writer's life

Only So Many Hours

Lately, Billy Joel’s “Vienna” has been the song that gets me through. It all feels a little too true. Specifically the line “You got so much to do any only so many hours in the day.” Because there really is more to do than hours each day, and still, I try to accomplish what I can. This is probably why the latest round of edits on DREAM CATCHERS is taking much longer than anticipated. But it’s also that I want to do right by these characters and story before heading back into the query trenches.

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With the updated query letter and recent epiphanies, it feels like representation is on the horizon. After five years working on this novel, it feels like the perfect time to fix what’s broken, kill some darlings, and send a better version of this story than I previously knew existed within my mind.

To go about this round of edits, it took too many hours, endless patience, and a bit of preparation. And in doing so, I realized I could not do any of this without updating the Series Bible for the Dreamer Duology. There were still too many questions that needed answers, too many character motivations that needed to be fulfilled. Such is the life of a writer, even one stuck in the same world for too many years.

So how did I manage?

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With limited hours most days, I knew I would need to have tangible evidence of what required fixing. So began my read through in the printed proof version of the manuscript that I had bound by Createspace. There’s something about seeing words outside of a computer screen that suddenly brings about all the glaring errors that were previously missed. I took an orange highlighter to lines and sections I loved, yellow to ones that needed more work. And once I’d finished the entire book, had some new ideas, talked them through with my fabulous critique partner, I made a spreadsheet.

Maybe for some writers out there this seems a bit like overkill since the line edits were already in the manuscript. But since so many things had come up, I needed a better way to organize, to see trends in the edits, and to come up with solutions before actually diving back into the manuscript. The spreadsheet created on Google Sheets breaks the edits down by: Part, Chapter, Story Element, What to Change, How To, and Progress. As I move along through these edits, it’s nice to see how much I’ve completed.

Now you might recall me mentioning preparation and the term “Series Bible” earlier in this post. Before I started the act of editing, I set my spreadsheet aside, and started updating my research and notes in Scrivener. Being the same Type-A person I’ve always been, I could not imagine using anything other than Scrivener for my writing. While I use it for my poetry as well, it is absolutely necessary in the drafting and editing of a novel, especially since DREAM CATCHERS and future projects are not standalone works, but part of a larger series as a whole. The Dreamer Duology might only be two books, but there is too much I need to remember in crafting these worlds.

While the previous Series Bible was broken down by Characters, Places, and aptly named: Other, I have gotten even more specific in my updates. And while many might see this as an act of procrastination or even redundant, I knew I needed to have all the answers so as not to stumble my way through this new draft in the way I did when I first conceptualized the story in the MFA. Too much has changed between then and now. And I wouldn’t have the time to be aimless.

So how did I create this Series Bible?

For those unfamiliar with Scrivener, I think the endless possibilities and options for customization are what brings its true value to writers, especially because no one process is the same. I began with a right click to add a “New Folder.” If I were in the manuscript adding a new chapter, I would use the “New Text” option, but folders were much more useful here. I labeled the folder “Series Bible.” I clicked into the folder and added seven more: Characters, World, Outlines, Dreams, Playlist, Query, Editing. I color-coded them, and got to work adding my necessary notes.

1.) Characters

This section is broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, but each of those folders contains: Character Motivations, Present Characters, and Past Characters. And then for each character, both past and present I have a folder with their name. Inside those folders (which can be customized with either text or a photo on the index card, though I’ve chosen a character photo) there are: Profile, Motivations, and Inspiration. The first two of those were created with the “New Text” option, but I made Inspiration as a folder to add photos for things relevant to my characters, much like the Pinterest board I’ve already created for this series.

2.) World

This section is separated into: Places, Technology, Traditions, Timelines, Glossary, etc. Since this section does contain many secrets and spoilers, I won’t break down what is held inside each of these folders, but do know, they also have sections for notes and Inspiration to keep the world as clear as possible for when I go back into the manuscript.

3.) Outlines

Also broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, I’ve split this into a sections with a Beat Sheet and Full Outline, both of which are new additions to my writing process. I normally work off of my index cards in the Scrivener “Binder” to guide my plotting, but thought it would be interesting to do more detailed work with the finished book to use as comparison once the edits are completed.

4.) Dreams

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In a novel with the title DREAM CATCHERS, I’m sure this sections comes as no surprise. While Camryn’s dreams are woven throughout the narrative, it is much easier to look at their structure and pacing by having them all grouped together outside of the manuscript, which is why this folder was a necessary addition.

5.) Playlist

While this might be a new folder within the Series Bible, I have already created a playlist for each of my books and continue to keep them updated whenever I hear a song too perfect to forget. The difference between this and my Apple Music playlist, is that I’ve organized these by how they fall in the plot of the story and notated how they connect. In doing so, if I get stuck editing a scene, I can go and listen to that song once or twice or on an endless loop as I’ve done with Hozier’s “Talk.” This section, too, is broken out into BOOK ONE & BOOK TWO, and organizing the songs there gave me a few new ideas for the second book in this duology.

6.) Query

When I first started writing DREAM CATCHERS in Scrivener, there was no need for a query section. The goal back then was just to finish this book. But as the time approached to query, I knew I needed to stay organized. For any writer about to embark on the querying journey, I highly suggest researching agents first and foremost, and then find the best way to organize what you learn. Again, I’m sure many people would see this as overkill since I have used Query Tracker in the past and have a spreadsheet in place to track querying as well. But unlike both of those options, I’ve broken down each round of querying into a separate folder with my stats labeled on the index card (R&R, PR, FR, ER, CNR - all acronyms that will mean nothing to the non-querying writer). And within those Round 1-5 folders, I have another section for each agent as well as the query and synopsis sent at that time. For the agents, I have the date sent and the date of their response. Inside the folders, I have research and the communication sent back from the agents. Again, this might seem extreme, but I have found it a comfort in this often unsettling time within the query trenches.

6.) Editing

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Since I’m only editing BOOK ONE at this point, that is the only folder I am using within this section. However, I have uploaded my spreadsheet and have a separate section for any notes that have come up while editing.

So that is how I’ve created my Series Bible. I think the best part about having all of my research at my fingertips is that I am making use of every extra hour I have to work on completing these edits. Scrivener allows for everything to be kept in one place without having to open multiple word documents. Everything is always where I need it to be.

With everything organized and edits well under way, I am hoping to dive back into the query trenches by the end of this month. Until then, I’ll find the time to finish the work, even if it takes listening to “Vienna” on repeat to remember that there are really only so many hours in the day.

I’m going to make the most of mine, and I hope you’ll make the most of yours, too.

All best,Kayla King.png

Out of the Spiral

Writing has and always will be my haven. Even on the difficult days. Maybe, most especially on those days, I escape into words. I spoke about this notion of retreat with a friend and fellow writer from the MFA. In emailing back and forth with her, I wrote: Success is relative. Perseverance is everything. And in articulating that sentiment in real words, I was able to find strength in my struggle and healing in my hard work.

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So what do I mean when I say words are my retreat?

