WHOA. Last week a reader pointed out that five years ago I wrote a letter “from” my 29-year-old (published) self to my then 24-year-old (still-dreaming) self and posted it on my blog.
That was right before I started writing The Lunar Chronicles.
And it’s… UNCANNY.
A Letter from My Future Published Self
Dear 24-Year-Old Alicia,*
You have a lot of work ahead of you.
But don’t be daunted! I’m writing to tell you that now, as I near age 30, I am at the happiest place in my life. I am officially a full-time writer. I have published the entire Lunar Chronicles series (yes, the one that you’re about to embark on for the 2008 nanowrimo), and the advances and royalties have enabled me to quit the editorial field and focus completely on writing. I have earned a devoted fan base in the YA realm with this series and every day I am overjoyed by the comments and appreciation I hear from readers. I am just about finished with the first draft of the first book of a whole new series. I won’t tell you what it’s about because the spark of inspiration would be too much for you to handle at this tumultuous time in your life—but it’s going to be awesome.
Right now you’re thinking that it’s all going to go fairly smoothly. You know your plots and are eager to write them. You’re not daunted by revisions. You’re not afraid of rejection and even looking forward to the submission process. But remember that every writer pays their dues at the beginning of their career, and you will face rejection. But stick with it and one day the books will sell… and that’s just the beginning. Keep in mind all the things you’ve learned while getting your degree: the importance of author marketing and publicity, keeping your readers happy, building your platform, and always keep writing. When you begin to doubt yourself, just remember how happy you are when you’re writing, how much you love it, and the passion will fall back into place.
The idea is to keep setting goals and deadlines for yourself—you know that these are the keys to motivating yourself. You have the goal of submitting a novel by Dec. 31, 2009. Stick to that goal. Don’t let yourself forget it or be swayed from it. Work toward it every day, whether that is by writing, revising, editing, working on your proposal, researching the market, or reading about how to submit works to agents.
It’s going to be tough, but you can do it. And by the time you’re my age, you’ll be glad you did. And you’ll have that whole writing career ahead of you to be grateful.
* Alicia was my penname when I wrote fanfiction.
Weird, right? So much of this came true. Though the Chronicles aren’t all out yet, they’re well on their way and I do have both a new stand-alone book and a potential new series in my brain. I am a full-time writer. I am so grateful. Though my goal of submitting by the end of 2009 didn’t happen (I started querying Cinder in September of 2010), it was close enough.
So—self-fulfilling prophecy? The value of envisioning your ideal future? I don’t know, but whatever it was, it worked. Maybe give it a try yourself!
On a side note…
Also included in that blog post were these lists, which were very interesting to read five years down the line, and still remain pretty accurate to this day:
My Motivations for Writing
- To give readers the giddy, romantic, delirious, daydreamy feeling that my favorite books and movies gave me
- To craft amazing characters that I fall in love with and want to spend time with and share with others
- To someday work from home and not deal with corporate life or the commute, and have more time for gardening and cooking and being there for the children I will someday have
- All of the wonderful comments from fanfiction readers
- To prove to the naysayers that I am a good writer and I will be successful at it
- To meet readers all over the country and know that I was able to influence their lives in any small way
- The enjoyment of writing, the joy of solving that tricky plot twist, the delight of having all the subplots miraculously come together and resolve themselves
- Going to writing conferences as a professional, perhaps even a speaker, not just a hopeful amateur
Fears That Keep Me from Writing (and ways to work around them)
- fear of running out of ideas (keep a writer’s journal; brainstorm)
- fear that my work won’t be up to standards (you can always rewrite, but you need to write first; it is not your job to decide what is good)
- fear that I’ll have success and won’t be able to repeat it (let’s do this one book at a time…)
What a fascinating little time-capsule. Feel free to share your own dreams, motivations, and fears in the comments!
One of my favorite book releases from 2012 was BORN WICKED by Jessica Spotswood. I read an ARC of it in 2011, so it feels like I’ve been waiting eons to get my hands on Book 2 of the luscious, magical, and romantic Cahill Witch Chronicles. But the long, long wait is finally over. STAR CURSED came out this week! I already have my copy in hand and can’t wait to jump into it.
On top of that, I am thrilled that Jessica asked me to be a part of the epic STAR CURSED blog tour!
With the Brotherhood persecuting witches like never before, a divided Sisterhood desperately needs Cate to come into her Prophesied powers. And after Cate’s friend Sachi is arrested for using magic, a war-thirsty Sister offers to help her find answers—if Cate is willing to endanger everyone she loves.
Cate doesn’t want to be a weapon, and she doesn’t want to involve her friends and Finn in the Sisterhood’s schemes. But when Maura and Tess join the Sisterhood, Maura makes it clear that she’ll do whatever it takes to lead the witches to victory. Even if it means sacrifices. Even if it means overthrowing Cate. Even if it means all-out war.
