Ten Tips to Surviving #NaNoWriMo

It is the beginning of November, which means a few things. The Pumpkin Spice Everything is transitioning to Peppermint Everything. The seasonal aisle at your local mega-mart is switching from costumes and cobwebs to tinsel and candy canes. Daylight has been saved, which somehow means that it gets…dark…earlier?

And, if you’re a writer, you may be considering — or already be in the throes of — NaNoWriMo, or National Novel Writing Month.

What is NaNo? Simply put, it’s a challenge for writers to churn out 50,000 words of their own original work of fiction in 30 days. Thousands of writers take the challenge every year, to varying levels of success. And though you may never have heard of it before, some of the bestselling novels of the past few years have gotten their starts as NaNo projects, such as The Night Circus, Water For Elephants, The Scorpio Racesand Fangirl. (It’s worth pointing out that none of these projects were finished — not even a complete draft — in a single month, which we’ll be circling back to in a bit, but NaNo was absolutely part of their origin stories.)

Confession time: I’ve never officially done NaNo. As in I have not signed up on the website, picked a username, and filled up my progress bar until I “won.” (Really, the main reason I’ve never participated in NaNo is because I know me, and I’m pretty sure I’d get way too distracted by the social aspect of Officially NaNo-ing to…you know…actually write a book. But if you are not as distractable as me, you probably won’t have this problem.)

However, I have written over 50,000 words in a month of my own original work of fiction, so I’m not coming from a totally ignorant place here.

If you’re braving the NaNo waters this year, congrats! Bonus congrats if you’ve never attempted to write a novel before, or have but have never completed one. Novel writing, much like training for a marathon, requires determination, perseverance, and the willpower to press ahead even when your mind and body want to quit. It’s a trudge, not a sprint, and you have to put in a lot of time and effort before you feel yourself making significant progress toward your goal. NaNo helps speed the process along by forcing you to slap a whole bunch of words onto paper in a relatively short period of time, but when you’re pushing yourself, even a month of consistency can be a huge challenge.

So if this is your first NaNo, it’s understandable if you’re daunted. But you can do this. I believe in you.

To help you out, both with the process and with your expectations, here are ten tips to get you through the month. As with all writing advice, YMMV, but hopefully some of this will help.

1. Prioritize your writing time.

Here’s a secret. No one ever “has time” to write a book. There are always day jobs, families, schoolwork, housework, extracurriculars, kids, travel, on and on and on. Anyone who thinks “I would love to write a book one day when I have time” will probably never write a book. Most first novels are written in the cracks of life — during teacher planning sessions, after the kids go to bed, on the on the subway, in the car rider line after school, in the mornings before work.

The trick, like with anything else you value, is to make your writing time sacred. Don’t think you’ll just squeeze it in around all the other, more important stuff in your day. Block off time each day to write, and hold yourself to it. Even when you don’t feel like it. Get off social media, turn off the TV, put on a pair of headphones, and buckle down. You don’t have to get all your words in at once — if the only way for you to fit writing into your schedule is 15 minutes here and 30 minutes there, then by all means, write in chunks. But during those chunks, make writing the priority. All the other pulls of life will still be there when you come up for air.

2. Be realistic about your capabilities.

50,000 words over 30 days comes out to about 1,667 words a day. I consider myself a fairly quick writer (although there are those who put me to shame), but even when the words are pouring out, I can only hit about 800-1,000 words in an hour. So for me to hit a 1,667-words-a-day goal would involve blocking off around two hours of devoted writing time. But there are many who write slower than that — maybe only 300-500 words in an hour. And that’s okay. Speed has nothing to do with the quality of the end product. But if you are a slower writer and want to hit that daily goal, know that you’re either going to need to block out bigger chunks of your day, or make up the deficit somewhere else (like only working an hour on weekdays but full days on weekends).

The other thing to keep in mind is that even if you have eight hours of free time a day, it’s really hard to be productive for eight hours in a row. I don’t know any writers — not even multi-published authors — who can crank out 1,000 words an hour for eight consecutive hours, every day of the week. (Maybe on a tight deadline, or at a writing retreat, but that kind of burst of productivity isn’t sustainable over the course of a month.) Me, I am at my most productive when I write in 30-60 minute sprints, then take a break. It doesn’t have to be a long break, but I need to step away. And once I hit about 2,000 words in a day, my productivity tanks. It’s really hard for me to push past that. The words dry up in my brain like old toothpaste.

So for me, saying “I will block off three consecutive hours every day to write, and will set a goal of 3,000 words each day” would be highly unrealistic. If I have three hours available to me, maybe I block off two of them to write, and set myself a 1,500 word-a-day goal. Which is a little shy of the 1,667 needed to win NaNo, but close enough that I can make up the deficit on the weekends, when I have more free time, and can also take more breaks.

3. Don’t look back.

I fully understand the impulse to go back over what you wrote yesterday and clean it up. Maybe it felt clunky as you were writing it, maybe you learned something about your character that would affect their earlier actions, maybe you’ve realized you don’t want your character to go through the forest, but across the river instead. So you need to rewrite those earlier scenes, right? Wrong.

Remember your goal: 50,000 words in a month. It’ll be a lot harder to hit that goal if you begin each writing session by deleting words or messing with what you already have. Make yourself a note of what you want to change, then keep pressing forward. I promise, no matter how much tweaking you do along the way, your novel will still need to be revised once it’s done. So why spend time on that work now? Save it for later. Write the next chapter like your character chose the river, and once you have a complete draft, you can go back and polish it up.

4. Embrace your crappy first draft.

I know it doesn’t seem like this when you read your favorite authors’ published works — or maybe even when you beta read works-in-progress for friends — but no one is happy with their first draft. No. One. But you can’t edit a blank page, so it’s important to get those ideas out of your head and onto paper so that you can then revise them into something you’re happy with. Think of your first draft like slapping down a wet blob of clay on a potter’s wheel. It may be ugly and malformed, but without that raw material, the true art can never be created.

5. Eyes on your own paper.

I am blessed to have a lot of extremely talented writer friends. I am also cursed to have a lot of extremely talented writer friends. It can be so easy to fall into the trap of reading their books — especially when they’re published books — compare them to my crappy first draft, and think, I am such a hack. 

The funny thing? They feel the same way. Maybe not about me, but about someone. If everyone gave up who looked at someone else’s work and thought, I can never create something as good as this, we would have no art. Nada. None. Zero. Zilch.

Similarly, everyone’s process is different. Just because your buddy John vomited 10,000 words into his computer during the first day of NaNo and you wrote 300 doesn’t mean anything. Maybe John now has a word hangover and needs to take a week off to recharge. Maybe he’ll write 100,000 words this month. It doesn’t matter. It has nothing to do with you, your project, your abilities. Keep your attention on what you are doing, not what everyone else is.