For this to make better sense, I suppose I must admit just how difficult the month of February has always been for me. I don’t think I realized this until diving into my journal archives and discovering a pattern of exhaustion and struggle; all within the month of February. This year was much the same, with the added flare up of anxiety that was all at once consuming and vicious. I always tend to retreat into myself and become insular when my anxious thoughts take over. And usually, writing is the only thing to pull me out of the perpetual spiral of spinning thoughts and racing pulse.

But this year, I couldn’t write the words I needed to find my way out of the spiral, and this, too, was terrifying and contributed further to the sense that I was not only struggling, but failing. It was a sting far worse than any rejection I’ve ever received because it was was self-actualized. The more I felt I was failing: at work and in my writing and in communicating with the people I appreciate most, the more I felt weak and waning and weathered.

Fast forward to a much needed trip to New York City to visit with one of the best friends. I didn’t take my computer. The journal I had abandoned at the end of January continued to collect dust on my desk. I brought two books, one which I had so loved in the past, and in that memory, felt safe. I arrived to an empty apartment in Astoria and slept for three hours. I walked through a neighborhood I’d yet to explore, finding food, and quiet. I let my mind go without thinking and list-making and bullying for the act of just existing. I ate and showered and read some more and prepared to see Alice By Heart, a reimagining of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. I spoke of some of my anxiety with the best friend and texted with the other. Throughout the weekend, I found my way back to my favorite places that still feel a little like home. I finished that book, connecting with it even more the second time around, and I bought more books. All the while, I knew the real work would begin once I was back home.

I would find my way out of the spiral. I would put myself back together. I would be kinder to myself. I would be better.

These were all promises I made with myself from a beach in Astoria beside the best friend as we drank Shamrock shakes and watched night take over. And when I returned home, I got to work. I ordered a new planner from Archer & Olive. I found an unfinished journal that was nothing like the ones I’d used since the MFA. I read a graphic novel, and then another. I started taking melatonin on nights where I knew sleep would be evasive. I apologized to myself, and started practicing self-kindness.

So how did I make these promises into realistic goals I could accomplish?

1.) New Planner

I've kept a steady journal since my undergrad in 2012, though they have evolved since then. I was strictly using a black hardbound square grid Moleskine journal. It became a rather superstitious thing for me. And up until February, I used to set up my monthly calendar, monthly goals, and weekly to do lists within the journal along with whatever I had been writing.

Unfortunately, however, I found myself getting days or weeks behind, which is right around the time my anxiety started to intensify. I think it was initially triggered at work, which held its own set of challenges, and trickled down through my writing life. But I purchased the Archer & Olive Daily Agenda, which comes blank. I have since fallen in love with it. I do my monthly set ups at the beginning of each month (mainly because I use a new pen color so I don't set it up any earlier than that) and I fill in my baseline weekly spreads at that point, too. I write my to do tasks on a week to week basis from there, using a new quote, stickers, and correlating washi tape just to add some creative flair to planning my week.

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I think the biggest reason my process NEEDED to change was that I had stopped enjoying/utilizing the old way of planning in my journal. I realized I wasn't using it for journaling and writing as much as I had in the past, which was problematic. I was beating myself up day after day for not keeping up with it, and eventually hit my breaking point.

Since switching to this new planner, I’ve worked on a facet of my anxiety that truly was the most concerning. I was making lists. And not the usual to do list. I was making lists of things I needed to make lists for and nothing was being accomplished, but rather listed the next day and the day after that and I felt myself slipping away from progress. This is not to say that a planner cured my anxiety. But by recognizing a symptom of this spiral and working to get it under control, I was able to be more mindful and realistic about my weekly and monthly goals.

2.) Bedtime Habits

As someone who used to be a night owl, my bedtime habits have been a struggle to balance with my full-time job. Upon returning well-rested from my trip to NYC, I knew I needed to make some changes to my nighttime routine, including taking melatonin on nights when sleep seemed too far away. And this has helped. I’ve also been better about being on my computer or phone before bed, exchanging technology for reading, and it has helped immensely.

3.) Self-Kindness

This might be the biggest factor that has helped throughout the month of March, making me feel ready to conquer the rest of 2019. I am only one person. There are only so many hours in the day. I can only accomplish so much, and that is not everything. This is something I’ve focused on throughout the past month. I get through as much writing and editing and research after work until I can’t anymore. Instead of bullying myself into working past the point of exhaustion or feeling guilty for the work I haven’t done, I instead tell myself there might be more work, but there is also another day tomorrow. That’s not to say I’m giving up or procrastinating, but rather, giving myself days to recover and recharge and refill the creative well before getting back into the edits or prepping for the query trenches. It’s all about balance, and this is something I still struggle to find. But I’m trying. And for that, I am so proud.

So what does this have to do with the idea of success and perseverance?

In many ways, this year has been kind to me. I’ve had several pieces published and accepted. But I also have 61 rejections for just three months into the new year, which is where the idea that Success is relative. Perseverance is everything seems more true than anything else. Poems that have been rejected too many times in the past are finding homes, and I am still seeking representation for DREAM CATCHERS. I am back to editing the manuscript to prepare for the query trenches, and exciting things are happening soon. Though I can’t discuss them just yet, know that good news is coming! To keep up with future blog posts, the secret announcement, and what’s being published next, check in with my NEWS!

Now that I’ve found my way out of the spiral for the time being, there is still the sense that I will be trapped in that bad place again. It’s a fear, but one I’m managing. And this is not usually something I discuss, because as I’ve said, I become insular and retreat into myself and my writing. But with celebrating my successes and posting my publications, I felt there needed to be some transparency.

Too often I find myself sharing only the publication news, and maybe that does my readers a disservice. I personally don't dwell too much on rejections, and so don't often talk about them. Not because they're taboo, but I just assume everyone gets tired of listening to writers talk about rejection. But I want you, dear reader, to know that success, however you define it, comes from hard work and struggle and perseverance.

The life of the writer is just as messy as any other. But I’m trying, and I think that’s all we can do. I hope you’ll try, too!

Guarantee That You Meet Your Goals in 2019: A Guest Post

CONTRIBUTED BY SARAH FOIL

We’re about halfway through January and you’ve probably set big goals for yourself. How are things going so far? In general, only 64% of resolution-makers keep their promise after the first month.

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So, if you’ve made resolutions this year to improve your writing career, how can you guarantee you’ll meet your goals? Here are 5 tips to help:

1.) Set Smaller Goals


Is your goal to have your short story or book published this year? That’s great! But don’t give up with the first rejection you get. Set smaller goals that will help you build up to that big goal. Instead of committing to finishing your book this year, commit to finishing your next chapter by the end of the month. Or for finding a workshop or writing group to join in your area. That brings me into my next point...

2.) Find Friends To Keep You Accountable


Having fellow writers to hold you accountable to your goals is a huge help. Having a critique group to submit work to every week, every month, or however often they meet, will make you write more and read more! If you have trouble finding a writing group to join, consider hiring a writing coach (like me!). We can check in with you every week to make sure you’re staying on top of your goals and offer resources to help you achieve your writing dreams.

