An Experiment in Control

February 6, 2014 at 8:36 pm (General, Writing) (, , )

Tomorrow marks two weeks of unemployment for me. I’m not panicking yet- last time I couldn’t get a job, it stretched for a whole six months- but it’s led to a lot of thinking for me, in between the cleaning and procrastinating. Mostly, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking about control.

Because realistically, I can’t control my employment. I can put out applications, I can search and interview and do my best, but I can’t control what actually happens. It’s led me to other things I can’t control.

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I can write the best book I can write, but I can’t guarantee that the book will sell better than my writing a custom annotated bibliography practice back in the time when I was a student. It’s out of my hands, and in the hands of an editor who can decide that he or she wants to buy it. I can do my best, my fabulous agent can do her best, but in the end, it depends on a lot of factors, like what else is in the catalog, like what the current trends are, like the purely subjective likes and dislikes of an acquisitions board. A lot of factors, factors over which I have no control.

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Once a book is out there, the way it’s perceived is entirely out of my control. Books become, to many readers, very personal things. The way we enjoy them, the way we react to them, says a lot about us. I can’t control what people think of my writing. Once it’s out there, I can’t argue with people that I think miss the point, can’t tell them what I meant to do. Hell, J.K. Rowling is a superstar and she can’t get away with it without a furor. And really, that’s as it should be. Once it’s in the hands of the reader, it’s open to interpretation, to personal perception. I can’t make anyone like my book. I can’t control whether or not someone enjoys it. Love it or hate it, it’s out of my hands.

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Publishing is a crazy industry that attempts to balance art and business. It’s a juggernaut, really, that steams along to its own timeline. There are eight million numbers and considerations and factors and none of it is in my hands. I can make my contributions on one end or another, but I can’t control it. YA readers on Twitter the other day may have seen #TheArchivedNeedsaThirdBook. For some context, The Archived is an absolutely amazing book by Victoria Schwab. It’s creepy and atmospheric, exciting, heart-wrenching, unexpectedly funny, with the lyrical, gorgeous writing we’ve come to expect from Victoria. It’s sequel, The Unbound, came out at the end of January, and it is just as good. Where the first book was an external enemy, this book is largely internal; the main character is shattering and struggling to make everyone believe she’s okay. A very large part of this book is the realization that it’s okay to NOT be okay for a while after trauma. The story is such that things can end here; it’s the characters that need a third book, and there was originally supposed to be one, but as we know, in publishing, sometimes things happen. They’re not done intentionally, they’re not done to hurt anyone, but it is, at the end of the day, a business, and a business is about numbers and projects and yes, about passion. The hashtag was a fan movement to try to sway the publishers, but at the end of the day, a trending hashtag isn’t going to make a difference to the business. (It will, however, make a hell of a difference to an author to get that kind of outpouring of love and support). What makes a difference to the publisher is sales. Aside from the contribution of buying books from authors I love so they can hopefully make more of them, I can’t control other books. I can’t control other authors. I can’t control publishers, or timelines, or release dates. I can’t.

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I’ll be honest, Other People as a collective tend to piss me off. Not in a “you’re awful” kind of way, but in an “I don’t want to be dealing with you” kind of way. I am an introvert; I prefer not to deal with people if I can possibly avoid it, because I’m awkward and self-conscious and I hate feeling like an idiot in social situations. But I learned a long time that I can’t control other people. I can’t control behavior, or statements, or preferences. I can take accountability for my own actions, but not for theirs. I can’t control luck or good fortune, or bad fortune, I can’t make other people live with compassion or mindfulness.

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There are so many things out of our control it’s frankly a wonder we can convince ourselves anything IS in our control. There is so much about life that we don’t get to decide. We can’t choose the weather, or the climate (unless you choose to move, but even then, have you noticed how things have been recently?). We as individuals have a say in our government, but we don’t really choose it. We can’t control the jury summons or the illness or the falling in love. We can’t choose a lot of things, and where there is no choice, there is no control. It all seems rather a hopeless business, doesn’t it? But there’s something comforting, in a strange sort of way, about acknowledging how small we are, how generally powerless we are. Because when we admit to ourselves all the things we CAN’T control, we start to understand the things we CAN control.

