the title of this post is kind of a joke. I don’t know anything about being cool. Seriously, I was the girl in high school who wore glasses, came in early, and spent her free time in the library.

I’m the same person as an adult. I just have a healthy dose of cynicism and apathy.

So I’m not talking about the type of “cool” that people associate with James Dean or Colin Farrell. Or, for you kids out there, I’m not talking about the type of “cool” associated with Justin Bieber. (Though that right there will get me a little bit of flack from my husband.)

I’m talking about the type of “cool” that means treating other people with respect, no matter who you are.

I asked my husband a very basic question about politics the other day. I’m not even going to tell you what the question was, but most people would know the answer. I’ve never followed politics, but because my husband is fascinated by politics, I’ve spent the last year trying to understand it, follow it, and speak intelligently about it. (I’m still working up my nerve on that last one.)

My husband could have pulled the A-hole move and talked down to me. He could have patted me on the head and told me to go back to my little YA books. He also could have done the thing where you answer the question, then keep expanding on it to show how much you know about something. My husband didn’t do any of those things. He just answered the question and we moved on with the discussion.

This sounds like a little thing. It’s not.

I even remarked on it to him. It’s one of my favorite things about him, that he’ll never be arrogant or nasty about anything.

He said it’s a matter of respect.

I remember once I went out with this guy when I was around 22. My mom set us up, and that should have been a warning sign right there. I mean, the guy drove a Buick. Now look: there is nothing wrong with driving a Buick.

Unless you’re 22.

It was a new Buick, with leather seats and all the bells and whistles. I remember he had a button on the middle dash, something about traction control.

Now, I’m a bit of a dork, and I love knowing how cars work. I’ve been known to read the manual. (Yes, really.) I said to him, “Hey, I’ve never seen a car with a button for traction control. How does that work?”

He said, really snootily, “It controls the car’s traction.”

Well, gee.

Not one to be put off, I said, “But how? What does it do?”

I needed an answer. I mean, does it slow the wheels down? Change something about the pull from the engine? I was fascinated by the fact that something like traction could be controlled by pushing a button.

He kept trying to make things up, and I kept asking more questions, and finally he got really flustered and snapped, “Just stop asking questions about the car, okay?”

I think you can all deduce that the first date was also the last.

I mean, he could have just said he didn’t know.

We totally could have looked it up in the manual.

But really, I didn’t start this post to talk about old boyfriends. I actually started it to talk about writers.

A few years ago, I read a post on a very popular agent’s blog about one of that agent’s authors coming out with a book. I loved, loved, LOVED the concept of the book, and I was really excited about it. Here’s the kicker: the book was coming out eighteen months later.

Every now and again, the agent would mention the book on the blog. Around the time I thought the book was due to be released, I couldn’t remember the title. I actually emailed the agent and said, “I’ve been looking forward to this book for a long time, but I can’t remember the title.”

The agent wrote back. The book was coming out soon. I followed the author on Twitter.

On the day I ordered the book, I sent a tweet to the author (a debut author), that essentially said, “Just ordered your book! Been looking forward to it since I first heard about it on [agent’s] blog! Can’t wait.”

I didn’t expect a response. She didn’t know me from anyone. Really, no response would have been fine.

Here’s what I got back:

yeah thanks

That’s it.

Now, look. I’m not going to judge anyone’s Twitter style. Like I said, she didn’t need to write back. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions of the interaction right there.

I will tell you that I was kind of turned off.

Her Ladyship's Companion (Berkley Sensation)A few years ago, I read the debut novel of Evangeline Collins, Her Ladyship’s Companion, and it was frigging awesome. It also has a stunning cover. (It’s totally a romance novel, so if that’s not your thing, it won’t be for you.) 

I wrote an email to Evangeline Collins, telling her how much I loved her book. Again, no  response would have been fine. I know people have lives, and some people get boatloads of emails from readers. Besides, the purpose of my email was to say, “YAY! I loved your work so much that I wanted you to know!” Not to say, “Please engage me in conversation.”

But Ms. Collins wrote back. To thank me. That’s class.   And when her next book came out, I immediately pre-ordered it. And loved it.