3.) Don’t Give Up


This sounds obvious, but the biggest part of keeping to your resolutions, is just not giving up. Watch out for excuses you may be making to avoid writing or submitting your story. There’s always a reason not to do something, but you need to remember the great reasons to do your work. Consider making a visual reminder of what is driving you with an inspiring quote from your favorite author or a vision board to encourage you to keep working.

4.) Create A Routine

It takes roughly 66 days to create a new habit, but once you do it, you’ll be set! Commit to writing every morning before you go to work, or during your lunch break. Start sending your short stories to editors every Monday. Once you get in your new routine, taking the steps you need to achieve your goals will become second nature!

5.) Don’t Forget To Celebrate!

It’s hard sitting down to write everyday or sending your work out to complete strangers, so make sure you create rewards for yourself along the way. After 15 rejections for editors or agents, treat yourself to a trip to the bookstore or to the movies. If you manage to finish that chapter you aimed to complete this month, take yourself out for a nice dinner. While it’s great to complete your resolutions, it doesn’t hurt to have a little something to look forward to as well.

At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you write every day or once a week or once a month. As long as you’re committed to making writing your career, you’ll find the drive to finish your projects and achieve your dreams. Just don’t forget to remember to have fun, too. Good luck!

ABOUT SARAH FOIL

Sarah Foil is a writer, editor, and media manager based out of North Carolina. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA program and focuses on YA Fantasy. While her current passion project is her YA Fantasy trilogy, which is currently seeking representation, she spends much of time running and managing Sarahfoil.com, a resource for writers and readers of all kinds. She loves encouraging writers to continue to improve through her editing services and sharing her personal writing journey through blog posts and on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions about her services, please reach out via sarahfoil.com/contact 

Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

All best,Kayla King.png

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!

All best,Kayla King.png

A Little Spark

I don’t have many words to spare this morning as I work toward today’s word count goal. Last night, however, I reached 25,164 words; the halfway point of NaNoWriMo 2018! To be honest, I wasn’t sure I was going to take part this year because I couldn’t fathom going back to that place from last year. But I’m doing it. Throughout writing, it feels somewhat like madness. Some days, it’s a little spark. Other days, it’s a blaze. Yet, it’s kept me going in these beginning days of NaNoWriMo!

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The last time I wrote here, I was just weeks away from the publication of my first collection, These Are the Women We Write About. Amidst waiting for that book, I was outlining a short story, which today, is published in Mistletoe & Magic: A YA Holiday Anthology.

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My short story, “in the Valley of Stars,” features three women from and a hint of magic from current work-in-progress. The anthology is now available for purchase from Amazon as an ebook for $.99 for one last day. And all too soon, print copies will be available, too, just in time for the holidays! There is also a giveaway running to include the authors’ books (my collection included), which can be entered HERE!

Now all these months later, that short story helped bring me back to my NaNoWriMo project as it grows like every story: word by word by word. There’s a very good chance I’ll “win” NaNo this year by making it to 50,000 words. But there’s also a chance I might finish the novel I dreamed up 9 years ago. I like the odds.

And yet, to say the writing is easy would be nonsensical. To say anything other than writing is work would be a lie. I love the work. And some days I stare out at the blank sea of a wordless page with blurry eyes knowing I should get to bed lest suffer the next day at my day job.

This time, however, the work of this story is urgent, even when the page appears wordless. I want to finish this not so first draft. I need to write this book. Whatever it takes: tired mornings, notes on my lunch break, talking out plot points with myself in the dark of night. I’ll make it happen. It’s what I do. And while I drifted from that place in September and October, I’ve written myself back to better. So here’s to better writing. Here’s to progress. And here’s to finishing my next book by the end of the month!

All That Remains

Amidst drafting my current work-in-progress, I have found myself reevaluating my writing process. With DREAM CATCHERS still out in the query trenches, I have found this current project to be just as magical as it's always been. After nine years working on the Falling series, it feels like I finally know what BOOK ONE needs to be. And through this learning process, I've reminded myself how I've grown as a writer and how writing this book can be different than the last four years spent on the Dreamer Duology. 

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What I've discovered since being back in this fantastical world, is that writers can change many things: the process of plotting and writing, revision and editing. But as my best friend reminds, "you can't change your emotional truth." While she may have said this in reference to another moment and memory in time, I've continued to repeat the words through my mind like a mantra. Much can change. But when hurts and heartbreaks and heeded warnings are all that remains, it is best to remember them.

It is with this knowledge that I proceed into the drafting of the WIP, taking my burdens with me. It is the best gift and the greatest curse of writing that we may spill ourselves into fiction. Such remains a reality in this WIP. There is darkness and there are shadows within these new pages. But there is also goodness and light and hope; everything I know to temper the harsh reality of feeling too deeply about the world and its inhabitants.

As I continue to craft the beginning of this book, I won't try to change my emotional truths because to do so would deny the validity of feeling. But I will keep writing. I'll keep building a world of my own creation. I will plot and plan because that is the kind of writer I am. Unlike the early experience of writing DREAM CATCHERS,  I won't shy away or detach from writing the difficult scenes within this book, because those are the ones which ring and resonant with truth.

If anything, I have learned what works for me in the here and now instead of focusing on what I can't change about my lyrical style and voice. These are the things which I've never had to force, because they've always been there. I'm not sure it's worth dwelling on those things when there is so much power to be had in creating myself anew. So this time, I will write the chapters in a linear way. I will share them with my critique partner as I go. I will check in with the story from time to time to make sure character motivations are clear, that voices remain distinct, that what I am writing feels true to the story I'm trying to tell. But such are the fickle foes of writing.

Much as I would like to imagine writing to be magic, it is work. Alas, it is work that I so love. Maybe that emotional truth is the greatest of all because it reminds I will make this story into something real. And even as the world tries to break my spirit, as people depart and new ones emerge along this writing journey, I will cling to the dream of the Falling series and all it has done to make me into the writer I am today. 

Should you find yourself in the middle of burning bridges broken beyond repair, or breaking bad habits, writing or otherwise,  I hope you'll remember that even if you can't change your emotional truth, you can acknowledge the fear, the hurt, the joy, etc. and use it to grow. Become better. Remain true. 

All best,Kayla King.png

Beyond the Shore

While it's been quite some time since I've posted here, that's not to say I haven't had enough to write about. On the contrary, I've faced rejections, but have also had two poems accepted for publication in Sobotka Literary Magazine. My short story, "The Illusionist," is out now in Firewords Magazine Issue 10- Curiosity. I've read some great books and written new poems and short stories. I've created a schedule to complete my WIP by the end of the year. I've received a partial manuscript request for my book. I've drank too many cups of coffee to count now. Life has been busy. 

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But just last week, I found myself walking into the waves beyond the shore. While on vacation, I didn't write much. I did, however, finally read the best friend's favorite book, which is now one of my favorites. I wrote lines for a new poem. I woke with the world. I finished my acknowledgements page for the upcoming publication of my debut collection of poetry, These Are the Women We Write About. Just in time since it will be available August 28th from The Poetry Annals. And while time ticked away around me, I sat still, and relaxed. 

