Dear 2012, You’re Not So Shabby: My Year in Review

As fun as it is to write these year in review posts, it’s even more fun to read the one from the year before. I can’t believe that it was only last year, in 2011, that I got my very first publishing credit (a short story in a local magazine)! Wow, did 2012 certainly bring some changes!

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Honestly, when I first started writing this post, I didn’t think I had done much worth celebrating over. (Besides the book I finished, which is plenty!) For the past few months I’ve been consumed with stress and some personal tragedies that has kind of set a dark cloud over my memories. Because the year is ending a little darkly, it cast a shadow on the rest of the year. I’m glad I kept up with this blog, though, so I could backtrack and remind myself that good stuff did actually happen. Really good stuff:

In the past twelve months I bought my own condo, got a blog-to-book deal, researched and wrote said book and submitted it to the publisher, won a blue-ribbon at the Grange Fair for a pie (a pie I baked!!), wrote a guest post for Ploughshares about the Philadelphia literary scene, had a story published in an anthology, launched the So, You Want to Work in Publishing guest blog series, met Kristi Yamaguchi, S. E. Hinton, and J. K. Rowling, went to BookExpo America for the first time, did some traveling (Lake Norman, North Carolina; Sandy Hook, Atlantic City, Wildwood, and Cape May, NJ; historic New Castle, Delaware), read 63 books (and counting), started two new WIP novels, and found a few able, willing, and awesome critique partners to swap chapters with. I can’t wait to start attacking those fiction manuscripts, with the guidance of my critique partners, and whipping those stories into shape. It looks like 2013 is going to be a lot of work, and I can’t wait to dive in.

Not only that, but the blog following has swelled to 283 of you lovely regular readers (there were 32 of you at this time last year, so here’s to new friends!). You’ve stuck with me even though I burrowed for months upon months–and through your own blogs gave me some great posts to enjoy and procrastinate my own writing with–so cheers to you! If you feel like joining in celebrating with me, feel free to share your own accomplishments in the comments below. I know a lot of you are working on books, queries, agent submissions…how is that going for you? I love to share in your excitement, so update me!

Here’s wishing that 2013 is even better than the last, for all of us.

The Feeling of a 23rd Birthday

I had a birthday this week. I didn’t feel older, really, the way I felt so much older the day I turned twenty-one (all those things I could do that I couldn’t do the day before!) but when the day’s activities were done, I got the strange aftertaste of under-accomplishment. It wasn’t the birthday blues, but really just a tiny little twinge of a feeling, hardly worth mentioning. But I thought I’d post about it in case any of you also have had/are having similar anxiety, just to let you know you’re not alone.

In the writing industry–if not in our society at large–the successes of the young are celebrated all the more for how much they’ve done in so little time and how much promise their projected and lengthy career offers. Think of all those Thirty Under Thirty anthologies and articles and lists that annually pop up in the NYT and literary journals. The panic attacks that the eve of a writer’s thirtieth birthday must induce are probably of epidemic proportions. As authors–good authors–get younger and younger, these accomplishments and publications are becoming less extraordinary and more of a measurement against which to gauge our own, more humble pace.

If they can write a book, get an agent, and get published with one of the big six at [fill in the blank: twenty-one, nineteen, eighteen], why can’t I? More importantly, why haven’t I done as much yet?

There’s no shortage of examples against whom we can compare ourselves and always, always, come up short: Veronica Roth (twenty-three years old and with two fabulous YA NYT bestsellers to her name), Alice Ozma (twenty-three-year-old who published a lovely little memoir about reading with her father a few months after graduating from college), Kara Taylor (twenty-two with a book on the way), Cecelia Ahern (published her debut novel, P.S. I Love You at twenty-one), S. E. Hinton (started writing The Outsiders at fifteen and was published by eighteen). The list could go on and on.

It’s not the public recognition of their success but their actual ability to have gotten so much done that amazes me. In the back of my mind I can’t help wondering how individuals my age and younger have managed to set aside enough time to write something good enough, an entire 50,000+ sequence of words, that they’re proud enough to share with the world. Where did they find the time–in-between writing forty-page research papers, building a resume that will get them a job that will pay the car insurance every month, and half-starting ten other failed novel attempts; in-between heartbreaks, long-distance relationships with childhood friends, and learning how to cook a (small) variety of edible food–to rewrite the same book six times over?

I feel like I’m always scrambling for enough time to get everything else done and though my manuscripts aren’t on the back burner, they certainly won’t be in a polished shape of completion any time soon. I do actually have time to write, but just enough that added up I could probably finish one book every five years or so, which is nowhere close to this ridiculous one-year turn around rate so many other authors can adhere to. If I’m realistic about it, I might be lucky enough to get a book published before I’m thirty. Maybe.