In the highly anticipated sequel to BORN WICKED, the Cahill Witch Chronicles continue Cate, Maura and Tess’s quest to find love, protect family, and explore their magic against all odds in an alternate history of New England.
As part of the blog tour, each day Jess is revealing an annotated snippet from STAR CURSED. (Which so delightfully ties in with the Scarlet annotations I posted a few weeks ago!)
Read and enjoy…
If you add up the page number from each stop during the tour, you can enter to win a one-of-a-kind annotated ARC plus a star trio necklace! Find the other stops below, and on June 21 (THAT’S TODAY!), enter the Rafflecopter here:
STAR CURSED is in stores now. You can read the first chapter here.
I’ve had a really fun few weeks filled with two of my favorite parts of the writing process: The Beginning and The End.
For Winter, I’m at the beginning, which means plotting and brainstorming and daydreaming and wondering What If and discovering problems and coming up with solutions. Yes, parts of this stage can be frustrating, because you have a big, complicated, messy plot, and parts of it don’t always come together easily, but that kind of problem-solving is one of the reasons I enjoy writing so much.
Cress is on the other end of the process, with copyedits, page proofs, and my final-final-final read-through. I love this stage because all those problems have been solved, the story has come together, and I can finally enjoy reading it as if it were just a book and I’m just a reader. It’s the first time I truly get to enjoy the story without nitpicking every little thing, and there’s a wonderful sense of accomplishment that comes with that.
And then, in between Winter daydreams and Cress appreciation, I’ve been focused on recharging my creative batteries. Or, refilling my inspirational well. Or, putting the boys in the basement back to work. Or, insert your preferred metaphor here.
The weird thing about this stage is that it is incredibly important. If you’ve ever met a writer who has suffered from writing burnout, I’m sure they’ll tell you how important it is—necessary for your happiness, comfort, and continued productivity.
Which is kind of awesome, isn’t it? How many occupations actually encourage downtime like this?
Here are some things I do to keep my creativity humming. Thankfully, they haven’t failed me yet!
1. Read, read, read! Nothing inspires me more than reading a great book, with a fascinating world, a worthy protagonist, or a smoking hot romance. Whenever a book leaves me with that satisfied, delighted feeling, I think: I want to do this too. I want to give my readers these same feelings. It never fails to spark something inside me and motivate me to work on the next story. On top of that, there’s always the possibility that a great concept or plot twist will inspire a new idea in you.
2. TV and movies. Very similar to reading lots of books, I usually use this downtime to catch up on favorite shows or go to the theater or settle down for a Firefly or Harry Potter marathon. It tends to be a more brainless activity than reading, but can have the same effect of filling my head with stories, settings, and characters.
3. Exercise. Though I strive to maintain a balance between work, play, and health as often as possible, when a deadline is approaching it can be difficult, if not downright impossible. Sadly, for me, the first thing to go is usually my time at the gym. But I also recognize that a lot of my best ideas come to me when I’m on the treadmill, listening to my Lunar Chronicles playlist and letting my mind wander. So I use this opportunity to not only lose some of those deadline-pounds *cough cough* but also to reinvigorate my imagination.
4. Try new things. I wouldn’t say I’m a super adventurous person, but I’m almost always up for trying new things. Some are simple, such as sampling a cuisine I’ve never tried before. But some experience carry a bit more novelty, such as taking a trapeze-flying class or touring the Winchester Mansion (both of which I did in the past few weeks!). Life experiences supply us with fodder for emotional responses, settings and backgrounds, character talents, sensory details… all sorts of things! And you just never know where your next great story idea will come from, so the more you experience in life, the better.
5. Cross some things off the to-do list. It seems that when I’m in the depths of a writing project, there’s never time to get caught up on all those other life tasks I set for myself. So I like to use this time to knock a few things off the list—such as organizing my photo albums or planting a garden bed. It makes me feel accomplished and like I have my life together, and idle tasks like this are fantastic for letting my mind wander.
6. Relax. Perhaps the most important item on this list—I refresh myself by taking it easy, and giving myself permission to not be productive for every minute of every day. Do I feel like reading a book on the sofa, or going to the movies, or taking a bath, or going for a leisurely stroll, or opening a bottle of champagne just because? Then I’ll do that. I find that for me, a lot of creativity is born out of contentment (which is rather opposite to the perception that angst-breeds-art, but that’s a topic for another blog post).
So I try to relax and breathe and have fun and remind myself every day how lucky I am that this is my life.
Your turn: What do YOU do to recharge in between writing projects?
