Planting Seeds

 

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This has been a week of planting seeds.

Not real seeds, like in dirt. Because all the dirt in Colorado is frozen.

So are the trees.

And everything else, including me.

It’s snowing outside. Did you know that? I woke up half an hour early this morning because my house was freezing and the lovely warm blankets I was sleeping under didn’t cover my nose and my ears. So I had to build a fire to keep myself from getting frostbite.

No, the real seeds are going to have to wait for Colorado to thaw a little. Instead, I’ve been planting seeds for the year ahead, starting new practices and new adventures that—hopefully—will start to grow in the next few months and blossom into something more than a simple dream.

I bought a microphone, for one thing. I’m going to be recording podcasts in the next few weeks for my Mental Health for Writers posts. It’s very exciting.

I’ve been playing with it.

I have discovered three things.

(1) When recording, the soundbar should stay green or yellow. It should not be red. I have a terrible habit of sending it into the red.

(2) I do not love the sound of my voice when it’s on a recording. However, if I want to continue doing this, I have to grin and bear it. I have spent a lot of time gritting my teeth.

And (3) I stumble over my words A LOT more than I originally thought. Come to find out, I am not as articulate as I was hoping.

That must be why I’m a writer.

In other words, I am going to have to practice a lot with my new toy. Several people have also suggested that I make audiobooks of my two books.

I told them I’ll think about it. After I practice some more.

Another exciting activity for this week has been setting up my newsletter for this site. I’m very excited about this and completely overawed by the complicated service I’m using. It may be a few days before anything pops up.

However, when it does, I’d be very excited if you’d sign up for it! There will be all kinds of special goodies and tidbits for the people on my list, plus we’ll get to keep in touch and grow as a community! Which, of course, is the whole point.

Anyway, that’s my week! I’ve been rushing around, pushing myself out of my comfort zone and learning all kinds of new and very exciting things, which, for a stick-in-the-mud introvert, is very exhausting.

I’m a little proud of myself.

What about you? What new and exciting things are happening in your corners of the world? Tell me about them in the comments!

Ash and Smoke

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I buy the kerosene at the shop around the corner. The woman selling it smiles at me, and we talk about the fresh spring weather, the crocuses popping up in her flower beds, and the barges coming down the river from the cities inland. It’ll be a rich year, she tells me. A blessed year.

I laugh and agree with her. This is a blessed year. She doesn’t know how blessed.

I pay for the kerosene with his silver, and she asks me where I’m going. I tell her I’m going to the old mill, the one up by Silverstone stream. She clicks her tongue disapprovingly, as if a girl like me shouldn’t have anything to do with such a bad-tempered curmudgeon. But she doesn’t warn me away, only tells me—a little frostily—to say hello to the miller for her.

I smile and promise I will. The bell over the door rings pleasantly as I leave, and the jug of kerosene bumps against my legs as I cross the cobbled road and begin the long, long walk back to the mill. I can smell the sea from the here, hear the raucous squabbling of the gulls over the bay. I never realized what a busy little town this was, how the port was constantly bustling with sailors and merchants. He never let me come here, not even once. A woman should look after her home first, he said, not bustle about gossiping and poking her nose into the business of others.

Maybe when I’ve brought the kerosene home, I’ll come back and sit on the seawall. Just to watch the world go by, to smell the salt and hear the gulls. I’d like that.

It’s quieter when I leave the town behind me. I kick up dust on the lane, passing through the birch trees that line the road. The mill sits in the clearing, all alone, the old wheel creaking as the creek splashes over the paddles and into the pond. Moss carpets the path up the door, and the lilac bushes on either side are blooming. I pause and set the kerosene down, burying my face in the rich blossoms and breathing deeply. I want to remember that scent. Everything else, I intend to forget, but that fragrance is worth remembering.

The mill smells of death, and the floor is cold. The bedroom door is closed, and I leave it that way. I left his body on the bed, wrapped in the sheet, and it’s as good a burial as he deserves. If he’d really lived alone, as most people thought, his body would have rotted in that bed after the consumption took his soul. Instead, his darling wife—the one he locked away for so many years—will burn his body.

I uncork the jug of kerosene and pour a trail from the kitchen to the living room. I use the whole jug, and several cans of oil as well. And the last of the baking grease. When it’s all soaked into the wood, I light a match and leave it burning on the floor.

Outside, the birch trees are shivering in the wind, as if they know what’s happening. Maybe some of them will burn too. I wouldn’t mind that.

