Little Victories

Take one minute and think about yesterday. What do you remember?

Or think about Friday, last Tuesday, a month ago Thursday? What stands out?

If you’re like me, the things you remember most are the mistakes. I can look back and tell you exactly which days I didn’t finish my list, said rude things, sent emails that shouldn’t have gone or didn’t send emails that were needed, took a break when I should have gotten more done, and so on.

What’s harder is trying to remember the places I succeeded and did well. I can hardly name one at first, not until I talk about the week with someone and they mention something that sparks a memory of a kid I finally made a connection with, the book I finished writing, the projects sent on their way, the paper turned in on time, the friends connected with.

I think our inability to notice the good in ourselves is largely a mix of fear and pride. Pride, because if we celebrate those things other people might not be impressed or think much of them and we want to be people that press on and do so much we hardly have time to think about it. And fear, because what if that’s the best we’ll ever do, or what if it’s not as much as we would hope, or what if we actually can’t think of anything?

But you can, and you need to, because celebration and delight in the small things is what makes our lives beautiful, day after day. If anything, be proud that you have eyes to see small things, and be afraid of shrinking your soul by never acknowledging your successes.

So here are my successes from the last few days: my paper was in on time, if not perfect. I made time to talk with my sister and my dad on the phone. I made time to read. I finished writing a book. And this morning, I’m both up on time and having a healthy breakfast.

Nothing big or fancy. But things that have made my life beautiful.

What are your small victories?

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Vulnerability, Reality, Sunshine, and Friendship

Are you a secret keeper or revealer?

Are you transparent waters or a deep well?

I’ve always been more of the deep well type. I love helping other people, listening to their problems, and hearing their stories, but I’m not so inclined to tell my own. I do if there’s silence, a need for someone to take charge and fill the void, but I’d rather listen and watch.

Those are natural qualities of a writer. We like to see it all before we discuss it and make sure we’ve capture each nuance before we try to share. Sometimes this is a hangup – it can make us shy and withdrawn. I was terribly shy until seventh grade, and then over the years I started doing theatre, and writing for the school newspaper, playing volleyball, joining student council, working at a grocery store, and on until I got much better at holding small conversations and drawing people out…but then I still defaulted to listening.

Often it’s because I’m slightly afraid. I love you and your stories and find you fascinating, but you might not find me that way. You might not like what I have to say, and I’d rather have you like me and not know everything, then know everything and walk away. And if you are one of those few people who I’ve trusted with everything, and at some point you walk away, that’s the deepest kind of betrayal and I never recover from that.

Some people say if you’re happy all the time you’re not being genuine. I disagree. Because almost all of the time I love my life, and the world, and the people in it. They surprise and delight me, intrigue me, captivate me. It’s why I write – because I love. And that’s the real me, who you must see and accept because it’s who I am. But I am also, at times, afraid, or lonely, or frustrated or furious or neurotic or just strange, and whether or not I choose to share it with you, that’s still part of who I am as well.

There’s a fine line we walk as writers, between vulnerability and going too far. To tell real stories we must be honest and face every bit of darkness inside ourselves, or we would only do ourselves a disservice. But it’s also wise not to give too much away, and reserve some precious truths close to your heart, just for you. This may be because you don’t want to hurt anyone, or because you’re still afraid, or because you are simply a private person. It’s not disingenuous to let some things be that way.

The truths we choose to hide and those we choose to reveal tell a great deal about us, for better or worse. The things we let into the sunshine – and how much we dwell in that sunshine – shape us and represent us. The things our characters share and keep close do the same. The only thing you need to do, dear writing friend, is be comfortable with who you are…including how much of a sharer you are and how. Some people lay it all out. Some people guard it carefully. Friendship, camaraderie between writers, between characters, and between people, is accepting either one without judgement or criticism. You be you and I’ll be me and we’ll go on this adventure together, without expectations and full of dreams.

Disability and the New Adult: Work Edition

Standard Disclaimer: These are my words about my own experience, which is not representative of anyone except me.

One of the more common assumptions about disabilities is that people with them aren’t able to work, or if they do, it’s in low-level jobs without much in the way of salary, benefits, or advancement opportunities.

