It Will Happen When It’s Supposed To

Last Saturday I attended the SCBWI Midsouth conference for the third time. For the uninitiated, SCBWI is for writers, illustrators, and enthusiasts of children’s literature (which includes young adult). I always walk away from this conference feeling ready encouraged, inspired, and ready to improve my craft. I always meet wonderful people who feel like my people. I could go on about what I learned, but there’s something else in regards to this conference that has got me to thinking: How did I get here?

I believe whole-hardheartedly that things work out the way they do for a reason. I also believe that God is the one who orchestrates all these events in my life and weaves them together just so. But regardless of your beliefs, you have to admit how things come together can be pretty awesome.

I often tout that I had a worthless major in college. And I stand by that. But two things happened in the course of this “worthless major” that I believe led me to SCWBI conferences:

  1. I took a fiction writing class my last semester, because I needed another elective.
  2. I couldn’t get hired straight out of school, so eventually I ended up in a string of temp positions.

The fiction writing class is what got me back into writing. I clung to writing during that time of unemployment when I felt so useless. As for the temp position, that is where I met the woman who first told me about SCBWI.

At my first SCBWI conference, I really had no idea what to expect. I went in there thinking I knew one person, but reconnected with another girl who lived in my town that I had known from church. We ended up in the same critique group at the end of the day, and we kept in touch. That day I also met another girl who lived in our town. We stayed somewhat connected, though we did not hear as much from her as she became a new mom. Then several months ago, she reached out to me and the first girl, and we have been meeting and critiquing each other pretty consistently ever since. It was so great to sit with both of them at the conference this year.

I also learned about publishing from my first SCBWI conference. I was mostly blind to the whole process, but I learned about agents and queries and editors and the whole nine yards.

Before my fiction writing class, I had also been very afraid of sharing my fiction writing. That class was an epiphany – exactly what I needed – the kick in the butt to share. So I was able to share myself, my writing, at these conferences, with these girls I have come to know (and some others as well).

Before the conference this year, I paid for a fifty-page critique of my novel, and it was not an easy thing to do, but it was the right decision. A decision I would have never made, a place I never would have been ready for, had it not been for SCBWI. I got some much-needed constructive criticism. After that critique I improved the first few pages of my story to bring to the conference, and got even more feedback. So I’ll be revising again, on those first few pages and on the rest of the manuscript.

My goal is to have another full revision by the end of this year, ready for some beta readers. This is with the goal of being ready to query sometime early next year. I have made goals like this before that I have not met, but I KNOW I really am much closer this time. Between the paid critique service and my critique partners and what I hear in these conference sessions I know I am headed in the right direction. I am completely convinced I can make my dream to become a published author come true.

And I wonder if I would even be here right now had it not been for that “worthless major.”

So no, I did not get published at 25, I probably won’t have a physical book of mine out by 30 (but hopefully, maybe, I will have a book sold by then?!), but that is OK. I believe publication will come at the right time.

Right now, my own story is being written.

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About a Writing Conference and Some Soul Searching

First off, when I see the word “soul searching” from someone, I immediately expect to hear that they had some dramatic revelation that will result in a big change. This isn’t to that extreme. In fact, the soul searching hasn’t ended, of course I doubt it ever really will, and this post is mostly for me to process some of my thoughts.

I went to a writing conference this weekend, SCBWI Midsouth to be exact, the SCBWI standing for the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. Children’s is defined as everything from picture books to YA and as I believe most of you know, I want to write YA. (OK, so I DO write YA. Just because I’m not published (yet), it doesn’t change this fact.) This was my second time at the conference and it was good to return. Last year I felt extremely green (not to just the conference, but even to the process of publishing) and this year I felt I knew a little more, plus knew a few people, and felt more comfortable with getting to know new people, people who are writers.

In some ways, part of what I heard/experienced at the conference could be seen as depressing. One agent (Rosemary Stimola) shared that her agency gets 50,000 unsolicited queries a day. What the what?! I didn’t even know there were that many people trying that hard to get a book published. And that’s ONE agent. (Though she’s a pretty big deal since she’s Suzanne Collins’ agent!)

But I had two sessions at this conference about how to write a query letter, and you know what, now I feel 100% more comfortable and confident about querying (when the time is right, not before) than I did before the conference. I participated in a critique group where I shared five pages of my writing with four other aspiring authors and received both encouraging comments and constructive feedback. And it came at a good time.