In less than ten minutes, fire is leaping from the roof. I lean against a big oak, listening to it burn. I can almost hear him screaming at me amid the roar of the flames, the way he did all those nights when the liquor was in his blood. He used to weep when the rage left him, telling me how sorry he was, and how I shouldn’t provoke him like that. I would lick the blood from my chin and say I forgave him, and he would go back to drinking.

I smile, watching it all go up in smoke and take my pain with it. The mill, his desk, our bedroom. Everything. All that was left of his stupid life and my imprisonment. I didn’t take anything with me, not even the clothes he liked me to wear. Only his silver, and the memory of the lilacs.

Everything else can burn.

On The Edge Of Living

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All men die, I tell them when they ask me why the world ends the way it does. And when they die, they come here.

We’re not dead. Not yet. They ask me why that is, but I don’t tell them the reason. I don’t tell them that we’re the forgotten people, the ones sent ahead to meet Death before she was sent for them. Some know already.

The ones that don’t are happier not knowing.

We live in the cliffs. Beneath Death’s falls, on the edge of the world. The seventh sea flows above us, spilling over the black rocks, tumbling into the abyss below us. The dead follow the current, and they fall. Straight to heaven’s doors, the tales say, or maybe straight through hell’s gates. I’ve stopped trying to guess which. Maybe it’s both at once. Maybe neither.

Either way, I don’t intend to find out. We live on the edge of the world, in the span of breath between living and dying, and I have no intention of joining either side.

Instead, I watch the sunrise from the black rocks, the cliffs and ledges. The light passes through the falling water, glinting like jewels, gleaming like veils of gossamer and pearls. Rainbows dance across the damp stones, and mist hangs in the air, smelling of wet earth and sea air. The dead pass us by, hardly more than a flicker of pale light, a solitary spirit caught up by the falling water and the ocean currents.

I’ve been watching them this morning, mostly before the sun came up. They’re easiest to see by moonlight, and I find that I think clearer when I’m behind the falls. I’ve lost count of how many souls have gone by, some of them so thin that they’re nearly transparent, but I have to go back now. The others will be waiting, and if I don’t come they’ll worry.

I rise, climbing down from the ledge I’ve been sitting on. The rocks are slick with mist and moss, but I’ve been climbing these cliffs for a millennia, and it’s been a very long time since I’ve slipped. I know these rocks too well.

The ledges below are flushed with green, with tangled vines and waving leaves. The gardens are being tended already, and more people are awake than I expected. Fires are being lit, coals fanned to life and kindled again with driftwood and dried grass. I kneel beside one, helping the woman to blow the embers to life again. She glances at me, at my soaked shirt and wet hair, and smiles. “Been at the falls?”

I shrug. “Keeping watch, that’s all.”

She nods. Someone is always watching the falls, not for the dead, but for the living. Those who were sent ahead, meant to meet Death on her way rather than waiting for her. People like Mazia, whose uncles put her on a boat in the seventh sea and towed her into the current. She spoke with the wind, they said, and her smile belonged to the devil.

Personally, I’ve always liked her smile.

Ewan, too, came to us from his own family. His legs are crippled, and they were finished with him. Most of the others have the same story. A child that no one wanted, a baby that was an inconvenience, a grandmother who was a burden. They come to use one by one, and we take them in. The lip of the falls catches them, the rocks that allow the dead through but hold back the living. I hear them, or someone does, and we bring them here. Here, where the sun shines like liquid gold through the curtain of falling water, where the moon rests on her flight across the sky, and the stars seek shelter from the burning rays of the sun. Death doesn’t come looking for us here, and the nights are cool and still, broken only by the rushing of the falls. They are broken when they come, but they heal. There is peace in growing things, in gathering a harvest, in building a colony. We live on the edge of the world, in the span of breath between living and dying, and we are content.

January, IKEA, and Reading Goals

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Can we all just agree that January lasted an entire year?

Because it lasted an entire year.

Seriously, that was the longest month ever. And, thank goodness, a fairly productive one for me, considering I set my expectations way too high and had to rein it in a bit in the last week. Mostly to preserve my sanity.

Still, the things got done. So everyone is happy.

Right?

Good.

This weekend my mother is in Virginia, visiting some of my older siblings, and in her absence, the house has exploded, four kids got lost, and someone baked a cat into a pie.

I’m kidding. We’re all fine.

In fact, we’re so fine that we managed to take an entire Saturday and go visit IKEA. Yes, it took almost the whole Saturday. Mostly because IKEA is in Denver, and Denver is a good hour and a half drive from where we live. And because, once you’ve finished walking through IKEA with six kids in tow, you’re ready to call it a day and sleep for the rest of time.

I love IKEA. It’s the best.

