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Life Without Facebook

It’s been several weeks since I quit Facebook and I wanted to share a little of what it’s been like for me, both as a person and as a writer trying to make my way through the traditional publishing gauntlet.

Pro: I’ve been much more emotionally stable since quitting FB which has led to deeper and more frequent work sessions on my current novel. When I’m mentally churning about something, it’s hard to get into a place where I’m really focused. No junky FB input=clearer brain=better work.

Con: I do not wish friends a Happy Birthday until I accidentally remember several days after the fact. I did not know when a friend’s grandmother passed away recently. I found out days later and felt sad that I hadn’t been able to reach out when it happened.

Pro: I do not write statuses that are either superfluous OR controversial. I do not spend one second wondering if what I write will be misconstrued or ignored. I do not fear the rage police.

Con: I kind of don’t know what’s going on.

Pro: I like people more now that I don’t know what they’re saying online. I pray more for them instead of judging them. I’m helped to do this because I’m not in a constant state of outrage or disagreement. I’m a kinder person in my thought life.

Con: I can’t see my literary agent’s FB posts. These are an easy way to get the latest industry/agency updates or anything else she thinks we should know. It makes me uncomfortable that I have to email her with questions she might already have addressed.

Pro: I have less anxiety now that I’m not bombarded with endless hot takes on sensationalized news stories by people who may not know what they’re talking about. I’m sleeping better than I was.

Con: I’m a writer, and I’m not building a platform on the largest social media site on the planet. I don’t seem socially conscious or concerned because I’m not publicly commenting on issues. I’m basically invisible.

Here’s something interesting, though: a few weeks after quitting FB, I got a personal email from the editor of a major print and online publication (to be revealed later) asking me to write a column for their Jan/Feb edition. When I asked how he found me–after picking my jaw off the floor–he said, “I was on your website, though, honestly, I’m not sure how I ended up on there!”

To be clear, I did not query this publication. I did not go looking for an opportunity to platform build. This came to me, and I was shocked. As a Christian, I immediately knew it was a little sign, a gift from God reminding me that I don’t have to go insane in pursuit of publication or praise or platform. That he has my life in his hands and that, no matter what happens, I can trust him.

So, am I glad I got off Facebook, all things considered? Yes. I’m infinitely better off without it, and I have no intention of going back. But more importantly, I’m reminded that I do not have to do what everyone else is doing if it isn’t good for me. You don’t, either.

We Are Never Getting Back Together

I’ve not written a single blog post since the world melted down and began pouring itself over us all like molten lava. Anyone who’s been alive recently knows what I’m talking about, so I won’t bore you with with sentence fragments like, “In these unprecedented times…” By now, heaven help us, the times are precedented.

I only stick my head out of the hole I dug a few months ago (whew! That was some foresight on my part) in order to say I’ve quit social media, specifically that dumpster fire known as Facebook, and I swear I’m not ever going back, no matter what. This is no biggie, of course, except that I also have a manuscript that’s being shopped to publishers as we speak. Being on Facebook seems to be the kind of virtue signaling publishers like. Seems to suggest you’re trying, that you understand how much selling books is your responsibility and not theirs.

But nothing, no book deal, not even a million dollars (I mean this), is worth being “connected” in this particular way. Especially not after the molten lava.

As my teenagers would say, stepping away from Facebook is my way of YOLO-ing it. In other words, I’m throwing caution to the wind, shaking my fist at The Internet, and quite possibly lowering my chances of getting traditionally published (even though everyone knows social media doesn’t sell books), and I’m super, duper not sorry.

I’ve decided that I want to be sane. Sanity is boring but peaceful, most of the time. If I have to choose between it and a book deal, I choose the former.

I’ll let you know if it makes any difference in the end.

P.S. I hope everyone is safe.

I’m Not Writing (and it feels great)

I’m a pretty disciplined writer. I mean, not like some, but I’m a five-days-a-week, 1,000-words-per-day kind of girl when I’m working on a novel. When I’m editing a draft, I’m pretty regimented, too. But, man, when I’m done, I’m done.

And right now, I’m so done.

I just turned in another novel to my agent (after working through three drafts), and I can’t even think about writing anything else for…I don’t know…a while. I know some people who finish one manuscript and immediately start another one. I don’t understand these people. How do they replenish their sanity after using it up?

Even if I were in the indie publishing world (which I may very well be someday) and felt the pressure to publish faster, I don’t think I could make myself write constantly. I’d have to choose between that and being a person.

So, for now, I’m staring out the window and running in good weather and talking to my three teenagers, all without trying to simultaneously solve tricky plot holes in my mind. There’s open space in my brain, and it feels pretty good.