I was thrilled to hear last year that CINDER was on GoodReads list for books most frequently chosen for book clubs, and it’s delighted me this year to hear how many book clubs continued on with Scarlet when it came out! I’ve even been invited to attend a couple discussions locally, which is so much fun – not only because it’s always a delight to hang out with fellow book lovers, but also because you book clubbers tend to always have such good food at your meetings!
So I thought – if so many book clubs are hosting get-togethers to discuss Cinder & Scarlet, why not suggest some edibles that tie in with the books?
If you’re discussing Cinder, try…
“Yes,” Kai said, lifting a shrimp wonton between his chopsticks. “It falls on the ninth full moon of each year.” (p. 267)
Shrimp wontons are delicious, fairly easy to make, and very shareable. If they’re good enough for Kai to serve his royal Lunar guests, they’re good enough for your book club, right? (In fact, my friends and I made this cooking video last year showing you how to make shrimp wontons, in case you need a little extra direction!)
Shoppers mulled about, swinging bags against their hips and snacking on tea-boiled eggs. (p. 290)
Celebrate 126 years of world peace by sampling some of the street food from the peace festival. Tea-boiled eggs are a common street food in the Commonwealth (and modern-day China), and they look exceptionally easy to make. Plus, they’re beautiful!
She spotted Sacha in her booth, behind the glass case of sweet breads and pork buns, gawking at her outstretched hands. (p. 15)
Chang Sacha, the market baker, is well-known for her delectable pastries. Whether you opt for Chinese delicacies filled with bean paste or barbecued pork (my personal favorite, yum!!) or more westernized specialties like honey buns (which Chang Sacha also carried), you’ll be in for a treat.
When you’re discussing Scarlet, try…
Pushing through the crowd, she deposited the sandwich on the table. “You had le croque monsieur?” (p. 13)
The traditional French sandwich that Scarlet brings Wolf during their first meeting happens to be delicious, filling, and so basic (it’s really just a grilled ham and cheese sandwich). Cut it into triangles to make finger foods, or fancy it up with some béchamel sauce (as Wolf’s has). Or be an overachiever by adding a fried egg on top, which is called a croque madame. Is your mouth watering yet?
Digging through the cabinet, Scarlet cobbled together a can of olives and a jar of marinated artichoke hearts. “Here, we’ll have an antipasto.”
There’s hardly a more simple and pretty appetizer than a nice antipasto plate. Start with olives and artichoke hearts, add some rustic bread and tomato bruschetta (because tomatoes are easily the most memorable food item of the book…), finish off with some salami or prosciutto and you’re done!
She’d even missed Scarlet’s eighteenth birthday, though she’d bought the ingredients for Scarlet’s favorite lemon cake the week before. (p. 9)
Scarlet never does get her favorite cake for her birthday, but it would make a delightful finish for your delightful feast. Oui?
I’ve yet to meet a writer who doesn’t sometimes struggle with the lure of a new writing project, and lately I’ve been getting asked more and more about how to combat this constant temptation. So when @debbiekolive on Twitter suggested I write a blog post on the subject, I thought, well, I might have a thing or two to say…
Here are some tactics I use to stay focused on my current WIP, even when a shiny new project comes calling.
I get the new project out of my head as soon as possible.
The longer a story lingers inside your skull, the stronger the temptation will be. You’ll become afraid that you’ll forget important details or that the original passion will be gone by the time you have time to write it. (Which I personally think is silly—if the idea is worth writing, it will still be worth writing when you have time for it.)
So that the story doesn’t hang around taking up valuable brain space, I write down the idea—and everything that came with it—into the story idea file on my computer. I note as many details as I can—character quirks, a great opening line, an unexpected plot twist, a snippet of dialogue that popped into my head, a vibrant visual image, etc. That way, I know the story will be right there, waiting for me, when I’m ready for it. And with any luck, by the time I’m able to work on that project, I’ll have collected enough of these mini tidbits that it will feel like the start of an actual story, rather than just a vague concept.
I remind myself that I’ve felt this temptation for every single project I’ve ever written—including the current WIP.
When I was working on Cinder, I was dying to start Scarlet. When I was neck-deep in Scarlet, all I wanted was to move on to Cress. It’s strange, but for some reason our brains are always convinced, no matter how illogically, that the NEXT project will be more fun to write. The next project won’t come with all these headache-inducing plot holes and frustrating characters who won’t do what they’re told. The next project will be so easy and so perfect that I won’t even have to revise it!
But that’s ridiculous. Every project will have its own challenges. And I’m all too aware that there was a time when I felt the same way about the current writing project, too.
I remind myself that I have to finish the current WIP eventually, so it might as well be now.
Obvious statement alert: If you never finish anything… you’ll never finish anything.
