editing

A Dream No One Can See

It’s become a tradition each year to choose a word that will carry me through 365 days. There has been CREATE, BELIEVE, BETTER, and last year, there was PERSEVERANCE. And persevere I did. Through 164 literary magazine submissions, 133 rejections (query trenches included) and 16 pieces accepted, including my debut collection of poetry, These Are the Women We Write About, I’d like to think my own perseverance got me where I needed to be!

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But now it’s a new year, which means a new word. Getting here, I once again was a bit paralyzed with fear that I might choose the wrong word. I suppose it’s become another of those superstitious writerly things that I cling to as the days move along. It wasn’t until Christmas preparations took over that I found my word, one which stuck in my bones and felt too perfect to pass up. I ordered three necklaces and a bracelet from The Giving Keys, because I truly love how they strive to help homeless people in L.A., all the while, reminding us of the power of words, and the magic of passing them on to someone else. If you haven’t heard of this company or their mission, I suggest checking them out as they create beautiful products with special meanings.

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Yet, I digress. Upon purchasing these items, I was eligible for a complimentary “classic” key necklace, which would come with a surprise word and color and design. When it arrived, it brought a certain sense of knowing that I didn’t know I needed. My key said DREAM, and I’m not sure it could’ve been more perfect. And now, I have my word.

Dream.

Writing a novel about a world in which dreaming always means death, I have come to understand just how powerful dreams can be. I often dream too big and have said on more than one occasion that my ambition and penchant for dreaming bigger and better will be the death of me. But as a writer, I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing.

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As I edit DREAM CATCHERS once more before diving back into the query trenches next month, I cling to the dream of seeing this book published someday. And it’s difficult, I must admit, to be back in this story. I joked that I can’t wait for this book to be on someone else’s shelf someday just so I won’t have to read it anymore. Because it hurts to read sometimes. I’ve exposed too much of myself between those pages, and perhaps this is what will help future readers fall in love with my writing and this story. But for now, it terrifies me to find myself back in that time and place again.

Such is the life of the writer, I suppose. If the words don’t hurt, if what is being written doesn’t scare the writer a little, I’m not sure the story is worth telling. So I’ll tinker with this story once more before sending it out to the next 10 agents on my list. And when I say this will be the year I make this dream no one else can see into a reality, I feel the truth of the words ring through my bones in the way that some of my most authentic writing does.

I’ll keep focusing on this dream. Instead of simply listing my goals for 2019, I’ve separated these things into goals and aspirations; the things I can personally attain versus the things I so dream of coming true. I am taking better care of myself, how I judge my failures and accomplishments, because I have succeeded, even in small ways, and that is worth remembering. And for that I am so proud of myself. Already I’ve had 2 poems accepted for publication, and January hasn’t yet ended.

But as I continue to risk everything: sanity, time, sleep, future stories, etc. for this dream of publishing DREAM CATCHERS, I know it is worth everything in between. And with this knowledge, I will continue to dream too big all the year through, and I hope you will too! To stay up to date with this journey beyond this blog, check out #dreamlikekaylaking on Instagram and Twitter!

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The Hardest Parts To Write

I had planned on writing this post a week ago after sending my finished edits to my critique partner. At 11:52 PM on Tuesday the 24th, I made it to the last line in DREAM CATCHERS. Victory swelled through my mind. But alas, somewhere between that moment and today, life got in the way. 

Looking back on some of those final sentences, I'm trying to find the truth in the above quote: "Sometimes there is power in letting go." For my characters, I know this must be true. And when I sent the latest draft of the book, I felt that surge of power in letting it go. But alas, amidst the devastation from the weekend, I am struggling to find the truth for myself. At 11:20 PM on Sunday the 29th, our beloved dog, Sully, took his final breath. 

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So while I'd planned to pen a post on Sunday detailing what it was like completing this last round of edits, my thoughts were consumed with the well-being of my first fur friend. I'd worked that morning and returned to find my sister crying. The rest of the day was filled with this same kind of sorrow. Disbelief. I sent a message saying we didn't think Sully would make it through the night, and even though the words existed, they didn't feel real. Sully had already been through so much, but he was always there. 

Always. 

We took turns laying beside Sully, emotion swelling in waves. My sister said something about loss, and I typed a note in my phone: "it's the moment you realize there is a lifetime of people to lose." We waited. We prayed. We stayed with him the whole day. We stayed with him after. It didn't feel real. 

Now I've written about real and unreal within DREAM CATCHERS, but this was the first moment I'd felt myself stuck between both. I closed up a box of cereal and half-expected Sully to lift his head like he always did at the sound of food. But he didn't move.

Even now, it's the quiet within the house that returns the sorrow in waves. I breathe through it, because I hate crying. But Monday, that's all we did. My whole family stayed home from work, and we took our beloved fur baby to the Pet Heaven Funeral Home for cremation. There was silence. There was quiet. There were no words. And even as I try to write this into a post, I'm not sure about the words, because they don't seem like enough. 

