Release Date!

Eeeeee! I’m so excited to post this update!

My editor and the publisher loved the updates I made to the contemporary parts of On Home and so they took it to a meeting with sales reps from the distributor. These are the people who sell the books to bookstores.

The sales reps also loved the contemporary story but had some issues with the historical parts (basically I worked too hard on these, and made them too detailed and heavy handed.) So, I’m working on toning those down a bit, which I’ll be done with by the end of March. My editor is looking over these changes as I go. Then, April 1, the book will go to copy edit!!!! In the meantime, a creative brief is going to the designer so that we can get a professional cover. The tentative release date is August 24, 2021!

Of course, this could always get pushed back depending on different factors. A good number of my friends who have published their books have had to push their dates back. BUT getting a date is a pretty huge deal! It means we have about six months to wrap up the edits, market the heck out of it, get advanced reviews, and hopefully plan a fun launch party. Y’all better wear your masks and get your vaccinations because I want you there with me! 🙂

What I Read: 2019

I made reading a priority again in 2019, and I’m so glad I did. I read 42 full length books and I know they’ve helped me become a better writer! Here’s what I read at a glance:

Mr. & Mrs. American Pie by Juliet McDaniel
How to Tell Toledo From the Night Sky by Lydia Netzer
The Savage Instinct by Marjorie DeLuca
In the Midst of Winter by Isabel Allende
Lipstick Brigade by Cindy Gueli
*Everyone Brave is Forgiven by Chris Cleave
Little Children by Tom Perrotta
Inside the F.B.I. by John J. Floherty
Gone Girl by Gillian Flynn
Just So Stories by Rudyard Kipling
Lilac Girls by Martha Hall Kelly
All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr
Time’s Magpie: A Walk in Prague by Myla Goldberg
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera
The O’Brien Book of Irish Fairy Tales by Una Levy and Susan Field
*Southernmost by Silas House
*The Good Earth by Pearl S. Buck
How to Not Always Be Working by Marlee Grace
Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert
Necessary Errors 
by Caleb Crain
*Behold the Dreamers by Imbolo Mbue
The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh by A.A. Milne
The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
Everything I Never Told You by Celeste Ng
*My Brilliant Friend by Elena Ferrante
The Girl Who Never Read Noam Chomsky by Jana Casale
Speak No Evil by Uzodinma Iweala
Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens
Crazy Rich Asians by Kevin Kwan
Celia at 39 by Jason Pomerance
I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter by Erika L. Sanchez
A Gentleman’s Murder by Christopher Huang
*The Seclusion by Jacqui Castle
The Happenstances at the Yellow County Community Swim and Raquet Club the Summer Before Last by Peter L. Harmon
*Migratory Animals by Mary Helen Sprecht
Deception!: A Writing Bloc Anthology
*City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Hazel Wood by Melissa Albert
China Rich Girlfriend by Kevin Kwan
Rich People Problems by Kevin Kwan
*The Phantom Forest by Liz Kerin
*The Library Book by Susan Orlean

*My top ten

This list of 35 fiction and 7 nonfiction books includes:

25 books with women authors

9 books by authors of color

6 books by LGBTQ authors

8 books by people I know

Next year, I want to read more books in all of these categories! What did you read in 2019? What are your reading goals for 2020?


North Central West Virginia Punk Scene of the Early 2000s

This piece was written for a proposed anthology on punk in Appalachia. When that project didn’t happen, its organizer asked for submissions for a zine instead. Since the zine cut a large chunk from my piece without consulting with me, and the result omitted important information and conclusions, I’ve published it in its entirety here. Thank you to everyone who spoke with me about their experiences!


Punk in North Central West Virginia in the early 2000s inhabited a unique moment in time and space, as all cultures and countercultures do, of course—unmatched before or after. Like other “scenes,” it was hard to recognize its specificity until after the moment passed. Punk felt, at the time I was introduced to it in 2001, like something which had existed in a semi-static state since the seventies, and something which would continue in perpetuity.  Several factors, though, including the socio-economic status of the place where it occurred, geography, and world politics and events, led to its inimitable characteristics, and these connections are what this piece hopes to capture—the visceral feeling of being a punk in this particular place and time, as well as the factors that influenced this feeling.

Of course, I cannot claim to speak for every person who experienced this particular scene. At the time of my participation, I was a white, culturally Jewish, able-bodied, teenage woman whose family was lower-middle class. Though I did not identify as strictly “straight,” I dated people who identified at the time as men. My experience was certainly different than someone whose identity differed in various ways. I’ve tried to note this throughout.