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While I'm enjoying my new full-time job immensely, I'll admit, I have felt overwhelmed in trying to meet my writing goals. Yet, I have not abandoned them. I'm still in pursuit of publication for my novel. And along the way, I can't believe my first ever book of poetry will be published, too. It's all very surreal, in that life is far from perfect, but there is still goodness and light. 

Maybe that is all I can hope from walking the narrow path. I knew when I began this journey into the writer's life that it wouldn't be easy, and it hasn't been. But there is something rather thrilling about treading through the deepest darkness of rejection into the luminous glow of accomplishment. 

Though I'm at 96 rejections for the year with only a few more needed to reach my goal,  I'll keep submitting. I'll keep writing. And alas, I'll be back to writing here weekly.  I'm not sure what the rest of the year will bring, because truthfully, I'm not even sure what to expect from the next week. But you, dear reader, can expect my words, for they are the one constant in my life.

Stay tuned for more about These Are the Women We Write About as I get closer to publication day. And If you get the chance to wander out beyond the shore, I hope you'll pursue the adventure.

Take Your Time

After almost four years spent working on DREAM CATCHERS and two years since graduating with my MFA, the idea of "taking my time" might seem ridiculous. And I'll admit, there were times on this writing journey when those words seemed impossible because I'd already put in so much time. But alas, I think there must be some truth to the notion that goodness comes to those who wait. 

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One part of this journey is at an end after years of searching and applying and bettering myself and my skills, because I've been offered my first "grown-up" job, and I'm thrilled! I can't wait to begin the next chapter of my career as a Reputation Management Specialist!

As I wait to begin my first full-time job, I'm left with a sense of knowing that DREAM CATCHERS is as done as it's going to be until I find representation. Though, this second part of my journey as a writer won't be complete until I see my novel published and displayed on bookstore shelves. Understanding this makes it easier to fathom finding balance between work and writing. And I can't wait to see my discipline, perseverance, and creativity kick in once I begin this next chapter of my professional life.

While I haven't found a literary agent yet, this particular goal for representation seemed so close. On May 14th, I began round three of querying. I started with four agents, just to get a feel for how the edits of my query letter were working. I hit send at 6:50 PM and by 10:31 PM, I had a response from an agent requesting the full manuscript! And I so hoped that this would be IT.

I imagined writing a post about "the call" and being "agented," but alas, two days later, that agent passed on the manuscript. Though he did say the writing was wonderful, he just didn't "fall in love," and for that reason, had to pass. But the rejection didn't sting as much as I thought. In fact, it was almost like it didn't happen. And I know there will be someone out there who loves this book and my writing just as much as I do. All in good time, I suppose.

After the rejection, I queried five more agents, and now I'm in that waiting place again. For the most part, my edits are done. And yes, there are outlines to be crafted for BOOK TWO, and there are character sketches to be written within the world of DREAM CATCHERS. Yet, I can't wait to dive back into my NaNoWriMo project from 2017. I have set myself the goal of finishing BOOK ONE in the Falling series by the end of the year. Though I have no way of knowing what it will be like balancing my new job with my writing, I've always believed in the power of setting goals, and more specifically, the power of perseverance. 

As I think back to the time it took to get me to this place professionally, I am reminded of the fellowship rejections, the unanswered applications, the reworking of one resume to another, and I know that working on myself in the process really was the greatest project of all.

And as I mull over this notion of taking my time, I am reminded of one of my favorite lines from The Last Five Years, which instructs: 

"Take a breath. Take a step. Take a chance. Take your time." 

Maybe in the end, all it takes is time to grow into the people we need to be to accomplish the goals and dreams we want most. Until then, here's to deep breaths and small steps, taking chances, and taking the time needed to find the goodness in life!

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Where the Story Begins

There is a moment I remember from childhood, sitting beside my mother as we took turns reading page after page of different stories. She was the first storyteller I knew, because in those early days of my reading life, she was the one who shared them with me.

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As a child, it's difficult to distinguish the difference between the person telling the stories and the person who actually wrote them. When I realized there were other people who wrote those stories, that knowledge didn't diminish the connection I had to reading and my mother. They were too entwined to separate one from the other. And somewhere along the way, I realized I wanted to write my own stories. So, in a way, I suppose that is the where the story of my writing life begins. 

The thing about being a writer, is that it takes a tremendous amount of support when the difficult days appear, which they undoubtedly do in the creation of something from nothing. And the thing about writing women, as in real female characters, is knowing what makes them wonderful. My mother has always supported me as I've continued to chase this dream of publication. And she is one of those wonderful women I aspire to be and to write. 

Now I know someday soon, people will read about my main character's mother and maybe they will believe I've captured my own on the page. I've already told my mom that she is everything good about Camryn's parents, because she is and always has been the goodness in my life. And while mothers often have complicated roles in stories, especially of the YA variety, I wanted to ensure I captured the complicated reality of parenthood within my book. 

One of my favorite lines I've written reminds: 

"Parents were sometimes the strangest of creatures; not really people, but more like shells meant to fit their children inside the lives they used to have: to make them better, to love them more."

This is one of those moments when character observations reveal my own truths. Because mothers are strange. I've seen the way my mother has worked to make me better, to love me more. She is not a character in a story, but the living embodiment of strength and kindness, love and light. And while today is a day we celebrate all mothers, for myself as a writer, I try to celebrate my mother in my writing, in pursuing my dream of publication, and in continuing to tell stories.

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"Here's to strong women. May we know them. May we be them. May we raise them." 

So here is to my mother, the strongest woman I know. I aspire to be her, and am grateful every day that she raised me to be the kind of woman willing to keep going even amidst the most difficult days. After everything, my story will always begin and end with her. 

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.

Surrender to Uncertainty

Once again, I've forced myself to surrender to the perpetual uncertainty of writing. Upon thinking about what I would post this week, I had hoped to document the success of finishing edits for DREAM CATCHERS. But alas, I still have six chapters to go, and cannot yet claim that victory.

But victorious was indeed how I felt as I penned the outline of this post in my journal. I've written many times about the life of a writer. About rejection. Querying. Hope. Belief. Perseverance. And alas, the act of continuing on despite the difficulties has finally paved the way for a small dream to be born into reality. 

So what does this mean? 

Before you get too excited, this post will not produce any agent news, nor book deals documented below. Like I said, I still have six more chapters in this edit before I begin querying again. But after three years and six rejections from Firewords Magazine, I have finally been accepted for publication! 

Maybe most writers would give up submitting after one rejection. But I have loved the aesthetic and quality of the work published in Firewords since 2015, and made it my dream to be published in this UK print magazine. Now all these years later, I have accepted their offer of publication, and am eagerly awaiting June for Issue 10 to make its debut. 

One of the more unique elements of Firewords Magazine is the artwork they have commissioned for each piece, and I can't wait to see what will accompany my short story, "Illusionist." Along with the print edition of the issue, Firewords offers a digital copy, but best of all: a special package to include an audio version of the magazine (you can listen to me reading this short story), plus special interviews with the contributors, and more! 