At this point, all I can do is write more and hope that the terrible dialogue I’m currently writing and the mangled plot I’m constructing will be ironed out someday. That someday after that I can write faster and write better and that it will take less rewrites to get the same level of quality I’m struggling so hard to accomplish now.

I just have to keep reminding myself that it will be just as amazing and I’ll feel equally pleased if I published a novel at twenty-three or thirty-three. Sooner or later, I’ll still get that sweet feeling of accomplishment.

So let’s agree that we’ll all get our butts in the chair, put our heads down, and write like the wind for the next couple of years, accomplishing what we accomplish with no regrets. Let’s not talk about this tiny birthday fear again until we’re all twenty-nine. We’ll meet back here and laugh at how young we were and how ridiculous those thirty-under-thirty lists are anyway.

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Even S. E. Hinton Gets Writer’s Block

Even though I don’t live in NYC, I recently discovered that a great lineup of authors make a stop in the nearby Princeton area before traveling up to the city. Last Tuesday, I checked out the list of authors events at the Princeton Barnes and Noble just in time to find out that S. E. Hinton, author of The Outsiders and That Was Then . . . This Is Now, among other popular young adult books, was making an appearance that night!

Before you ask, she is not writing a sequel to The Outsiders. A lot of people hinted, asked, and even pleaded that she answer their burning questions by writing a sequel, but she was very clear: no and never. In fact, she said that after her career of young adult books and even a few children’s picture books, she’s thinking about writing her next book for adults. “Adults are the characters I’m most interested in now,” she said, with a shrug.

My favorite thing that S. E. Hinton shared with the crowd was about how she has struggled with writer’s block in the past. “A lot of people say writer’s block doesn’t exist. But it does.” She wrote The Outsiders when she was a junior in high school (I know. Pause, gasp, reread that sentence, feel the flinch of incompetence, move on) and had it published as a freshman in college. It was such a huge success–it won gobs of awards and was a bestseller (it impacted our culture so much. Even if you haven’t read it, you know the names “Ponyboy” and “Sodapop,” right?)–that the idea of writing her second book was incredibly daunting. Annie has touched on the fear of the second book on her own blog recently; S. E. Hinton was not just blocked, she was completely petrified by the idea of writing a second novel that might not live up to everyone’s expectations.

Her boyfriend (now husband), sick of her whining and depression, ordered her to write two pages a day. “Writing two pages a day never killed anybody,” was his reasoning. S. E. Hinton’s response to that? “Spoken like a true non-writer!”

He threatened that unless she filled her daily quota, when he came to pick her up for their date each night, he would refuse to take her out. Thus motivated, she wrote her second book, Rumble Fish, for the sake of preserving her social/dating life!

I’m thinking about asking my boyfriend to blackmail me in a similar manner. It might help me be more productive!

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According to S. E. Hinton, there’s no one way to read a book. Since it’s publication in 1967, numerous graduate students have written their theses on The Outsiders. Some of them interpreted the book from a religious angle and wrote about all the religious symbolism the book contained. “I didn’t put any of those thing in consciously,” S. E. Hinton admitted, “but obviously they’re there. When interpreting a book, writer’s intent should be about the third most important thing; definitely not the first. Writer’s don’t know what they’re doing. We don’t know what our books are about until you tell us!”

My former English major self, who secretly enjoys psychoanalyzing short stories, did a  little happy dance when she gave permission to read anyway I like. Authors can often get really hostile when debating the “meaning” in their writing, and sometimes I feel like the enemy for enjoying the unintentional symbolism in literature.

Another fun fact? The Outsiders is the only movie where, in response to readers’ pleas, the director added all the deleted scenes to offer The Outsiders: The Complete Novel to make it more faithful to the book. It drives me crazy when movies based upon books leave out what are, in my opinion, critical scenes. I wish all directors would go back and do that for us!

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S. E. Hinton reminded me, strikingly, of a Southern history professor I had in college and whom I was extremely fond of. My professor’s were entertaining just because she was standing in the front of the room. This particular moment at the author event was so reminiscent of those classes:

Random English Teacher in the Crowd: Your book meant so much to me. It was the best book I’ve ever read.

S. E. Hinton: Well, bless your eyes!

Random English Teacher in the Crowd: [after some more comments, proceeds to cry] And your book makes me cry every time I read it . . .

S. E. Hinton: I didn’t mean for that to happen. Curse your eyes!

Priceless.