6. Understand that 50,000 words may not be a complete novel, and that’s okay.

Unless you’re writing Middle Grade, 50,000 words is probably not going to be a complete book (and even with Middle Grade, maybe not). Most YA and Adult books have a higher — sometimes significantly higher — word count than this. So if you find yourself panicking in the last week of November because you’re only halfway through your novel, that’s okay. There’s no rule that if you don’t finish in November, you won’t finish at all. Give your book the time (and words) it needs to be its best self.

For comparative purposes, here are the word counts for some popular books across several genres. (If you’re writing Adult Fantasy…buckle up for a long ride.)

Charlotte’s Web – 31,938

The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe – 36,363

Matilda – 40,009

The Phantom Tollbooth – 42,156

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone – 77,508

Shadow and Bone – 81,215

The Lightning Thief – 87,223

The Hunger Games – 99,750

Ender’s Game – 100,609

Divergent – 105,143

Twilight – 118,975

Gone Girl – 145,719

The Fellowship of the Ring – 177,227

Mistborn – 212,417

Game of Thrones – 292,727

7. Get yourself an accountabilibuddy (or several). 

Whether or not you participate in the social aspect of NaNo (forums, hashtag chats, Twitter, Facebook, etc.), I highly recommend finding one or two people to hold you accountable, and vice versa. While the “we’re all at the same party” aspect of NaNo can be great and highly motivating, it’s good to have a couple people who are specifically looking at you. These are the people you can confide in when you totally blow your goal for a day, who will cheer you on when you aren’t sure you can keep going, who give you virtual high fives across the internet when you hit a milestone. While I’m not NaNo-ing this month, I do have an accountabilibuddy of my own that I’m checking in with as I work to finish my current manuscript, and I guarantee I am more productive knowing I have to check in with her at the end of every day.

8. Allow yourself to adjust your goals.

Maybe you realize a week in that you actually can’t churn out 2,000 words after working a full day at work. Maybe it just occurred to you that you probably won’t write while hosting your entire family for Thanksgiving. Maybe you get sick, maybe you get called in for overtime at your job, maybe your kid breaks her arm. Whatever the reason, life happens, and sometimes the goals we set at the beginning of the month aren’t realistic two or three weeks in. It’s okay to change them, adjust to whatever your new circumstances are. It’s also okay to realize maybe you were just too ambitious, and downshift. Every person is different. And you know what? Not winning NaNo is not the end of the world. Not one of those books I mentioned above that started as a NaNo book was completed during NaNo. Some of the authors didn’t even finish NaNo. But their books still got finished and still got published.  NaNo is a tool in your author belt, nothing more. If it doesn’t work for you, throw it out and get a new tool.

9. Don’t let the creative well run dry.

It may seem like common sense to forego all other forms of entertainment while trying to churn out a book in a month, but it actually may hurt more than it helps. Sure, you probably shouldn’t binge all of Breaking Bad in a week instead of writing, but don’t go cold turkey either. Much as you may think you can create in a vacuum, this is rarely a good idea. Allow yourself to keep consuming art, whether that be books, TV, movies, music — whatever it is for you that stimulates your creative juices, keep it coming. Maybe dial it back a bit, if that’s what typically takes up all your free time — you do need some of that to write, obviously — but don’t feel like a failure if one day, the words just aren’t coming, so you decide to watch an episode of Daredevil or read a few chapters of whatever’s on your nightstand instead. Art begets art. Sometimes, all it takes to get the words flowing again is a solid infusion of someone else’s fiction.

10. Acknowledge the hard work that comes next.

Once you’ve hit your 50,000 words or completed your book, it’s easy to throw up your hands and think, Huzzah, I’m done! Alas, this is never the case. Never. Remember how we were embracing the crappy first draft? Well, now begins the hard work of polishing that sucker into something worth showing people. Read through your work. Take notes on what doesn’t make sense, what needs more fleshing out, what plot threads you abandoned mid-draft. Then go back and revise, revise, revise. Get some beta readers. Listen to their notes. Revise again. This part takes time — maybe even more time than drafting the book itself — but it’s what turns a crappy first draft into a book.

Once you have revised the heck out of your book and honestly feel it is your Very Best Work, then, and only then, are you ready to take the next steps. That may be self-publishing, it may be querying agents and pursuing a traditional publishing deal, it may be printing up a handful of print-on-demand paperbacks to pass out on street corners, I don’t know.  I can’t tell you which path is right for you. All I can tell you is that the road from Crappy First Draft to Book Worth Reading is long and filled with tears and red ink.

BONUS 11: Don’t sell yourself short.

It’s easy to become daunted. To think that this is beyond you. That other people can write a book, but you can’t. Your ideas are too small. Your talent isn’t enough. You never finish things, and this is no different.

Don’t do that to yourself. Yes, writing a book is a big challenge, whether you do it in a month or a year. But just like climbing a mountain or running a race, it’s possible. All it takes is putting one foot in front of the other, one word after another, bit by bit, over and over. Don’t look back. Don’t look down. Don’t stop. And when you reach the top, the finish line, The End, you’ll be so proud to look back and see how far you’ve come.

Get thee a community

Photo taken by Carla Schooler at the 2015 SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference

I just returned home from the 2015 SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference, and whew. I am tired. Not only physically tired from days jam-packed with amazing panels and breakout sessions, followed by nights spent laughing with friends until we couldn’t hold our heads up or our eyes open. But also mentally tired from all the wisdom that was shared, and creatively tired from untangling the knots that had been littering my latest WIP.

I could sleep for a solid day, no problem.

But first, if you’re a writer, I’m going to tell you something important. Something that I’ve known for a while, but that attending this conference reinforced in an undeniable way. Are you listening? Good.

Whether you are a NYT Bestselling Author or a dreamer still plugging away at your first novel, community is vitally important. Maybe it doesn’t seem like that should be true — writing is most often a solitary pursuit, after all — but trust me on this. Without community, most of the authors I know would not be authors. Yes, even the naturally talented ones. Yes, even the ridiculously successful ones.

Without community, the voices of doubt can be deafening. Without community, rejection can be crippling. Without community, giving up may seem like not only the easy choice, but the obvious choice. The smart choice.

I’m lucky. I know this. I live in a city that has one of the most vibrant and supportive writing communities in the country. Most of my best friends are writers, and several of them are successfully published and willing to double as mentors.

These are the people who have slogged through all my various manuscripts when they were rougher than sandpaper, and helped me hone and revise them into something worth reading. They’re the ones who helped me craft a query letter and put together a list of agents. They’re the ones who clinked glasses with me when I signed with my agent. They’re the numbers I text when I get good news, and the ones who respond with a flurry of raging emojis when I get a pass.

They’re also the people who cried with me when I got my diagnosis, who have made me dinner and taken my children to gymnastics. We have celebrated birthdays and marriages and holidays together, road tripped together, run races together, and moved more boxes from Old House to New House than I can count. We have had the same conversations so many times we can rant each other’s rants.


The Nashville writing community, New Years 2014

This is my writing community. This is my family.

Right now, you’re probably doing one of two things. You’re nodding along knowingly, because you have a community, too, and you relate to everything I’ve just said.

Or you’re despairing, because you feel like an island, and have no idea how to change that.