I couldn't be happier! This is a story, which I began back in September 2016. However, this started as a flash fiction seedling. That first story, "Illusion," was published in June 2016 by One For One Thousand. While this follow-up story went through dozens of titles, I landed on "Illusionist." It seemed fitting given how much of that former story inspired the latter. And in writing through this, I worked to discover what would happen after these two characters were gone. From each other. From my mind. And I wrote:

"But we’re not meant to keep people.” She wasn't sure he understood what she'd meant; an illusory impression would be all they'd leave behind someday." 

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This seems a bit ironic considering this short story follows the brief love between Aris and Prue: two characters I keep returning to because I can't let them go. While this story is from Prue's point of view this time, it still feels like a way to keep them.

Though I completed the short story for an anthology submission back in 2017, it was later rejected. I set it aside with the intention to return when I was ready. It wasn't until this year when I took the 4,500 word story down to 1,515 that I felt right about submitting again. I sent this in for Issue 10 of Firewords Magazine with the loose theme of CURIOSITY, and I waited. 

When I checked my phone and saw the email alert, I expected rejection. But instead I read these words: "We are pleased to announce our intention to publish your piece, 'Illusionist', in Firewords." I couldn't contain my excitement, feeling the news escaping my mouth too quickly.

Because I'd done it. I accomplished something which seemed slightly impossible. Almost unreachable. 

Now this seems like a sign for better things on the horizon. And with the edits for DREAM CATCHERS almost complete, I have a knowing feeling deep in my bones that representation and publication are not far behind for the book of my dreams. 

Sometimes being a dreamer is difficult, but then there are days like today when it all seems better. As a writer, I choose to be curious, but that also means I choose the vulnerability that comes with such wondering. And as quoted above, these choices often "require us to surrender to uncertainty." But I suppose from the moment I decided to tackle my dream of becoming a published author, in writing a book of my heart, I chose a life of uncertainty. I never know when I'll be rejected next, but that also means I never know when the possibility of being published will appear either. Through it all, I'm willing to surrender to such realities to make every dream as real as this one!

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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. 

Writing Using Tarot Cards As Inspiration: A Guest Post

Contributed by Pepi Valderrama

Sometimes we have a great idea and writing becomes difficult. Tarot cards can help us create characters, build unbelievable worlds, and breathtaking fight scenes. The Tarot offers excellent archetypes to us in the Major Arcana. It also gives us actions and clues to create worlds and deepen those character in the Minor Arcana.

Tarot has a total of 78 cards depicting characters and actions. The Major Arcana is especially useful to build characters since in it we can find figures like the Fool, the Emperor, Death, and the Empress among others. The Minor Arcana also have Kings and Queens, but these are dependent on their type. Cups explain emotions and creativity. Pentacles illustrate wealth and objects. Swords explain thoughts and communication. And, Wands explain desire.

To create a random character we just need to put the Majors and Minors apart. We shuffle the Majors first and take one card. That will be the basis of our character. Let's say that we got the fearful Death. Then, we shuffle the Minors and take three cards to explain her personality. Let's imagine we get the Ace of Cups, the Three of Wands, and the Page of Swords.

Death is a complicated card. While many fear it because of its name, the reality is that it points to changes. Someone who gets a Death card might be someone who swings quickly, and she can also fear change. Let's think about a person who is shy, and who fears change. This person will do whatever to hide and shy away from problems because the later are changes. And this person hates to change anything in her life!

The Ace of Cups, however, tells us about the possibilities she has in her relationships. If she is willing to open her heart to change, she'll be successful. Let's think about our Death as a girl who is dying for a guy she loves to notice her. The possibilities are there, and her heart is burning with making it happen. The only struggle she has is with herself. To make it happen, she needs a change.

The three of wands talk about confidence and realizing goals. So, we can say that our Death is committed to getting the boy she likes, and she is starting to gain confidence that she will. However, the Page of Swords talks about a person who is aloof. So, we can make her aloof and realize about her actions way after they have happened. If she wants to change, she needs to commit to paying more attention.

We don't need to use the real meanings of the cards. We can also opt to take a look at the artwork depicted in them. Let's say that we need to create the male character in our romance. We could just shuffle the deck, and pick up cards until the first card with a male in it appears. We can imagine the person's personality from the depiction in the card.

Sometimes I find it hard to come up with ideas regarding locations and buildings in my stories. When I'm stuck, I shuffle my Tarot deck and often take around five cards. From the different artwork in them, I start building up the world. Then, I also take into account the meaning of the cards. In that fashion, I can create a world with several layers, and I can even have help in details that are obscure to me at that moment.

However, the best help that Tarot offers is the building of characters. Because the deck has two parts, one with archetypes, and the other with situations, it's easy to use for gathering ideas and inspiration. There're countless versions of the Tarot in stores. When buying a deck, consider the artwork carefully. These cards won't inspire you if you don't like what you see. That's why I shy away from traditional decks. Instead, I have a few decks with different types of artwork, and none of them are classic. Decks that have books with explanations are the best since you can get extra insights.

Be open to creating characters with more than one archetype card to make them multilayered. Be free to mix many cards or more than usual to create worlds. And never be afraid of the "negative" cards. They are perfect guides to develop despicable villains.

 

About Pepi Valderrama 

Pepi Valderrama is a writer and Social Media wizard. Her experience living in Japan during more than eight years allowed her to have a different perspective on life. She is writing her first fantasy novel after enjoying writing geek anthropology. You can find her enjoying a cup of coffee around Brighton, and writing about pop culture, comics, and books on her blog dePepi.com

Thanks for sharing, Pepi!

To Rebuild and Rewrite

Yesterday morning, I had a completely different post planned for today, one which would've solely celebrated the news of two of my poems being accepted for publication. But with the sweet, so too, comes the sour. And after an email and a long day, I found myself stuck in a car for an hour feeling bitter and inadequate with a mind that was so loud and a car ride that was too quiet. It was in that moment, I suppose, that this post began to rewrite itself. I guess even in life, I can't escape rewrites. 

Maybe I am hoping to understand by writing about the collision of revival and collapse within the space of twenty-four hours. One moment I was enthused about a favorite poem being included in a print magazine this summer, retaining optimism about the completion of my poetry collection, and feeling thrilled at the prospect that so much was falling into place. But hope can be painful, and you'd think a writer who understands the reality of rejection would understand this much. But I suppose, after all this time, I continue to hold on to a stubborn sense of possibility instead of being the pragmatic person who wouldn't be hurt so easily by disappointment. 

But, I digress. 

I don't want this to be a post filled with the negativity of yesterday's mindset, but rather the clarity that has given me understanding today. I understand life isn't fair, and I want to be the girl who believes, even when others cannot do the same. So maybe this post will help me find my way back to believing. Maybe tomorrow's answers will assure life isn't a total bitch and that I can be the person I found on top of a mountain four years ago. Maybe I'll figure it out. Maybe not. 

On Monday, I printed out the acceptance email from Ink In Thirds Magazine, a print journal who will be publishing my poem, "You Weren't a Museum; You Were a Box of Matches" in a July/August Issue. I also printed the email from Dear Damsels, a fantastic female-driven online magazine who will be publishing my other poem, 

"Unearthing Letters I Wrote You Three Years Ago, or Yesterday; 12:18 AM" later this month. And in placing those uplifting words in my journal, I left a small reminder of success. And yet I haven't written about the failure of yesterday or the way my dog looked at me as the vet prattled on about statistics and scheduling surgery and the blah blah blah that left my throat tight and sore from trying to hold back so much. 