As the closest CD store was 40 minutes away, and streaming music was not yet available, the opportunity to obtain new music was rare. Often we relied on burnt CDs from friends or mail order catalogs from small record labels to discover new bands. Local bands were central to the scene. False Profit, a band consisting of members several years older than our own group, was the holy grail of local punk, though their followers caused problems within the community which I discuss later. Our own group continually formed and reformed bands in various configurations, whose monikers included The Scrotch Rockers, The Fall, Small Town Disaster, Americancer, Men with Muscles, and The Misogynistas, a band I played the bass in while wearing an apron and bare feet, who played songs we thought of as ironic at the time with titles like “Clip the Clit.”

The concept of authenticity was important in the scene. One wanted to be authentically “punk” without, of course, trying too hard to be so. Not conforming to the agreed-upon standards of dress, politics, and musical taste, or doing so in a way that was perceived as too enthusiastic could both get one labeled a poser. In retrospect, I considered the possibility that women may have held each other the most harshly to these standards.

Kim Miller’s comments support this hypothesis. “There was one (woman) I remember yelling ‘fucking poser’ at me from across the street more than once,” she said. “Like I’d never even talked to this girl but she thought I wasn’t ‘punk enough’ to hang out with her guy friends. Maybe she thought I was invading her territory or something.”

Miller’s further memories make it seem possible that women were held to higher standards by all in the scene. “I remember being harassed by some older guys at lunch for having a Rancid patch on my backpack, being called a poser, and told to name my favorite songs to prove I listened to them,” she told me. “None of the dudes at the table had to deal with that.”

Similarly, Brooke Lily said, “I remember feeling like just being a girl in the scene or one who skated was a big deal, like you had to prove you belonged there.”

My longer-lasting band, WDHP (We Don’t Have Penises), was not fully accepted as part of the official scene, presumably because the covers we played were too cutesy.

Lily brought up this band in her reflections too. “You all were doing great but it was like the guys got credit still just because you were their girlfriends and they were teaching you how to be in a band when in actuality you practiced and worked together on your own.”

Whoever was policing women’s authenticity, men involved often seem to approach their own belonging in a self-deprecating, more playful way. Brandon Williams, who, with his instrumental versatility, found his way into several bands, shared that he did think about authenticity, but was inspired to be critical of it. “I was really into the Casualties sophomore year,” he said, and explained that then he and a friend had a long conversation about a band whose message was “don’t look this scene. Live this scene.” He became less concerned with his outward appearance.

For those who continued to want to “look the scene,” extreme hair was the pinnacle of authenticity, and I chose for myself a spiked mohawk. Other friends wore liberty spikes, men let their hair grow long, and Manic Panic hair dye was ubiquitous though difficult to obtain—it had to be purchased at Sally’s Beauty supply, on rare trips to the mall, or from Interpunk.com. Band t-shirts, the more obscure the better, baggy jeans, and skate shoes were the uniform. One’s musical taste was also under regular scrutiny. Crass were cool; The Clash were too commercial. These goal posts constantly shifted. Anti-Flag was cool until they weren’t, the same with AFI. The trends were circular and often came back around. One regularly got into a band that had previously been disowned, once they became obscure enough again. It was also acceptable to like other types of unpopular music—video game electronica, or even the children’s band The Wiggles, and tracks from these sometimes found their way onto mixed CDs alongside NOFX or Propagandhi. Locally, a band called The Masters of Unlocking played video game covers, and Technochini played bizarre keyboard electronica way before it was as mainstream as it is today. Being “punk” didn’t always mean playing punk—it was more about a feeling of obscurity and resistance.

Reflecting this inclusivity, our group was tight but not insular. Our social circle overlapped with many that were not involved with punk music at all, including dancers, band geeks, and “preppy” or popular kids. Punk bands often performed at church youth group open mic nights. Other shows took place at a Teen Center, The Stockert Youth Center, the local dance studio, people’s driveways, and a pizza place a few towns away.  We did not, however, mix largely with some of the more working class students, or “rednecks” because we thought they were conservative and they thought we were “faggots.”

Another critical division which arose was between punks and metal kids. The Hodgesville Community Center, several miles North of Buckhannon became an important hub for shows. Bands played in the same space where the local Lions Club met, surrounded by carpeted walls decorated with banners from the fraternal organization. I moshed in the same space where I’d attended 4-H Club meetings and even friend’s birthday sleepovers.

