Anatomy of a Setback

So, I mentioned the terrific time I had at ILA16 this past weekend. But I didn’t tell you about a little setback I experienced.

The whole reason I was attending the conference was because Abrams invited me to sign advanced reader copies (aka ARCs) of The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters: The Jolly Regina. I was psyched to do this, because it was a great opportunity to build some buzz and connect with educators; plus, the conference was in Boston, just a hop, skip, and a jump from Providence. After I got the invite from Abrams, I contacted the team at Candlewick Press and asked them if they wanted me to do a signing for The Infamous Ratsos as well; they did, though by that time it was too late to get my Ratsos signing on the official ILA schedule. Of course, that didn’t matter to me — I was thrilled to have the chance to be a part of the ILA scene, and to spread the word about the book. Plus, I knew I was already doing the big official signing at Abrams; I could promote my afternoon Ratsos signing to anyone who got a signed ARC of The Bland Sisters that morning.

And then, Saturday afternoon, the day before I was due to attend the conference, I got a call from Abrams with bad news: they’d shipped three boxes of books to ILA, and one had not turned up. What was in that wayward box? You guessed it. Among other important materials, The Bland Sisters ARCs had gone MIA. Of course, this was no one’s fault (except, possibly, the shipping company), and I’ve been in publishing (and on the publishers’ side of the fence) long enough to know that these things happen, which is what I told the very apologetic Abrams contact who delivered the news.

But after I got off the phone, I thought about the situation some more. And the more I thought about it, the more bummed I felt — my inner Eeyore took over, and started telling me, “Of course this happened to you. Your career is doomed.” And then I really started to worry — that a big opportunity to build buzz had been lost, that the success of the series launch had been compromised, that I was going to seem like a total lame-o at the conference, and that my Ratsos signing was going to be a bust. “Why even bother?” my inner Eeyore wondered. (This is his favorite refrain.)

It was not my finest moment, but I have been operating at a disadvantage lately, due to a cocktail of unpredictable perimenopausal hormones and the fact that we’ve been nighttime training our toddler, which means I’ve been waking up at 2am each night to take him to the potty. So I have been tired and cranky, and when tired and cranky have a party, Eeyore is bound to show up. The best way for me to shut it down, and really the only way, is to take a nap. I’m just glad I was in close proximity to my bed at the time, and far away from any sharp implements or heavy machinery.

The nap worked. When I woke up, I was still a little bummed, but I felt ready to turn things around. On the bright side, my cancelled 10am signing meant that I didn’t have to take the 7am train to Boston (the only one that Sunday that would have gotten me to the convention center on time), giving me an extra hour or so to sleep in — so when my rescheduled train encountered a forty minute delay, I had the wherewithal to roll with it. The train made up some time in transit, so I wasn’t completely rushed, and all my events went smoothly. Better than smoothly, in fact. I had a great Abrams-sponsored lunch with some esteemed educators, where I passed around the one Bland ARC I did have. Then, at my Ratsos signing, we went through eighty books in under an hour! (And Abrams will be sending all interested parties an ARC at a later date; I like to think that sending the book separately will make it seem more special.)

As writers (and as creative people in general), we spend so much of our time making our work the best it can be, so we can give it the best chance for success in the world. But even the best chance of success isn’t foolproof. Talent and effort and ingenuity are key, as ever. But as I’ve learned the hard way (more than once), it’s just as crucial to have patience and resilience. And to know when it’s time to take a nap.

Gettin’ My Head Around It

So, I have not one, not two, but THREE manuscripts to revise this summer. The big one is the second story in The Unintentional Adventures of the Bland Sisters trilogy; I just got editorial notes late last week, and the revision is due on August 1st (yep, you heard that right). The other two aren’t under contract yet — they haven’t even gone out on submission. One is a new chapter book, and the other is a contemporary middle grade novel.

I know what you’re thinking. Um, this seems like a lot to do in a little over two months. How are you going to manage? Also, are you CRAZY? 