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Like I said, yesterday was a shit day. I'm trying to pick up the pieces. I'm trying to rebuild myself back to that believer. Despite the failures. Despite the doubts. I want to feel the faith and hope again, even knowing it might come back to sting later. I don't want to be crushed by the weight of the world. I don't want to lose my words. I don't want my mind to be so loud when the world is capable of being still and quiet and sure of its own survival. 

But alas, this is the way to continue onward. To struggle. To succumb to the sadness, the grief, the belief that hearts were meant to break to beat stronger. Here's to finding the momentum, the strength, the moment of rebuilding, rewriting, redirecting myself on whatever path I need to find my way back. 

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Thinking With the Best of Them

Tomorrow I will submit my first poetry chapbook to Honeysuckle Press. This chapbook is filled with my best work, though some lines still feel brittle enough to break me; lines like:

"The problem remained, I thought too much. We were thoughts. We were thinking with the best of them, and we'd worship words, but never wreckage."

My two best friends have been kind enough to give feedback on these poems. These are also the same best friends with whom I reunited in NYC two weekends ago. And what I discovered with these two people is how we all worship words, how we let them destroy and revive us, and all along I, too, was thinking with the best of them. 

Maybe some writers only have the page. Maybe they, too, carry their notebooks and journals as if they are people, capable of conversing back and forth, as I have often found myself doing. But I hope they also having living, breathing people who will help shape stray thoughts into meaning. 

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While away, I was finally able to share my last printed copy of Dream Catchers. Together, my best friend and I admired the pages, remembering the beginning and the middle and the end of creating this story. Together we discussed books and short stories and with one idea, I finally discovered how to return to my most beloved short story collection! And we talked about poetry.

On one trip from Brooklyn to Greenwich Village, we listened to my narration (in Voice Memos) of my chapbook, and every now and again my best fiend would tap me in hopes of pausing the reading to gush or question or note something from a line or title or an image. A year ago, this would've been a terrifying exercise. But since embarking on the Plath Poetry Project and writing along with Sylvia's last year of life, since rediscovering my voice as a poet and crafting enough pieces to create an entire chapbook, I have grown more confident in my words. There are still the vulnerable lines and the ones which are so fictitious, even I'm astounded at how well they resonate off the page, but they exist, and for that I am grateful. 

Many of these poems began as single lines in my journal under various pages marked: Thoughts. Others were born into full-fledged poems at 4AM and they remain some of my best. And I hope to share them all with you someday. Here's to submitting. Here's to winning the Honeysuckle competition and seeing these words in print. Together. Published. Real. 

And here's to starting all over again. 

A few days after returning from that short trip, I still felt energized and rejuvenated both in spirit and creativity, and I found myself completing another journal. It's now become a "thing" where every three months I must start a new journal. And leaving one journal behind in exchange for another is usually a strange and difficult process where it takes me at least a week to get comfortable again. And throughout this time of committing my words to the square-ruled pages of a black hardbound Moleskine, I''ll admit I've become superstitious. I begin every first page with a mantra, I promise eternal gratitude as a reward for finding my journal if ever it should become lost, I sign my name, I write my word for the year in the back to be reminded, and I get to work filling yet another journal. And it's worked for me. I also started finding quotable stickers from The Strand to adorn the back covers, which help me distinguish between them since they all look the same. 

As I walked through The Strand during this last adventure, I found two wonderful stickers, and both are now stuck to the backs of my new journals, one of which you will notice is red! I had serious Dash and Lily vibes upon receiving the object in the mail from one of the best friends. And I can't wait to fill it with even more words. 

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I suppose Jack London is right in his advice to writers to carry notebooks everywhere. I can't imagine what I would miss if I didn't have a sacred place close by to impart confessions, observations, one-liners, poetry, short stories, etc. And I can't imagine where I would be in this writing journey without the people who support me best. 

So here's to them.

Here's to words and better thoughts and the stories I can craft as a writer. Here's to luck and hope for my poetry chapbook. Here's to sharing my words with all of you.

A Girl in a Coffee Shop, Or When did I Stop Reading for Fun?: A Guest Post

Contributed by Holley Long

The last semester of my senior year of college was the most stressed I have ever been, and if you know anything about college, that’s not supposed to be true. I myself had been dreaming of that last semester since my first, three years before, thinking about the filler classes I’d sign up for, like ballroom dancing and basket weaving. I’d watch every TV show on Netflix, I’d lay in the sun, I’d breathe.

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Instead, I decided to graduate early, so I had to cram my last degree requirements into the 18 hours I was allotted. I elected to write a senior thesis (creative, but still) and wrote through at least three drafts of a novella. I helped form a writing society on campus and completed a publishing internship, and between all that I tried to keep up with my own, personal writing.

Like I said: Stress.

It wasn’t anything I didn’t sign up for, and it helped my resume look a little less skimpy when I decided to apply for jobs after graduation, but it was a lot. One day, I was working in the campus coffee shop, on my third mocha and second chocolate muffin, writing furiously to finish a chapter of my thesis novella, and wondering if I should do my literature homework next or plan out a meeting for the writer’s society when I looked up, and saw a girl.

She was young, maybe a freshman, so girl seemed a fair term. She was dressed nicely, her hair and makeup neat, and carrying a small cup of whatever hot drink she’d decided to order. She hadn’t rolled out of bed that morning, throwing her hair into a hasty bun before putting on clothes from the top of her laundry hamper, having realized she had no more clean T-shirts. Her drink, more than likely her first of the day, probably didn’t have two shots of espresso because she was existing on three hours of sleep that morning. She looked the picture of stress-free living, which was completed when she reached into her bag and pulled out a book, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, and started to read from the first page. She became lost so easily in the pages, sipping her drink occasionally, like all that remained in the world was her and the story.

Eventually, I realized I was staring crazily at a complete stranger and I averted my eyes. But everything about that scene stuck with me. As a writer, all kinds of people and scenes stick with me as possible characters and settings, but this was different. For the first time, seeing someone so calm sitting just a few tables away from the madness of my own set up didn’t strike the writer in me. Instead, it struck the reader in me, someone I’d forgotten.

Being an English major (even just being a writer) meant it had been a very long time since I’d read anything for simple, pure enjoyment. With my reading lists stacked as high as they were, for classes, for my thesis, for research for whatever I was writing at the time, I just couldn’t justify sliding in anything that I could read for just…fun. In fact, the last time I could remember reading anything without hoping for some kind of gain from it was when I was reading children’s books, like Harry Potter.

When I want to sound smart, I tell people my favorite book is Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. When I’m being honest, I say my favorite book is Flipped, by Wendelin Van Draanen. If you’ve never read Flipped (a darn shame, if you ask me), then I’ll give you a quick overview: an eighth grade girl, Juli, has loved the boy next door since he moved to town when they were seven. The boy, Bryce, is not so much a fan of her affection. Though Juli can’t put her finger on what she sees in Bryce, beyond his darling blue eyes and thick dark hair, she does not relax in her endeavours to be noticed by him, until one day Bryce shows his true colors. As Juli’s feelings begin to wane, however, Bryce starts to see Juli in a new light, one more awe-inspiring than he’d originally cast on her. Thus, their situations…flip.

