I'm Just As Surprised As You Are

This is the face of someone with NEWS.

I'm not sure where to start.

So I'll guide you to this link on my agent's blog. Why don't you read that and come back? I'll wait.

(Still waiting.)

(Still waiting.)

(Did you really read it?)


(Okay . . .)

Remember that publishing timeline I posted the other day? In particular, the part where I said, "THIS IS THE FUTURE AND, THEREFORE, SUBJECT TO CHANGE"? And then proceeded to explain my work schedule on Anna for the next two years until her publication?

Welcome to the future. It has changed.


As stated on my Publisher's Marketplace announcement (linked above on Super-Agent Kate's blog, which I trust you just read), my first novel will hit the shelves NEXT FALL. Not Summer/Fall 2011.

Fall 2010.




And . . . yeah. There are a few more newsy tidbits tucked into that same PM announcement. The most important:

(1) Anna has a new title.

(2) Second Novel's title has been revealed.

I've mentioned before that there was a good chance Anna's title would change during editing (most titles do), and indeed, it has. I think the overall reaction to the original — Anna and the English French American Boy Masterpiece — was "Cool" followed quickly by, "Wait . . . what?"

So now it's just Anna and the Boy Masterpiece.

I'm still happy with the title, and it still meets my goals. I won't share ALL of my reasoning behind it, but one should be quite obvious when you see Second Novel's title:

Lola and the Boy Next Door

Despite everything she's put me through, I'm VERY proud and excited about Lola. And, yes, the announcement says she's a "companion novel." This means that Anna and Lola have overlapping elements, but Lola isn't a sequel. They'll be able to be read independently of one another, though it'll be more fun if you've read Anna first.

(Of course — like everything else — that's all subject to change.)

But back to that whole being-published-a-year-early thing:

(1) Yes, it's rare. My publishing house had an opening in their Fall 2010 catalog for a book like mine, and my amazing editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel, made the push. I am lucky. Very, very lucky.

(2) No, I haven't known for long. Less than a week! It's all still new and shocking.

(3) Yes, suddenly, I have a LOT of work to do.

(4) Yes, I'm panicking. Did I mention I have a lot of work to do? Quite suddenly? And in a much, much shorter time frame?

(5) Yes, I can do it. That chai latte I had last night told me so.

And now for some tweaking on my Official List:


(1) It's a young adult novel.

(2) Hopefully it has some funny bits.

(3) There is kissing. Of course.

(4) Most of it takes place in Paris.

(5) There is an HBM.* (Well, more like an HBM plus.)

(6) It’s called Anna and the Boy Masterpiece.

(7) It's contemporary and realistic. In other words, no vampires or magic. Or magic vampires.

(8) It's set in a boarding school.

It wasn't (originally) intentional, but several important scenes occur on stairs. Though I shouldn't have been surprised when it happened, because the inspiration for the entire story came from a dream (ack, yes) in which I saw a beautiful boy sitting . . . on the steps of a semi-famous monument.

These steps. This monument.

(10) The main character's name is Anna Oliphant.

The Boy Masterpiece himself remains — for now — a secret. But a good one, I promise! And I don't mean a secret like he's a werewolf (see #7, above). He's a secret, because I'm in love with him, and I'm still greedy and protective.


(Not really, not anymore. But my claws are still gripping his arm, and I'm quietly hissing, "Miiiiiine.")

I think that's everything. My head is spinning, and I'm already editing, and all of those things I'd been putting off for another year — like a real website — have to be dealt with NOW. So if you don't see me around Blogville much for the next few months, I hope you'll forgive me next year.


*Hot British Man, for new blog readers


Answers! (Part Eight: MORE WRITING)

Today's Unrelated Supplement: Movies I want to see and links to their trailers. OF COURSE one is Tim Burton's Alice in Wonderland!

Time to dive back into my (growing) stack of questions.

This one is from Lynn:

How many novels did you write before Anna?


Well, that's not totally true.

I had a Brilliant Idea during my freshman year of college, and I started writing it my senior year. (The years in between, I wrote stuff for school. I was a creative writing major, so there was no shortage of Official Assignments that needed to be finished first.) Anyway, I worked on my Brilliant Idea for four-ish years — wrote thousands upon thousands of words, and spent goodness knows how much time plotting/dreaming about it — but I never finished a complete draft.

I just kept rewriting the same few chapters.

Er, not the best way to write a novel.