To that I have two things to say. One, you’re not an island. I promise, there are those out there in the same stage you’re in, suffering from the same doubts and insecurities, working toward the same goals. Somewhere out there is a friend you can lean on, confide in, celebrate with. You just haven’t met them yet.

Two, you are capable of finding them. No matter how shy, how insecure, how introverted, how geographically isolated, how young or old, how experienced or raw. You can do this. It will involve stepping outside your comfort zone, doing something that scares you. But you can do this. I believe it with my whole heart.

Maybe you can muster enough strength for a Big Action, by joining an organization or going to a conference or a retreat or book launch and introducing yourself to strangers. I’ve done this, and trust me, I know it is terrifying. I’ve gone to book launches and hovered in the back, pretending to read the spines of the books on the shelves just so I wouldn’t look out of place. I’ve signed up for a retreat where I only knew one person, and felt the urge to run and hide in a corner with my laptop instead of talking to people. The fear can be paralyzing. But if you can push through it — even if it’s just to introduce yourself to one person, the least-scary-looking person at the event — maybe that’s all you need to do. Sometimes one person is all it takes.

And if that person doesn’t end up being Your Kind of People? Try again. And again and again. It’s daunting, but remember, a person is only a stranger once.

Maybe that’s just too much, and no amount of pep talks will make you physically walk into a place where you don’t know anyone. That’s totally fine. Maybe, for you, stepping outside your comfort zone involves becoming active in an online forum like Absolute Write, or following the #amwriting tag on Twitter and engaging in those conversations, or emailing another writer you know vaguely through social media and asking if they’d be interested in exchanging work.

That’s what I did. Three years ago, when I was considering writing a book and didn’t know any other writers, I emailed another blogger I’d interacted with on Twitter and asked if she’d ever considered writing, and if she’d be interested in having a critique partner. I have no idea what possessed me to do this — I am Introverted with a Capital I, and do not voluntarily reach out to strangers — but that tiny step turned out to be life-changing. Today, that blogger is not only still my primary critique partner, but also one of my best friends. Because of that email, I wrote a book, and then another and another. I found my local writing community. I discovered a sense of belonging I’d never felt before.

Photo taken by Carla Schooler

Photo taken by Carla Schooler at the 2015 SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference

And before you say, well, you’re an anomaly, let me tell you, it happens more often than you think. At the SCBWI conference I attended this weekend, one of our keynotes was given by the writing team of Gail Nall and Jen Malone, who met online when they entered the same writing contest. Now they’ve published multiple books together. Since they live halfway across the country from each other, they’ve only met in person a few times, but that doesn’t make their friendship or their writing camaraderie any less true.

During their keynote, Jen asked all the published writers in the room to stand, then told them to sit if they thought they could’ve gotten to where they are without the support of other writers. Want to take a guess at how many sat down?

No one is surprised when I say zero, right?

At the same conference, a pair of men — obviously good friends — was introduced to me, and then the mutual friend doing the introduction said, “Guess how they met,” in a voice that told me I’d be surprised by the answer.

Yup, you guessed it. Twitter. It was only their first or second time meeting in person. Not that you’d ever know it to see them interact.

I hear stories like this all the time. Even in my own life, I have multiple good friends where our first interaction was online. Forget what Buzzfeed or HuffPo tells you — you can make friends and find community anywhere. It just takes some effort.

Murfreesboro Half Marathon, 2013 Betcha can't tell which two friends I met on Twitter first.

Murfreesboro Half Marathon, 2013
Betcha can’t tell which two friends I met on Twitter first.

Bottom line is, wherever you are in your writing and your friendships, don’t discount the importance of finding other writers to commiserate with, to cheer on, to ask for feedback and wisdom, to celebrate in times of accomplishment and grieve with in times of disappointment (and not just yours — one of my favorite things about having talented writer friends is being able to celebrate their successes, even if I’ve just suffered a failure. It’s a much better mental place to be in when you can always find something to be happy about).

Not every writer I know has a critique group, or lots of local events to attend, or a love of social media. That’s fine. But every writer I know, published or pre-published, without exception, will tell you that they would not be able to keep making books without their writing community, whether it is vast or intimate, local or online, public or private.

Community comes in all shapes and sizes and locations. Yours doesn’t have to look like mine, or anyone else’s. It can be entirely unique to you and Your People. But please, don’t try to do this alone. Don’t let fear or pride make you an island. Find the people that give you the fortitude to keep walking this road. Putting words onto paper may be a solitary activity, but Writing — as a career, as a dream, as a life — is better with a team.


What’s Your Writing Process?

I’m not normally one for blog parties, where someone tags you on their blog or in your comments or on social media and commands you to write about a thing you have no real interest in writing about. (Or at least, that sums up most of the ones I’ve been invited to participate in, YMMV.)


The illustrious Kim Green invited me to participate in a discussion on writing processes, which is a subject I find fascinating.

Not my own, obviously. I live with me, and therefore my own process (IF THAT EVEN IS ITS REAL NAME) has lost all glamour and intrigue for me. But I love reading about the processes of other writers, and as you are not me, that makes me other writers to you.

Wow. That sentence was…something. Buckle up, kids, as I am sure you now want to hear about my process so you can imitate it and enjoy coming up with gems like “as you are not me, that makes me other writers to you.” You’re welcome.

Okay, first off, a disclaimer. Talking about “my process” feels a little bit like a sham, as “process” seems to imply

a) planning

b) structure

c) consistency

and mine is not reliable on any of those fronts. It changes from book to book and from day to day, based on what I’m writing and what else is happening in my life and whether I’ve had coffee and what other forms of entertainment I’ve consumed lately.

Chaos, baby. It’s how I roll.

However, maybe some of you are getting discouraged when you read about how other writers schedule their days down to the minute and think, I can never be that organized! Alas and alack! I shall never write a book! 

If that’s you, I’m here to tell you, you can still write a book.

Disclaimer #2: I admire the ever-lovin’ heck out of writers who can stick to a daily schedule. My amazingly talented friend Victoria recently posted her schedule and I’ll be honest, I just stared at it in awe for a while. How does one make the minutes in their day behave like the Von Trapp children, all orderly and in a row, while my minutes insist on romping through the trees wearing nothing but some old drapes?

Oh wait. Those were also the Von Trapp children.

The Von Trapp children are not a metaphor I was planning on using when I started this post, but there you have it. Chaos Theory in action.

The point is, there is no one right way to write a book. Or a blog post, or a news article, or graffiti on a bathroom stall. No writer I know worth his or her salt claims there is. As long as you are getting words on paper, or on your computer screen, or etched onto a stone tablet, or scrawled onto a cocktail napkin, or spray painted on that bathroom stall*, you are moving in the right direction.

*I’m going to get in trouble for this. Don’t graffiti bathroom stalls, people. Unless it is your bathroom stall that you own, or you have received permission from the bathroom stall owners, in which case, have at it.

All roads can lead to books. All processes can be valid. All minutes are ultimately Von Trapp children.

So, with those disclaimers out of the way, let me get into the questions I’m actually supposed to be answering.