We’ll see how long it lasts.

The Ennui of Presence

As I delve deeper into novel writing (and rewriting), I find myself growing quieter online. It has something to do with needing to limit mental distractions, yes, but it’s also about keeping my thoughts from draining out in a slow dribble to people I don’t actually know, thereby dissipating any creative energy I might have. The more I don’t say, the more I create, is what I guess I’m getting at.

The elephant in the room, of course, is that one needs an online presence in order to find readers for her work. I get that it’s boring to metaphorically turn my face to the sky and rip handfuls of hair out while a Hans Zimmer soundtrack plays in the background, but just know I’m over here doing it.

This guy has an online presence. Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Because the less time I spend reading other people’s half-formed thoughts (and sending my own into the ether), the better I write. Or that’s my hunch, anyway.

There is absolutely no point to this post, except that I wish I knew what platform building actually is (and, yes, I’ve taken the marketing courses, so I know what experts say it is). I wish I knew if all of it had any real purpose or if it’s some Kafka-esque exercise in futility, and it turns out we’re all just wasting massive amounts of time while become dumber and less motivated to do anything real.

The irony isn’t lost on me that I’m sending these half-formed thoughts out into the ether for people I don’t know when I could be writing…

The Long Way Home

I’m listening to a great new podcast called The Stories Between Us. Hosts Shawn Smucker and Maile Silva are writers in different stages of their careers, and they’re married to each other. In today’s episode, Shawn talks about how many writers want shortcuts to publication and/or success. They’re tempted by marketing courses that guarantee a huge audience, or by online classes that promise to help them write the next great American novel. Writers are vulnerable, he says. We want so badly for our work to mean something, to be seen and recognized by others, that we’re willing to ignore when some twenty-step program seems too good to be true.

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The unpopular truth is that most of us need time to improve our craft. We need to work really, really hard, often for years, in order to develop skill and style. When we try to take shortcuts, we miss vital steps in our growth as creatives. We end up rushing things and producing subpar work.

Which is really to say, there are no shortcuts.

This is what I tell myself today when I receive the news that a fourth publisher has passed on my novel. It’s just not time, yet, I say to the mirror. There’s something I need to learn right now that will help me later when a publisher says yes.

Do I believe me? Yes and no, friends. Yes and no.

But I’m choosing to be thankful for no’s, even though they sting.

And now, to continue edits on my current manuscript…

When You Don’t Know Which Expert to Believe

I finally heard back about the results of the big writing contest I’d entered back in the Spring. Spoiler alert: I did not win. My novel finaled, meaning it made it into the top three for my category, and that felt pretty wonderful. But, again, I didn’t win.

I was surprisingly okay with it. Two hundred fifty-seven novelists had entered the competition. Coming in where I did was good, it all came down to a numerical score, blah, blah.

But then I got the judges’ comments back. These weren’t average readers, mind you. They were current agents and/or editors, so I cared what they had to say. If I was hoping for some helpful feedback (and I was), I was in for something else.

[Some background: My novel involves a school shooting. It’s gritty in places because real life is. I was inspired by an actual event when I wrote it. There’s tragedy but also forgiveness.]

Here’s what one judge had to say:

“I am absolutely shattered by this piece. Please do not stop, please do not give up. It needs to be published. Thank you for daring to write about the difficulties and His ability to heal. So ready, so right. So necessary.”

This judge gave my novel a score of 100. Wow. Encouraging.

But then there was this from the second judge:

Oh man. The writing is powerful enough, but the subject matter is pretty dark and you might have a hard time getting any publishers to bite on this…It just feels like so much…”

(I left out a couple of sentences because they’re plot spoilers, but they don’t change the substance of the comment.)

This judge gave me a 65 (!). I don’t think I’ve gotten a 65 on anything since Algebra 2. Ouch.

The third judge gave me a better score but didn’t engage with the story at all. They talked about police procedure. I’m not kidding. Well, that, and they mentioned not using “neither/nor” in present tense writing.

O…kay…

Why am I sharing this? Because it was so weird to read such wildly divergent opinions and because maybe it’s also instructive. People’s opinions–even industry professionals’ opinions–are neither monolithic nor are they oracles from God. Sometimes they outright contradict each other.

One judge found the novel compelling and could sense the message of hope woven into difficult circumstances. The other found it to be “too much.” I won’t even talk about the third judge’s comments because it was kind of insulting to have their focus be on which rank of police officer would actually be talking to the press after a shooting.

There’s no smooth way to end this post. I guess everyone feels at loose ends when they receive opposing advice from people they respect. The thing is, I want to be teachable, but I don’t want to ignore my own gut, either. What’s a writer to do?

