Time, by Judy van der Velden / flickr

A history of writing in my life (part 3)

This is part three of the history of my writing life. If you missed it, here’s part one and part two.


I already talked about my early years and my schooling years, so now it’s time for a short foray into the years since then.

I wish I could be a writer full time, though I can’t imagine getting any more writing done than I already do. Now, I have to squeeze writing in time during my lunch break, on the weekends, in the car (Google text to type is both great and awful at the same time), before bed — any time I have a few minutes. Mostly, though, I’m just exhausted and uninspired and don’t write at all. Still — I have a feeling that if I ended up with the time and ability to write full time, it would end up as a constant list of things I did instead of writing.

I’ve written a lot since graduate school. One short story, a handful of poems, several novels. All of the novels are YA. I’ve queried four of them. I’ve had no offers of agent representation. It’s a maddeningly, frustrating, seemingly-endless loop of write, revise, re-draft, edit, set aside, read, touch-up, query, reject, reject, shelf it — start over again with something new.

As I started out five years ago, I tried to remember to stay on top of the trends. Instead of vampires, I tried a riff on werewolves. The novel, The Moonstone, is not one of my best. In fact, it’s probably only slightly above my MFA thesis in terms of writing, plot, and longevity. To be honest, I don’t even like werewolves and the supernatural / paranormal / fantasy obsession in YA fiction. What business did I have writing it? I know now that I was so eager to publish that I thought hitting the edge of a trend would work. Too bad werewolves never picked up post-vampire age.

Moving on, I tried to merge the uniqueness of my birthday (February 29) with a fantastical notion of what happens after death. In-Between and Ever-After came out of this, and I still adore this novel. It’s unfortunate that I was about a year behind on this trend, too. I started querying about the same time as Gayle Forman’s If I Stay and a few similar novels popped up. Even though I queried a little bit with The Moonstone, this second novel felt more a part of me than the previous. So getting rejections from both queries and requested manuscripts was more devastating than before. It also taught me a lot about the process, about “agent speak,” and about my own expectations. I still love this novel, and I probably always will. But what I know the most is that I really want to make sure that somewhere, sometime, in my career, I revisit the meaning and interest of Leap Day.
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Hourglass, by Kat / flickr

A history of writing in my life (part 2)

This is part two of the history of my writing life. If you missed it, here’s part one. Part three will be up next week.


College, of course, brought me back to original fiction. As a creative writing major, I got to write poems and short stories on a semesterly-basis. Poetry, thankfully (at the time; I’m better about poetry now) happened only during my Intro. to Creative Writing class. Short stories were the most important and numerous, with some creative non-fiction (of which I never considered myself any good) sprinkled in there. I liked writing short stories, but I yearned for more. When I decided to do a senior honors project, I chose to write a novel, even though my advisor cautioned against it. It wouldn’t be the first novel I’d ever completed; that was the romance novel I wrote for NaNoWriMo in 2003, which marks the first and only time I completed NaNo (I did it once, why bother with it again?) and the first finished novel I ever wrote. I saw no reason to view writing a novel too ambitious.

So for the project, I wrote a novel. I wrote it the summer between junior and senior year and was quite proud of myself during that first meeting with my advisor, novelist G.W. Hawkes. He didn’t like it. He told me everything that was wrong with it (some things I agreed with reluctantly and some that I still don’t agree with). He told me to re-write it. This was really the only time I have ever completely overhauled an entire novel. What I ended up with doesn’t look anything like the first draft, the summer-written novel. It’s more solid, better, and more deserving of being my honors project. I haven’t looked at it in years. It’s bound and in the Lycoming College library. I have a copy too, somewhere. Besides the NaNo romance novel and short stories I’ve written, it’s quite possibly the only “adult” or “literary” novel I’ve written. Everything since has been YA.

In college, I learned the “rules” for writing short stories and novels. I hated them. I wanted to write what I wanted, but my fiction professor continually said that we had to follow the short story ‘arc’ in all of our pieces. I didn’t understand how important this was until I went to graduate school. There, I read a lot of nonsensical pieces from some of my classmates, pieces that would never have succeeded in my undergrad workshops. I’m not talking just about experimental pieces, either; I’m talking about pieces that made no sense, had no structure, no plot, and no readability. It was there I realized that in order to break the “rules,” you had to know the rules. Once I understood that, my writing world expanded. One of the best short stories I have ever written was done as a final “paper” for my James Joyce lit class. It’s called “Morning,” was inspired by Ulysses, and I would love more than anything to find a published home for it. (Perhaps I ought to start sending it out again.)
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Hourglass, by Nick Olejniczak / flickr

A history of writing in my life (part 1)

Today, Thursday, and early next week, I’ll take a look at the history of writing in my life, from my first book ever (age 7!) to getting an MFA and beyond.