I had another one of these today. A friend asked for some book recommendations on Twitter. Here’s  the conversation:

@BrigidKemmerer oh any book recommendations? im running low. and we need to finally pick a date for a playdate for the boys

BrigidKemmerer:
@
LesRhodes
Yes, we do!! I just read Boy Toy by @barrylyga and LOVED it. Also The Iron King by @Jkagawa. Good stuff.

If I know they’re on Twitter, I always mention the author when I recommend their books. Not only do they know I liked their stuff, but it usually links back to their website in case people want to find their stuff easily.
Boy Toy
I didn’t expect either of those authors to respond.

Barry Lyga did, to say thanks. I almost went all fangirl, because seriously Boy Toy is one of the best books I’ve ever read. It’s tough to make a book moving and gripping and un-put-down-able while still making it funny enough to make me laugh out loud in places. Incredible book. I almost want to stop writing this post to go read it again.

And the author, the author, took time out of his day and thanked ME.

I mean, come on.

That’s pretty cool.

Here’s how I feel about the whole WSJ YA censorship thing…

All right, look. This is going to be brief, because a thousand-and-one people out there are going to say this better than I am.

This relates to the Wall Street Journal article by Meghan Gurdon, talking about YA books:

Darkness Too Visible: Contemporary fiction for teens is rife with explicit abuse, violence and depravity. Why is this considered a good idea?

I first heard about this article from Alison Kemper, who posted about it on her Facebook wall.

Did you see some of the “appropriate” books they recommend for teens were written 50 years ago? I’m so sick of people saying kids can’t handle what these books are about. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: books are a safe way to explore the world around you

When you can’t watch the evening news without hearing about meth addiction (Ellen Hopkins’ CRANK) or a female teacher having sex with a middle school student (Barry Lyga’s BOY TOY), or a kid being booked for murdering a classmate by lighting him on fire (RIGHT BEHIND YOU, by Gail Giles), then what’s wrong with reading books about it? I’m intrigued by Mormon polygamy due to all the media coverage and the stigmas attached to it, from the beliefs behind it to the religious sects that still practice it. Do I want to move to Utah and join a sect to give it a whirl? Do I want to practice polygamy right in my own home? No, I read THE CHOSEN ONE by Carol Lynch Williams, and it was graphic and horrifying and downright amazing.  

(All those books I just mentioned are awesome, and I wouldn’t hesitate to give them to the right teenager.)

Personally, I think it’s far safer for kids to read these things and virtually experience them than for kids to explore things they see and hear about on the news in their own way. Fifty years ago, the news wasn’t broadcast far and wide, with headline crawls and graphic images on thirty different stations. Fifty years ago, there’d be no question of whether to show the gruesome images of Osama Bin Laden’s death wound — there’d be no question, because we wouldn’t see it. The article mentions that people protested a graphic cover on a book about cutting? Because that would be too much for a teen to handle? What about when the photoshopped (yet just as disgusting) image of Osama Bin Laden’s death was all over the internet — and on the front page of some newspapers — for all to see. My four-year-old saw that picture on the newsstand at the grocery store. And we expect teens to be shocked by the image of a few razor scars?


Really?

I was discussing this issue with my husband this morning, after he read the entire article. He said, “I kind of understand what she was saying.” He then described a graphic scene in the book he was reading, a book about zombies. He said, “I don’t know if this book is marketed to teens or not, but I’d never give it to Jonathan to read.” (Jonathan is my fourteen-year-old stepson.)

I hustled to Amazon and looked up the book. Though the protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl, it’s not marketed to teens.

And you know what? My husband is handling books like this the right way. He’s reading them first.

I agree that parents need to parent. I had to think long and hard about letting Jonathan read Elemental, because it deals with some pretty strong bullying and there’s one near-date-rape. I agree that teachers need to teach, and schools have an obligation to guide teens towards appropriate books. (Much like the author of the Book Reviews and English News blog, where books are read and reviewed prior to being recommended in the school library.)

But I don’t think that anyone has an obligation to censor books. If you don’t think it’s appropriate, don’t read it.

Just don’t take that opportunity away from anybody else.

~

I’m a writer and a mom. Here’s the best advice I can give you.