Because of the size of our region, there were often not enough bands to fill a night, and so punk and metal bands shared a bill. The punks made a point of sitting outside as the metal bands played and vice versa. For our part, we knew our music was better as were our politics (in that we cared about politics enough to make it central to our music). From outside of the community center, the metal songs were just a long low drone. When they finished, their fans poured out, bringing with them the smell of weed and greasy hair. I wonder what the metal kids thought about us.

Punk music radicalized many of us politically, as bands sang about world affairs, sexism, and racism. One friend shared that his father was a “staunch conservative” and that at 14 years old he, himself was “starting to go that way.” He heard Propagandhi’s Today’s Empires, Tomorrow’s Ashes, an album that was pivotal for many in our group. “I can still take that album today,” he said. “And say ‘this has really shaped me.’”

9/11 and the subsequent wars in Afghanistan and Iraq were the prominent issues of the day and resistance to these wars was a prominent theme in our music. I, and several other punks, wore black armbands to the high school and wrote letters to the editor of local newspapers. We boycotted Coca Cola. Our backpacks donned patches with slogans like “Nazi Punks Fuck Off” and “Keep Your Rosaries Off My Ovaries.” When the Teens for Life club set up a table in the high school cafeteria, some punks responded with assertions that they had their own club—Teens for Death. Ironically, we rarely spoke about economic issues, even ones affecting our state and region, and were largely blind to the influence these had on the “redneck” classmates we felt at odds with.

Perhaps surprisingly, in the smaller segment of the scene that was my social circle, punk was not about drugs or alcohol. Though many of us experimented with both in other social circles, or with punks who were older or younger than ourselves, our immediate group spent our time sober—playing Dance Dance Revolution, eating ice cream and watching movies, skateboarding or watching people skateboard, going on work trips to poorer parts of the state, walking around town, and of course, playing and listening to music.

I would venture to say that our social circle actually prevented more experimentation with controlled substances. The trouble we got into involved hammering baseball bats into lawns and melting things with Styrofoam and gasoline.

The same cannot be said for sex. Sexual tension ran high as hormones peaked. Sexual activity was frequent and experimental. One friend relayed a story when we were teenagers about group oral sex being used as the currency in a local band’s video game tournament. I want to say it was Mario Kart. Another shared that at a sleepover, he and another friend ran around a basement naked. Camping out in the woods behind a friend’s house, our tent was, responsibly, alcohol free, though we did begin the night by standing naked in a circle and grabbing the genitals and buttocks of those to our right then left. Punks had sex in cars, behind buildings, and in friends’ bathrooms.

Unfortunately, these raging hormones and the era—this was long before the Me Too movement, meant that in spite of progressive lyrics from some of our favorite bands (As Propagandhi fans, we sang along with Chris Hannah as he refused to be a man), sexual assault and sexism were still prevalent in the scene. At a Halloween show at the Hodgesville Community Center, I dressed as Gwar member Slymenstra Hymen, a costume which involved short shorts, and had my butt cheek slapped by a member of False Profit without consent. At another show, a man squeezed women’s boobs as their “entrance fee” before letting them into the show.

Miller said, “Guys asking you to show them your boobs was really common.”

Lily shared, “I remember hanging around a few guys trying to just fit in and they admitted they wrote a song about me and it was about my boobs….Some people who were considered part of the scene were pigs, really.”

One friend retold stories of more serious abuse by members of the punk community.

Women were often made to feel their sexuality could earn them the respect in the scene that they coveted (and that men did not have to prove themselves for).

“At a False Profit show at Rosie’s, a group of guys collected money to pay a friend and I to make out while they watched,” Miller said. “I feel like a lot of dudes didn’t take us seriously. I wish I’d been as assertive then as I am now.”

Lily had a similar experience. “A band one day would give a CD to the person they felt did the craziest thing and everyone kept doing stupid stuff. I was like, ‘I’ll show you my boobs because in my head, women in the scene didn’t give a shit. They were badass and didn’t care. I ended up getting the CD and even though I had an attitude of ‘Fuck it, it’s fine,” I lost self respect.”

The Hodgesville mosh pit was treacherous for anyone. The community center was large and show-goers did not fill the space, so it was not supported by the walls.  Instead, our pit was a swirling circle of kids in the middle of the room, shoving one another and struggling to stay upright. Williams recalled a time when someone “jumped off the table and landed on my head.”