It’s a cute book. It’s short, and sweet, and packs a lot into its pages. I’ve read it so often I can quote lines in casual conversation, and at the end I always wish for a sequel, even though the author has explained so many times why there isn’t going to be one. Sometimes I think it might have been the book that made me decide to be a writer, but back when I read it for the first time it was just a story, filling the heart of a preteen girl.

Though Flipped left a lasting impression on me, I didn’t read it for anything more than what the story offered. The same is true for my other childhood reads: The Babysitters Club, A Series of Unfortunate Events, Nancy Drew, and, yes, Harry Potter. That’s not to say these books didn’t offer anything; on the contrary, they’ve given more than most of the “adult” books I’ve read to this date. But I didn’t want anything from them other than a good tale that made me feel less alone in the world. Back then, reading was new, and joyful, and not fuel my own creations.

When the girl left the coffee shop that day, long before I’d finished the million things on my to-do list, I wanted what she had, or at least what I perceived her to have (I’m not going to try and pretend to know what kind of life she lived; for all I knew, her life was busier than mine). I wanted to sink into a book, and not think about what it could teach me for a class or for my writing. I wanted to just be in the story, no ulterior motives.

I’m not there yet; even after graduating some few months after that day, I still choose books based on what I’m writing. I feel compelled to, as I try and build my writing career day by day. One day, though, I will search my shelves for that old favorite. I’ll pull it from its spot, running fingers over the worn cover and dog-eared pages. I’ll sit down with a cup of coffee (De-caf!), not a care in the world, and flip to page one.

 

About Holley Long

I'm Holley, and I like to write things that make readers say, "Hmmm..." I'm a graduate of the University of Alabama's English and Creative Writing program, and currently I work at a news station as a digital reporter. My blog is A Writer's Life For Me (awriterslifeforme.com), where you can read all about my trials and tribulations as an aspiring author. I have multiple works in progress, and my biggest flaw is sticking to just one. I live in the South with a cat and a handful of people who don't quite get my writing life but who are always there to cheer me on.

Thanks for sharing, Holley!

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The Time To Choose Yourself

I knew today would be the perfect time to celebrate love. Love for my book. Love for my writing. Love for my critique partner. Love for myself. Love is love is love is love is love... And I started thinking that today might be the perfect time to choose to focus on myself, to celebrate love for the person I've become. 

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Now this post isn't meant to be a diatribe denouncing the traditions of Valentine's Day. But rather, an advocation to show love for my writing journey. 

If you've been following along with this journey, you might remember the best friend/editor, my kingdom of people who've supported the book and the writing and most important, me. Some of those people have even been given the printed proof copy of Dream Catchers to BETA read, and I am so thankful to those people. But recently, I learned the benefits of finding a critique partner.

Somehow, I ended up with an amazing new writer friend and spirit animal on my first attempt at reaching out. I know this is rare, and I'm grateful for finding this person. And after reading several other potential CP pages, I know how rare it is to click with someone over writing styles and editing styles and overall personality. But, I digress. 

You might be wondering what a CP (critique partner) does/who they are. What makes them different from a BETA reader? 

A critique partner reads your work and offers feedback, most notable, objective feedback on the story presented. With the exception of the best friend, my early readers have gone into my book just like that, as readers. A critique partner goes into the work as a writer and has the ability to advise on everything from language, pace, world building, characters, and everything in between. And my critique partner has done just that. 

So where did I find this glorious human? 

Quite simply, I searched 'how to find a critique partner' on Google. And from there, I found THIS Google Forum, and offered my pitch under the YA Fantasy and Sci-Fi request. And I found my person! I also searched #critiquepartners on Twitter and found another match-up listing HERE! And while I am so grateful for the other pages I had the opportunity to read, I didn't feel the connection to move forward with those writers.

Now maybe for me the situation is somewhat different, because I have a community of writers I met in graduate school. I have avid readers in my life who've eagerly waited to devour my book. I have the best friend, and my other friends, and they have been my resource. But I do think there is something about an objective reader, which works to the benefit of the writing process. And I have already seen the benefit of this in my writing. There are lessons I've learned in giving my CP feedback, and validation I feel from her comments. This, I know, is something worth celebrating. 

My CP has created a brilliant world filled with heartbreak and adventure and I can't wait to finish her fantastic story from a train departing to NYC this weekend. And I cannot wait for her to finish my book as well. Her honesty, keen eye for typos, and enthusiastic spirit is something my book so needed from the overwhelming place of the query trenches. And she's also a badass when it comes to creating design aesthetics inspired by my writing. 

Like these beautiful works of art!

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It's refreshing to have someone as obsessed with bees and dreams as I have been for the past four years. We both believe this will be a lifelong friendship and working relationship and it's crazy, yes, but in this community, I think this kind of mutual respect and excitement is amazing to find. I can't wait to celebrate our future book deals together, because we both BELIEVE it will happen. And we can't wait to share our next WIPs to keep the flow of the writing and the support between us. 

Today, of all days, I am choosing to celebrate the wonderful places and people my writing have introduced me to along the way. And I'm following the advice of r.h. sin today, too: 

"Marry your goals. Remain committed to success. Be loyal to your dreams. It's okay to choose yourself."

I love my goals. I'm committed to finding success for my book, and I've remained loyal in trying to make that dream a reality. And most of all, I choose myself. 

But I know none of this would be possible without the support of my people, and I am so happy to have added one more person to this group! 

So today, of all days, I hope you appreciate and celebrate the love, which helps you persevere in this crazy journey we call life. 

The Importance of Finding Your Writing Tribe: A Guest Post

Contributed by Sarah Foil

Writing is a mostly solitary activity. We sit in our homes with our coffee and wine and cat. We hide under our covers and read our books. We stare at our computer screens and send our emails and check facebook, but it’s easy to forget that we need a community. Writers need people to share our work with and commiserate, but it’s important that you find the right people to work with.

I’ve been writing for over fifteen years and have been a part of many different writing communities. Some of them have been pretty bad, some have been good, but I only have one tribe. When I first started writing in late elementary school and middle school, my community was other fellow classmates. We’d write on our wide-ruled notebook paper and swap them during freetime. Everyone was new and terrible but also supportive. We were excited to be writing and to have readers.

Even in high school and college, I had fun sharing with fellow writers but as I got older, things became more complicated. Me and my friends were suddenly competing for the same literary prizes and the same spots in the campus literary magazines. But I still felt comfortable writing and reading with other people. Even as things became competitive, we still supported each other.

For some reason though, once I found myself out of that classroom environment, that supportive, encouraging place was so hard to find. I graduated college and wanted a way to push myself to keep writing, so I joined an online writing community. The concept was pretty simple, you share your writing with other writers all over the world and you read their writing. You share feedback with each other and initially it seemed like a great way to keep writing my novel. There were talented writers and I got to read a ton of great work. The problem was that it wasn’t a supportive community.