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I can’t control what happens with my writing, but I can control the writing itself. Yes, there are bad days, where every word is a struggle and I’ll probably end up deleting most of them the next time I sit down to work, but those are generally rare. More to the point, what I can control is sitting down and DOING IT. I can control the process of sitting my butt in the chair and WRITING. I can choose to open the file, the notebook, the book. I can choose to exercise my craft and expand my voice. Whatever comes after is out of my hands, but it is precisely in my hands to shape the story and spill it onto the page.

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I’m not by nature a disciplined person, but I can change that. I can control that. I can make it better. Right now my apartment is slowly getting cleaner than any living space of mine has probably ever been, and it’s kind of creeping me out a little, because everything is getting organized and neat and in its place, and that’s just not normal for me. But I’m making the choice, here and now, to keep it that way. To start the good habits and maintain them. I’m usually someone who waits for the mood to write, or who waits for the day off, but I would very much like to get into the habit of writing at least five hundred words every day. Even if it’s not on my main project of the moment, just so I’m writing SOMETHING every single day. Starting good habits is hard. Maintaining good habits is REALLY hard. But- I can choose to have the self-discipline to enforce them, and right now, I choose that.

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I’m not able to control what happens to my books, but I can choose to keep pursuing the goals I’ve set. I can control whether or not I give up. Determination, persistence, they’re hard, especially because they traverse so close to the border of delusional and trying too hard. Sometimes, no matter how badly we want something, no matter how hard we work for it, it just doesn’t happen, and we do have to accept that. Sometimes that means we have to shift our goals. It doesn’t mean we have to give up. Determination got me my first book deal. I can choose to continue that determination.

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Okay, so this one is actually really difficult. Life has a way of throwing things at us, and it’s hard to control your outlook in trying times. But if I can’t control my emotions well enough to be optimistic, I can at least control them enough to not wallow in misery. I can choose to temper my outlook with a bit of joy and hope, or at least a really sick sense of humor. I can’t control the world, but I can control how I look at it, and I can control how I choose to move through it.

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Because at the end of things, the only thing I can really control is myself. All those other factors, all those other things, that I can claim to control, all those really boil into one single thing: me. And as long as I can control myself, as long as I can choose to make myself better, to do better, I can get by.

And what that also made me realize is something else I can control.

My gratitude.

So.

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Farewell, 2012

December 31, 2012 at 8:27 pm (General) (, , , , , )

2012 flew by so bizarrely for me that any attempt to do a true retrospective can’t but come off as stilting, but there were some things that happened this year that will always make this year stick out in my mind.

I learned a lot about myself as an author this year. I learned my habits, both good and bad, learned some of the things that do or do not work for me in a big way. I learned what it means for me to pace myself. I learned my limits- more importantly I learned which are hard limits and which I need to push.

I signed with an agent, someone who gets me. Someone who can look at a story so creepy even I can’t help but cringe and say she loves it- honestly. There are corners of my brain that are very dark and twisty, that produce scenes or even whole books that are so thoroughly, grotesquely creeptastic almost anyone would have me committed, and Sandy gives me full permission to take my characters and go play there. We can also, in the middle of an ongoing exchange about edits and cover ideas, have a conversation about David Bowie as Jareth the Goblin King’s unambiguous bulge. Welcome to the professional world. I am incredibly, profoundly grateful for meeting and signing with Sandy. She’s honest with me about what works and what doesn’t, and even if I mention I’m thinking of pursuing an oddball idea, she justs says go for it, we’ll see how it turns out. She’s more than a champion for my work- she’s a champion for me, someone who can beautifully time something personal or something absurd.

I learned that all those worries and frets and neuroses don’t go away when you sign with an agent- they just graduate into something more complicated and challenging. Somehow when A Wounded Name, then Elsinore Drowning, was on submission, it occured to me that an agent isn’t simply tossing your work and your reputation out there to editors- an agent also stakes his or her own reputation on your work. An agent takes you on as a gamble, as the risk they’re putting forward into believing your work will sell. And they’re sending your work to people who may or may not want to gamble more money on you. I have a complicated relationship with money, and a decidedly odd perspective on numbers because of it, but as soon as the business comes into the art, the neuroses ratchet up.