Assuming your ultimate goal is to be published and/or get your next advance check and/or not give your editor a heart attack, then eventually you’re going to have to finish something. If that’s a book you’re under contract for, well then, eventually you’re going to have to finish THIS something. Every time you get distracted by a different project, you’re pulling yourself away from your goals.
I remind myself why I love my current WIP.
We all fall out of love with our writing projects from time to time. (Usually it happens about a third of the way through the first draft, then again when you’re half way through revisions, when you’ve just landed in the mucky middle and nothing is nearly as brilliant and exciting as you’d thought it was going to be…)
But remember, there was a time when you were so madly in love with this story you couldn’t wait to work on it. Remember when you dreamed up plot twists when you lay in bed at night? And when every song on the radio had that uncanny way of fitting the storyline? When your fingers itched to get back to the keyboard when Real Life pulled you away?
If you’ve lost that loving feeling, recapture it by listing all the things that called you to the story in the first place. That one epic scene that plays out like a movie in your imagination, that quirky side character that always makes you laugh, maybe even the first spark of the idea that made you bolt upright and think – that would make an amazing book. Write it down. Fall back in love.
I use the new idea as a bribe.
If there’s an idea plaguing you so bad that you simply can’t think about anything else, go ahead and make time for it in your writing schedule. Maybe Monday through Thursday you’ll work on your current WIP, but Fridays are reserved for the new project. Or one hour every night before bedtime will be spent pulling together an outline or creating an inspiration pinboard. Or plan on using the next NaNoWriMo (which comes every November) to fly through a quick first draft. Knowing that you’ll be able to work on that project during your allotted time can help you stay focused on the project you’re supposed to be working on.
All that said, a caveat…
I hope that these tactics will help those of you who struggle to ever focus on one thing long enough to reach The End. But I also feel like I should mention that not every project is worth finishing. Maybe you simply can’t reignite the initial love you had for an idea, or you realize it’s never going to become what you’d hoped it would be, or you discover that the concept isn’t half as unique as you’d first thought it was, or any number of other legitimate reasons for setting it aside and moving on to something else. I have at least half a dozen unfinished novels lying around, and I don’t regret not finishing those novels. With Cinder, I knew I had to finish it, because I had so much confidence in it, and I was so in love with it. I don’t feel that way about my old, abandoned novels—I learned what I could from them (including why they weren’t working) and then I set them aside and moved on. Sometimes you just have to do that.
Otherwise, plug your ears against that siren song and keep going.
It’s been a long time since I posted about my vintage fairy tale collection – and some of you may not know about it at all! But I’ve been collecting antique fairy tale stuff for years now, and just recently found these fun new treasures.
Little Red Riding Hood Valentine and Box
These first two treasures were actually my Valentine’s Day gift from my husband this year (he knows me so well!!). I am beyond smitten with this valentine, which reads “Will you be my Valentine?, the Wolf asked Riding Hood. She said, ‘I can’t, I’m spoken for, Or else I surely would!’”
Poor Wolf. *hugs him*
And the box is meant to look like an old book and I love how worn it is—it’s obvious that someone actually used it to store some sort of treasure back in the day.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs Cake Topper Set
How adorable is this little set?! I found it in an antique shop in Minneapolis a few weeks ago and absolutely adore it. Who knows? I might actually have to bake a cake one of these days! For the WINTER launch, perhaps? Hmmm…..
June is National Audiobook Month and today I’m celebrating by hosting a giveaway for TWO Scarlet audiobooks!
You can celebrate by listening to the below excerpts, entering the giveaway, or tweeting about your audiobook appreciation using the hashtag #listenlit.
Now, I may be biased (just a tad), but I am so grateful for the quality and talent with which Macmillan has made the audiobooks for the Lunar Chronicles. They’re narrated by the incredible Rebecca Soler, who does unique voices and accents and is just all around fantastic.
Don’t believe me? Check out these excerpts!
Listen to an excerpt from CINDER:
Listen to an excerpt from SCARLET:
OR enter this giveaway and cross your fingers! I have two copies of the SCARLET audiobook hanging out in my giveaway pile, so it’s time to find them a new home.
This giveaway has ended. Congrats to the winners, Celia C. and Erica J.!
Next Monday, I’ll be discussing fractured fairy tales with Christopher Healy, author of THE HERO’S GUIDE TO SAVING YOUR KINGDOM and THE HERO’S GUIDE TO STORMING THE CASTLE.
It’s going to be lots of fun, plus there are PRIZES, so come join us!
When: Monday, June 3, at 9pm ET / 6pm PT
Where: #TalesRetold on Twitter
Hosted by: Novel Novice blogger Sarah Gundell
More details on the chat and prizes can be found here: http://waldenpondpress.blogspot.com/
Hope to see you there!