Tag Archives: Expecting Happiness

Sunday Scatterbrain: Networking & Writing

This week has been an interesting exercise in connection making. Where I have not succeeded in getting my book out the door, I have widened my social circle to include more writers and bloggers. First, I reconnected with a childhood friend who quit his job as a lawyer to restructure his time to better allow himself to write fiction. Now he works in tech from home and writes nonstop. Talking shop with him was one of the highlights of my week– so nice to connect with another writer.

Then, last night at a work party, I talked with a writer who is working to publish his memoir about investigative journalism. His take on the publishing world and the advantages of self-publishing were very interesting. I left the conversation feeling encouraged to find a writing group to push myself to the next level.

On top of this, I boosted my online networking efforts to prepare for those pesky query letters. I reached back out to my personal Facebook community to bump up my author page likes, and then, thanks to a fellow blogger on WordPress, I discovered Sacramento Bloggers. Major score! Turns out there are a lot of women with similar interests blogging in the area. Not only has this bumped up my Facebook likes a little further, but I’m also very excited to follow their blogs and make some more connections.

Remember my little attempt at a girls’ blogging club this summer? Sacramento Bloggers has me beat. Very excited to participate!

The only downside, all of this networking stuff has eaten up some of my precious writing time for the week, leaving me feeling a bit scatterbrained as I attempt to focus. So, time to revisit the dreaded action list:

1. Enter remaining changes for last few chapters from my lovely proof-reader.

2. Get my rough query letter ready for individual agents. Submit to all 31 on my list. This was meant to be my July activity, but now it looks like my October fun. Thankfully my fall break is coming up, so hoping to get this done sometime between October 4-14.

3. Pick what’s next! I want to give myself a few weeks for this, so my goal is to be ready to join the Nanowrimo crew by 11/1 with my next story idea. I have a few in the works, just need to pick. More on that to come, I’m sure. This time, instead of trying to get 50k words out by 11/30, my goal is just to write well, with focus, for the entire month and see what happens.

Now all I need to do is stop multi-tasking and focus…

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Getting There on My Own Time

I’m not the fastest thinker in the world. I need time to cook my thoughts, even if sometimes it takes weeks, or months, or years to find my answers. There is no hurrying the process.

Writing my pitch for my query letter has been like this. I chip away, a little at a time, gradually creating a more coherent, enticing product. Now and then, I impatiently check the oven to see if it is done. Still not there, but a little closer, maybe edible even. Small victories and trust that if I continue to follow the steps in the recipe, it will be ready soon enough.

For you seasoned query writers, a question: Do you write the synopsis before sending out your queries or wait to receive a request for one? Yes, that’s the impatient part of me asking. I fully expect the answer I don’t want to hear, but that’s okay, maybe I need it for motivation.

This week’s extracurricular activity: Query writing, oh the fun!

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D-O-N-E (For Now)

Oh man, if I could count the number of times I’ve said I was done with my book in the past 6 months, well, I guess I would feel like a liar. But, seriously, this time I mean it!

Six full times through on my own, seven readers, eight if you include myself. 69,536 words. 184 single spaced pages. D-O-N-E.

I’m not allowing myself to read it again right now.  I’m of the opinion I could make subtle changes to my words for centuries. I’m ready to ship this bad boy out and get started on something fresh, something new.

So, in the spirit of publicly decreed focus, here is my remaining to-do list:

1. Format the sucker. You know, double spaced, indents, all that fun crap I should have been doing from day one of Nanowrimo.  You live, you learn.

2. Write my generic query letter to be tweaked per agent. Oh yeah, and I guess write a synopsis too.

3. Enter my last line edits from my two superstar remaining readers.

4. Send the beast out, (starting with the 31 agents I compiled last May).

5. Wait, hope, wait, start something new.

There you have it, a plan, a little excitement, a little trepidation, a little self-doubt, a little self-congratulations. A little of everything really.

I know in reality, if it’s ever going to be read by a larger audience, it’s not done, it will have more editing, more rewriting as it moves through the various states of either traditional or self-publishing. But at least for today, it’s D-O-N-E.

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Query Secrets: Knowing Your Characters at the End of Your Book

In fourth and fifth grade, when we want to add on to something someone else has already said, we begin with sentence starters like, “I’d like to piggyback off what so-and-so said,” or “I concur with so-and-so because…”  In the same spirit of properly acknowledging other people’s thoughts, today I would like to piggyback off what Descent Into Slushland shared recently about the importance of knowing your characters when writing your query.