And then I hit a roadblock. Something much, much worse than my inability to move forward. My Brilliant Idea — the hook that would get me published! — was published by someone else. (This is what happens when you don't work hard enough. Someone else does. And that someone is the one who gets published.)

I nursed my heartbreak for a while, and then decided I needed a new novel, something very very different. I worked on this new novel — REALLY worked on it — for an entire summer, but then paused that autumn to write a short story. I was frustrated. It'd been years since I'd finished a story. I needed to prove to myself that I could still write something with a beginning, a middle, AND an end . . . even if it was only twelve pages long.

So I did it. I wrote a complete short story, revised it several times, sent it to one publication (yes, just one), and got rejected. Which was okay! Because now I had the knowledge that I could finish something and send it out into the world.

And I wrote Anna — my first full draft of a novel — the very next month.

I don't regret my years with Brilliant Idea. It was great practice, even though the work itself wasn't great. And . . . Brilliant Idea lives on! Brilliant Idea (unrecognizable apart from the setting and four character names) is my current work-in-progress, known here on this blog as Second Novel.

[I have shifty, crafty plans for the short story and the other abandoned novel, too.]

Where the Wild Things Are — More classic children's lit by one of my favorite directors, Spike Jonze. Plus, Catherine Keener.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus — Freaky and beautiful. Plus, Johnny Depp and Heath Ledger.

The Lovely Bones — I'll try anything with Peter Jackson's name on it. (But this adaptation does look good! Plus, Rachel Weisz and Stanley Tucci.)

Sherlock Holmes — 'Cause it looks all cool and stuff. Plus, Robert Downey Jr. and Mark Strong.

Fantastic Mr. Fox — I love Wes Anderson, and Roald Dahl was my favorite author as a child (and this, my second favorite book). I'm still a little unsure about this, but I'll definitely see it.

9 — The trailer makes me go, "Ooo!"

Katie asked:

Do you outline first? Did you know where the story
was going during NaNo? Or did you just start writing crazy stuff?

Crazy stuff. I just started writing crazy stuff.

I haaaaaaaaaaaaaate to outline! I feel like outlines box me in and keep me from thinking of newer, better ideas. I only go there in case of emergency, like if my story is truly tangled, and I have to determine where I went wrong. (I had to write one for Second Novel a few months ago. Not pretty.) But, having said that, I did have a vague idea of where I was headed when I wrote Anna's first draft during NaNo.

And by "vague idea," I mean I just wanted my characters to make out.

That was pretty much it. So I let the characters sit around and talk, and eventually they told me what the story was. Apart from the making out, that is. And then I rewrote the whole novel to include that newfangled "plot" thing. And then I rewrote it again. And then again and again and again.

But never with an outline.*

The Following Comedies Could Be Really, Really Great or Really, Really Not Great:

Mystery Team (trailer NSFW) — What would happen if a team of Encyclopedia Browns had to solve an adult case? Hopefully laughter. Maybe suckiness.

Youth in Revolt — Based on C. D. Payne's awesome YA novel, plus, Michael Cera being Michael Cera. Which I think is still a good thing.

Gentlemen Broncos — Sam Rockwell, Jemaine Clement, and a fantasy writer's convention? Sounds like a recipe for awesome. Probably.

Zombieland — The kind of role Woody Harrelson was born to play. In theory.

Hot Tub Time Machine — Hello, it's called Hot Tub Time Machine. I LOVE.

Begy asked:

how do you manage to overcome writer's block?

I'm sorry. You're going to hate this answer.

By writing.

I wish we could find the solutions to our problems in dreams or books or blogs, but so far, actual honest-to-goodness WORK is the only solution I know. Keep going. Keep moving forward. Keep writing.

Perhaps now you're saying, "But I can't move forward! I'm stuck! That's the whole problem!"

Ahhh. Okay. How are you stuck? What's the real problem?

Are you trapped in one scene? Bored/confused/frustrated with it?

Try skipping ahead and writing a different scene, something you've been looking forward to. There's no rule that says we have to write our scenes in order! A little distance from your problem is healthy. When you come back to it, your brain will be refreshed, and you'll have a better idea of why that scene wasn't working. And then you can fix it.

Are you having problems with the plot?

Time to brainstorm. Ask yourself questions, LOTS of questions. The brilliant Laini Taylor once told me to ask myself: "What do I want the reader to wonder? What do I want them to hope? To fear? From the beginning, I try to pose questions, secrets, mysteries that will hook the reader in and make them *wonder* — and then along the way I figure out how to give pieces of the answers in the most suspenseful/coolest way I can think of."