What am I working on?

Heh. Um, several things, and they’re all very different from one another. Front and center are my YA superhero thriller, which I’m in the process of revising with my agent, and a YA contemporary retelling of a Shakespeare play, which I am deep into drafting. But in the cracks and spaces between those two projects, I’m also pondering revisions of my YA epic fantasy, and plotting out my YA time travel historical mystery.

As I said. Quite different.

Chaos, baby.

This does play into the process question though, because I have to prioritize these projects somehow. All of my works-in-progress have my agent’s blessing, but that doesn’t mean she’s okay with me pinballing between them like a squirrel on speed. If I tried to do that, I’d never turn anything in, ever. I am not one of those writers who can simultaneously write four books, much as I might want to. About the most I can handle at once is drafting one book and revising another (and even that is tricky, as pulling my brain out of one genre and plopping it into another is easier said than done). So what happens when I get ideas for the books I’m not actively drafting or revising?


I use Scrivener, which I love  as much as a human can love a computer program without getting creepy about it. More “breakfast tacos” levels of love, less “Her.” Scrivener lets me jump into that book’s file, jot a few notes, and flit back out of the program without the back-burner book’s pages so much as rustling in my wake. It’s perfect for me, because I don’t have to keep ideas in my head (which is a terrible place to keep them, as I lose things in there all the time), but I don’t have to actively work on developing them either.

And with those other ideas safe in Scrivener and out of my brain, I can better focus on my main projects. For me, it’s really good to have a pipeline, because each stage of writing comes with different kinds and levels of excitement. I love starting a new draft (excitement! possibilities! infatuation!), but finishing can be difficult. So it’s good to be able to fine-tune something that’s nearly finished, or jot ideas on something that’s still brimming with potential, when I need to jump-start my enthusiasm.

How does my work differ from others of its genre?

This is a funny question, mostly because it’s not one I ask myself when I start a project. I write, first and foremost, the kind of stories I’d like to read. For that reason, I think what I write is different from what’s currently on shelves, simply because if it already existed, I’d probably rather read it than write it. No way I’m spending that much effort writing a (probably lesser, because let’s face it, copies are normally not nearly as sharp as the original) version of something that’s already out there.

It’s also hard to give a broad answer to this question because I write in multiple genres, so there’s no one thing that distinguishes my body of work from every other YA genre. However, I will say there are a few themes that keep popping up in all my stories, whether they’re about Reluctant Superheroes or Uppity Teens In Love or Illegal Powers And Dragons or Accidental Time Travel, that make them a bit different from a lot of what’s currently on the YA shelves of your local library.

The main one is probably my heavy emphasis on family. YA has a lot of orphans, only children, detached parents, and estranged parents. This is often by necessity – it can be hard to make a teenager a central player in a story where he or she has to submit to so many varied forms of authority. This doesn’t make those books inherently good or bad – there’s a lot of things that go into the making of a good story aside from whether the main character has family members present. But for me, I haven’t written anything yet that doesn’t have strong familial themes, and while I know to never say never, I’ll be surprised if that changes.

Whether it’s parents or grandparents or brothers or sisters or cousins, I am intrigued by families, how they interact, how they love, how they disappoint, how they surprise. Siblings are fascinating, because they share a lifelong bond, but may not have compatible personalities, and I like playing with that dichotomy. Then there’s the relationships between grandparents and parents and kids, and the ripple effect of one generation influencing the next influencing the next. Having two kids of my own, I spend a lot of time thinking of how most parenting decisions are made with the intent of doing what’s Best For Your Kids, but there’s often no way to know if you made the right call until much later. I like picking up the threads of those good intentions several years later, once everything has unraveled, and figuring out how to reconcile what the characters intended with what’s happened.

My work has a few other quirks that I believe gives it its own unique flavor. But I think I’ll leave it there for now.

Why do I write what I do?

I feel like I pretty much already answered this question. I write stories I want to read. I write characters that interest me. At the end of the day, writing is a long, labor-intensive process where a huge amount of the work has to be completed before there is ever even the possibility of being compensated for it. For me, that means that I really need to love what I’m writing, because if I don’t, that is a whole lot of effort for no guaranteed payoff. It also means that even if these books never sell (even though I sincerely hope they do), I’ll still be glad I wrote them, because I love the stories and I loved the act of writing them.

How does my writing process work?

Oh hey! You were wondering if we’d ever get back here, weren’t you?

Okay, as I stated earlier, “my process” is a tricksy beast. It varies a lot, and is influenced by a myriad of exterior factors. But here are a few things I have learned about this crazy thing called writing, that will always be true no matter what I’m writing and what’s going on in my life.