Well, yes, I am a little bit crazy. I am a writer, after all. But I know I can make all of this happen, with some simple strategizing. Here’s my plan of attack:

  1. Print out and review editorial notes (whether they’re from my editor on the Bland Sisters 2, from my critique partners on the chapter book, or my own notes on the new middle grade) and take a day or so in each case to get my head around them.
  2. Read through each manuscript and flag pages and make notes where I think I can incorporate the aforementioned changes.
  3. Think about how long I have to tackle each project, and calculate how many chapters I need to address each day of my revision window (making sure to give myself some room for unforeseen delays).
  4. Stick to the schedule and DO THE WORK.

I have more time these days, since my son is in summer camp five days a week, so I’m not feeling as overwhelmed as I’ve been in the past. It DOES make me a little nervous that I’m going to be working on more than one project at a time, but I’ve done it before, and really, I can think of worse things to complain about. And of course, on top of all of this, I will make sure to blog about my progress, so we can all see just how successful I am at making all of this happen!

Have you ever had more than one deadline on your calendar? Got any advice for me?

 

On Not-Writing

I’ll admit it: I haven’t written a word in almost a week, other than these here blog entries. Part of the reason is that my husband was away for four days, so I was working mommy and daddy duty for the duration. But part of the reason is because I was busy doing all the other things a writer with a book (or two) on the horizon has to do. To wit:

  • I’m delivering a seminar in a few days, so I’m getting a Powerpoint presentation ready.
  • I’ve designed and ordered hundreds of promotional bookmarks.
  • I’ve been emailing with publicists about bookstore events and Skype lessons and upcoming conferences and sending out advanced reading copies of my books.
  • I’ve been compiling mailing lists for advanced reading copies of my books, and drafting letters to my writing and publishing and media friends, asking them if they want to be put on those mailing lists.

While I hate being in a state of not-writing, I am grateful for these endeavors; they get my name and my books OUT THERE. Because while writing is fulfilling, so is paying the bills, and the only way that’s going to happen is for people to take notice of my books and buy them, and then read them and talk about them enough that other people will buy them.

In the past, I have been hesitant about assuming this promotional role, as it has felt desperate and futile. But I can’t think that way anymore — literally, I cannot afford to fail, so I cannot afford to not try anything and everything, no matter how squicky it makes me. So, over the coming months, if I start sounding like someone in a mall kiosk trying to sell you hair extensions or cheap sunglasses or a cell phone cover, I hope you’ll understand it’s part of my job. And while my books won’t protect your eyes or your cell phone or make your hair look like a Real Housewife’s, they will exercise your brain and your funny bone, so I hope you’ll still check them out.

 

 

the lowdown.

Last week, I was planning on writing about some sort of craft-related topic. And then I was side-swiped by a terrible mood. I’ve made it my goal to blog three times a week, so I felt obligated to write something, which is why I left a short explanation for my flakeout. And then I wondered if people actually might find it helpful to hear about one of my low moments — how it starts, how I (usually) manage to get through it, and how it eventually abates. So here goes.

It started with a Tupperware container of frozen spaghetti sauce.

Okay, wait. I take that back. Before the Tupperware, I overslept.

No, that’s not right. Let’s back up a bit more. And let me take this moment to mention two things about myself, which I’ve been reluctant to reveal. The first is that I’ve suffered from depression for a while now, a symptom of PMDD (pre menstrual dysphoric disorder). Basically, for about one or two days a month, I get really, really low…and then, it passes, and I’m fine. The other thing is that I have been going through peri-menopause for the past few years; it came a bit early for me, probably a side-effect of the chemo, according to my doctors. In any case, one of the symptoms of peri-menopause (along with fatigue and  hot flashes and migraines and monster cramps and junk food cravings and this weird thing where part of my hair gets really dry and part of it gets really greasy) is that it turns your regular hormonally-driven mood shifts up to eleven — not great for someone like me, who’s already having a rough time at that time of the month.

So…I woke up that morning at 5:45am when I’d set my alarm, and I turned my alarm off. I’ve been setting it for that time for a while now, because that’s when I have time to exercise. I want and need to work out, because it helps my overall physical and mental well-being (and is one of the recommended treatments for my PMDD). But I also want and need to sleep as much as possible, so I have the energy to do battle with my hormones and my currently-contentious toddler. Every morning, therefore, is a battle, and on this particular morning, sleep won. This meant that when I finally did get out of bed, I was feeling crappy because I felt tired and out of shape, and crappy because I felt guilty for not exercising. I also felt crappy because I slept so late, I had no time to take a shower, and my hair was doing that dry/greasy thing. So I was feeling crappy and grubby.