Women in the pit were not exempt from its physical dangers, and in addition were subjected to people who took advantage of the anonymous chaos, and it was rare to emerge from a mosh pit without having one’s breast or ass intentionally groped. The punk scene was not a totally safe space for women in North Central West Virginia in the early 2000s, but it was safer than many.

For the people of color and LGBT people I spoke with, however, the scene did feel like a refuge, especially in contrast to the larger community.

“I can’t think of any particular individual that struck me as an out and out homophobe, but I didn’t talk to many of them,” a friend who came out in high school told me. “The little pocket of the scene that our friends created always felt safe.”

Greg Debarr said that as one of the only black kids in our town, he “got beat up all the time.” The punk scene was different. “Everyone in the punk scene had super duper respect for me,
he said. “That’s what it was about—being different.”

Alex Ryan felt similar, saying, “I found upon throwing myself into the scene that it was far more inclusive than, well, a lot of places, especially for a person of color. Kinda became a safe space in that sense. And I think because of that, it solidified my love for music even further, even into college.”

He explained that in our small town, people often thought he was “some kind of ‘hoodrat’” because of his race. “Friends I grew up with in that scene helped me to realize that I don’t have to be categorized based on stigma and stereotyping.”

The question that comes to mind when I reminisce about this era is its significance. Who did the punks of this time and place become and how did their participation in this scene influence that?

Brandon Williams became a music teacher. Because of his early revelation that he didn’t have to look the scene, he said, “that punk ideal can still live on.” He tries to expose his students to alternative music, to encourage them to explore all genres, and to open their ears to lesser-known artists.

Ernie Williams’ sousaphone thesis is “an ongoing performance project that is essentially about how art and music literally saved my life, finding an alternative from the fate of being the son of a coal miner.”

Kim Miller said, “I think it’s made me more independent and at the same time given me a sense of community. I’ve moved over 1000 miles twice to cities where I didn’t know anyone. People asked if I was concerned about making new friends and I never have been. I’ve always figured I can go to a show, meet likeminded people, and everything will work out… It’s definitely made me feel like I can go anywhere and do anything I want and nothing will hold me back.”

Ryan said, “I think being in that environment helped me remain positive and open-minded about my interactions with people.”

Though reflecting on this era with others has made it clear in retrospect how short the scene fell for women in many ways, my impressions of it are still largely positive. The sexism and assault are dark splotches in memories filled with self-discovery, political awakening, good music, bad hair, and intense friendships. Perhaps most importantly, many of these friendships persist today.

We came of age together and that feels important. Our politics are still progressive. We still care about one another. We are still living the scene.



The 2019 Writer’s Reading Challenge

It’s that time of the year when reading challenges are popping up on lots of blogs. There are so many great ones and I especially love the emphasis I’m seeing on underrepresented voices. As someone who’s gotten more serious about my writing in the last year, I’ve realized that this means getting more serious about reading.

As a kid, I’d sometimes go through a book a day– Goosebumps or Babysitter’s Club. In high school, I devoured my English class reading lists, always reading ahead of the class in 1984 or 100 Years  of Solitude.  Though I continued to read after graduation, the demands of college, then grad school, then parenthood slowed my pace waaaay down. Now I’ve been intetionally kicking it back into gear. If you’re a writer who, like me, wants to read to improve their writing, I’ve created this challenge for YOU– I hope it encourages you to push your limits with reading in a way that maximizes your efforts and deepens your involvement in the writing community!

  1. Beta read for another writer
    This will be more than worth the effort when you have a beta reader for your own book. It’s also incredibly helpful to see books in their unpolished form. Plus, won’t it be cool to be on someone’s acknowledgments page?
  2. Craft book
    My favorite is Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott.
  3. Reread a book that inspired you to become a writer
  4. A “bad” book
    Don’t spend a lot of time on this one, but it can be nice to both give your brain a break and remind yourself of things you don’t want to do.
  5. A comparable title to your work in progress
  6. A fiction book with a similar setting
  7. A nonfiction book with a similar setting
  8. Read something out loud
    This is a nice way to really slow down and absorb the language of a book.
  9. A recent bestseller or breakout title in your genre
  10. A classic of your genre
    Something you’re embarassed not to have read yet. Maybe the book everyone says, “Oooh, like ______?” when you tell them about your own work.
  11. Something independently published
  12. The published book of a writer friend
  13. A book that’s been on your to-read list for a long time
    Get rid of the block that’s been stopping you from reading other things!
  14. A book by a woman of color (1)
  15. A book by a woman of color (2)
  16. A book by a woman of color (3)
    Don’t skimp! I want you to read (at least!) three of them!
  17. A book by an LGBTQ author
  18. A book renowned for beautiful language
  19. A book renowned for its social message
  20. Something out in 2019 that you preorder
  21. Something out in 2019 that you buy on publication day
  22. A book recommended by, or named as an influence on, a favorite author

You get an extra point for each review you write and each tweet or email you send to an author! Share your progress with #WritersReading2019 and Have fun!