  • I have to write on a computer. Lots of writers find writing longhand helps them get past their inhibitions because they don’t self-edit as much. This…is not a thing I can do. Everything I do must be typed. Give me a blank piece of paper and a pencil and I will blink at you like you just asked me to casually sketch the Mona Lisa. I type drafts. I type notes. I type synopses. I type outlines. SPEAKING OF WHICH!
  • I suck at outlining. I’ve tried it, and I very much believe there’s something to it (I will stand by Blake Snyder’s SAVE THE CAT being a fabulous method, even if I can’t actually stick to a beat sheet to save my life), but I suck at it. I am very much a pantser, and have been known to plunge into books with absolutely no idea where they are going. Actually, the easiest book I’ve drafted so far had literally no plot whatsoever going in. I had a single sentence as an idea, and crafted the story as it came to me. The hardest book I’ve written was the one with the most intense outline going in. The more restrictions I place on myself in terms of a pre-determined plot, the harder it is for me to let my ideas flow.
    • HUGE DISCLAIMER: This is also why I have to re-write entire books. First drafts are guidelines for me. Once they’re written, only then can I truly see the story I want to tell.  Then I have to plunge back in and scrape away all the gunk clogging up my story, and there is always a lot of gunk.
    • But I’d rather have a lot of gunk than nothing. You can’t edit a blank page.
  •  I draft quickly in general, and fastest when I have absolutely no idea where I’m going. Some people write 500 words a day, but each of those words is carefully crafted and meticulous. I tend to vomit out multi-thousand word chunks, knowing full well that I may go back and delete most of them later once I figure out what I actually want to do. (That said, I firmly believe that no matter what your process, first drafts are meant to be rough, and that there is no bypassing this step.)
  • Chaos, baby.
  • I write best at night. Which is a little inconvenient, since my kids are in school during the day and while I work part-time from home, I typically have huge chunks of time to myself during daylight hours. I so very much want to devote a majority of that time to creating Brilliant!New!Words! But, most of the time, I can’t. Which means nighttime is for words, and daylight is best for:
    • Revision (drafting and creating are very different processes for me, and I can revise even if I’m not feeling particularly creative)
    • General Responsible Adulting, ie: errands, cleaning, taking the dog to the vet, paying bills. Bah.
    • Refilling the creative tank: For me, I get the most inspiration from television. I know this just sounds like I’m making excuses to sit on my couch and binge-watch Netflix (which, valid), but I try to watch with a critical eye. What’s working in these shows? What aspects are pleasing to me, and why did those choices evoke that response? What characters do I like, and why? How do they handle multiple plot arcs, multiple POVs? What is it about the writing that draws me in? What annoys me, and why? How do they balance kicking off a new storyline while resolving an old one to my satisfaction? Obviously, I also have much love for good storytelling in the form of books and movies, but for me, television is my main squeeze.
    • Reading cross-genre. I can’t read in the genre I’m writing, but I like to read books in other genres (for example, while drafting my Superhero Thriller, I read nothing but Contemporaries) and figure out what aspects from those I can work into my own story. This isn’t so much about refilling the creative tank (don’t worry, TV, you’re still the one for me) as it is craft. I like seeing what makes other books tick, and trying to learn something from it. Did a book pull off a killer twist? How? Why was it satisfying? When did they start setting it up? What sorts of clues did they drop? How did they throw me off the scent? I realize these are similar to my TV questions, but because of the medium, I find I am a lot more clinical about my approach to books than my approach to TV. TV is mostly for creative stimulation. Books are for craft. (Again, YMMV – I know tons of writers who are the opposite.)
    • Critiquing. I…have very passionate feelings about critiquing. So much so that I’ll save them for their own separate bullet point.
    • Meeting with other writers, either to write or just to discuss our projects. Sometimes I can’t just fritter away all of my day, because I need to be making forward progress or risk totally throwing off my groove and missing deadlines. I am extremely blessed to have a wonderful writing community here in Nashville, and I have several people I can meet with at Panera or a local coffee shop to share a table while we both pound out the words. A change of scenery is really helpful for getting myself out of a rut (plus Panera’s WiFi suuuuuuucks, which means fewer Twitter distractions), and it also gives writing a sense of accountability. If you’re sitting across from someone, they’re probably going to notice if you never crack open your laptop and just stare into space for three hours. PLUS I cannot overstate how helpful it is to have someone Right There for when I have to look up and ask a Super Important Question like “Okay, if I’m tied up like this and can’t afford to break my wrist, how do I escape?” (Even if your local writing community is nonexistent, I still highly recommend the Change Of Scenery to the Land of Sucky Wifi.)
  • CRITIQUING! Here is that separate bullet point I was talking about. (Honestly, I could do an entire blog post just on critiquing.) I adore critiquing, and it is utterly vital to my process. But here is the thing that a lot of people don’t seem to get about critiquing: it is about giving. I try to make it a point to always be doing more critiques than I’m receiving. Yes, it is important to get my own work critiqued. I have a critique group and critique partners that are worth more than their weight in gold. But to be the best writer I can be, it is essential that I am consistently offering solid critique. Doing a critique gets me in the mindset to be objective about my own work, and forces me to acknowledge the things that aren’t working. It can be tough. I’ve given critiques to friends that resulted in me having to toss a significant portion of my own story. But I have never done a critique where I came away feeling that I had learned nothing.  That said, here are a few things to keep in mind about critique:
    • Offer before asking, and give each critique your best. If you want an honest critique on your own work, put the time and effort into giving a good critique for that writer. I find that if I offer to critique for others and do the best, most thorough job I can, they more often than not will offer to read for me, and no one has to be put in the awkward situation of asking someone who may or may not have that sort of time to give.
    • That said, don’t just chase writers around Twitter asking them if you can read their work. If you don’t have a local writing community, or are not part of an online writing community, I suggest either joining an organization like SCBWI or RWA and connecting with other writers that way, or finding critique partners on a site like Absolute Write or HowAboutWeCP.
    • Be honest without being harsh. Critique is not cheerleading. If all you do is point out the things you love, that writer is never going to get better. But critique is also not just exploding your own subjective opinions all over their manuscript. If you are overly harsh, you risk sending the author into defensive mode, and also poisoning your critique relationship. So if you hate your critique partner’s main character, maybe don’t say “I hate your main character,” but instead say “I found the way your main character stole candy from babies and kicked puppies troubling, and as such had a hard time connecting with her.” You’ll also notice that the second example is constructive (“I can totally cut back on the candy-stealing and puppy-kicking!”) and the first is not (“Well…I’m sorry?”). Always remember that you are trying to help an author make their work better, not penning a book review.
    • Don’t dish out what you can’t take. If your critique partners are telling you something isn’t working, don’t be too proud to examine it and see if there’s a way to make it better. This doesn’t mean you have to take every bit of critique you ever receive (because that would be impossible, as critique partners often disagree), but if there’s a common thread, don’t be afraid to tug on it.
  • Scrivener! Seriously. It is my best friend. I want to braid its hair and bake it cookies.
  • Community! Whether it be my friends I see every week or my friends on Twitter or my friends who live in my phone (ie: much texting without ever really seeing each other in person), my writing community is so, so important to me. Don’t have a community? Go to local book events, attend writing conferences, interact on Twitter, join a forum. There are so many ways to connect with other writers, especially with the Magic of the Internet.
  • Celebration. A wise friend of mine once said that if she had to choose between seeing her name in acknowledgements and seeing her name on spines, she’d choose acknowledgements. I think that’s such a wonderful philosophy to have. Sure, I have my goals and my hopes and my dreams. But my life is full of so much more joy if I can celebrate my friends’ accomplishments with sincerity. Also, publishing is slow, but the time passes a lot quicker when you can be excited for every finished draft, every agent signing, every book contract, every release. (And who doesn’t want an excuse to break out the cake every couple months?)
  • Last but not least, coffee. Oh sweet caffeine, where would I be without you?

Phew. That was long.

How about you, friends? What is your process? What gets the blood pumping and the creative juices flowing? What are your silver bullets, your black arrows, your Elder Wands? Do such things even exist?

And if so, where does one find one? Asking for a friend.

Everything is Cool When You’re Part of a Team



I’ve got NEWS.


The kind that requires an excessive number of gifs.

I am over-the-moon excited to announce that I am now represented by the lovely, brilliant, and utterly fabulous…

[drumroll please]

Holly Root of Waxman Leavell Literary Agency!

I’ve been pinching myself all weekend, and I still can’t quite believe it’s true. Holly is far and away my dream agent, and I cannot begin to express how blessed I am to be working with her, or how stupid-giddy-excited I am as we embark on the author-agent journey together.

If you are not entrenched in the publishing world (bless you, and your sanity) and aren’t sure what an agent is, or the role they play in the publication process, or why this is a Big Freaking Deal, check out Part 1 of Susan Dennard’s post on How to Get Traditionally Published. (Then read Parts 2 and 3, because they are Quite Informative and one of the clearest descriptions I’ve read on how this whole crazy looooooong process works.)

If you want to hear the nitty-gritty of how I came to sign with Holly, stay tuned. I predict I shall be long-winded. Both because I am long-winded, and because it was a long, windy road to get here.

This story actually starts a few years ago, back when I first started this blog. One day, through a series of random events, I happened to discover that a girl I went to college with was now a literary agent who represented a lot of YA. This may not seem that big a deal except for one thing: I went to a tiny little private university in Arkansas that no one’s ever heard of. The odds of someone from my school becoming A Somebody in publishing are…well, I haven’t crunched the numbers, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and guess they’re not very high.