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Sully filled an emptiness in our lives for fourteen years, though there is never enough time with people you love. And Sully loved us like only the purest of hearts can. He had the happiest of personalities, and he's left a void in our lives. I know there are different moments that we struggle with most: the memory of Sully's last walk, just a week before his passing, the strangeness of dinner without his begging. But the morning is the worst knowing he won't be waiting in the living room to greet us. 

And there will be other things. He was always there to keep me company while I sat on the back patio reading, or writing. I think he might've known more plot details in future books than any other human in my life. He was the best of companions and a fierce friend who we will miss. 

While drafting this post the following week, I thought I might talk about endings. Bonnie Goldberg reminds: 

"Endings are the hardest parts to write. This is because they are false. Nothing truly ends; it transforms." 

Within her words I remember ending DREAM CATCHERS, because for too long, it was the hardest thing to write. And in that story, I've written about endings and goodbyes, and I think those words might be most true now as I think about saying goodbye to my first dog. Like I said, it is a hollow feeling. Death leaves an emptiness, and goodbyes leave nothing but echoes; unreal. Attempting to find the words to say a proper goodbye to a dog who meant so much is one of the hardest parts to write, but I'm trying. 

While I know this post details very little about completing my edits, I think it is important to note that sometimes life gets in the way of writing. And sometimes it drives us to find better words. To process. Revise. Mourn. To go on grieving.

I'm not sure I'll ever understand. And I know we'll never be able to fill the void of Sully's passing, but as we relive memories from the past, I'm reminded about the power of storytelling. I know we won't forget.

From the Person Who Wrote It

I recently had a conversation about the difference between author and narrator. As a writer of fiction and poetry, I know the readers of my work might confuse the narrators from my writing with me as the author. And this thought became most clear in writing the title poem of my collection: 

"And so it’s done; this endless, spirographic lie where they think you the narrator, instead of the ghost of a poet. Haunted by the writing. Emptied by this poem. An echo. Yes, an echo."

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So yes, this notion is one that has been on the brain lately, especially as I dive back into edits for DREAM CATCHERS. My goal for the end of the week is to make it through the first five chapters, and I'm right on track. And through this process, I'm reminded that while I'm not my main character, I've found myself while writing her story. There are times when a certain line or scene resonates, and it feels like home. 

This may sound strange. How can writing feel like home? At least for myself, home has always felt like understanding. And when I feel understood on the page, I imagine a reader might feel the same way. Somehow this makes it easier to fathom the fact that I might be confused with fictional people, even if they feel real. Because yes, they are flawed and messy and kind and honest; everything I know myself to be now. 

As I make my way back through DREAM CATCHERS, there are certain scenes that stop me in my tracks because they feel too real. And while I am not my main character, nor the other characters on the page, I understand their belief. I believe this book will be published, and I'm just as much of a dreamer as my favorite characters. Maybe they get that from me, or maybe I get that from them; I'm not so sure I could argue against either possibility. But they do make me believe this dream of writing is possible. 

I won't spend too much more time trying to prove the difference between narrator and author. And to be honest, there's a line in one of my favorite Plath poems, "Electra on Azalea Path," which makes me think she must be the narrator, that Sylvia herself must have had some vision of the future and relayed such divinity on the page for all to read: 

"I am the ghost of an infamous suicide."

But I know thinking this is Sylvia is not entirely fair. Yet, people are more than one thing, and by default, that must mean characters are more than their authors. They must be inspired by life and past loves, best friends and maybe that stranger seen every day at the red light.

Maybe we're all a little bit of the people we love best. 

I suppose this idea comes from the very real fear of confronting vulnerability and judgement once this book finds its way into the hands of readers. But such is life, and I'm used to such feelings. So for now, I will make my way back to the page to find myself, both the person who writes and the person now written therein. 

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Exploring the Exceptional

This week, I've once again started editing DREAM CATCHERS. I printed the in-text notes from my wonderful critique partner, formulated a revision plan, met with a beta reader, and organized everything into a new binder to make this arduous process that much easier. After almost four years, I keep thinking this book might be "finished," but now is not that time. And that's okay. 

If the years spent in the MFA with this novel taught me anything, it's that it takes time to develop the best of stories. And this one still needs a little more time to be the best it can possibly be before I begin my third round of querying. Though I have a few things now that I didn't have eight months ago when I entered into the query trenches. 

When I started querying, there was a sense of fear for the unknown, but now that I've been through the query letters, crafting the synopsis, researching agents, hitting send, and waiting, always the waiting, I know this process is manageable. And along the way, I received a Twitter pitch request, a partial manuscript request, and even a full manuscript request from a potential agent. I've submitted to 25 agents and so far all have passed, but I know there will be someone who will love this story. 

This knowing is even more clear after receiving all of the feedback from my amazing critique partner and my first beta reader. My CP has gone above and beyond in not only supporting me, but my vision for this book. So many of her suggestions have found their way into my revision plan. She also made me two more beautiful graphics to showcase my story and my words! 

