“So, Are You Still Writing?” – The Story of the Past Year of My Life

Almost without fail, whenever I see an acquaintance at the grocery store, a friend at a party, or a relative at a holiday gathering, I am asked the same question: “So, are you still writing?”

Now, this question comes in different forms, but whether it’s “Are you working on any books right now?” or “I heard you wrote a book or something; how’s that going?” the point is the same: So, are you still writing?

My answer: yes, and then again, no.

It has been over a year since PULL made its grand debut, and the year anniversary passed, more or less, without myself or anyone else noticing.

I remember experiencing a vague awareness that my book was a year old, and thinking I should do something special for the anniversary of the release; but then that begged the question, when was the release date, exactly? 

Because those of you who were around for “release day” probably remember that my book released in various formats on various days from February 2nd – 16th. It’s very hard to celebrate properly when your book release is the slow-drip variety and none of your friends are sure when, exactly, they are supposed to congratulate you, and so they don’t, and then by the time they are sure, the moment has passed and everyone is on to the next week’s releases.

(Agent Emma, predictably, was amazing and sent me flowers on my original release day, February 2nd.)

(Because she is the actual best.)

Anyway, I suppose it was hard for me to get excited about an anniversary that didn’t have a definitive date. February 2nd and 9th and 16th of this year passed without incident, and here we are.

So. Am I still writing?

The answer is: I am fighting for the chance to be still writing.

Because I can’t give it up. 

Because there are too many stories that haven’t been told yet.

Because I want to see another announcement in Publisher’s Marketplace with my name on it. 

My brain constantly manufactures storylines and characters and dialogues. Every morning, during my fancy new downtown commute, I talk myself through whatever plotline currently has its claws in my mind. Literally, if you pull up next to me on the highway, you will see me asking myself questions and then talking through the answers.

This time in the car is one of the only times I have to be creative.

I don’t say that to be self-pitying; my life is an absolute dream. I have a home, a husband, and a job that I love. I have three beautiful (and ACTIVE) daughters who make me belly-laugh every single day. We have cars that work, food in our kitchen, beds to sleep in. I wouldn’t trade anything in my life for more writing time.

But my very full life leaves little room for writing. And even less room for events, which I also used to do a lot of.

I know — I still haven’t answered the question. 

Yes, I am still writing. In small snatches of time, I’m working on the stories that captivate me. Some of them are children’s books. Some of them are novels. Some of them are just ideas, and that’s probably all they’ll ever be.

No, I’m not writing the way I used to — for hours on end, with few to no interruptions. Even nights like tonight, when the kids are all asleep by 6:15 (yes, you can borrow my magic wand sometime), I find myself so exhausted that my creativity shuts off and all I can do is consume other people’s creativity. I read, I watch TV, I look at Instagram posts.

But I am too tired to put a book together.

Will this ever change? Will I ever be able to finish another book? Will I ever sign another contract with a publisher?

I certainly hope so. (And yes, I do have a great idea for a YA novel that I want to start working on next month, after I’ve thought through the plot.)

I’m going to do everything I can to make writing a priority, come hell or high water or housework or full-time jobs or children. Because I’ll tell you one thing: books don’t get written without someone writing them. So if I want to write books, then I have to, you know, write books. 

I think my new answer to the question, “So, are you still writing?” will be: Yes, I suppose I am, because I haven’t given up yet. 

Better get back to plotting that new YA novel… see y’all next time.

 

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10 Things Pregnant Women Are Tired Of Hearing

I wrote this piece for a mommy website that pays really well for lists and articles. Unfortunately, this means they’re also REALLY selective about what they publish! This list didn’t quite make the cut, so I figured I’d spruce it up a bit and then subject you guys to it. Enjoy!

My third little pumpkin and me, hanging out at the pumpkin patch a couple weeks ago.

My third little pumpkin and me, hanging out at the pumpkin patch a couple weeks ago.

Adding a bundle of joy to your family requires time, energy, money—and apparently, the opinions of dozens of other people. The usual pregnancy icebreakers are acceptable—“When are you due?” “Is it a boy or a girl?”—but there are many less-charming conversational nuggets that make pregnant women want to tear out their hair.

1. “Was it an accident?”

This question essentially demands the details of a child’s conception, which is something that only Mom and Dad should be privy to. Does anyone really need to know if the expectant mother was actively hoping for another child or if her birth control hit a glitch? Of course not. This is like asking someone for a play-by-play of their last bowel movement—it’s completely inappropriate and unbelievably awkward.

2. “You know how that happens, right?”

Typically cropping up around a woman’s third or fourth pregnancy, this charming little query is often delivered with a wink and/or smirk. It’s an implication that women are completely clueless as to the mechanics of procreation and wouldn’t dare have more than two children if they knew how to stop the whole process. It’s also sometimes a cutesy way to demand the same information as Question #1.

3. “When I was pregnant, <horrifying thing> happened.”

An expectant mother has enough worries without someone throwing in a casual anecdote about that time her water broke but was actually lava / her baby grew fangs while in the womb / her entire pelvis turned inside out. Pregnant women need more horror stories like they need another joke about their frequent bathroom visits. Which is to say, not at all, thank you very much.

4. “I can tell it’s a <boy or girl> because your nose is so much wider.”

The physical symptoms may vary—wide nose, broken-out skin, basketball-shaped belly—but the general idea is always the same. An expectant mother’s body is staging a mutiny by rearranging its various parts into something almost unrecognizable, and for some reason, people think it’s acceptable to point this out. Never mind that you don’t want to hear about your swollen ankles; people will comment on them anyway.

5. “Are you going natural?”