Use grocery delivery.

Seriously.

I have never done this before, but I saw an ad that you get free delivery from Peapod (by Giant) for the first 60 days, and I figured, what the hell.

Every Saturday, Michael and I used to load Nick into the car and go to Giant. We have a pretty standard list of things to buy. All total, it takes us about two hours (including driving) to go to the store, shop, pay, load the car…why am I explaining this? You all know how to shop for groceries. So two hours, every Saturday.

TWO HOURS, people. I can write 2,000 words in two hours.

So I tried Peapod. After one experience, I was hooked. I know not everyone has Giant in their area, but most larger chains are offering grocery delivery, so check it out.

Aside from the time premium, we’ve discovered that we’re saving money. I load the virtual “cart” and place the order on Wednesday, scheduling delivery for Saturday morning. Since you can update the cart up until 6pm the night before delivery, as I notice things in the house, I can update the cart. (Oh! We’re out of detergent, better add that! Or, hey, we don’t need another box of macaroni and cheese, Nick is boycotting yellow foods this week.) So by Saturday morning, I get exactly what I need to get through the week.

Delivery here is $7.95 if you order more than $100. Personally, I haven’t spent less than $100 at the grocery store since 1995, so it’s not a hard target to hit. It’s free for the first sixty days, so there’s no risk in giving it a try. If you choose a wider time window, you get $2 off delivery.

Seriously, considering gas prices, you probably blow through $8 just driving to the store and back.

Last week was our first glitch, and it was the 4th week we’ve done this. We ordered plain Coffee-mate creamer, and they sent French Vanilla. I sent them an email, and they gave us the money back.

I do not work for Giant. I don’t care if you use this or not.

But we love it. It’s like getting a morning of writing back.

Give it a try.

YA Cliffhanger Trend: Friend or Foe?

So I’ve been reading a lot of YA lately. (Hello, my name is Brigid, and I’m a bookaholic.)

I’ve been reading so much YA that I’m waiting for my husband to bring the hammer down and tell me to stop buying books on the Kindle. (I’m sure he regrets the day he bought me that thing. You mean I don’t need to leave the couch to buy a book instantly?)

But there’s a clear trend in YA for ending on a cliffhanger. Not just a cliffhanger, almost to the point where the entire first book is almost completely setup, and when you finally get to the climax, the book ends right there. You have to wait for part two.

Elemental is the first book in a series, and while there are open threads at the end, the story arc of book one is complete. The second book (tentatively titled Incendiary) follows the path of a different brother, and it, too, will have a complete story arc with open threads.

I’m not sure I’m a fan of this latest trend. When the first story arc is wholly complete but there’s a driving need for a second book, I love it. (Like The Hunger Games or Hex Hall, both of which I enjoyed greatly.) When the book obviously can’t stand alone, I hate it.

What about you guys? Do you like this new trend? Do you hate it? If you’re a writer, do you feel the need to end on a cliffhanger just to keep your readers reading?

I put a poll in the sidebar if that’s easier than commenting: ——>

How to find a [good] critique partner.

If I were to have a FAQ section for email inquiries, this would be at the top, right above the request for my banking information because I’ve inherited 500,000 USD from a prince in Nigeria.

(I mean seriously. Does anyone fall for this? And why don’t they use the dollar sign?)

I have two main critique partners.*

1) Bobbie. Bobbie has been there since the beginning. Since I thought it was acceptable to query a 130,000 word vampire novel. Since I had no idea how to make every scene move the plot forward one step. Since before I knew about Miss Snark and every other blog out there. Bobbie is one of my closest friends and I tell her everything. I’ve known her for five years, and I’m so frigging lucky, because she’s insanely insightful. I’ll tell her I’m struggling with a scene, and I’ll get back this in depth character critique like:

So you’re unsure of where to go now? How to resolve the moment between Michael and Gabriel? I can see how it’s a pivotal moment and you want to play it right. You can’t have them hug it out or Gabriel won’t need the fire as much as he does now–it’s his escape. If all is well on the home front–or even heading there–he won’t have the need for release. I like that Gabriel’s immediate feeling isn’t anger but a sense of betrayal. He seemed to be feeling, before Hannah showed up, that he and Michael could at least be civil to one another and act like brothers now and then. To come home to this accusation would be painful and more isolating.