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Both images now adorn the front and back cover of my editing binder as reminders that someday my world might exist in other readers' minds. It's a wonderful feeling to have after living with this world on my own. The first beta reader to finish reading the book in full has been someone who's traveled along my writing journey for eight years now. My National Honor Society advisor from high school is someone who continues to support my writing. She helped me figure out how to best pursue my passion for writing, she read my poetry sample before I submitted my application to the writing program at Buffalo State College, she read more poetry, my first book, my first poetry collection, and now, DREAM CATCHERS. 

On Monday, I met with her, and we immediately launched into the main plot and subplots of my book. We discussed dreams and scenes and characters. She gave me more feedback, which I've incorporated into my revision plan. But the most amazing and peculiar moments from this meeting happened when she stopped to read her favorite scenes from my book. This was the first time I'd ever heard someone read the words I'd written. And in her reading, I understood those paragraphs must've resonated with her enough to prompt such a thing, and it helped remind me why this book will be important to the world someday. She reminded me why this book is important. 

After the hard work was done we talked about life and literature, my writing, this blog, and this website. And she showed me a note I'd written on a guest check slip from the restaurant with my website address. And she told me it remained on her fridge with a magnet that reminded her of me because of the quote: 

"She was perfectly comfortable being exceptional." 

This was enough to make me realize the person I've become; the person she's watched grow from a bookish high school student to the writer I am today. Knowing she thinks me to be exceptional helped me remember what I've done in writing this book, in setting myself up for rejection after rejection, in not quitting, but continuing to persevere: I suppose I am exceptional. 

A few weeks ago, I wrote about finding my way back to believing again. Through meeting with this mentor and friend, through the friendship and support of my critique partner, and remembering my kingdom of those who've never stopped believing in me, I once again believe. That doesn't make the query trenches any less difficult, nor these edits any less extensive than I already knew they would need to be. This certainly doesn't make me any more exceptional than the dreamer I've always known I needed to be, but rather, reminds me I have everything I need to make this dream a reality. 

Finis

This time last week, I was handing over the *finished* draft of my manuscript to the best friend. I had spent the days leading up to that moment inputing the last of my hard-copy edits, and writing a few new chapters to fill remaining holes in the narrative. The process was extensive, and without the best friend's looming departure back to NYC, I'm not sure I would've finished in time. Since writing "End of Book One" two months ago, I have been editing and polishing words I'd already written. And I'm not sure the act of revision will ever not seem strange.

I wrote the last words. I printed the draft. I even added a faux cover just to make it seem a bit more official. And with the pages in the envelope, I had an overwhelming sense of excitement and terror. Now I know the best friend will be honest and will read these pages with care. He has been my editor since the moment I started writing. He was the first person to read my first book all those years before. He read this book back when it was only 100 pages of my thesis, which needed to be edited overnight. And now I am excited for him to read where I've taken this book, and also terrified that it won't live up to the years of work I've already put into the writing. But I suppose being a writer is like that most days; always teetering between fear and fragility and obsession and love. Or at least that has been my experience with writing. 

This same day, the lovely ladies at Hooked to Books sent me the loveliest of gifts; a signature pen, which this writer will put to good use. And it felt like a sign that I was really done. The kindness was too much. Too often, as writers, we do the work alone, and we forget there are other people in the world. But this gesture reminded me that there is support beyond the writing and the world crafted in the mind and put down on the page. 

Maybe this doesn't feel noteworthy, or rather, blogworthy to those reading from a different time or place. But as I compile names of possible agents and rework the synopsis and try to craft a query letter that will stand out amidst the slush pile, I'm not sure I want to forget any part of this process, which is why I am committing it to the memory of this blog. 

I've since sent the manuscript to my two other best friends, and I know they, too, will handle this work with care. They will also be honest and critical and everything else we were taught to be in our time in the MFA. They understand the work and edits and the writing better than most. They are my people. They once again reminded me that this process doesn't have to swallow me up alone. 

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The Process of Revision

For the past three months, I have been revising and editing BOOK ONE with the two  amazing peers in room 309 of Ketchum Hall. Our time together is almost done, and so, too, are the changes I've made. Before this whole process, I thought my book was finished, but this experience has taught me the benefits of a writer community when it comes to both revision and editing.

You see, invisible reader, sometimes being a writer is solitary. Sometimes it's lonely, and somewhat painful. But it's also wonderful and exhilarating and rewarding and filled with   characters created from the writer's own imagination! But getting to work and revise with fellow writers is something, which makes this whole process of bettering a manuscript more enjoyable.

I'm sure you've noticed that updates about the progress of BOOK TWO have somewhat stalled for the last few months. But fear not. I haven't given up on this sequel! On the contrary, I've learned that trying to work on revisions for one book while writing the next installment at the same time is just too much.

So what's to come in this new year?

To begin, I will attend my first winter residency of graduate school where I will be able to share this book with another writing community, and hopefully I will be able to make this book the best it can be!

I think it's true when people say you shouldn't rush your first book. It needs time to be revised again and again and again. That's just part of the life of a writer. But even amidst these revisions, the future is bright and exiting! All that's left is to tell myself there is something divine found in the act of this process, and that no matter what, I have a story I believe in. After all, at the end of the day, that's the best a writer can hope for. 

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