Are you having problems with the characters?

Again, time to brainstorm. Ask yourself questions, LOTS of questions. I like to know everything about my characters, things that the reader will never need to know, things that will never even make it into the novel! I ask myself about their families, their friends, their romantic history, their likes/dislikes, their schooling, their career/career aspirations, their health, their habits, their home, etc. The more you know about your characters, then the more real they become to you, then the more real they become to your reader.

Or are you bored/confused/frustrated with the WHOLE THING?

Every writer gets sick of their novel at some point. In fact, I'm sick of my novels waaaay more often than I'm in love with them. But again. Stick with it. Write it anyway, even when it sucks, even when you'd rather be getting cavities filled at the dentist.

Unless you really, really, really can't stand it anymore and you're going mad and you're about to do something drastic like rob a bank or slaughter a goat. Then you have my permission to work on something else for a while. But keep writing. And after a few weeks have passed, go back to your first project. AND FINISH IT.

And, Naturally, the Period Costume Dramas:

Dorian Gray — IT'S DORIAN GRAY! Plus, Ben Barnes and Colin Firth.

Bright Star — The story of John Keats and Fanny Brawne. There will be kissing.

I hope you're all having a wonderful week. Still more questions — some great ones! — coming soon.

What movies are YOU looking forward to?

*This doesn't mean I think outlines are bad for everyone. Just me. I've heard of (though strangely never met) many authors who outline successfully.


Two Life-Changing Announcements

I temporarily interrupt this Q & A session to bring you TWO IMPORTANT ANNOUNCEMENTS. These announcements are life-changing and, therefore, not to be taken lightly. I shall begin with the most important.


We share many of the same readers, so this news may be old hat to some of you, but if it's not, please allow me to fill you in on the incredible details:

Kiersten got a three-book deal.

With HarperTeen.

And it's being fast-tracked for next autumn!

I am so thrilled, excited, and overwhelmed for her. To not only get such an amazing deal, but to get it with her top choice publisher? Life doesn't get better than that. I've had the honor of reading her novel, Paranormalcy, and it ROCKS. If you read her blog, you already know she's hilarious. Well. Paranormalcy is even funnier, has a kick-butt heroine, and . . . two very, very hot boys.

(And you know how I feel about hot boys. And did I mention there are TWO of them?)

If you haven't had the chance to congratulate her yet, please click on the above link. Selling your first book is one of the happiest, most shocking, ecstasy-making moments of any writer's life. She worked hard for this.

I am so proud of you, Kiersten!

Now for my second life-changing announcement:


This is the face of someone whose dreams have just come true.

Last Friday, I got a Very Excited voice mail from my friend, Staci. She'd just heard the news — the Wienermobile was going to be in town. TOMORROW. Did Jarrod and I want to see it?

Pleeeease. Is that even a real question??

(I am so glad that Jarrod and I are the type of people who come to mind when other people think about the Wienermobile.)

On Saturday, we crawled out of bed early — obviously this was a serious matter, if I was awake before noon — and drove out with Staci and her partner, Tai,* to see the glorious, glorious weenie.


We were all clearly excited, so the super-cool guy running the show . . .

who wore this awesome belt, by the way . . .


Then we took about a billion pictures, picked up our free weenie whistles (yesssss!), postcards, business cards, and stickers. Had they sold T-shirts, I am confident we all would have bought one.

[NOTE TO OSCAR MAYER: Why don't you sell T-shirts?]

Actually, what I really want is the belt buckle.

Or this:

"OHMYSTARS," we said. "The license plate says YUMMY."

We only left when we realized we couldn't stay any longer without the rest of the parking lot questioning our sanity. So we did what any giddy Wienermobile fans would do.

We ate hot dogs for lunch!**


* Tai is an astounding artist. He put the '63 (I think) Wienermobile in this painting.

** Thought not Oscar Mayers, as they're actually kinda grody. We ate Vienna all-beef, Chicago-style. Naturally.


Answers! (Part Seven: TIMELINE)

Today, a question from fellow North Carolinian writer (YAY!), Beth Revis:

How long does it take you to write, from idea to published novel? What happens at each stage of the process?

Oh dear. A looooong time.

Let's see . . .