I learned that being personable as an author is very, VERY different from being personable in retail. I am a shy, self-conscious, and socially awkward individual, I truly am. I’ve worked retail for more than eight years now, so I’ve learned how to appear not to be, but when you’re Bookseller or Cashier or some faceless position, it doesn’t really matter. As long as you do what you’re supposed to do and interact on an acceptably non-dysfunctional level, that’s about as much effort as you have to put into it. Do I put more effort in? Yes, because that’s how I was raised, and if I have to spend forty hours a week doing a job other than writing, I at least want to spend more time smiling than not. But, in a different arena, the difficulty can be much greater. On the phone with my day job, I’m answering questions with easy answers. Yes or no we have that, yes or no we can order that, this or that is the problem and yes or no we can fix it. It sometimes takes some ingenuity to answer a question (Um, I saw this book somewhere like five years ago, and it might have a red cover, or maybe black? Maybe there was dragon in the title? Or on the cover? Or maybe it was just in the story? Oh, and it was written by a dude. I think) but in the end, the answers are all right there, and nearly all of us can give the same answer to the majority of the questions.
As an intensely shy person, it’s a lot easier for me to be personable and put myself forward when I’m representing an established company. My work is less reflective of myself than it is of the company that trained me and employs me. When left to my own devices, or more importantly when left to adequately represent myself…it’s nerve-wracking. And when I’m nervous, I have this stupid little laugh, which just makes me more nervous. I’m constantly afraid of being tongue-tied, or just sounding like an idiot. I’m worried about giving the wrong answer, I’m worried about coming across as too forceful on some points, or too weak in others. I know that I can come off as a snob (and in some aspects, I am a snob, I can admit that at least) and it makes me paranoid about offending people. And it’s not just talking on the phone that’s so difficult.
Seriously.
I can be am awkward in emails. And that’s supposed to be the thing you can fall back on to NOT be awkward.
But this is all part of what being an author is. You have to reach out and communicate with people. You have to be able to represent yourself intelligently and well, you have to be able to carry on comfortable communication. I’m not sure I’m there yet. I become accustomed to people, and the worry decreases a little, but it takes a while, and there are so many new people to meet and speak with. We’ll call improving this one of my working goals of 2013.

I sold a book.

I SOLD A BOOK. But it wasn’t just me- it was also Sandy, it was also all those editors and editors’ assistants who read my work and gave responses, and it was the editor who said YES. I am incredibly grateful to be working with Andrew. He’s amazing. I think one of the biggest job requirements of being an editor- other than a skill for wrangling neurotic writers- is a boundless imagination, and Andrew takes a little boy’s unabashed pleasure in exploring all the possibilities of a manuscript. Reading the differences between the submission draft and what’s become more or less the final draft (minus pass pages, which haven’t happened yet) is astounding. And the thing is, I’m still very, very proud of the draft that went out on submission. BUT IT’S LIKE A MILLION TIMES BETTER NOW. That is an editor’s gift, something Andrew possess in abundance (in addition to a deep patience for my sending him questions that make me cringe with how I stupid I perceive them to be). In the course of this year, I went from someone desperately wanting to see my book on the shelf someday to someone who WILL see my book on the shelf someday. A finite day, in fact, sometime in the fall of 2013.

I have learned so much about the process of publishing, a journey that still fills me with shock and awe and wonder and a profound sense of gratitude.