Now, this girl wasn’t someone I was close to in college. I knew her more by reputation (ie: she was Wicked Smart and Good At Many Things), and because she married a guy in my class who sang with me in chorus. I think we might have smiled and nodded and possibly exchanged a couple pleasant “heys” during our years attending the same school. That was it. So I didn’t really think of this information about her being a literary agent as anything more than a bit of interesting trivia.

Then a couple days later, I finished the book I was reading and read the acknowledgements. Whaddya know, Lit Agent Girl From College — whom you’ve probably figured out was Holly — was that author’s agent. That was two interesting coincidences in a row. I looked up some other books I was reading and about to readHolly represented all of them. Holly was, apparently, a brilliant agent who represented exactly what I love to read. Hm.

I decided this anecdote was amusing enough for a first-contact Facebook message, despite our total barely-acquaintances-in-college status (Oh Facebook, you make it so easy to blur the lines of appropriateness). I proceeded to construct the awkwardest “Hey, you probably don’t remember me, but funny story…” message in the history of awkward Facebook messages. Holly responded almost immediately, with an “Of course I remember you! And yay for blogging, let me know if there are any books I can send you” message. Then I was even more awkward by requesting FAR TOO MANY books and saying embarrassing things and why am I bringing this up when I really hope she has forgotten all about it for all eternity? (Also, I have since come to learn that authors initiating contact with agents through FB is a BIG NO-NO. I’m guessing bloggers doing it is even worse. But I won’t ask, because we’re never going to mention that ever again.)

She was lovely and gracious and did not file a restraining order. Obvious proof that she is a Class Act.

A couple months later, I got the idea to write a book. A fantasy.

It was weird. I’d never had a book idea before. But I decided to try, because why not? It could be fun.

I did everything wrong. I didn’t plot at all. I flew by the seat of my pants. I wrote myself into corners. I blathered on forever with ridiculous subplots that could never, ever work. And I wrote a YA book that clocked in with a first draft of 133,000 words, which is far, far too long.

I revised and revised and revised, cutting out huge chunks and bringing it down to a more manageable length. I sent it to beta readers. They thought it was…okay. They had lots of nice things to say, but also lots of questions. Big questions.

I revised again. And again. Tried to answer their questions and fix what was broken. I eventually got it down to a 100K word revised draft that I was happy with.

When I was finishing what I thought was the final revision, I was asked by one of Holly’s clients — the lovely and brilliant Myra McEntire, whom I had met I believe a whopping three times at various book events — if I’d be interested in taking a look at her most recent manuscript and offering feedback. To this day, I still really have no idea why she asked me, since we knew each other only slightly better than Holly and I knew each other in college. (Hey, Myra, why did you ask me? Was it a dare? You can tell me if it was a dare.)

But I wasn’t about to look a gift horse in the mouth (or, like, something that’s not a terrible cliché. Man, I am so good at this writing thing.) So obviously I said yes. In exchange, Myra promised to read my book, just as soon as she passed her deadline.

As it turned out, Myra read my entire book one Saturday in early February 2013, shortly after turning her book in. Before she finished, she emailed me to say she’d already recommended it to Holly, and that I should plan to start querying on Monday, because it was Ready.

Um. Hello.

I did as I was told. I queried Holly, along with a few others, that Monday. Holly responded later that day requesting the full manuscript and congratulating me on finishing my book. No mention of my crippling awkwardness. Again, Class Act, people. I was ecstatic. I sent my story off and set about biting my nails and refreshing my email and starting a new story.

Then the rejections started rolling in from the other agents I’d queried. One after another after another. Form rejections — not even a hint of personalization.

I doubted. I convinced myself that Holly had only requested because we went to college together and because one of her authors liked me and because she didn’t want to hurt my feelings. (Hint: This is not a Real Thing Agents Do. They don’t have time for it.)

I shook it off, reminding myself that Real Authors pile up enough rejections to wallpaper a room! I didn’t have nearly enough yet! So I retooled my query and kept sending it out, one little feeler at a time, as I waited to hear from Holly. I got several requests, but no offers. After Holly had my manuscript for a month, I was utterly positive that she was just trying to come up with the words to let me down easy. My book was stupid. It wasn’t new or interesting. The other requesting agents were bound to be disappointed, and had probably requested by accident, and were probably going to reject me any day in a not-so-nice fashion, because they had no reason to care about hurting my feelings.

Here’s the thing about querying, guys. Or letting anyone see your work. You swear you’re going to be cool, you’re not going to obsess, you’re not going to let it get to you. You read all the stories of people freaking out, and vow, that will not be me. But once in the query trenches, remembering that is hard. Even if you are Facebook friends with your top choice agent and have a referral from one of her clients. Once someone is reading the story you poured your soul into, waiting to hear what they think is painful. And the doubt and fear can be crippling. Even when you know it is you psyching yourself out. You become your own worst enemy. Or at least I did.

Then, five weeks after sending her the manuscript, I got an email. It was from Holly and it was long. I was simultaneously excited and disappointed. Long meant she cared. But long also meant it did not just say, “Can I call?”

Turned out, she liked the fantasy. Very much. But she didn’t think it was quite to a place where she could sell it. She had a lot of suggestions for how to make it better, all of which I absolutely agreed with. They were the kind of suggestions that seemed so obvious in retrospect, like why had I ever considered writing my story any other way? That was the moment I became absolutely certain that she Got Me. She’d seen the story I had wanted to write underneath the story that I’d actually written.

So I contacted the other requesting agents, let them know I was revising and asked if they’d like to see it when I was done. They did. Then I plunged into the revision cave to tackle her notes.

It was a ton of work, but the story came out so much better for it. I sent it to critique partners. They gave me feedback, and I revised to their notes, sending them revised scenes pasted into emails with subjects like, “I AM SO SORRY” and “I AM TRYING A NEW THING, PLEASE TELL ME IF IT SUCKS” and “I’M NOT SO GOOD AT THIS.”

I’m not really sure why any of them are still talking to me.

Finally, after many weeks of intense revision, it was finished. I sent it back to her and the other requesting agents at the beginning of June. A week before she went on maternity leave.

Disclaimer: I totally knew she was going on maternity leave. It was in no way a secret. I actually knew she was going on maternity leave before I queried her the first time. But still, it wasn’t easy to send off my revision knowing she was about to step away for three months and then return to work three months behind. That was a lot of waiting. And I suck at waiting.

The other agents with my full wound up passing, for a variety of reasons. I hadn’t queried many agents, and I could always query wider, but I wanted her. I actually felt relieved by a couple of the other agents’ passes, because I’d come to realize that Holly was my top, and only pick. Her authors love her. She does amazing things for their careers. Her sales record is spectacular. Her list includes many of my favorite books. And I knew, from talking to her authors and keeping up with her on social media, that she would get me. She would be My People.