Anna and the English French American Boy Masterpiece started out as a NaNoWriMo project. I'd pooh-poohed NaNo for years — "How could anyone write a NOVEL in a MONTH? [obnoxious, snotty laughter]" — until I finally realized:

(A) NaNo isn't about writing a good novel. It's about starting and finishing a draft.

(B) I'd been working on the same project for four years and had yet to finish a single draft.

(C) What harm could come from only one month away from my precious novel?

If you're familiar with National Novel Writing Month, you'll know participants are encouraged to work on something new. The reason is simple: the stakes are lower. Your brain hasn't had time to build The Idea into something perfect and, therefore, unattainable.

So that meant my four-year-old project was out. And as NaNo's starting date was only two weeks away, I needed a new project SOON.

Here's what happened:

It starts here.

Late October 2007 — I have a dream. (Honestly.) I dream about a beautiful boy sitting on the steps of a semi-famous Parisian monument. I am in love with him. The Idea has arrived . . . and with a bang. NaNo allows you one week of preparation, so I spend the last week of October reading about Paris. By the end of the week, I still know absolutely nothing about Paris.

November 2007
— I write a really, really terrible rough draft. But it's a COMPLETE rough draft. MY FIRST. I am overjoyed. Beyond overjoyed! This is pretty much one of the greatest moments of my life. I become gloaty and unbearable for approximately one week.

December 2007
— I decide to start the next draft immediately. I work hard for THREE WHOLE DAYS . . . and then quit. A little distance is healthy, right?

January 2008
— I think I opened the document at some point, but can't swear to it. BUT I read an obscene amount about France (and will continue to do so for the next year). I also begin a friendship with a wonderful, wonderful writer named Paula, who becomes my savior.

February 2008
— I get serious about the new draft. Sort of. I work hard on the first three chapters. I write them, re-write them, and re-write them again. In other words . . . I get stuck. But I show them to Paula, and in a moment I'll be eternally grateful for, she asks for more. "More?" This concept is new to me.

March 2008 — I write more. Paula asks for more again, so I give her even more. I probably have, like, eight decent chapters now. For me, this is nothing short of a miracle. Paula convinces me that these are GOOD chapters, and that I'm ready to attend an SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference. I say, "Really? Like, really really? For reals, really?" Paula remains patient with me.

April 2008 — I attend a regional conference . . . in Western Washington. No. I don't live in or near Washington state. But the lineup of speakers is irresistible. I nervously introduce myself to two Important People: my longtime dream agent Kate Schafer Testerman and fantasy writer extraordinaire Laini Taylor. They are both unbelievably cool. I pray they remember me. I tell Kate that I'm interested in querying her, and that my manuscript should be ready in early autumn. Hey! Look at that! I just gave myself a deadline.

May — July 2008 — Laini remembers me! With her endless advice and guidance via email, I work HARD. I finish my "Skeleton Draft." This is my term for a draft that's complete enough to stand on its own two legs and be recognized as a novel, though just barely. It's riddled with holes (actual, literal holes — entire chapters missing and summarized in a few sentences) and still needs all of its muscle. And a pretty face.

July — September 2008
— I finish my first official, complete draft. HUZZAH! But it's still way too embarrassing to show anyone. So I write another one.

October 2008
— I show the latest draft to Paula, Laini, and another friend (and super-reader) Sumner. They give me amazing and honest advice. I take it. Laini writes this post . . . and my entire life changes. Kate — my longtime dream agent — reads Laini's blog and emails me. SHE REMEMBERS ME. SHE REQUESTS A PARTIAL. The world explodes. I spend a frantic week (or two?) doing a quick round of revisions. I send Anna to Kate.

November 2008
— I'm a nervous wreck. Kate requests a full. OMG, MY DREAM AGENT REQUESTED A FULL. My nerves go into overdrive. I do NaNoWriMo again, because, well, it worked out pretty good for me last year. I write another terrible rough draft. This is Second Novel. Second Novel's rough draft is SO MUCH WORSE than Anna's rough draft. I'm more relieved than happy to finish it.

December 2008
— That whole nervous wreck thing? That's nothing compared to how I feel now. I'm so petrified that I'm unable to write. I take the month off. I realize I have way too much invested in Kate (even though I've tried not to feel this way, it happens anyway), so I query seven other agents in the meantime. I get a few requests for partials and several rejections. I'm no longer petrified, I am flat-out panicking. It's a Christmas miracle that my friends are still talking to me. I cry nonstop.