I think you need Michael to be suspicious, and I think his character would be. But the fire started before he left the house. Hannah could confirm this. But Michael’s suspicion might at some point make Gabriel question whether Garrett is the arsonist. And even if Michael comes to believe Gabriel didn’t start the fire, he’s still going to suspect something’s going on, and Gabriel’s secrecy is going to bring more tension to their relationship.

I mean, you can’t pay for critique notes like that. Sometimes I feel inadequate when I read her stuff, because I can’t see all the angles like this. I feel like a caveman writing things like, “Um. This guy seems angry.” Seriously, I don’t know why Bobbie puts up with ME.

It didn’t start out that way, of course. I’d posted a chapter on the critique site www.mywriterscircle.com, and she left some good comments, along with the line, “I would read more of this.” So I looked up her profile, sent her an email, and said, “Would you really read more of this? I have half a book.”

She read it, she liked it, she sent me some of her stuff. I read it, I liked it. We clicked right off the bat, and the timing was good. We were both beginners, and we were both at the same stage of the writing process.

A lot of that was LUCK. Kind of like love at first sight.

2) Alison: I’ve known Alison for about a year. She sent me a message on Absolute Write when I had a post up offering beta reads, and because I say yes to just about everyone who asks me to crit a manuscript, I told her to send over the first chapter or so. Then I completely forgot that I accepted, and I felt like a total heel when she emailed me 10 days later to ask if I got her email. (I blame my Blackberry.) But I could tell right away that Alison had some serious writing chops (see my last post about her recent signing with an agent), and I gave her a bunch of constructive criticism and sent it back.

That’s usually a make-or-break point with a critique partner. I’m always honest, and I never sugar-coat anything. I’ve had people get back a critique of twenty pages, and move on. Alison wrote back that it was finally the feedback she’d been looking for, and asked if she could send more. I liked her writing and her style, so I read more. And more. And more. She kept offering to read something of mine, but I was agented at that point, with a book on submission, so I was a lot more careful sending things out. Finally we’d been working together long enough that I trusted her enough to send something her way. (You never know what freak is going to post your book on their blog or something.) Alison’s critiques were awesome! Spot on! She picks up on things that I never would, especially when she guesses where the story is going. I remember in one of the earlier drafts of Elemental, she made the comment, “You have all these water bottles popping up everywhere! I can’t wait to see what you’re planning on doing with them!”

I read that comment and was like, “Uhhh…I’m not doing a damn thing with them. People are thirsty.” But it was a great point, and I took out some of the references. Alison is great at picking up on foreshadowing that might not be intentional, or seeing links between characters that I might not have seen. It’s every bit as insightful as Bobbie, just in a different way.

I owe a lot of my success with Elemental to these ladies.

I know, I know, you’re saying, “Shut the F up about your amazing critique partners, and tell me how to find some of my OWN.”

Reading the above, it seems like I just got lucky and found two great people and POOF, my writing life was easy. Brigid has everything! A book deal! Great critique partners! An amazing agent! An awesome editor!

Yeah, whatever. You want to know how many beta reads I did before landing on two people with whom I really clicked? I just went through my email, searched for “beta,” and counted the individual email addresses.

Eighty-six.

And that doesn’t count beta reads I did directly on message boards like Absolute Write and My Writers Circle. (I do a lot on my lunch hour. Hey, a girl needs to do something while eating.) That doesn’t count people who might have used the words “Crit” or “Critique” instead of “Beta” in their email.

That’s also over the course of five years.

The point? That’s a lot of people. A lot of time. A lot of reading.

Finding a great critique partner is like finding a great husband. (Or wife.) It’s not going to happen overnight. It’s going to take hard work, and compromise, and a solid base of trust.

Some tips:

1) Don’t be lazy. If you were going to a bar to pick up men (or women), you’d take a shower, wear nice clothes, and try to look your best. Do the same thing when you’re sending your stuff out for critique. Now’s the time to be on your best behavior. Sometimes people would email me and say, “I know it’s full of grammatical errors and misspellings, but I’ll fix that stuff later. I just want to know if the story is worth the time to fix it.” I mean, come on. If you don’t know if it’s worth the time to fix it, why is it worth my time to read it? Don’t send out crap.