So I didn’t send any more queries. I waited it out. I got really good at waiting. I got so good, in fact, that I started to dread what would happen when she finally returned to work and I did hear back. I liked limbo. Limbo was comfy. Limbo wasn’t rejection.

But at the same time, I didn’t want to be waiting forever. I did, after all, want to get published someday. So I kept writing a different project that was 180-degrees different from the fantasy — a thriller about a teenage superhero. One of the biggest assets to being unpublished and unagented is freedom. I could write whatever I wanted. Why not something different? So I played with my superhero thriller, which was oodles of fun plus it kept me sane.

One million years Three months later, Holly returned to work from maternity leave. About six weeks after that, in October of 2013, I got an email from her about my fantasy revision.

It was a no.

It was a kind no. An encouraging no. But still a no. “You’re terrific and there is something really special to this story,” she said, but she didn’t think she could sell it. She then said a lot of lovely things about me and my skills as a writer, and closed her email with a heartfelt request to see whatever I did next.

Then I did Another Wrong Thing. Another Thing That Querying Writers Should Not Do.

I responded to her rejection.

(Don’t respond to rejections, people.)

I responded and laid my cards out on the table. I told her she was my first choice, and whatever I wrote next would be written with the goal of nabbing her. (I may not have actually used the word “nab.” At least, I hope I didn’t.) And then I did another thing you shouldn’t do, and pitched my totally-not-even-drafted WIP with a query I wrote on the fly in five minutes, asking not if she wanted to see the manuscript, but if the project itself sounded like something she might like if I could make it good. Because if she didn’t want to read what I was writing, I was actually prepared to start a totally new project that would be more to her taste.

Yes. This is how sure I was.

(Don’t pitch books you haven’t finished writing, people.)

Somehow, yet again, she did not respond to me like I was suffering from The Crazy, but instead emailed right away saying that my new story sounded awesome and that she’d love to read it when it was ready.


This is the point where two things happened.

1) I started doing things right.

2) My book broke.

This time, I actually plotted my book. I made beat sheets. (Like, a thousand of them. And followed none of them. But that’s a post for another day.) I had made some excellent friends in my local writing community, and I brainstormed with them and had them read for me and attended a writing conference and writing retreats. I started seriously critiquing for friends and having them seriously critique for me, and I learned how to apply the critiques I was giving others to my own manuscript. I immersed myself in the publishing world. I did my research. I attended as many book events as I possibly could. I was serious, yo.

I also couldn’t finish this book for the life of me. I had to toss it out completely and start over. Several times. And it still wasn’t right. I finished it through gritted teeth, knowing something was wrong, but unsure what it was. I gave it to some trusted beta readers. Their feedback helped me realize I needed to yank out an entire subplot, and after doing that, I discovered a bunch of other stuff that didn’t work and had to be rewritten. When all was said and done, nearly ten months had passed since Holly passed on my fantasy, and I’d thrown out over 150K words. But I finally had a book that I thought might — might — be Good Enough.

Which was…terrifying. The voices in my head never stopped whispering that if I didn’t knock this book out of the park, I’d probably reached the end of my chances with Holly. (I’m not sure why I just decided this, but once the thought was in my head, there was no dislodging it.)

But I sent it to a new wave of readers, and all of them agreed, this book was ready to query.

I carefully crafted my query, this time (thankfully) spending more than five minutes on it. This time, I only planned to send it to one person. Two of my critiquers for this book were Holly clients (Myra again, along with the incomparable MG Buehrlen), and they both sent her heads-up emails telling her they’d read for me and thought this book was The One.

In mid-July of 2014, I pressed send. I included a note in my query that she was getting an exclusive, which is another thing you’re Not Supposed To Do, but I think we’ve established by now that I am terrible at Doing Things Correctly. Then I immediately texted a handful of friends something along the lines of “I JUST HIT SEND WHAT IS THIS MADNESS WHAT IF SHE HATES IT WHAT IF I FAIL.”

Forty-five minutes later, Holly requested the full manuscript. Always a good sign.

MG and Myra freaked out. My critique partners freaked out. My writer friends freaked out.

But then six weeks passed without a peep. I twitter stalked like a champ (can one be a champ at Twitter stalking? should one be a champ at Twitter stalking?), even though Holly basically never tweets about individual submissions, because what if she did for meeeeeeeeee? I texted Myra and MG and asked them to please use their telepathic powers to read her mind and tell me where she was in my book. (Spoiler alert: They don’t have telepathic powers and I was, once again, The Crazy.)

The Crazy came in waves. Some days would be just normal days. Other days I’d wake up at 4 a.m., certain that today’s the day, even though I had no reason to believe that. Sometimes friends would ask me how I was doing, and I’d say fine. Other times, they got ALL CAPS RANTS ABOUT MY OBVIOUS SHORTCOMINGS AS BOTH A WRITER AND A HUMAN.

Querying is so weird, guys. Even (maybe especially?) when you’re only querying one person.

Then, on my birthday, I went to C.J. Redwine‘s launch party for Deliverance. And a few minutes after I got there, guess who sat a few seats down and waved to me?

Oh yeah. Holly, who lives in California, was in Nashville visiting her family. And C.J. is her client. So of course she’d be at her launch. Duh.

I even knew she was going to be in town, because we are Facebook Friends after all, but somehow I had not connected those dots. A+ detective work, Lauren.

After C.J.’s launch (which was lovely, and if you haven’t read her Defiance trilogy yet, you should), several of us, including Holly, stayed and chatted a while about a variety of things. For once, I decided, I was going to do things the right way and not bring up that she still had my manuscript. Because imagine with me, if you will, the Epic Awkwardness of bringing up my book if she was trying to think of a nice way to reject it? Or a not-so-nice way? And then had to do it to my face?

No thank you.

But. BUT. When I was getting to ready to leave, Holly turned to me, fresh off of recommending a book to someone else. “Speaking of fantastic books,” she said, “I just started yours on the plane here and I am LOVING IT.”

And then I fainted while somehow remaining upright and conscious and engaged in conversation. I think she said more nice things about my book. I think it involved scaring other passengers. I don’t know. I was having an out-of-body experience. But I said something coherent-ish (I think?) and then I really did have to go because it was my birthday and I’d been promised cake.

I might have freaked out a little. Or a lot. I don’t know.

AND THEN – two more weeks passed. And I didn’t know what to think. If an agent’s started reading your book and told you they’re loving it, you’re supposed to hear back RIGHT AWAY, right? That’s what the success stories say in all the “How I Got My Agent” posts I’d been reading (you ever notice how most success stories are like, “AND THEN I HEARD BACK THE NEXT DAY,” and even though they say that’s not the norm, it seems like it kind of is? Well I am here to tell you: I did not hear back the next day).

I began to dread her response, the same way I’d dreaded her coming back from maternity leave. If she hadn’t gobbled up my story, that meant it was boring, right? A story you love shouldn’t take two weeks to finish. It sucked. sucked. Any day she was going to email me to tell me that maybe I should consider pottery, or window cleaning, as a better career option. I became convinced that she was merely attempting to craft the gentlest rejection letter she could, and that really not knowing was good, because I didn’t want to read another gentle rejection.