Early January 2009
— KATE WANTS TO REPRESENT ME! My dream agent is my real agent! I cry a lot this month too, but from pure happiness. I also call everyone I've ever met to say, "Heyguesswhat? I HAVE AN AGENT."

Mid-January — February 2009
The partying continues. I write another draft. Once again, I call on the help of Paula, Laini, and Sumner. Often several times a day. Oh, and I quit my job at the library (!!!).

March 2009
— Kate sends Anna to two editors. I ask, "Who?" and she says one of them is Julie Strauss-Gabel, John Green's editor. I call my husband in hysterics. Never in a million years did I think JULIE would read my book. Both editors express interest. I try not to get my hopes up, which is stupid and impossible. I resume work on Second Novel, but the whole time I'm writing, I'm thinking, Holy crap. Two editors like my book.

April 2009
— I get offers from both editors. Oh. My. #$%^(*&. God. I accept a two-book deal with Dutton. I AM GOING TO WORK WITH JULIE STRAUSS-GABEL! JULIE! This is actually happening! My novel will be REAL! It'll have pages and that book-y smell and everything!


Late April — June 2009
— I sink into one of the darkest, scariest holes of my entire life. I have to write a book. Two of them. People will read them. And I am a horrible, horrible writer. I try to work on Second Novel, but have little success. I have NO IDEA what I do during this two and a half month period. Seriously. No clue.

July 2009
— With the help of my husband and Kiersten White, I'm pulled out of the abyss. My new motto is, "Okay. You can do this. Okay. It's okay." Second Novel quadruples in size. Hallelujah chorus. A skeleton draft emerges.

August 2009
— Hi! Welcome to the present. I'm doing research right now for Second Novel, and I'm about to dig into one more serious writing session before . . .


September 2009
— I receive my very first editorial letter, for Anna.

Late September 2009
— Panic.

October 2009
— Tear Anna apart. Begin rebuilding.

November 2009
Anna during the day, NaNoWriMo Third Novel at night.

December 2009
— Finish a new draft of Anna.

January 2010
— Go to Paris for research. And pastries.

February 2010 — Spring/Summer 2010
— Work on Anna. Turn in (I hope, I hope) final draft.

Summer 2010 — Summer/Fall 2011
— Work on Second Novel. Work on Third Novel. Do all of those last minute things that publishing requires. I have no idea what these things are. When I learn, I'll let you know.

Summer/Fall 2011
Anna and the English French American Boy Masterpiece is published. My book is a BOOK. Everyone reading this blog buys a copy. Or two. And then tells all of their friends and family that they should read/purchase it.

Four years.

One final note, the one thing behind every single entry: My husband, Jarrod. Who has taken care of me this entire time and never once complained. Who cooks and cleans the house and takes care of our pets. Who makes coffee and pours it down my throat. Who has pulled countless all-nighters to read countless drafts before countless deadlines.

Who never complains — and always answers seriously — when I ask if the boy is hot enough.

Books don't write themselves. They take time. And they take help.

(Still) more answers, coming soon . . .


Answers! (Part Six: BOOKS/WRITING)

Two pieces of exciting news today.

First, the most important:

GIGANTIC HUGE smiley mushy-gushy CONGRATULATIONS to Laini and Jim and their beautiful new baby girl. I couldn't be happier! They're one of the coolest, smartest, funniest, most talented couples of my acquaintance, and they'll be BRILLIANT parents. Their daughter is so, so lucky.

And second . . .


See the person with his hand on the microphone?


See the blob of fuzzy red-and-blue hair in the corner?


I don't think I need to tell you what this means. But I will anyway. Obviously, I'm telling the truth about him being My Live-In Celebrity Boyfriend. Look how close we are! I could almost spit on him!

With, you know, my mouth.

So last Friday, Jarrod and I trekked to the Coldplay show in Charlotte to give our support. This support thing was actually a bit of a sacrifice, as we've been bummed the entire summer about Chris's absence. His tour is LONG. And our house is quiet without him.

But the whole band rallied to cheer us up, and the show was incredible. I won't bore you with details — though I do wish I could figure out how to post the video of the drunk guy (NOTE TO FUTURE CONCERT-GOING BEER-GUZZLERS: My husband will film you rubbing your butt.) — but here are a few pictures:

Everything was beautiful.

I'm pretending the giant Chris Martin is the real one.

What are you talking about? Of course we took this picture. From backstage. VIP.