I’ve thought of myself as a writer for most of my life. I can’t really remember a time when I wasn’t writing something. Writing in my life has manifested in so many ways.

My very first book ever was both written and illustrated by a six-or-seven-year-old me. For years, the stapled paper lived under my bed, though I can only surmise it’s long since been thrown away. The most I remember about it is this: I illustrated it myself, by crayon, which meant awful stick figures and bright colors, and it told the story of a girl who met a boy and they fell in love and got engaged. Because, if I’m remembering correctly, the final page in the story featured a very large diamond ring drawn onto it. And thus endeth my first story.

In grade school and middle school, I recall inventing an other persona with my best friend Sara. She did the same. Instead of writing notes to each other during class to exchange in the hallways, we wrote notes as our other persona to each other’s other persona. I wish I knew where these notes were. I often wonder if Sara’s kept the ones I wrote. I vaguely remember the name Shawntell and an island off the coast of North Carolina. We invented an entire world for these note-writers. We invented original characters and mashed up writing and play-acting to give them voice.

As part of the gifted program in middle school, I co-wrote an adventure “novel” that was illustrated by my dear friend Margaret. I wrote it with another girl in the program, Theresa, whom I’m pretty sure grew up to be a scientist or a doctor or something awesome like that. It was about a family stuck on a deserted island (I think). My mom probably still has it, since it was bound and everything and looks like a book. Obviously, since it was an ‘on top of everything else’ project at school, I was committed. I should probably go find it, read it, and laugh.
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Mountain photo from Death to the Stock Photo

Writing & reading in 2015

I’m not really one for New Year’s resolutions, one because I don’t like that word and two because I never manage to keep any of them. Ever. Maybe that’s because most of the time, a New Year’s resolution is vague and unquantifiable, something like “lose weight” or “spend time with family” or “read more.” Well, that’s all great and everything, but at the end of the year, how can you look back and know if you managed it?

I know a lot of people choose one word to lead and shape a new year, and I’ve gone back and forth with a few of them. But I’ve settled on one in particular that will probably not come as too much of a surprise: WRITE

With WRITE in mind as the umbrella under which all of 2015 will settle for me, I do have some goals and ambitions for the coming twelve months.

1. Finish, revise, revise again, & query my current WIP.

A daunting task of course, considering how much I hate the revision process. But I’m nearly at the end and I’ve already started revising and my awesome writing group is working through it with me, so this is an easily accomplished goal. I want to be querying by the summer. Yes, I’m crazy. Then, by September, maybe I can start something new. (Or sooner, you know.)
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Lola with Christmas Lights, by Sarah Reck

What I do instead of writing

These past few days, going on a couple weeks, I’ve been vastly unsuccessful at getting any writing done, be it blog posts (I have several started), my work-in-progress (I have three scenes begun and am only 3K from my word count goal, not to mention I’m pretty sure I’m only five scenes away from finishing the first draft).

Instead of writing, I’ve done all sorts of other things:

  • Read. I’m 4 books away from my 2014 reading goal.
  • Watched every episode of “Holiday Baking Championship” on Food Network.
  • Wasted an hour (or two, or three) on Pinterest: This always happens to me, this looks incredibly delicious, & I want to make this for my keychain collection.
  • Made pumpkin bread. It’s yummy.
  • Attempted (& failed) to hang up Christmas lights. (See above photo.)
  • Wrapped (most of) my Christmas presents.
  • Addressed and sent over 50 Christmas cards.
  • Gone through my feedly feed. Over & over again.
  • Slept.
  • Took a bath.
  • Listened to the Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder soundtrack on repeat.
  • Found a new poet whom I adore. (Billy Collins!)
  • Stalked my Facebook newsfeed.
  • Watched every episode of “Beat Bobby Flay” on Food Network.
  • Enjoyed Guardians of the Galaxy again.
  • Went to the zoo to see penguins on parade!
  • Marathoned a ton of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, in order. I’m only missing Iron Man 3 now. (Oh, and The Hulk, but who cares.)
  • Played a lot of Tiny Monsters, Frozen Free Fall, and Plague, Inc. on my tablet.
  • Wrote this list of things that I’ve been doing instead of writing.