When I went to the kitchen, I opened the freezer to take out and defrost the blueberry muffin my son eats for breakfast, and a Tupperware container of frozen spaghetti sauce slid out, hit me in the face, and then shattered on the hardwood floor. Normally I would find a moment like this hilarious, but I was already in a sour state of mind. The added chore of cleaning up frozen sauce and shards of Tupperware from my kitchen floor did not help things, at all. Other things that did not help:

  1. My son refusing to eat the aforementioned muffin, despite repeated pleas from me and my husband
  2. My son refusing to “go potty” in a timely manner before we left to drop him off at school
  3. My inability to find something to wear

That last one was a huge red flag for me that a bad mood was rising. When I feel as if I have nothing to wear, as if I look terrible in every article of clothing I own, I know I’m going down the rabbit hole. I can’t remember what I did end up wearing, but I am sure it was some form of athleisurewear, a baggy t-shirt, and a hat.

And then it was off to preschool, hooray! As my son chattered in the back seat (“Who’s singing on the radio, Mommy?” “The clouds look like mashed potatoes!” “Can I watch videos on your phone when we get to school?”), I half-listened to the 80s radio station as I maneuvered my way around the terrible Rhode Island drivers and reminded myself about needing to write a blog entry. What was I going to write about? What would seem interesting, and useful?

When I got to my son’s preschool, I was so distracted by him and my blog-centric thoughts that I turned into the parking lot a little too sharply, and hit the curb. The however-light impact somehow made my car horn go off, and that singular HONK made two of my son’s teachers, who were crossing the parking lot at the time, turn their heads and look at me. It was probably just a glance, but it sent me over the edge. They must think I’m crazy, I thought. And right now, I feel crazy. Lazy and slovenly and crazy, to be exact. When I dropped off my son, I made sure not to make eye contact with any of the teaching staff, and left the parking lot before any of the other parents.

On the way home, I distracted myself from my embarrassment by thinking about my blog again. I started thinking about how futile it is to blog, anyway, since I have so few readers. Then I started thinking about the storytime I started doing at my local toy store a few weeks before, and how poorly attended it had been. Then I started thinking about some bad experiences I’ve had with poorly-attended bookstore events. Then I started thinking about the two new series I have coming out over the next few months, and worrying that no one will like them, or (even worse) no one will care, and that I won’t promote them enough or well, that I will miss out on this chance, what I perceive as my final chance at making this my career, and will sink back into my hovel of obscurity and humiliation.

I stopped at Dunkin Donuts and got myself a coffee. By the time I got home, it was pretty clear that the blog wasn’t going to happen. And that made me feel worse; just like the exercising I’d eschewed that morning, I felt I’d broken another promise to myself by not posting. But then, I drank some coffee and stared at my computer screen, and thought, maybe I will post, just to say that I won’t be posting. That way I’ll still meet my goal. To my addled brain, that made some sense.

So, that’s what I did. Afterwards, I felt a little bit better (probably due to the coffee), so I had enough presence of mind to try to pull myself out of the funk I was in. Here are some things I did, which proved successful:

  1. Finished the coffee (always a good idea).
  2. Listened to my one of my favorite Wilco songs, their (and Billy Bragg’s) cover of Woody Guthrie’s “Airline to Heaven.” Do you have a song that immediately perks you up? This one is mine.
  3. Ate a strawberry – because sometimes, just leaning over the kitchen sink and eating a ripe, sweet strawberry helps.
  4. Read through the draft of my new middle-grade novel – it needs a lot of work, but reading through it reminded me of its potential, and of how much I love it, and how much I love writing, and how I’m pretty good at it, whether other people read my work or not.

Although all of these things helped, I wasn’t really out of the woods until I took a nap that afternoon, while my son took his nap. By the time my husband got home from work, I was able to tell him all about my day, and as I detailed every moment, it all just seemed ridiculous, like dreams do when you try to explain them too long after you’ve woken up. Even laying it all out for you now, all the trivial little moments and dumb thoughts I have,  just shows how incapacitating depression (and the hormones fueling that depression) can be.