Pretty rainbow ground, after the butterflies dropped.* Now I have a glass jar filled with them on my writing desk!

I am a very happy Stephanie.

But enough of that. Time for some answers!

The lovely Lilie asked:

What fictional character would you like to spend a day as? (As in, you would be them in their world, not, for example, Elizabeth Bennet wandering around modern-day America.)

Ooo, fun. But before I answer, here's a short list of characters I would NOT want to spend a day as:

(1) Katniss in The Hunger Games — I'd rather not have to kill my friends.

(2) Wilbur in Charlotte's Web — I don't trust Farmer Arable not to kill me once Charlotte dies. I mean, what if her children can't write? What if next winter is really, really cold and food is scarce? What happens when I get old and can't move around anymore?

Frodo in The Lord of the Rings series — I'd be like, "No, thanks, Old Man. Find some other dude to do it."

A short list of characters it'd be FANTASTIC to spend a day as:

(1) Charlie Bucket from Charlie and the Chocolate Factory — The day he's in the actual factory, and not before, when he's poor and hungry and stuff.

(2) Elizabeth Bennet (or Catherine Moreland or any other Austen heroine) — Wedding night. Or maybe, like, a few weeks after the wedding night.

(3) Mr. Tumnus from The Chronicles of Narnia — Not when he's the witch's statue, but when he's hanging out in his cozy little home, with the tea and the books.

It's tough to pick one, but my top choice must be girly. Something involving enormous ballgowns, dancing, and a little magic. I always wanted to be one of the Twelve Dancing Princesses, but I'm not sure how smart it is to WANT to be under a spell. So maybe one of the princesses after the spell is broken?

But by then, I'd probably be sick of dancing!

Aw, screw it.

Curse me and ballgown me! One of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. Final answer. (The oldest or the youngest, depending on the retelling. I want to be the PRETTIEST princess.)

I cannot believe I just typed that last sentence.

Me, ready to dance.

Kiersten-Rhymes-With-Beersten asked:

How does it feel to know you'll be receiving 45% of all of my future earnings?

Really really good, thanks!


If you could only write one genre for the rest of your life, what would it be?

Inspirational vampire westerns. Written in second-person, present-tense.


"You find Billy the Vampire Kidd leering suggestively at you from across the gritty, moonlit town. You call out your undying love just as the sun peeks its bloated head over the horizon. Billy ignites into crackling flames like a bowl of atomic Rice Krispies, and you fall to your knees, thanking God for His last-second intervention. The sunrise has never looked so divine, so vast, or so Western. To you."

Or maybe contemporary, realistic, young adult romance. I'm not sure.

If you were forced to write nothing but fanfiction for the rest of your life, which world would you choose?

Pigeon fanfiction!

WOO HOO! I love the Pigeon.

Honestly, it'd have to be something with a lot of characters, therefore, a lot for me to mess around with. I mean, we're talking about the rest of my life. Again. And I'd want something grounded in reality, but with magic available (if I chose to use it), for further flexibility. Harry Potter is an obvious choice, or anything in Joss Whedon's universe, but I've got something even better:

Diana Gabaldon's Outlander series. It fills all of my major criteria.

(A) So many characters it requires a companion.

(B) Reality-based . . .

(C) But with time travel! Allowing me to work in the present or anywhere-ish in the past. Maybe even the future. (Options!) Plus, history. Which I love.

(D) Humor.

(E) Swashbuckling adventure.

(F) Kissing.

(G) More than kissing.

More (than) answers on the way! Hope everyone is happy and well.

*They're biodegradable. So phew.


Answers! (Part Five: WRITING)

Today's Completely Unrelated Supplement: My Top Ten Crushes from Teen Movies

Crush #10: Mr. Coulson (Michael Vartan) — Even though it was creepy, because he was kind of her teacher.

I met my big deadline, so I'm back in the real world. I think this is a good week to dip into some writing questions. Might as well start with THE BIG ONE.

But wait!

Before I begin, a caveat. As enormously happy as I am to have received writing questions, I just want to make one thing clear: Like everything I say on this blog, take what I say with a grain of salt. I don't believe anything I have to say about anything (especially writing) is some kind of Great Truth.

I am a novice. I struggle — I struggle a lot — and I'm still learning. So please don't think that I believe I'm some kind of, say, Neil Gaiman. If Neil Gaiman gives you writing advice, TAKE IT.

My advice?

Well. Let's just say it's debatable.