WARNING: THIS IS A TRAP. Well, not always, but usually. Many women have strong opinions about the role of medication during delivery, and they will tell you, in no uncertain terms, how your baby should go about being born. Never mind what’s best for the baby or what your personal preference might be—these women know best! It’s even better when they’ve never actually had a baby, but they’ve read a lot of articles on the Internet, and they’re basically experts now. And sometimes they’re MEN. That’s when it gets REALLY good.

6. “You’re not going to go into labor right now, are you?”

Around the eight-month mark, the labor jokes begin in earnest. An expectant mother cannot take a walk, go to the gym, or do her job without someone speculating that the baby is mere minutes from crowning. While a sudden and unexpected delivery is possible, it’s not probable—especially with the first couple of pregnancies. Most moms have hours between that first contraction and baby’s grand debut, yet the public is convinced that a single contraction signals the beginning of a five-minute labor and near-instant delivery. (If only.)

7. “Are you sure it’s not twins?”

This is a thinly veiled way of telling a pregnant woman that she’s enormous, and it’s massively insulting (pun intended). An expectant mother probably already feels like a hippo, and some people will make it worse by covertly suggesting that if she is going to get that big, she should have more than one human in her belly. NOT COOL.

8. “You’re just about to pop!”

Around the eight-and-a-half-month mark, this cheeky observation starts to plague the expectant mother like a particularly aggressive swarm of mosquitos—and it’s just as irritating. This is yet another way to comment on the mother’s increasing girth, and—you guessed it!—it’s still not funny or cute. Just because a woman is pregnant doesn’t mean it’s suddenly okay to comment on her weight!

9. “When are you going to have another one?”

Apparently, it’s not enough for the mother to focus on the child who is currently percolating in her belly. She should have all her family planning done beforehand, and she should be eager to share those plans with the world. Never mind the fact that pregnancy is basically its own form of bootcamp for your body; Mom should be thinking about her future children! How many does she want? What will their names be? What if she accidentally has more than planned? What if one of them is a vampire? These questions must be answered!

Also, keep in mind that MANY women have fought tooth and nail to conceive their child–first, second, third, or all of the above. Sometimes they conceive the first one easily but have a very hard time with the second. Sometimes they only ever wanted one, and the assumption that they should have more feels condemning. So not only is this question insanely personal, it’s also insensitive and presumptuous.

10. “You’re going to stay at home now / you’re going to keep working, right?”

Let me be clear: This one is more about the tone of assumption than the actual question. As long as you know the mom fairly well, it’s fine to ask about her plans for work. But asking it in a way that suggests there is only one right answer is downright condescending. While some moms stay home, others don’t, and it’s nobody else’s business which route a pregnant woman decides to take. It’s simply a matter of what will bring the most joy, peace, and security to the family.

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A Weird Author-y Place To Be

Back in 2009, I thought I was about to hit the big time.

I’d written a book, you see. A novel, actually. A YOUNG ADULT novel. Because dang it, if Stephenie Meyer could do it, I could do it, too. And with the optimistic encouragement of my then-agent, who truly felt that my book would sell quickly and easily, I set off for a family vacation in the mountains feeling kind of like this:

Yes, quite. QUITE, my good fellow.

Yes, quite. QUITE, my good fellow.

OBVIOUSLY, my book was going to sell while we were in the mountains, and OBVIOUSLY, it would sell to the highest bidder at auction, and OBVIOUSLY, I was a hugely superior author and would soon be rolling in piles of royalty cash, etc. etc.

The first day passed with nary a word from my agent.

Then the second, and then the third.

On our way back to Birmingham, I remember smiling and participating in conversation while feeling quietly stunned and not a little offended.

(I also remember making my mom pull over so I could throw up on the side of the mountain because HOLLA CAR SICKNESS, THANKS MOUNTAINS FOR BEING RIDICULOUSLY SWIRLY.)

How was it possible that my book had been on submission for THREE WHOLE DAYS without getting snapped up for a six-figure advance? Something had clearly gone very, very wrong.

It would take me months to come to terms with the fact that I was not quite as superior as I had thought.

Over the course of the next year and a half, as my agent and I went on round after round of submission, revising after every flood of rejections, and hoping that this time, somebody would bite, I began to realize something.

Are you ready for this?

WRITING BOOKS IS HARD.

Like, it is so much harder than I ever thought it could be. There is SO much to learn. There is SUCH thick skin to develop. And there is SO much pride to push aside in the name of learning more, being better, picking yourself up yet again.

I didn’t know any of that back in 2009.

But now, as I sit here and look at the mere five months between today and the release date of my second YA novel, I know.

I know what it takes. And I know I’ve yet to arrive there. Am I better than I was six years ago? Oh, heavens yes. But in this case, I think “better” means something different than we assume.

“Better” means I know how I write, how I plan, how I revise. I know myself. I know to give myself room in the schedule, but I also know it’s vital to make myself a schedule.

“Better” means I know that when I reach the point of thinking, “There, that’s as good as it can get,” it can actually get at least 25,000% better with the help of beta readers, my agent, and professional editors.

“Better” means I know that if I want to be an author, I can be one, come jobs or babies or moving or whatever. The only thing that can ever stop me, is me.

It’s a weird place, this little spot I’m in, where I’m looking back at my first book and looking ahead at my second. What totally different experiences they have been. How much I’ve learned. How much I have yet to learn.

There are probably a lot more challenges in my author path, but now, for the first time since I ever sat down and wrote the most abysmal first draft ever in the history of first drafts back in 2008, I feel like I am ready for them.

I have been working on a semi-secret project for a few months now; maybe I’ll be able to talk more about it soon. And in October, once my pregnancy nausea is gone for good and I’ve regained some of my energy, I will begin to write YA again.

I can’t wait.

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