Basically, he suggests that writing a good query hinges on knowing your characters instead of attempting to outline the plot.  He has some great points and examples, so instead of trying to recapture his ideas, I recommend clicking the link above and reading his post yourself. Interestingly, his points inspired me to make a list of the characteristics of my two main characters, Kristen and Jake.  We all think we know our characters, but sometimes we need check-ins to keep ourselves honest, or at least I do.

What I discovered was actually amazing.  I found a small hole in my book that I was able to fill with an additional short chapter, adding another 1,000 words to my word count in the process and helping to create a fuller understanding of my characters and their relationship with each other. Sure, I outlined my characters before I began my book, but they changed through my writing, creating slightly different people than the ones I started with.  Instead of tweaking those original descriptions, I just kept my evolving ideas of who they were in my head, which ended up leaving a gap between who I thought they were and who I wrote they were.

I can tell my query is going to be a lot stronger as a result of this reflection too, although I still refuse to give it my full energy until I finish my final read of my book, (here is my pitch as it stands now).  I guess what Descent into Slushland helped me realize is that written check-ins with your characters throughout your writing are important, not just in the beginning or middle.  Of all the advice I have read on query writing, this has been most useful for the way my own brain works. Thanks Descent!

I wanted to share how informal and quick these check-ins can be. Instead of agonizing over finding beautiful words or painting an entire picture, I just typed in a stream-of-consciousness, errors and all.  What I discovered was a small hole in my book and a good foundation on which to base my query.

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Big Girl Writing Advice Needed: The End, Again.

Sitting in the little cramped attic bedroom of our ocean house, watching out over the waves from a slanted window, I’ve finished my book, again.  When I say finished, I mean I have read it all the way through, adding to it here and there, helping it grow by another 8,000 words, better developing characters, trimming superfluous passages, you get the picture.  It now stands proudly at 67,350 words, hopefully enough to be a short novel, (although, with any luck, it might grow some more as I revisit my rewrites to make sure everything flows).

So, here is my big girl writing question– do I need to reread the entire thing again or just all the highlighted sections where I made changes or added words?

I know everyone has different writing styles, but it really helps to hear what others do as I work my way through the completion of my first book, (which is all still new territory for me).  I really want it to be the best work I’m capable of in this moment, but I also dread rereading the whole darn thing again for what would be the fourth time, imagining myself stuck in reshaping and reshaping for eternity.


Please and thanks.

No real time for mermaids, or my less-than-stellar drawings of them, until Expecting Happiness is finished.

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Squeezing Every Second Out of Summer

This is my last week of summer vacation at home.  Five days, really.  Saturday is off to the Bay, then Kauai, the Oregon coast, teacher retreat and back to work!  Talk about a whirlwind!

No complaints out of me, truly.  I will be sad to see my summer go, but I also remember the years spent with three weeks vacation, total.  Oh, what I would have given for these glorious seven weeks of summer then.  Now, I just feel lucky.

Even so, time is quickening.  The seconds seem to matter more than in those first couple weeks. Here is what I hope to squeeze out of these last days of summer at home:

1.  I am reading up a storm.  Finished bird by bird and The Snow Child.  Started Sarah’s Key this weekend, already 2/3’s through.

  • bird by bird, Anne Lamott:  I sound like a broken record, but this is my favorite book on writing, to date.  Read it.
  • The Snow Child, Eowyn Ivey:  Based on an old fairy-tale, couple in Alaskan wilderness makes a child out of snow, dark story of magical realism unfolds.  Slow but good read.
  • Sarah’s Key, Tatiana De Rosnay:  Modern-day journalist uncovers a tragic story of loss from the perspective of a child during the Holocaust.  Amazingly quick and engaging read.

All the books that remain on my overly-ambitious summer reading list.  Hope to make it through a few more!

2.  Yoga, anyone?  In addition to squeezing in those last few 90 minute daytime classes that are impossible during the school year, I’m also getting ready for yoga on the road, thanks in large part to this awesome post on yoga while traveling.  My new travel yoga mat arrived this morning.  It is perfect for keeping my practice going, and will also double as a great mat cover for my regular hot yoga classes.