2) Be honest. Not just with others, with yourself. Maybe someone is AWESOME at critiquing your stuff. If you hate their writing, you’re not going to want to reciprocate. That’s not fair.

3) Critique a LOT. You know those advice columns where people write in and say, “I’m so depressed, I’ll never find anyone. I hate going out and playing the dating game. There must be another way.” Don’t you want to hit those people? Dating is how you find a life partner. Critiquing a lot of stuff is how you find a critique partner.

Kind of like writing a book, finding a critique partner is something that sounds easy in theory. “I can write a compound sentence! I’m destined to be a great author! Here’s where to send my check!” vs. “I’m a really nice person! My writing is amazing, so I’ll quickly find someone amazing to read it! At 3am! In five minutes!”

Everyone can find a great critique partner. They’re out there. I was, Alison was, Bobbie was.

All you have to do is put yourself out there. You know, with a little lip gloss.

~
* I’m not listing Sarah Maas, who is an awesome critique partner, because we only met because we’re agency sisters, and our relationship doesn’t really apply to this post. I just got lucky with Sarah. Wait. That sounds dirty.

Random Writing Tips

Currently reading: Eternal Rider by Larissa Ione. (Yes, yes, yes, it’s a paranormal romance.) I also just finished Unearthly, by Cynthia Hand, one of the recommended books from the contest. 

A couple people have hinted that I haven’t written a writing post in a while. I’m no expert, and I only know what works for me. All the same, I’m happy to share what I’ve figured out. Let my sweat be your … well, that was just about to sound gross. So just keep reading.

1) A little goes a long way.

This one always shocks me. When I was doing revisions on Elemental, I needed to clarify a relationship between two of the brothers just a little bit better. It wasn’t clear what each brother wanted, or why the younger was so angry at the older.

I stressed about this for weeks. I’d have to rewrite all their scenes together. I’d have to re-imagine all their interactions. It would take hours upon hours of writing to clarify this relationship.

No. It took two lines of dialogue, as part of an argument in the first chapter. Voila. You knew where each character stood, you know what each one wanted. 

Start small. Sometimes the smallest tweaks have the greatest impact.

2) When in doubt, delete. 

I swear, this is one that always jumps up and smacks me between the eyes. Sometimes a sentence will bother me the entire time I’m writing a story. Sometimes it will be an entire paragraph. I’ll tweak. I’ll reword. I’ll play with it. Eventually, it will go from this beautifully formed cluster of words into a slightly mushy pile of limp, gray letters.

At that point, I’m so done with it, I just delete it altogether. Voila. The manuscript is better. No wonder  that sentence/paragraph was bothering me so much! I didn’t need it at all!

3) Go admire someone else’s talent.

And preferably not another writer’s. When I’m feeling blocked, if I pick up a really good book, it frustrates me. If I watch a well written television show, it motivates me. Sometimes watching Friday Night Lights or Vampire Diaries will have me reaching for my laptop because I need to write as soon as the episode is better.

I think this works for me because my stories tend to play out like a televised drama in my head. I “see” the scenes. When I see a particularly good episode of a favorite show, I want to pull off whatever worked in my own writing. Your results may vary.

By the way, you can bash Vampire Diaries as teen crap all you want. But the writers of that show know how to turn a story on its head, so you absolutely cannot stop watching. I gasp at something in almost every episode, and you can’t say that about too much television.

Friday Night Lights is just simply amazing. If you’re not watching it, you must tell me why. (First season is on the Netflix instant queue. Check it out.)

But if television isn’t for you, check out something else. Go for a hike. Walk through a museum. Go watch a hot drummer. Observe someone else’s talent, and be inspired to find your own.

All right, that’s all I’ve got for tonight.

Anyone else have any writing tips? What do you guys do?

Money talks, and … well, you know how the rest goes

So I was going to do a post about money this morning, but it’s early, and I’m tired, and I figured I’d just spend my thirty minutes before the kid wakes up reading other people’s blogs.