Because lately I’ve wondered if I want this badly enough. Maybe I’ll just hire an editor and self-publish my stuff. It won’t get a ton of exposure but my story will have been written and be out there without going through the turmoil of the publishing process. These are the sort of thoughts I’ve had lately. (Note: there are many reasons to self-publish, and I haven’t even decided to not ever self-publish, but this is just not really the healthiest reason to not at least try to get traditionally published.)

And my priorities have shifted in a way I have not pleased with. In the early days of this blog, I would have said that my priorities as a blogger, a reader, and a writer were pretty balanced and even. But over time, the priorities shifted to blogger first, reader second, and writer third. I wasn’t too happy with that. I switched it around last November when for one month I became a writer first, blogger second, and neglected reading just for NaNoWriMo. And then lately I’ve noticed I’ve become a reader first, a blogger second, and a writer third. I’ve actually been excited to see my love for reading grow and I think it’s great that I care about it more than blogging. But writing still playing third fiddle to those two is not good.

So I asked myself: what increased my love for reading?

I think it was the fact that I was reading more, and mostly picking better books.

And I can’t help but think, if I spent the same amount of time on my writing as I do my reading, my love for it might increase and come back to me. I just have to sit down and do it and get over my hang-ups.

It’s a lot of work. YA author Ruta Sepetys was at the conference and one of the things she said during the Q&A panel she was on is that she does research for TWO YEARS for ONE novel. Of course, she writes historical fiction, but just the same, that is a lot of time and devotion to one book. And to think, I tell myself it will take too much time to research something in-depth and/or to plot out a half-baked idea, and I just want words to come out of me. Like anyone can just do that.

Middle grade author Gennifer Choldenko was the keynote speaker and she said something in her presentation about how she believes that any block that she gets when she’s trying to write is a result of not enough knowledge coming in. That was a light switch moment for me. The reason why I struggle and feel a lack of inspiration so many times is because I don’t have the knowledge I need to move forward. Well, that and fear, but that’s another post for another time. Any book of any genre is going to take some sort of research, and I try to do the minimal amount and get lazy with it.

That’s the other thing I have to realize, every time I sit down as a “writer,” I may not always get to write fresh, new, exciting words. I might be researching (real researching, not scouring “inspiration pictures” on Pinterest). I might be editing and revising. Those are worthwhile ways to spend my time because they are necessary.

I need to find focus. 

That was my other concern before this conference. Was my NaNo project actually worth pursuing? Or did I need to try something else out? Reading those first five pages of Earthbound to those four other girls was so helpful. They were enthusiastic about what would happen next and they loved my main character! It was awesome that they were already hooked. They told me ways I could improve things, like cutting out my first line, changing some dialogue, etc. It made me see potential in my story again, because they, with their fresh eyes, saw it.

It also reaffirmed things that I was told in my fiction writing class in college that I still have a hard time accepting… I write good characters. I am actually good at description (which is crazy because it is not natural for me; I have to fight myself to put it in even). I need to work at dialogue (even though I think I am awesome at it because it jumps into my mind more easily than anything else).

And while I’ve been worrying about what I can and can’t write in terms of genre, maybe I should just write a good character-driven story and then work out the other details as the needs for those arise. Whether it’s fantasy or sci-fi or contemporary or historical I can work on those things, again, by gaining knowledge.

All this to say, I’m ready to make writing a bigger priority again. I want it to be writer and reader first (I have finally become a believer that reading is extremely vital to a writer and worth doing a lot of; I was wrong all those years when I thought I could write and not read) and a blogger second.

I would not trade this blogging experience for anything. And I’m not giving this up. So no, I’m not going anywhere, but I might be a little more quiet. I know I said months ago that I didn’t want to have to apologize or explain if I posted less than normal and that I wouldn’t feel pressured to churn out a certain quantity but it’s still hard for me to do. Blogging is fast-paced and I am afraid of missing one day of the action.

So if I’m more silent, know that I’m not leaving you. Not by a long shot. I’m just writing. That’s what I need to be doing, because I believe it’s what I’m supposed to do.

And it’s going to take me time to write. I have met people who have worked on a story for years and still aren’t ready to send queries. Does that mean their writing stinks and their stories aren’t worthwhile? No. I don’t believe that at all. Different stories by different people take different amounts of time. I can’t compare myself to a 23 year old who has an entire trilogy out because that’s not me. AND THAT’S OK.  I already posted about that though. Maybe one day it will stick in my brain.

I haven’t figured out how I am going to schedule my writing time yet, but I know that it’s important and I need to do it. I’m very grateful that I got to spend a day with writers to remind me just how important this is to me.

If you’ve read this far, thanks. If you read this blog at all, thanks. You guys are so encouraging and I truly appreciate it.