And that may be one of the biggest things I’ve learned this year. Not that I was an ungrateful buttmunch before this year, but there are the things you’re grateful for, and there are the things that fill you with gratitude. There are these moments where suddenly, and completely unexpectedly, you’re just aware. I love that when I find really funny, REALLY inappropriate jokes about Hamlet, I have someone I can send them to- and who sends them to me in return. Really late on Christmas Eve, I woke up to find an email from an author I really admire both personally and professionally, whose debut novel filled me with a lingering love of words and rhythms, saying she wanted to blurb my book. I’ll release details when I can, but I spent the next…oh, two hours, at least, as Christmas Eve passed into Christmas morning, sprawled on bed and intermittently giggling with sheer euphoria. My emotions on Christmas Eve/early morning are complicated at the best of times (house fires born from Advent candles will do that to you) and this was astounding. I am constantly in awe of the Young Adult community, not just the readers but the authors as well. I grew up in theatre- even in the midst of close friendships, there’s always competition, because only one person can have That Role. The Young Adult writing community is so incredibly welcoming it’s almost terrifying. Even shy little people like me, that can really only handle making a few new friends at a time, has a place. You have a triumph and suddenly SO MANY PEOPLE are saying YAY. And meaning it. There’s no jealousy, no sense of displacement, no cliqueyness. It’s astonishing, and it’s wonderful.

I’ve mostly told my frequently revoked Adult License to go screw itself.
I may technically be an adult, but it’s bizarre how little significance that word has for anything. I live on my own, I pay my bills, I work for my living, and if I want to get something and have the funds I can, without any sort of explanation or justification. I still don’t feel like an adult. If I’m in the apartment, I am in my pajamas. I don’t wear them outside any more, except on laundry day, but seriously? There are stuffed animals on my bed. I still eat Lucky Charms. This Christmas I got a bathrobe with a penguin-head hood and it MADE MY DAY. And there are all these worries. I look at my bank account and worry, I look at my bills and worry, I think about putting gas in the car and wonder if there’s enough and I HATE IT. That worry? That endless stress about income and expense? That’s what I associate with being an adult. I had an apartment in college, had a job, had bills, but most of that was done with a greal deal of help, and the fact of being in classes, of having a set schedule and homework and teachers/professors in aspects of authority, that all contributed to this sense of isolationism, like the real world was still beyond the hedges somewhere. That feeling is, I think, what the basis of New Adult should be, but just as Young Adult started off in one area and grew, I think New Adult will as well.

I’ve learned that sometimes you can do your absolute best, do everything you should, and yet sometimes things just suck. Things just fall apart, or turn into a complete cock-up, and it’s not your fault.

I’ve learned, once again, that people can do senselessly horrible things.

I’ve learned, once again, that people can do senselessly wonderful things.

I’ve learned that Richard Armitage is really, really hot.

REALLY hot.

I’ve learned to let things go. To look at what’s before me, and what’s behind me, and say no, this isn’t going to work, or no, this isn’t the person I want to be. It’s not easy- I don’t suppose it’ll ever be easy- but I can let it go.

2013 is going to be a strange year. My book is coming out in less time than it takes to carry a healthy baby. I’m going to be speaking at a local writer’s group meeting in February and doing a signing at BEA in May/June, and I’m terrified because this is so far out of my comfort zone but at the same time, this is what I signed up for. I have new projects lined up for next year, and a couple of them scare the bejeezus out of me- and I’m so excited for them I can hardly see straight, because that fear, that thrill of adrenaline, is what gives me the courage to tackle those exciting stories. I’ll have to make some decisions regarding priorities- which includes this blog and how I schedule/structure posts. Over the course of this year, I’ll be meeting authors I really admire, and holy hell, how am I going to be able to keep from fangirling all over them? Because yes, they’re artists whose work I adore, but they’re also (strange as it seems to say it) colleagues, but they’re colleagues who cheer each other on, and yes, flail about each other’s work in the best ways possible.
2013 is going to include a fair share of rejections, I’m sure, but hopefully there will also be a measure of acceptances, of the book I’m releasing and the books I hope to sell. So far my book is still this little baby held close to my heart where very few can touch it, but once galleys go out, it’s out of my hands. People will have the choice to read it, and they’ll love it/hate it/want to burn it as they choose. That’s terrifying, and the prospect feeds right into some of the worst of my neuroses.
Which is another goal for 2013: try to rein in some of the more neurotic tendencies unless they feed directly into being productive.

2012 has flown by in such a way that it almost feels unreal that it’s over in a few hours, but this has been a year of such change, of such personal growth, that I can say it’s been a very good year, a better year than I’ve had in a really long time.

And that, as does so much else, brings my mind circling back to that wondrous sense of gratitude.

And that, too, I’m grateful for.

Until next year~
Cheers!

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