I am here to inform you this is not so.

When I first got sick, I was very near completing my first year of post-college work. It was a professional position, salaried with benefits, and my typical workweek was anywhere from 40-60 hours per week. Thankfully, the benefits there were excellent, and very soon after it became clear this thing was going to be a mess, I got onto FMLA, and because we accrued one day of sick leave per month and I had used maybe one the whole time I worked there, I had ample time to go to my doctor’s appointments as well as flex my schedule around my good days and bad days.

When I was having regular attacks, I cut my visits in the community down to the bare necessities. I used one of our conference rooms, so when I could feel one coming on, I would go in there until the movements stopped. At my peak I was spending 2-20 minutes there 10-12 times in an eight hour day. I made all of my visits joint visits, and my coworkers always drove as I was unable to, and that way if I was struck with movement they could find a way to gracefully excuse us from the visit and help me elsewhere. There were some visits where I did have movement, but could hide it, and some where the movements in my face and neck were…conversation starters. Which was super great.

The important thing to note here is that people, especially young people, are brave, resilient, and resourceful. I was able to create a network of coworkers, friends, and family that helped me out, and in regards to work, I knew the systems out there to protect me and took advantage of them. I also found that clear communication with my bosses was incredibly important and beneficial.

People are often very receptive and eager to help if you’re willing.

One of the most difficult things I ever did was announce at a staff meeting what was going on. The choice to disclose was very difficult, but since my symptoms are not exactly subtle, and since they were affecting the way in which I was able to do my job, I felt it was both appropriate and fair to my coworkers to explain exactly what was happening and what they could expect from me.

I was able to keep that job until I had to leave it after another year for grad school reasons. I never clocked a less than forty hour week, thanks to being allowed to flex and use sick time, and I maintained full responsibilities.

The lessons here for you writers who want to input disability into your books are many:

If your character is a young or new adult, how do they view their career trajectory? What are the limitations – either real, or imagined?

If your character has dependents, how does the disability affect their feelings about earning an income, supporting their families, planning for the future, etc?

How could you create networks for your character that will support him/her? What unique resources does he/she have to take advantage of? What ones are out of reach, and why, and how does this affect them mentally and emotionally?

What kind of job does your character have and how is this impacted by and how does it impact their disability? If I had had a part time job, a job with no health insurance or sick time, or a job that demanded physical labor, my life would look very different right now – terrifyingly different. How could you use that to up the stakes and tension in your story?

How does your character present themself? Fiercely independent? Secretive about their disability? Open? Humorous or serious? How do they balance the professional with the person in need of help? Do they hold themselves to a higher standard because of it, feel they have something to prove? Or do they let it work to get them out of things?

These are all excellent questions to ask of characters without disabilities, but especially with. If you can ask some of these, even if that information doesn’t go into the book, it’s going to help you round out your character and get a sense of who they are as a person. After all, they say we are what we do – and I would add, how we do what we do.

Final Things

Taking the last step in any given part of a process is absolutely terrifying.

Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure everyone in the universe feels that way.

But there are important things to do at the end of something, and as busy as you are being nervous and wiggly and impatient and terrified and emotional, you still have to stick it out to the end.

Now let’s pull this talk of ends into writing, and talk about finishing revisions and preparing for querying.

Let’s say you wrote a super awesome book about swing-dancing robots in a world where dancers are the top citizens of the universe and then their dance program fails and they have to find worth elsewhere.

That’s fun. So then, let’s say you let it rest for a few weeks, then did some polishing and loose-end-tying and sent it off to betas, then it came back.

Now you read through all the notes they gave you, patch up the little holes they’ve punctured in your soul, and begin making changes. Maybe you slash a character. Maybe you burn some chapters. Maybe you practically start over from scratch. This step is a particular kind of terror of it’s own, because there’s an overwhelming feeling that you might break the book. What if you change something you can’t change back? What if you DESTROY EVERYTHING?

It’s okay, friends. You can always put the pieces back together again. That’s the beautiful thing about computers and word documents and story universes – you are the master of them. You get to decide what happens and when and how. And if at any moment you don’t like it, you can change it again. Whatever happens, you rip it up and sew it back together, and you send it off to more readers.