But I do want to help! And I hope that maybe something I say helps someone. Somewhere. Sometime.

Okie dokie. Now that that's over with, I feel comfortable moving forward with today's question.

Crush #9: Cameron Frye (Alan Ruck) — Yes, I liked him more than Ferris. This probably doesn't surprise you.

Cassity (Hi! Lovely to find you in my comments!) asked:

I would love to write, but I am not very disciplined. I have a hard time making myself actually write. What do you do?

This was the first question I was asked, and it is — without a doubt — the hardest.

I have heard of (and personally know) writers who love nothing better than to sit down to a blank computer screen and have at it. Who have no problem filling every spare moment of their day with glorious, glorious typing. Who write several pages a day, multiple novels a year.

I am not one of these writers.

The truth is, I'm not very disciplined either, and I have a very difficult time making myself write. As ludicrous as it sounds, for me, the act of writing itself is the hardest part about being a writer.

Now . . . don't get me wrong. It's not that I don't want to.

I love stories. I love getting that first tick of an idea and rolling around in it. Letting it grow bigger and deeper and wilder. Dreaming up layers and twists and themes. Pulling inspiration from the world that surrounds me, both the real (neighbors, friends, strangers) and the unreal (television, cinema, novels). And above all, I love characters — creating them, growing them, and falling deeply in love with them.

Like all writers, I am an idea MACHINE. But how do I actually get these ideas out of my head and into the physical world?

With a great, big, ugly fight.

It's challenging to give advice on this subject, because what works for me won't always work for you. (I mean, let's face it. What works for me once rarely even works for me twice.)

But what you should know, first-and-above-all, is that I've found writing to be like any other type of exercise: the more often I do it, the easier it is to do it again the next day. And conversely, the more time I allow between writing sessions, the harder it gets to sit down with it again. The idea of writing gets more intimidating. More hopeless. More terrifying.

Sometimes, it also gets boring. I'll think about my project SO MUCH that I'll get tired of it. I'll convince myself that there's nothing worthwhile about it, and I start chasing the shiny new idea. And then that pattern repeats itself. And then nothing ever gets finished.

There is no great solution to these problems.

But here are eight things you can try:

Crush #8: Patrick Verona (Heath Ledger) — How can a girl resit the above scene?

(1) Obtain an ally, someone to FORCE you to write.

This says a lot about the kind of person I am that I'm actually listing this one first. It's not exactly something to brag about, but for me, it's crucial. I need people to expect something of me. Sometimes this is a family member (cough – Jarrod — cough) and sometimes it's a friend.

Usually it's both. And multiple friends, not just one. Like, an entire SQUADRON of friends, because I require a Stadium-Sized Cheering Section to perform. (I'm not proud to admit that, but there you go.)

Anyway, it's a good idea to get someone on your side. It could be anyone — in the writing community or out of it — but it must be someone who understands that writing is IMPORTANT to you, and under NO CIRCUMSTANCES should they allow you to dissuade them from forcing you to do it.

Yes. You read that correctly.

What I mean is, sometimes you need a stronger person to demand that you go write. And to DO IT NOW. And to NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER. If my husband hadn't literally pushed me into my desk chair and shut the door (while I was crying and sobbing and begging him to let me come back downstairs), I would have never finished Anna. Period.

Crush #7: Josh (Paul Rudd) — He was in college. And he listened to Radiohead.

(2) Schedule writing onto your calendar, like any other appointment or event.

I have heard this helps people.

Me? Not so much, as I am not the world's best daily calendar checker. I'm lucky to know what day of the week it is, let alone an actual date, let alone actual plans for that date.

But maybe YOU are great with calendars.

The point is to find a time for writing and then to stick to it. Schedule it in and don't erase the date or time for ANYONE. Writing is important, just as important as that dentist appointment you scheduled six months ago.

Don't belittle it. It IS important.

Crush #6: David (Kiefer Sutherland) — The only recorded case in history of a guy with a mullet who is also way smokin' hot.

(3) Create a writing pattern (every morning or evening, or so many minutes spread throughout the day).

This is similar to number two, and it's also related to my earlier idea that writing is like exercise, and the more you make it a habit, the easier it'll be.

Are you a morning person or a night person? If you write during your favorite time of day — the time when your brain is the most active — you'll have MUCH better results. But if your schedule is too busy to set aside one large-ish chunk of time, set a minutes goal. Start with forty minutes a day, broken up however necessary. And if that works for you, try bumping it up to an hour of writing per day. Or if forty minutes is too much, bump it down. Just find something that works. Keep trying.