To be continued…

Circumnavigation

It’s been a million years since I’ve written a blog post. I finished the first draft of my most recent novel since the last time I checked in here, and it took all the mental energy I possessed. I wrote ‘The End’ on August 30th, just in time for my teenagers to head back to their co-op and dual enrollment classes, and for my other work responsibilities to heat up. Not a moment too soon. Not a brain cell to spare.

I have spent the time since then trying not to think about my novel. I want to forget what I’ve written so I can approach it with a modicum of surprise when it’s time to edit. But, of course, I’ve thought of little else. My characters people my daytime thoughts and my dreams, particularly if I’ve taken the occasional dose of ZzzQuil. If anything, they’re more real to me now than they were when I was bringing them into being less than a month ago.

Soon I will begin the familiar journey of hating, loving, and modifying what I penned in secret. It will be less taxing, in some ways, to edit my work than it was to create it but not less emotional. When I’ve done what I can do with the manuscript, I will send it to my agent. Again I will try not to think about it–because what’s done is done. I will try to fill my head with other things while I wait.

Photo by Gabriela Palai on Pexels.com

But the story will stick in my mind like something I heard once, like something someone else made up a long time ago, until I’m struck by a new image in the fog. Then I will start down another path guided by a different star.

YA by Any Other Name…

I just finished Shirley Jackson’s novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle. I won’t do a proper book review here since you can read my thoughts on Goodreads (sidebar). I will say, however, that it’s striking to me that she’s writing for adults but using a teenager as her main character (and in first person, no less).

Today, publishers would put Castle in the YA category. But it isn’t.

Bear with me as I nerd out for a moment. Jackson wrote in the forties and fifties when there was no special reading category for teenagers. In her day, there were children’s books and books for adults. The age of the main character in a novel did not put the book in a special lane for “young adults”. This meant that any non-kid lit could, and often did, deal with serious themes, regardless of whether its protagonist was 12 or 35.

[Nowadays, publishers would call The Catcher in the Rye, Huckleberry Finn, and other classics with young protagonists YA fiction. They aren’t. These novels incorporate adult themes, some of which are easier to absorb because the characters living them out are young. In the end, though, they’re heavy books meant for grownups.]

Photo by Nikita Khandelwal on Pexels.com

Why does it matter?

Okay, it doesn’t unless you’re a novelist like me who’s going the traditional publishing route. In my last novel, my main characters open the story as adult women, but at some point they go back in time. They sound like teenagers and process information like teenagers, but the novel itself is for adults. This can be a bit of a sticky wicket because of the YA category.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle reminded me that today’s publishing categories didn’t always exist. And, in many ways, they don’t matter unless a book is being marketed to the wrong group.

In that case, it matters a lot.

Still, I have to believe the best writing advice is to write what you love regardless of the name the industry gives it. Then, hopefully, the right readers will find it.

On Getting Unstuck

I usually write from home. I don’t have an office with a beautiful cherry desk with a globe on it. I have my bed. That’s where I’ve penned at least part of three previous novels (plus the one I’m working on now).

At some point in every project, though, I start to feel claustrophobic. I dread the idea of sitting on the same bedspread, looking at the same closet. I find I can’t concentrate–even in complete silence. So I go to the library.

Photo by Janko Ferlic on Pexels.com

The library is a surprisingly noisy place these days. I’m not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line, people stopped whispering there. They started answering their phones, coughing loudly, and watching YouTubes until, now, it’s almost as “atmospheric” as a coffee shop.

As an HSP, I find it’s not the sanctuary I might have hoped for.

Still, it has what my bedroom does not–thousands and thousands of other people’s books, which represent millions of hours of concentration, determination, and pure grit. And seeing those stacks filled with ideas-come-to-life helps me to get out of the creative doldrums and back to work.

Every time.

Next time you’re in a rut, think about how you might put yourself in a different setting for an hour or two–somewhere that might inspire you to remember why your work is important. It could just be the thing you need to get unstuck.

When It Comes to Nothing

Worry is a soul-killer and brain-washer. It makes us feel we’re doing something as it saps our strength and renders us lifeless.

Jesus said, “So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.”

We know this is true, but we still borrow sorrow from tomorrow, as my mother likes to say.

Even now, I find myself sliding into an anxious place–not because of some big thing, or even a thousand small things, but because I’m letting my mind drift.

(I don’t mean I’m letting myself daydream. I mean I’m inching into the land of the Mean What-If’s. It’s good for novel writing, but not good for real life.)

A friend posted this poem by Mary Oliver, and it came at just the right time (as good poetry so often does). Maybe it will speak to you, too.