This super thin travel mat will fit easily in my carry-on and make yoga on the beach much more enjoyable!

3.  I am writing, writing, writing.  Suddenly, 30 minutes here and 30 minutes there are actually getting me somewhere.  I refuse to put an end date on Expecting Happiness, but it is slowly drawing to a close and feeling a lot stronger thanks to the amazing insight of my readers and all that time to think on my road trip.  I am hard on myself, it is definitely a first work, but I am also incredibly proud that I’m sticking with it to arrive at a place I feel comfortable.  I am also really excited about what comes next.  I have a young adult book I want to write for my students (and share with them throughout the year), and a more brooding adult piece that will hit on the topic of human trafficking in a different light than what I have come across.  I’m very excited!

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Writing Inspiration from Google Maps

Google Maps Street View is one of my favorite tools as a writer.  When I set out to write Expecting Happiness, I first asked myself what kind of book I was in the mood to read.  My answer, something involving a travel adventure, so I set to work creating characters that wanted to leave behind their boring lives and hit the open road, (real stretch of the imagination, right?).  Of course, I ended up taking them places I had been before, because writing about places I had never actually seen felt daunting.

However, I quickly realized that my fuzzy memories left holes in the pictures of these destinations, and the characters’ personalities also started to take them places within these cities that I never visited.  My solution?  Google Maps Street View.  Now, I do not pretend to be the first writer with this clever idea, but it is one of my favorite tricks to help me understand the layout of a city and visualize its scenery.  If you haven’t checked it out before, you should give it a shot.  You never know what sort of inspiration you’ll find.

My male protagonist wanted to run in Paris, but what would he see?  What parks on the list of places to jog in Paris might he visit?

I needed a place for my female protagonist’s cousin to live in Nuremberg.  What do the suburbs a couple of stops past the Hitler rally grounds look like?

Hmm, I wonder if I could find my dorm room while studying abroad in Burgos, Spain… Okay, this trick also gets me sidetracked.

Alright, if my female protagonist wanted to walk to a school in the Sarrià-St. Gervasi neighborhood of Barcelona, what would she see along the way?

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The Joys of Writing in Circles

Sitting in the car for nearly 24 hours over the past week left me with a lot of time to think.  Mostly, I thought about my writing, how far I have come, and how far I have left to go.  I’m sure that reading bird by bird along the way did not hurt.

I had a few epiphanies that I want to share because writing cements them in my mind.  The first is that I was writing too fast.  Nanowrimo was amazing in getting me into a disciplined practice of producing words quickly, but it also instilled this frenzied need to write for a deadline.  The more I pore over my work, add sections, listen to feedback, and rewrite, the more I realize that books emerge on their own time.  Instead of pushing myself to finish with a deadline, I’ve switched philosophies.  As long as I’m working everyday to make it better, I have no deadline.  I’d rather create something I’m proud to share with an audience than something I’m proud to have finished quickly.

Second, the ability to write well develops slowly.  I get impatient when things do not come easily.  I have always loved to write, but I never believed I was capable of writing a book.  It seemed too complicated, too hard.  Nanowrimo was amazing because it pushed me past those first few chapters that always left me stalled in the past.  Now that I know I can write a whole book, I have to refine my abilities, even if it means that sometimes I am writing in circles.  Acknowledging that learning to write well takes time is important because I am determined not to give up.  In the grand scheme of things, I am still a writing baby.  It will take time to grow into the writer I want to be, I need to stop pressuring myself to grow too quickly.

Third, I have to remember why I write.  I write because it’s fun, because I have this deep need inside myself to let all the words in my head escape.  For me, writing is like running or drinking coffee, it’s something that I wake up with the need to do each day.  When I wrote my book, I wrote it for me.  I asked myself what kind of book I would like to read and then lived inside the story as it unfolded.  It was amazingly fun.  Sometimes I forget this feeling when I start to pressure myself to get it right for other people to read.  That’s why I think it’s important that I continue to remind myself that I write because it’s part of me, because I derive enjoyment from it.  This is why I’m removing my internal deadlines.  Deadlines make it feel stressful, take away the joy.  At this point in my writing career, they’re just not necessary.

So, there you have it.  Writing thoughts from 24 hours in the car and reading bird by bird.  If you have not read bird by bird and you are a writer, I highly recommend it.