Okay, that’s it. I have to admit, this was helpful for me; I know I will have many more of these low moments, but at least I have some insights into how and why they happen. I can only hope this was helpful for you.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go and eat a strawberry over the kitchen sink.

 

 

low.

I’m not going to post a full blog entry today, because I am in a terrible mood (despite the history-making Hillary news last night) and I’ve learned to avoid most social interaction while I’m in the state I’m in right now, if I can help it. But I’m thinking it might be worthwhile, to me and to anyone reading this, if I wrote about the experience of what I call a “low moment” — how it comes on, how it progresses, how it eventually abates, and how I manage.

More on this next week, after I compose myself and some thoughts. xo

 

Breaktime…?

Lately, my mantra has been “If I’m not writin’, I’m dyin’.” Given the way this industry works, we creative types can’t always count on timely responses or contracts or payments, so I feel as if I always have to have something going out, to maximize my chances of having something good coming in.

But now, I have a vacation coming up, and it’s the first long one I’ve had in a long time. I’m excited, of course, but also nervous. I don’t want to be the kind of lame-o who works through their vacay, but I also don’t want to lose creative momentum. When I get back, I’ll be starting on a revision of a new project, and I hope to get some feedback on other stuff that’s currently under review with my Trusted Readers. And then there’s that picture book biography I’d love to attempt.

My solution is to pack my writing journal, my reading material for the picture book bio, and my copy of The Gifts of Imperfection. That way I can get some actual work done (in the form of research) without doing any actual writing, I can journal some ideas or work out any work-related separation anxiety I might be feeling, and I’ll have Brené Brown if I need some perspective.

If you’re a full-time creative, how and when do you take a break? And when you do, are you able to leave it (i.e. troubles, cares, laptop, social media) all behind?

Fighting for My Write

It’s about 9:00pm right now, and we just got our little one to bed about an hour ago, after several protracted potty adventures. Yesterday, I caught myself saying, “Get busy pooping, or get busy sleeping,” as if I had landed in some crazy toddler version of The Shawshank Redemption. Actually, an all-toddler remake of The Shawshank Redemption sounds pretty awesome. Or maybe I’m just that crap-happy these days.

Amidst all of this, I am getting some writing done, somehow. For the next month and a half, while my son is still in preschool, I’m still on my schedule of three mornings a week for writing, with two hours of actual sit-down time during each session. But when preschool ends, we have him signed up for summer camp, and that will be FIVE days a week, with four hours of writing time during each session, even more if it’s a day I don’t need to drop him off in the morning. I’m finding it hard to believe that I will soon have all of that time at my disposal. Might I actually have the opportunity to write AND accomplish some minor household tasks? At first, when this idea entered my head, I chastised myself for even thinking of devoting my precious time to something other than writing. But really, I’m not the kind of writer who can sit down in front of a laptop for hours. I have to get up and do other things, to give my eyes a break, and to allow my brain to focus on something else. Because it’s when I’m doing those other mundane things that my story problems manage to solve themselves. It’s like those people who get their best ideas in the shower (while I am always forgetting whether or not I just put in my conditioner). I get my best ideas when I’m pouring a fresh cup of coffee, or emptying the dishwasher, or folding the laundry. Diversions are part of my writing process, as much as roughing out a first draft or jotting in my writing journal might be.

However I end up spending it, I am SO GRATEFUL for this extra time — or for any free writing time at all, really. For the first two years of my son’s life, I was with him every hour of every day, and that was (mostly) great, but it left me with no time for creative thought. I tried working early in the morning or late at night, but I found I had little to no creative energy. Thankfully, my husband would take the baby for a few hours on the weekends, and I’d use that time to get away and write my heart out. Because while being a parent (especially the at-home parent) is unquestionably fulfilling, there comes a time when we need nourishment — and  no one is going to be waiting around to give it to us.

Late last week, I found out that I didn’t receive the grant I’d applied for a few months ago. (Add another one to my CV of Failures!)  It was a grant specifically for creative parents. I’ve tried not to let the rejection bother me, but I have to tell you that it does bum me out a little, because the money would have given me one less (BIG) thing to worry about. And not being chosen feels like someone out there is telling me I’m not worthy. But really, all I can do is keep working, and finding ways to afford the precious time I have to do what I love. That’s all any of us can do, right?