Hopefully the notes that come back are a little easier on the eyes this time. Maybe there’s a few minor tweaks, an extra scene to add, something to incorporate earlier, whatever – but smaller things you can handle more easily.

Then, it’s time to break out an ereader. Ipad, Kindle, whatever you like to use, loading your book onto a new kind of screen is an excellent idea. I spent this last weekend reading an MS on my Ipad and it was hugely helpful. I found a number of typos and caught a few small details I never fixed in the latest round of revisions. Something about it being on that screen helps your brain see it a bit differently at least in terms of details, if not overall plot.

Don’t skip ahead! It’s incredibly hard, sometimes, when you’re nearing the end of something, to keep your focus. It’s hard to work with excellence all the way through, to not let your attention wander, or to remain passionate and dedicated despite being on the millionth iteration of something. But that’s what you have to do, because that’s where excellence comes from…hard work, drive, and passion. As wonderful is the end is, you don’t want to reach it until it’s time.

And at last, when you’ve fixed all the big things and as many of the little things as you can dredge up, you’ll know that as you prepare to move to the next phase, you’re doing so with confidence in what you have to offer. Your story is a piece of you. We know each other through our stories. So, this particular round of revisions may be your first, your last, or any of the thousands in between. But see it through, from beginning to end, always pursuing your own personal best.

And then when you’re done, eat tacos. With excellence.

What’s Your Mission?

One of the two classes I’m taking right now to finish my master’s degree is on organization management, specifically nonprofits. One of the things we’ve been discussing in the last few classes is mission and vision, and how that drives everything an organization does and how they do it – at least, if that mission and vision are done right.

The definitions we were given is that vision is the what and mission is the how. In other words, if your vision is to become an award winning YA author, your mission is to write excellent books about teenage characters – and the more specific you can be the better, so if you know what prize you want to win, you might write a certain type of book, etc.

This got me thinking about what my mission and vision would be. I was amazed at how hard – and scary – it was to articulate these ideas. I’ve always known I want to “be a great writer” but what does that mean? What do I want to achieve, and how? Some of it is challenging because much of publishing business is out of our hands, and some of it is challenging because we’ve often been told not to quantify our achievements. We’ve been told that we should write what we want to write and if there’s no market for it, and no one ever appreciates it, it’s okay because we can sit back and be proud. And this is true to an extent – never write something you don’t love and believe in. It’s not fair to the readers, or to you. But it is okay, even healthy, to make some goals and set some achievements for yourself. Maybe you want to make your entire living off writing. Maybe you want to make enough to buy something, or to go back to school, or you want to sell five books, or aim for that award. But what is your goal? And how are you going to get there?

Mission and Vision, done right, direct a business and provide healthy boundaries for conducting transactions and building relationships. A mission and vision for your writing can do the same.

What’s your vision?

Disability and the New Adult: Diagnosis and Emotion edition

The usual disclaimer: This post is meant to help writers seeking to accurately portray disability in their books and to help other young adults voice their own experiences with disability. It is not meant to be definitive or to speak to any experiences other than my own.

Last week, I walked y’all through an overview of the lengthy process I went through to obtain a diagnosis and the medical system hiccups I encountered along the way (meanie pants doctors, namely). Today’s post is going to delve a little more into some of the thoughts and emotions I experienced during that time.

There are many, many things I could say here but it would get crazy long and you would all fall asleep. So what I will say is that my principal emotions, over the course of the year it took to get my first diagnosis, and on through the subsequent years, fall into two main categories: Blessing, and Despair.

Despair is a wee bit dramatic. I can only think of two times I felt what I would call despair over my situation. But I remember driving home from the doctor sometime in the middle of everything, loaded with medications that made the world around me heavy and thick, and crying as I wove along a winding country road in late autumn sunshine. Because the possibilities they were flinging at me then all came with the same conclusion, and as much as I wasn’t and still am not afraid of dying, I’m afraid of the how. I didn’t want to become a prisoner in my own body, able to think but not feel or move or speak. I didn’t want to lose my mind and be dependent on everyone around me, unknowing. I didn’t want my life as it was to end. I finished college early, I was in a great job, I had started graduate school – I hated that in an instant, it was all fading before my eyes.