Sneak Peek: Aspirant and the ESCAPE! Anthology

Pre-orders of the Writing Bloc anthology are officially available now! As a treat, I’m offering my readers a sneak peek of my story, “Aspirant.”

Let me know what you think and make sure to reserve your copy before the price goes up January 1!


“Sister Trái đất thơm, will you create the Facebook page for our young retreatants?” Sister Yêu asked in her calm Vietnamese accent.

“Of course,” Sister Trái đất thơm said. She had received the name, which meant “Fragrant Earth” when she’d accepted the mindfulness trainings. The other sisters, mostly Vietnamese, had oohed and ahhed over her new name, but the young woman had been slightly disappointed. Her native language was English, and “fragrant” didn’t necessarily have good connotations. “Fragrant Earth” made her think of the landfill down the street from her family home in Victorville, a city of about 120,000 in what felt like the middle of nowhere, Southern California. The other sisters had gotten names that meant things like “Open Heart” and “Pure Soul.” She wasn’t sure why the Elder nuns thought she was some smelly dirt.

Sister Trái đất thơm looked around at the room full of young people, all ages 18-30, who had come for the monastery’s annual young adult retreat, and smiled back at their smiling faces. Even to these people, who had chosen to come to a five-day mindfulness retreat, she knew she was a freak—though she was 22, she was most certainly not one of them. They saw her as something cute and quaint—  like a little mouse— something to be taken care of and to gain wisdom from. Like a little Yoda or something. She knew. It was the same way she had seen the monastics when she’d first arrived.

“Thank you, Sister,” Sister Yêu bowed to her, then turned back to the retreat goers. “In this way, you will be able to remain connected to each other, and, we hope, to your practice. When you use Facebook, you will be able to take a mindful breath and say to yourself, ‘My dear, breathe. You are online.” Sister Trái đất thơm smiled slightly, remembering how lame the mantra had sounded when she’d first heard it.


“Will you add me as a friend?” Aaron asked. He was tan and muscular and his scent was oddly familiar and attractive. Though he was from San Diego, he felt very East Coast to Sister Trái đất thơm— no-nonsense, tough but kind, a dry sense of humor.

“I will,” Sister Trái đất thơm said and smiled. She reached a hand up to feel her bald head, then recentered herself in the moment, noticing her feelings. She was attracted to Aaron— she had been all week. She could imagine his arms around her. He was so genuinely interested in what she had to say. She realized she was flirting—  something she hadn’t done since she’d begun the ordination process six months ago by submitting her letter of intent.

The feelings of guilt, of shame, swept over her immediately. “This is how you ended up getting raped,” she heard a small familiar voice in her head say. She was proud that a louder voice—  the one she had been nurturing since she’d come to the monastery said, “It’s just a thought, Julie. Thoughts aren’t facts. You’re thinking.”

Aaron smiled at her. “Awesome!” he said. “I’ll look forward to it.” He paused and laughed. “I mean, I’ll do my best to be in the present moment. But I’ll be happy when you find me!”

Sister Trái đất thơm laughed too. He saw her as a person, not some sage. He could tell she was a regular person who had just decided to come here and do this. Maybe he could imagine her with hair.

ESCAPE! Anthology Cover Reveal and ARC Giveaway

The Writing Bloc short story anthology is almost here! Twenty authors have come together to challenge the norms of indie publishing. We’ve worked together to write, edit, and design a fantastic collection that features science fiction, fantasy, Westerns, and contemporary fiction.

The anthology’s theme is “Escape” and founder Michael Haase says, “As readers, we open books ready to be swept out of our seats and deposited in a world entirely new and exciting. Reading is an escape from our normal lives and thoughts.”