Then I stumbled upon this post by Tahereh Mafi, a very talented young writer who has a book coming out this fall. (Check out her blog, too.)

But Tahereh (can we be on a first name basis in the blogosphere?) talks about money. And since my mind was already on writing and money, I said to myself, “Dude. Respond.”

Here’s the question her reader asked:

I have a problem. I’ve always always always wanted to write, but I don’t think it’s going to pay too well unless I write about vampires or magical kids. So I’m thinking I’ll be something science-y. But I love writing, so I’ll miss out on it if I become something science-y. WHAT SHOULD I DO?!?!

 And here’s the link (same as above) to what Tahereh responds. 

Before anyone thinks I’m going the wrong way with this, I agree with every word Tahereh says in the response. Writing is not for the faint of heart. The media sometimes makes it seem like you can sit in your apartment for a few months, churn out a novel, and someone will hand you a million dollar check. It takes passion, and drive, and love for storytelling. If you want to write, and writing makes you happy, do it.

But here’s what I think Tahereh missed: this questioner can do both.

One of the greatest things about writing is that you don’t need a degree (I don’t have one), you don’t need anyone’s permission, you don’t need an office, you don’t need a coat and tie, and you sure as hell don’t need to do it between 9 and 5. All you need is the desire to write, and the passion to make your writing great.


I’m thirty-three years old. I have the corporate career, and I have a good salary. I have the single family house with the chain-link fence and two cars and two dogs and almost-three kids and every electronic gadget my husband convinces me we need.

I’m also a writer, and I also have a book deal.

So are a lot of people. You can do both.

Here’s the other thing: a book deal is not a guarantee. When the auction was over and I knew I had a deal with Kensington, the first person I talked to (after my family) was my boss. I told him exactly how much money I was getting, and I reassured him that I wasn’t quitting anytime soon. Just because I have money now doesn’t mean it’s going to keep flowing in droves.

Besides, say you land a big advance. Do you know how much of that money is going to taxes? If you make over $379,000 in 2011, 35% of that is going to taxes. That’s after you pay 15% to your agent. (Please note, I am not a tax professional, and this is solely for illustrative purposes.) But that’s 50% of your money, gone before you get to spend a dime. That’s not even taking into account what you have to pay the state! I can guarantee that’s not going to last for the rest of your life. It might last a good long time, don’t get me wrong. But that’s still not a guarantee.

Your book could bomb, and the rest of your contract could be cancelled. The market could change, and people could decide they only want to read books about cyborgs or something. (Or Elementals. Elementals are going to be huge in 2012. Huge, I tell you.) Just like playing poker, you need a lot of skill, but you also need a lot of luck. Some of this publishing game is all about chance.

Here’s my concern for this questioner: what if she forgoes college and that “science-y” career and focuses all her time on writing?

And then, what if she’s no good?

Just like promising athletes, I think an education and the potential for a career is a good thing. Think of it as a fall-back. Have something to do. Just because I don’t have a college degree doesn’t mean I didn’t scrape my way through years of learning the financial industry, and now I have a bunch of licenses that mean the same thing. Just because you love writing doesn’t mean you shouldn’t bother starting a career.

There is always time to write. Always.

This doesn’t mean it’s easy. You know that funny graphic of the triangle that represents college, and on each point, there are the following options: Good Grades, Social Life, Plenty of Sleep. Then below it, it says, “Life in College: You Only Get Two.”

Guess what? That doesn’t end when you leave college. Just replace “Good Grades” with “Lucrative Career.”

I say if she likes science, I say get that science degree and write in her dorm room. Or get whatever degree will make her happy and fulfilled and employed. Have something to do so you can make the rent while you’re churning out the next Great American Novel. I completely agree with what Tahereh says about not getting a massive degree with a bazillion dollars in student loans to make your parents’ neighbors happy. That’s silly. (Seth Godin has a great post about wasting money on buying a brand instead of buying a degree.) But don’t sit on your parents’ couch for five years and defend yourself that you’re a writer, damn it, either.

You can do both. All of you. Every writer out there can have a career and a child and a husband (or wife) and a house and still have time to write.

You don’t have to choose.

You can be happy and have it all.

I promise.

~