I remember sitting at church at a memorial service and fighting to keep from sobbing as I fought back the shadows of my own mortality.

I remember my body seizing up and falling from a chair, unable to control my emotions, and I remember staying there and soaking the carpet with tears and the overwhelming sense of things that weren’t fair.

Friends, when you go to write about disabilities, it’s a fine line to walk. Because I am and have always been independent and strong, and taken pride in those things. I’ve always wanted to stand on my own two feet, succeed or fail, and to be a help to everyone around me while taking as little help as possible. To be accurate, you need to emphasize the fact that we are not “brave” or “so inspiring” – we’re just people, living the lives that we have just like you do. But you also can’t ignore the feelings of helplessness and being alone that spring up. I don’t venture to speak for everyone, ever, but speaking just for me I’ll say – 99% of the time I see my disorder as just a tiny piece of what makes me myself. But that 1% is wild, powerful, and prone to breaking me apart when it arises.

But on to the other category of feelings – Blessing. I will forever credit this disorder with giving me the eyes to see the beautiful things in humanity. The smallest things were huge to me back then: a note, a text, a trinket. The people who remembered and asked how things were going. The coworkers who could read my face in a second and step in to take over an interview when I was seized with movement. The meals. The grocery deliveries, the rides to class from people I didn’t even know that well, the help with my housekeeping and laundry. I still tear up now thinking of the millions of small kindnesses I’ve found over the years since I got sick, and how can I hate something that has given me this kind of opportunity?

There is much, much more I could say on this topic because my emotions were CRAZY, but I’ve already written a very long post again. If you have any questions, feel free to ask below. I’m open about it all. As always, if you have a story of your own, please share it with me. Community is the greatest gift we can give to each other.

Happy Wednesday everyone!

Rejoicing

Isn’t that a lovely word, y’all?

Rejoicing

It sounds like dancing and singing and hugs from loved ones and lots of smiling and the kind of day when you look back and all you know was that there was great joy.

Why am I talking about a random thing like rejoicing – especially on a Monday, of all the terrible days for this talk?

Because I’m firmly convinced that, as writers, it is our rejoicing that sets us apart, even more than our sorrow. Yes, I’m aware that goes against every writer stereotype there is. Aren’t we supposed to be tortured souls, ripped up from the inside, haunted by the ghosts of the words we can’t wield and the stories that fail to be?

Sure. If that’s what you want. But sorrow and mourning and silent contemplation, while each appropriate in their place, aren’t going to see you through.

Life is a very long journey, my friends. It may feel at times as though it’s all uphill, but you’re always moving forward. No matter how small the steps. And if you’re going to be here and live all these years and see all these things, wouldn’t you rather do it rejoicing?

How would it change your attitude towards writing – the writer’s block, the self-doubt, the fear, the desire to nap for twenty-seven hours – if instead of feeling the burden to write something great and deep, you felt the urge to write something joyful?

Don’t mistake the word joyful for happy. Happiness is situational, temporary, and elusive. Happiness and joy are acquaintances, not twins.

Joy means you can write about dark, painful, secret things, and still celebrate the human capacity for resilience, the ability to pick up and go on and still do great things. It means portraying the horrors unflinchingly, but giving love and peace their due. It means depicting the magical, the lovely, the friendly, and the homecoming with abandon, in celebration of everything these things can be. Joyful means you, the writer, are intimately aware of your own capacity for darkness and light, and willfully choose to move towards the light – not as if the dark doesn’t exist, but because it does. Joyful means celebrating, with every word, that it is your privilege to create.

Some of the most joyful books are sad. I think of World War II stories, and books about war and torn-apart families, and stories about loved ones who don’t come home. But the very best ones have moments – sometimes only one moment in a sea of sadness – that point out the preciousness of a touch between friends, the peace of a booming seaside path, or the hope wound up in seeing another sunrise. That’s what joy is. It won’t look or feel or sound the same from any two people, but every person has the capacity within them.

Today, my friends, be writers of joy. Write on, rejoicing.