My story is about a woman who has joined a Zen monastery to escape a history of sexual trauma. When she develops a crush on an attendee at the monastery’s young adult retreat, she soon becomes engrossed in social media getting to know him. Was her choice to join the monastery just an attempt at an easy out from her trauma? Is Facebook a distraction from her journey toward healing or an escape from the rigors of monastic life? Will she stay or will she go?

I’m so honored to be published alongside authors like Tahani Nelson, Jason Pomerance, and Patrick Edwards.

Pre-orders will begin on Black Friday and the collection will be released on January 1.

Today you get to see the cover!

If you are a book reviewer or blogger, sign up for one of the 100 free Advanced Reader Copies here!

Take the Money! Graciously Accepting Payment for your Art or Creative Services

On Thursday, I spoke at a NaNoWriMo kickoff event hosted by the wonderful nonprofit, Inlandia Institute. People seemed to enjoy the workshop and I met some nice people! Afterward, I was surprised and humbled when Inlandia presented me with an honorarium. As a former board member of the organization, I guess I knew in the back of my mind that this was procedure. I just hadn’t thought it applied to me. Honorariums are for real writers, I thought. Professionals. I don’t have enough experience. I wanted to do the event. It was fun for me and a nice way to get my name out there. I didn’t think I deserved it.


I toyed with the idea of just giving the money back. It was so nice, though– I spent money on my Rock of Ages campaign, and this was a way to recoup. I won’t get any royalties for the book until after it’s published, and I won’t get any for the 750 preorders I had to get to have it published. I could definitely use the money.

Eventually I realized I should keep the money, at least a good portion of it, and I shouldn’t feel guilty about it. I’m giving 10% back to Inlandia because I so value the work they do and I want them to know that. If you are lucky enough to get something like this honorarium for sharing your creative work, here’s why you should stop feeling guilty too:

  • Accepting money for writing, or for teaching people about writing, sends the message that writing is valuable. Stories enrich our lives.
  • Writers do so much work that is not paid. As I mentioned, I put money into my crowdfunding campaign. I don’t get paid to blog or send out newsletters. I don’t get paid to write the 1000ish words a day that I usually do. Getting paid occasionally for something isn’t just payment for that workshop or story or whatever. It’s payment, and validation, for that workshop or story and all the unpaid work you do. It’s a gesture from the person or organization paying you that they value all the creative work you do and how it enriches the world.
  • Just because you like doing something does not mean you shouldn’t get paid for it. Really, we know this, but sometimes think it doesn’t apply to us. If you do something because you want to, and then you get money for it, celebrate! That’s amazing!
  • You deserve it! Thinking you don’t is just another nasty way imposter syndrome tries to talk to writers. Whoever gave you the money thinks you deserved it. Believe them!

So send a sincere letter of thanks. Be grateful and gracious. And then keep creating!


So You’re a NaNoWriMo Revision Rebel?

Though you’ve likely heard of NaNoWriMo, you may not know about NaNo Rebels. These are writers who participate in the month-long writing marathon, but don’t follow the rules. They may write essays or nonfiction instead of novels, they may set a word count other than 50,000. They may work on more than one project at once. Or they may revise instead of writing something new. Since I’m knee-deep in the edits for Rock of Ages, if I participate in NaNoWrimo this November, it will be as a rebel. I love the excitement of the month and the tools the program offers, but other than posts on the site’s forums and a few blog posts, I haven’t found tons of resources for participating as a rebel. If you’re planning to use the month to revise, read on for my plan.

Using the Word Tracker

This is the main topic of discussion amongst revision rebels. How do you translate 50,000 words into editing? People tend to do one of a few things:

  • Words processed- Count each word of your old manuscript that you go through
  • Words in the new version- Count the words in your revised work, even if some are copied and pasted or only changed a little bit. These first two are useful if you’re working on a new vomit draft.
  • Daily work- Some people aim to work on their revisions each day for the month. Each day you work, add 1667 words to your count.
  • Time- 1 hour= 500 words, 1 hour= 1000 words, 1 hour= 1667 words, etc. Since I’m trying to slow down and be more deliberate for this draft, this is likely the way I’ll go, though I haven’t decided my time to words ratio yet. A bonus to using this method is that you can count things like research toward your goal. It also leaves room to go over the same passage multiple times without hindering your word count.