I’m realizing that my writing evolves on its own timetable, not mine.

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Drafts and drafts and drafts

As mentioned in newer posts, this is my evolving (or devolving, depending on the day) description of my novel.  It is a work-in-progress that will hopefully come together once my book is officially ready to submit.  If you have any helpful suggestions, I am always excited to listen.

Expecting Happiness
Kristen and Jake used to be like many other young married couples. Despite their love for one another, they somehow found themselves stuck in windowless cubes, trudging to meaningless jobs, grasping for purpose.  That is, until a failed pregnancy changed everything.

Acutely aware of their unhappiness, Kristen and Jake say “Fuck it all.”  They quit their jobs and sell their house to embark on separate journeys.  Instead of traveling together, they seek time apart, unwilling to compromise their visions of self-discovery.  While Jake, a lanky but attractive runner, heads across country by car, intent to live out his fantasy of solitude on the open road, Kristen, a self-conscious contrast of dark hair blue eyes, departs for Europe, searching for independence even as she inches her way closer to an old flame living in Paris.

New friendships, passions, and adventures abound along the way.  Torn between the allure of the unknown and their unrelenting longing for one another, each must ultimately decide which life holds the secret to greater happiness.

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Notebooks, Notebooks Everywhere!

I don’t keep a diary or a journal.  I do keep notebooks and notebooks full of lists, ideas, quotes, and little pieces of inspiration.  I recently read that both adults and children that keep gratitude journals are happier and healthier.  That’s what my notebooks are for me, little conscious reminders to live life and be happy.  I encourage some of my students to do the same thing and am planning to make a more concerted whole class effort next school year.

Interestingly, these notebooks helped to pull me out of my darkest moments and are now an integral part of my life.  At yoga last night, I realized that I need to start bringing a notebook to class so that I can jot down all of the ideas that come to me while I’m out living life.  Others might think I’m strange, but I swear by these little notes to myself.  They keep me creative, inspired, planned, and happy.  They help me shape my own reality.

My current rotation of notebooks.

I use my notebooks to collect quotes…

And brainstorm life choices. This was before quitting my old job, I like how I thought there was a magic answer.

Happy little inspiration scribbles…

Plans for the future, (Six Weeks is now Expecting Happiness)…

And, today’s list, plans to finish my book with help from my lovely readers.  Thanks ladies!

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Writing in Layers: How do you decide when you’re done?

Does anyone else feel like their writing evolves in layers?

Each time I reread my work, I add more and take more away, sculpting it into something new, something better.  I’m afraid I’ll never know when I’m done this way.

How do you decide when you’re done?  Set yourself deadlines?  Read a certain number of times?  Share with a set number of readers?  Stay as long as it remains enjoyable?

I thought I would be done in two weeks, but now that I’ve crawled back inside, I could probably live here a lot longer.

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The Illusive Twenty-Something Happiness

Damn you internet.

I’m trying to focus on writing but I got sucked into reading an article and then writing this blog simply by searching the correct way to write twenty somethings, (and, I still don’t have a freaking answer, looks like it could be twenty-somethings, twentysomethings, or twenty somethings, depending on who you ask!).

I guess that I’m already breaking one of my summer writing commandments by allowing myself to be distracted by the internet and social media instead of focusing on the task at hand.  Damn you again internet.

But, this was too good not to share:


Stumbled across this article about twenty somethings and happiness which cuts to the core of what I’m trying to write about in Expecting Happiness.  We are a generation obsessed with finding this magic key to life that may or may not exist.  Really, we’re probably no different than any other generation, we just happen to be the ones complaining right now.  Doesn’t every generation face the quintessential crisis of having to grow up and get a job?

Are we really that different for hoping we can change the work world into a more satisfying place?

I like that the article ended with a desire to bring our dogs to work.  My husband was pretty stoked when he found out he could bring Simon to his new office and we’ve envied other friends with this luxury for years.  Seems like we might be simpler to please than we pretend.  And, really, I can’t complain, Simon is pretty much always by my side as I write.

That’s why I’m convinced writers have it the best.  They can write from anywhere and achieve any of those desires mentioned in the article.  Now only to figure out how to get paid for doing it…

The only thing better than bringing your dog to work? Bringing you dog to work at the beach…

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