Crush #5: Lane Meyer (John Cusack) — BEST. TEEN. MOVIE. EVER.

(4) Set reasonable goals, but go easy on yourself if you can't meet them.

I love goals and deadlines. I work SO MUCH BETTER with them. But, on occasion, I've turned them into my enemy. How? By beating myself up when I didn't meet them. Don't do this. Keep your goals reasonable. Adjust them if necessary.

And ditch them if they're making you upset.

I'm very hard on myself, and this has been tough to learn. I'm still working on it. But you know what? It's okay to fail sometimes. It's okay. It's okay.

Just keep trying.

Baby steps.

Just keep trying.

Crush #4: Mark (Ethan Embry) — Silly dreamy rocker boy. Remember the Gwar scene? SO AWESOME.

(5) Reward yourself with treats.

Yeah. I said it.


Meet a goal? Buy yourself a box of Godiva chocolates! Or a new album on iTunes! Or a night at the movies! Whatever makes your toes tingle. (Free things are great too — picnics by waterfalls, an afternoon with a good novel, a long bubble bath, etc. Kiersten sometimes rewards me with YouTube videos featuring actors with Scottish accents.)

Just set the reward ahead of time. That way you have something to look forward to, and you also won't get carried away when you get there. ("I know I said I'd only buy this one pair of shoes, but these blue ones are sooo cute too.") NO! DO NOT DO THIS. This leads to guilt, which leads to negative feelings associated with reaching your goal. Keep goal-reaching a celebration!

Crush #3: Cliff Pantone (Jesse Bradford) — If Jarrod and I could double date Cliff and his sister ("Missy, is it?"), we totally would.

(6) Freewrite before you write-write.

If the act of sitting down and writing a novel is too scary, start with some freewriting first. Have a second document on your computer where you can begin your writing session. Tell yourself hello and chat about what you want to write that day. Or freewrite about how terrified you are that you'll fail. Or about how freakishly horrible your novel is, how rock-solidly hard it blows, and how no one will want to read it EVER even if they are stuck on a desert island and their only choice of reading material is either YOUR NOVEL or a dermatologist's free pamphlet about psoriasis.

Eventually, you'll get so tired of your own whining that you'll actually go write something.

I know from experience. I have tens of thousands of freewriting words telling myself how much both my novels and me suck. That negative energy has to come out somewhere, and freewriting is a safe place to say the things you're most afraid of — and to wake your brain up in the process.

Crush #2: Duckie (Jon Cryer) –
Duckie REQUIRES a video. This is one of my favorite scenes in any movie EV-ERRRR. (Please ignore the Spanish in the first few seconds)

(7) Give something up.

If it's about time ("I'd love to write, but I don't have the time"), then break down your schedule, hour-by-hour, and find out what you're actually DOING with your time. Maybe there are a few hours of television you can cut out. Maybe you can cut back on your reading or time online. (I know, I know. But sometimes it's necessary.) Or maybe you need to cut back on the social engagements.

You don't want to cut out everything in your life that gives you pleasure, but you'll have to cut something. It stinks, but that's the reality of it.

[The wise-and-always-interesting John Scalzi recently wrote about this subject: "What You Have to Give Up to Write"]

Furthermore . . .


Crush #1: Lloyd Dobler (John Cusack) — I mean, it's Lloyd Dobler. He's like numbers two through ten combined. Times fifty.

(8) If you want to be a serious writer, treat it like the job that it is.

Writing a novel — a publishable novel — takes work. Real, actual, hard WORK.

This requires an attitude adjustment from, "Oh, what a fun little hobby" to "I will DO this. Even when it gets hard, even when I don't like it anymore, even when I want to give up. I will keep working until I reach the end."

[Great article on the subject of hard work: "The Truth About Grit."]

One more. Because, I mean, come on. Lloyd Dobler.

The good news about all this?

Sitting down to write gets easier with practice.

A little bit.

(And then it gets harder, and then easier, and then harder, and then so impossible that you'll sink into a deep pit of despair and hate everything about your life and feel like the most miserable, wretched failure of all time, and then easier. And then hard again.)

I fight this battle every day. Sometimes I win, but most of the time I lose. But that doesn't mean I ever give up.

You have to keep trying.

Because in the end, the ONLY way to write . . . is to sit down. And do it.