Word Sprints

Word sprints are one of the most helpful tools for me when I’m aiming for quantity. These timed sprints often take place on Twitter, but you can do them with a writing friend, too! They help you circumvent your inner editor and get the words flowing. If you’re trying to summon your inner editor, though, you don’t want to suppress her. Here are some ways to harness the energy of a word sprint if you’re revising:

  • If you’re counting words processed or words in your new version, go ahead and race! You can always go back and edit your edits whe the sprint is done.
  • Use it as a focus tool. Ban yourself from looking at or doing anything else for the five, ten, or twenty minutes of the sprint. Even if you just sit there staring at your manuscript, don’t give in to distraction for the set amount of time. Maybe you’ll get something done, or maybe you’ll give your brain enough of a rest that you’ll be able to focus more afterwards.
  • Use it as a break. Give yourself the time of the sprint to work on something new or to do some stream of consciousness writing. You won’t feel guilty that you aren’t getting your revision done because, hey, it’s just a few minutes, and the excitement of writing will likely re-energize you when you return to your draft.
  • Use it for character or world building work. Use the time to write freely about a character’s arc, a scene from their childhood, or a discussion between two of your characters. Write a scene from your world that isn’t in the book. Describe how part of it looks, feels, smells, sounds, and tastes. Write one of your scenes without people. Write one from a different character’s point of view. All of this will help you shape your actual manuscript even if it doesn’t end up in the final version of your book.

Rejoice, Rebel!

Don’t feel guilty about being a revision rebel. NaNoWriMo is a tool to help with your writing. If it’s working for you, then you’re participating, even if you aren’t doing the classic 50,000 new words in 30 days. One of the best parts is the community! So gather your friends, attend a write in, enjoy the forums and the Twitter chat. Sense the buzz in the air that is the worldwide writing community feeling motivated and excited. Happy Almost NaNoWriMo!

An Editing Pep Talk

I’m writing this because I need it. The Internet is full of writing pep talks, largely due to NaNoWriMo. There are plenty of posts about just getting the words out, not thinking about quality, and suppressing your inner editor. There are inspirational diatribes about how you can worry about editing later, essays about the merits of writing for writings’ sake. But what if you’ve already got the words out? What about people in the midst of editing? What about when it’s time to wake that inner editor up?

I googled, “Editing Pep Talk” and came up with article after article about getting motivated to write. So for anyone slogging through the swamp of a major editing project, this is for you.

You’ve written a book. You’ve suppressed the urge to edit as you go. You’ve ignored the little voice inside that told you that maybe you weren’t good enough or asked what business you have trying to be a writer. You’ve put some of your deepest self on the page, some of your biggest truths, your hardest or most precious memories. This is brave. You committed enough of your time to creating that you’ve come out with this thing. A book is a big deal.

Maybe you tucked it away for a while. Maybe you’ve shown it to some people you trust. Maybe you have a publishing deal! But now you’re realizing that just getting the words out is important, but for this particular book, it isn’t enough. Writing is a revolutionary, sometimes healing act. Sometimes just the creating is enough. But sometimes you realize that what you’ve created is asking for more. It wants to be seen, read, breathed. The world wants it.

This is harder than writing. Don’t tell someone this before they’ve got the writing thing done, but the writing is the easy part. Yes, it’s brave putting yourself on paper. Looking at it again is like looking at yourself naked in the mirror after a night of drinking with the sun shining through the window right on your hungover, unwashed, puffy-eyed face.

It’s the come down after a mania. It’s realizing that maybe you aren’t as interesting, talented, or unique as you thought you were and if you want anything to come of this culmination of incredible effort that  you’ve completed you’re going to have to put in even more work.

Writing is exhilerating. You watch the page fill, your word count go up, up, up. You can work yourself into a frenzy and thrill at the speed at which the words pour out. Even when the going is slow, you’re moving forward toward a goal.

Editing is slow. It’s lonely. It’s circular. It’s endless.

But it’s necessary, and your book deserves it. There’s a community of writers in the world who have been there and they know how hard it is. For every person who thinks editing just means combing through your manuscript for typos, there’s another who has spent five days staring at the same paragraph, reworking it and reworking it until it shines. People might not see you now as you’re questioning each word, analyzing how it relates to its neighbors, but they will see you when you’re done. It will speak to them in a deeper way, flow into their hearts more smoothly, because of the work you are putting in. Each second you spend on improving your book will make it better.

Every great book has been through this process.