I remember one specific instance that I shared parts of an early draft of what would become my graduate thesis. I’d been working on this story for years and it was a true work of heart, even if it wasn’t the best writing I’d done. I had graduate school on the horizon and wanted to make sure my work was good enough for an upcoming workshop. I had hoped to get back some idea of things that I could improve before sending it to my future professors, some clue of what was and wasn’t working. Maybe even some correction of grammatical mistakes, because I make those a lot.

Instead, I got back some of the most brutal critiques I’ve received to date. I remember word for word the opening lines: “Since you’re going to graduate school, I’m not going to hold any punches. If you can’t handle what I’m going to say, you should reconsider starting your program.”

It only got worse from there. That critique broke my heart. It made me feel like the ten years I had spent writing before then were wasted. I really started to believe I should drop out of my MFA program before I’d even started. Luckily, I have friends and family who pushed me and I did end up attending my grad program.

There, I found the right community for me. I found my “tribe”, a group of fellow writers who I could share with my work with. I felt like I could get up in front of people and read my work, not just my fiction but also poetry and vulnerable works of nonfiction. I felt comfortable complaining about deadlines and didn’t feel threatened by my friends’ successes. I had workshops where I got constructive feedback on pieces that I’d go on to improve. I never had someone make me feel or even attempt to make me feel the way that review from the online community had before I began.

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I would have missed out on finding my perfect tribe, the group of writers I’ll stay in touch with and continue to work with for the rest of my career, all because I tried to force myself to be a part of community that wasn’t right for me. I’m grateful that I had a support system outside of a writing community that kept me going, but not everyone does.

Here’s my point: communities are essential for writers, but not just any community will do. Find people who make you want to write, not those who discourage you. Be part of a community that can celebrate your accomplishments and hold you up when you feel like you want to quit. Writing isn't a solo effort, as much as we want to think that it may be. Get out there and find your tribe. 

 

About Sarah foil

Sarah Foil is a writer, editor, and media manager based out of North Carolina. She has an MFA in Fiction from the Mountainview MFA program and focuses on YA Fantasy. While her current passion project is her YA Fantasy trilogy, which is currently seeking representation, she spends much of time running and managing Sarahfoil.com, a resource for writers and readers of all kinds. She loves encouraging writers to continue to improve through her editing services and sharing her personal writing journey through blog posts and on Facebook and Twitter. If you have any questions about her services, please reach out via sarahfoil.com/contact

Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

Goal Digger

Hello and welcome to the new home of KAYLA KING BOOKS! It's been a process to bring this new website to life, and many thanks must be given to those who offered kind thoughts and critiques during this time. 

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But here we are! 

Already I've accomplished one of my major goals for 2018, set specifically for January with the launch of this new website. And I suppose this realization, more than anything, inspired my need to discuss goals here today. 

For as long as I can remember, I've been driven by my goals, savoring the satisfaction of crossing items off my to do list and monthly goal list. And even after all this time, I still give myself goals as a sort of road map to know where I'm going next. 

At the beginning of January, I set 8 new goals for myself. Now on the eve of February, I'm looking back at all I've accomplished, and feeling ecstatic about the precedent this sets for the rest of 2018!

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1.) New website 

You're here! I spent the last month working through my blog posts to move here, and it's been an enlightening journey back in time. Rebranding myself as the eventual author of DREAM CATCHERS, and the current author of published fiction, poetry, and other written works, proved to be the most difficult. But in the end, as you will no doubt see upon exploring the site, is that I've chosen a minimalistic design, which showcases my work and life as a writer. And for that, I am so proud!

2.) Submit to 5 publications

This past month, I've submitted poetry to Plath Poetry Project, SAND Journal, Poetry International, River River Journal, Salome Lit, and Spy Kids Review. While I have received a rejection for the December Retrospective from Plath, I am still awaiting on responses from the other journals. And yet, I already have 15 out of the 100 rejections I've set as a goal for 2018, but that's okay. I'm trying. I'll continue to try. 

3.) Read 5 Books + Find a New Podcast

While the books I completed weren't exactly the books I set out to complete during the month of January, I finished five books, nonetheless! The first book I finished was the audiobook of Ready Player One, which I didn't love as much as I wanted. If anything, I'm excited to see the movie! Throughout the month, I finished three poetry collections: Dark Sparkler by Amber Tamblyn, Last Chance For the Tarzan Holler by Thylias Moss, and This Poem is a House by Ken Sparling. And last, but no means least, I finished reading the bound edition of my manuscript! 

But you might have noticed under my January TBR, that I also wanted to try podcasts, which I did! My three favorites from the month were That Smart Hustle created by one of my favorite gals from authortube, Kristen Martin, Upvote YA co-hosted by another favored authortuber, Alexa Donne, and Launch created by John August! All three were delightful to listen to, and what's more: engaging, useful, and inspiring! 

4.) Organize Binders 

Moving into the new year, I knew I needed a Writing 2018 binder, as I like to keep hard copies of everything written, published, and produced each year. But I also decided I needed a binder for my writing career to house all those bright and shiny book ideas I hope to write someday. And since I am planning to get back into BOOK ONE of the Falling series in February, I knew I needed to purge old notes, and update the sections to follow the new plot of the story. I also wanted to update my binder for the Dreamer Duology, but alas, I didn't quite finish organizing that binder this month. 

5.) Catalogue Bookshelves

As someone with an ever-growing book collection, I knew it was time to catalogue my books. Using Google sheets, I've created a spreadsheet for all of my books, and I hope to share the process behind this overhaul with all of you soon!

6.) Try Meditation

This might be the only goal I haven't completed just yet, though I've tried. And since the goal was to try, I am counting this as a success. My brain is a noisy place. Whenever I've tried meditation in the past, I've failed, stuck on stream-of-consciousness thoughts or crafting stories. It's always been something I've wanted to do, but didn't know how to best awaken this sense of inner peace. I am currently listening to Meditation For Fidgety Skeptics by Dan Harris, and so far, I'm impressed. Though I'm not that far into this audiobook, I have hope that I might be meditating successfully in a few months time! 

7.) Get Organized

While this could encompass so many things, I did organize my closet and have started to organize documents for tax season, so I am calling this goal accomplished, though I am constantly organizing. It's what I do, and I know that won't stop just because I've crossed this off my January goals. 

8.) Limit Phone Time 

This is something I wanted to accomplish more than anything during 2018. I found myself wasting so much time on Twitter and Pinterest and other social media, and for what? I started small, staying off my phone before bed, and I've noticed a huge change in my sleeping habits, as well as the amount of reading I've gotten done in that time. This is something I want to continue to work through, but I'm thrilled to see some change already! 

So what happens next? 

Tomorrow I will be committing my next set of goals to the page. I will create a place for my February goals and my February TBR in my journal. I will use the tangible evidence of these goals to guide me through the next month! 

And what's coming soon to the blog? 

Next week, I will be hosting my first author guest post, featuring fellow writer, Sarah Foil from sarahfoil.com, and I can't wait! 

Until then, I thank you for following me on this journey of writing and beyond! I hope all of you will be goal diggers in your day to day life, and I hope you'll accomplish something wonderful in the months to come!