I should mention that all my friends told me I was crazy, and Myra and MG continually stressed how busy Holly was and reminded me that submissions have to come after client work, and did I mention Holly has a lot of clients and some of them are NYT bestselling authors and it’s not like she has a shortage of work? But even though, logically, I knew they were right, there’s a weird dichotomy when you’re waiting for someone to pass judgment on your work. I knew that if it was a no, she’d just tell me no. She wouldn’t sit on it forever. That didn’t make sense.

But what if she did?

Anyway. I actually wound up pushing the waiting to the back of my mind, because I had something else to focus on. The SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference. I love this event, it takes place ten minutes from my house, it’s organized by some of my dearest friends, and it is one of the most edifying parts of my year. This year the conference was September 12-14, and the whole week before was basically one big countdown to the conference. I even stopped worrying about my manuscript. That’s how excited I was.

On Friday afternoon, I checked into the conference hotel with my critique partner, Sarah (who has read everything I’ve ever written, even the super-crappy first drafts that aren’t fit to line a hamster cage, a feat for which she deserves knighthood or possibly even sainthood), and her mother. We dropped our suitcases in our room and prepared to go downstairs and mingle.

Before we left the room, my phone rang. I don’t know anyone in L.A., I thought as I picked up.

“Hi, Lauren, this is Holly Root. Do you have a minute?”

I might have hit Sarah in the back so hard it scared her. And then I realized I couldn’t actually say anything so I mouthed IT’S HOLLY like I was trying to communicate with a lip reader in Djibouti while responding in my calmest tone, “Of course I have a minute.”

“Do you have a minute for me to tell you that I loved your book and think I can sell it?”

I definitely had that minute.

After talking briefly about my superhero book, she said, “So this is the part where I woo you. How should I go about the wooing?”

“It’s going to be really easy,” I said. And it was. We talked about revisions, and once again, I agreed with her on every point. We talked about how she does business. We talked about my other WIPs. We talked about the fact that I unpack in hotels, because I am weird. I’m sure we talked about other things too, but I was on a cloud somewhere and can’t tell you what they were. At the end of the call, she offered to give me a few days to consider, but I told her I didn’t need them. I’d had a lot of days and months to consider. I was good on the considering front. We got off the phone, she sent me the agreement, and bam. Agented.

One of the best parts of this entire year-and-a-half long process was that she called at the exact right time for me to be able to walk downstairs and tell nearly all of my best writing friends the news in person. And let me tell you, my husband was overjoyed, my mother screamed, but no one understands this particular thrill like writer friends. There were many hugs and much screaming that night.

So basically, if you are querying and can get your dream agent to call and offer to represent you ten minutes before you’re about to go spend a weekend with most of your closest friends at a writing conference, DO THAT. It’s pretty great.

My favorite reaction was my friend David, who congratulated me, gave me a hug, then promptly threw his wadded-up napkin in my half-full wine glass.


“It’s a momentous occasion! I wanted to do something you’d always remember.”

Oh I’ll remember, all right.

I honestly think my friends were more excited than I was, because while I’d been holding my emotions back from the process (I’d been plenty neurotic, but I’d never allowed myself to be more than cautiously hopeful, because if you don’t hope, you can’t be crushed), they’d always believed in me. This is why it’s so important to have community. Writing can be lonely and full of self-doubt. I cannot stress enough how valuable it’s been to me to be surrounded by people who know the process and the struggles, but never falter in their faith that I can do this. I expect my emotions to crank up to eleven eventually. It’ll sink in soon. But until then, they’ll carry the giddy for me.

Also, I was asked at least a dozen times if I remembered to tell my husband. I told my husband first, people. We are not savages.

Signing the Agency Agreement. Husband is behind camera, being TOTALLY PRESENT AND INFORMED.

The conference was amazing (of course), and while I wasn’t ready to officially “announce” publicly yet (my overloaded brain simply could not handle telling the world my news and doing a writing conference on the same weekend), I had the rather surreal experience of being able to answer “yes” on the few occasions when one of the faculty asked me if I was agented yet.

How weird is that?

So there you have it, folks. The long, meandering tale of how I got my dream agent. If you made it through the whole thing, congrats. May your admirable perseverance serve you well in life.

Thanks for celebrating with me, friends. I’m so beyond thrilled to be an official part of Team Root, and can’t wait to see what adventures the future holds.

In which I apologize for forgetting to blog. Again.

I’m in serious need of a Time Turner, people. Yet again, time has passed and I have not posted a blessed thing. And I’ve read so many lovely books I want to recommend to you. And I shall. But not today. Probably tomorrow. Be excited.

I’ve actually been spending most of my spare minutes (the ones not tied up in half-marathon training and reading and — let’s be honest — binge-watching Downton Abbey and Breaking Bad) furiously working on my second manuscript, trying to get it ready in time for the SCBWI Midsouth Fall Conference, which was held this past weekend here in Nashville. A whole weekend spent with amazing friends and listening to amazing talks by amazing agents and editors and authors and having amazing ideas and in general basking in amazing amazingness.

Midsouthers LtR: Me, David Arnold, Ashley Schwartau, CJ Schooler, Courtney Stevens, Erica Rodgers, Sarah Brown.
I love these people so much. Remember their names. One day, their books (and albums!) will be on your shelves.

I sang songs. I met wonderful people. I hugged necks. I cheered for the accomplishments of my talented friends. I stayed up too late, woke up too early, and subsisted mainly on coffee. I was validated that my book concept does not, in fact, suck. I filled my brain with the (nearly overwhelming) wisdom being doled out by the awesome faculty.

And I decided to scrap my entire book (who needed those 200-plus pages anyway, right?) and start over.

So that’s where I am, back at square one, except it’s not square one because I have such a better understanding of the story I’m trying to tell now. I’m finally excited about it again, which is good. Writing these past couple months has just been me, angrily punching out words on my keyboard, muttering at the words on my screen, I hate you.

No words wasted. The wrong ones had to come out to get to the right ones. Yes, I wish there weren’t over fifty-one-thousand wrong words needed to find the story, but oh well. It could’ve been worse. I could’ve reached the end of the book and then thrown it out. I could’ve written the wrong book twice. (Who knows, maybe I will.) So put in that perspective, 51K into the trashcan isn’t a bad deal.

So anyway, that’s what I’ve been doing, and what I shall be doing. But in the meantime, I am still reading (always reading) and I genuinely do want to find that balance again of working in time to recommend the books I’ve enjoyed to you. So bear with me, friends. I’m not awesome at this whole time management thing, but there are lots of splendid stories sitting on bookstore and library shelves right now, and I want to tell you about them.

Speaking of which, tomorrow I have every intention of telling you about VICIOUS, the first adult book by V.E. Schwab. It’s about supervillains and scheming and it is brilliant. Prepare for some gushing.

And if you come here tomorrow and there’s no review up, I give you permission to get on Twitter and slap me with a fish.