None of this is in vain. You won’t be satisfied by mediocrity and because of that, you will emerge with a masterpiece. You might have to hibernate. If you are used to word sprints and  virtual high fives, you may feel like you are going through something of a detox. You might need to hide away, envelop yourself in your closet or office, create a bubble around yourself and your book. You are about to get intimate and rushing through it won’t be helpful. Hunker down and read closely. Read fantastic books and take notes. Be hard on yourself. Let any feedback you’ve received be hard on you too. Take it in and make it useful. This isn’t about getting through something. This is about working and working until it’s right.

And you will. Because you’ve committed to it. You’ve committed to this book and to yourself. Your book will be best it can possibly be and you’ll always know it’s because of the work you’re putting in now.

There Might Be More Than One Vomit Draft (And Other Lessons From Editing A Book)

I am about to embark on the 5th draft of my novel. Before beginning this process, I don’t think this statement would have necessarily surprised me, but I didn’t fully understand it either. “Of course you go through several drafts,” I may have thought. “You find new mistakes each time.” What I didn’t realize yet is that each draft serves a different purpose– is really almost a different book.

The Vomit Pass

My first draft was my “vomit pass.” Touted by folks like Judd Apatow and Lena Dunham, and encouraged by the structure of marathon writing programs like NaNoWriMo, this is the idea that you just have to get the words down. They don’t have to be good. They don’t even have to make sense. You just have to suppress the urge to edit as you go and get a lot of words on the page. For Rock of Ages, this was about 50,000 words of stream of consciousness writing. I got out stories from my own life as well as some based on family stories and my dad’s poetry. It was definitely a mess, definitely not cohesive, but I still think there were some gems in it. There was emotion in it and it was honest.

Finding a Story

Years later I came back to this jumbled mess and decided to make something of it. I laid each of the stories out on an index card and moved them around until they were in an order that made sense. I filled things in to make a plot–  a string that tied one story to the another. At this point I was pretty convinced I was a genius. When I read authors talk about how bad their early drafts were, I thought I was one of those rare writers with extraordinary natural talent. This book would be a classic, I thought, and I’d already done most of the work on it.

Fixing it Up

Now sufficiently confident, I sent my book out to some beta readers, who responded well. Bolstered by their approval, after another long break (to have some babies), I started doing some line editing. I changed sentences to make them read better and fixed some spelling mistakes. This round was easier, but much less exciting. This is the draft I sent to Inkshares.

The Developmental Rewrite (Vomit Pass Take Two)

My editor had a lot of suggestions, and surprisingly, in spite of my previous big headedness, I was extremely excited about all of them. We worked together to rework the book’s outline, taking out some superfluous plot lines and fleshing out the important stories and characters. I worked ridiculously hard for three months rewriting the book based on this outline, adding description, researching time periods and places. I ended up with a new draft that was almost 40,000 words longer than the one I had sent in. I felt like a badass. Now this was the big hurdle on my way to a finished book, I thought, and I had rocked it. I knew there would be more changes. Maybe I’d have to rewrite a few chapters, hone my prose some more.

So when I talked to my editor a couple days ago and he referenced this as my “vomit draft” my heart sunk for a moment. I had done a vomit draft! Three drafts ago.

I realized though, that in an intensive edit like this, there might be more than one vomit draft. Any time you change so much of the outline, you’ll have to have a round of just getting the words out there.

The Old POV Switcharoo

So now I’m back to step two again– improving the vomit draft. I’m switching from first to third person. I’m overwhelmed by this huge task, but not upset about it. I needed to use first person to get into my characters’ heads and write them authentically and now I need to use third person to improve the prose. I’ll be working on my descriptions, on making them even more authentic for their time periods. I’ll be working to make my book very literary– not just the meanings of the words but the words themselves, their sounds, will invoke the feelings I want to convey. I’m taking it all to another level.

My editor was reassuring when we spoke about this next step. He did the same with his book, he told me, as did other big books he’s worked on. “This is just the process,” he told me.

It’s overwhelming. It’s exhausting. It’s frustrating.

But it’s also incredibly exciting. I’ve seen leaps in my goals along with the leaps in my writing. A few months ago I just wanted to be published. I wanted a few people to read my writing and relate to it. Now I know I can make something really, really special.

With each draft, my imposter syndrome diminishes. I am putting in the work. This process has also shown me the importance of having an editor, and a good one.

If you’re on the fence about hiring someone for a developmental edit of your book, do it.

If you’re in the middle of rounds and rounds of edits, keep it up! The work you are putting in is important and meaningful. It will be worth it.

If you’ve gone through edits like this and come out with a finished book, TELL ME ABOUT IT! Send me motivational quotes! Send me book links!