Seriously, though. Is there anything more fun than walking through IKEA, planning out all the awesome furniture you would buy if your house wasn’t already overstuffed with other furniture? I like to plan out my eventual writing retreat. Bookshelves, a particular desk that I absolutely adore and will buy one day, a good lamp (because everyone needs one), curtains, plants. I could spend all day planning what I want, then all the money I will make this year buying it up.

I don’t go to IKEA often. It’s probably a good thing.

As hectic as January ended up being, I somehow managed to sneak in a bit of time to read between events, job interviews, and sleepover weekends. Just now, I am blazing my way through Paradise Lost, by John Milton. Thus far, it is fascinating, and I’m eager to really get into the heart of it. The prose is a little hard to understand at first, but, as with Homer’s Illiad, I’ve found that if I give it a few pages, I’m able to get into the rhythm of the story. Once that happens, the language flows, and I can appreciate the beauty of it as well as follow the story.

I haven’t set many reading goals this year. As always, my goal is simply to read what I love, put aside what I don’t, keep track of the titles, and read more than I did last year.

Thus far, I have been able to meet that last goal. Last year, I read almost 20 more books than I did in 2017. Eventually, though, I think I’m going to peak. Hopefully not soon, but it will probably happen.

I’ll let you know what happens—and if anything explodes.

What are you reading this month? Any special goals for February, reading or otherwise? Tell me about them in the comments!

Almost Life

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He was dying when he told me, “I had an almost life.”

The nurses sent for me when he woke up. His face was gray in the moonlight, gray against his sheets, gray against the hospital walls. I sat on the edge of the bed, listening to the heart rate monitor blip softly in the background. Outside his room, the world was moving on. Shoes squeaked on the tiled floors, intercoms echoed in the halls, and someone was shouting.

I barely heard them.

I had an almost life. Whatever he’d meant by the words, they were caught in my brain for good now. An almost life. I held his hand, watching him breathe, wanting to pause the moment and live in it forever. An almost life.

“What does that mean, Papa?” I squeezed his hand gently, rubbing my thumb against his paper-thin skin. “An almost life?”

He wasn’t listening. His eyes were on the door, as if he were waiting for someone. The window was open, for the angels, he’d said, but he was waiting for someone else. His dead wife, maybe. He’d always said she would be the one to welcome him into heaven. “No one else,” he’d confided in me once with a wink, “would have the guts to tell me my time was up. It’ll be Jesus, or it’ll be your Meemaw.”

I used to laugh when he told me that. I believed him, though. He’d been a contractor while I was growing up, so tall that he had to duck to come inside, with a booming voice that shook the house. My father had his temper, but not his love, not his compassionate heart. I’d been afraid of my father before I’d come to live with Meemaw and Papa. I still was, although I wouldn’t admit it, but I’d never once been afraid of Papa.

Death would be, though. I was sure of that. Jesus would come, or Meemaw. He wouldn’t go with anyone else.

But I wasn’t ready for him to leave yet. Not with his words in my head. I bent over, kissed his cheek, and whispered, “Papa?” He looked at me, his eyes faded and far away, and I almost asked him what kind of angels he was seeing now. But his words would haunt me if he didn’t explain them, and I didn’t want to live the rest of my life wondering what he’d meant by almost. “What do you mean, ‘an almost life’?”

He took a long time to answer, and his eyes kept straying toward the door. He was waiting for Meemaw, and I held his hand and prayed she’d wait outside until he’d told me what he meant. I needed this, especially now.

“I almost made it through school,” he said, very, very softly. I winced. “Almost went to college. I was pretty sure I was destined to be famous.”

He laughed a bit, his eyes wandering around the room. A breeze flitted through the open window, carrying angels.

“I almost sold my business. We were going to sell the house too, travel a bit. Whole lot of almosts . . .” his voice petered out, and I tried to breathe. He hadn’t retired, not until they made him. He needed the work to raise his granddaughter when his son abandoned her. I still remember waiting by the door for him to come home at night. He’d never told me I was the reason for that ‘almost’.

Papa pulled his hand away, turned my face toward his and wiped my tears with his thumb. “I almost didn’t make it the day you were born. Did your Meemaw ever tell you that?”

I choked on a laugh and nodded. I’d heard that story more than once.

“I almost missed you.” He closed his eyes, taking a deep breath. “Thank God for almosts.”

I buried my face in his chest, crying into his shirt like I had after my first breakup. And after Meemaw had died. We’d both been crying then, but he’d still had strength enough to hold me. “You didn’t miss me, Papa.”

He nodded and looked past me at the empty room. A smile touched his face, the kind he used to have when Meemaw came in wearing a new dress, or when she bought new earrings and wanted him to notice. “I’m glad you weren’t an almost, Kaity,” he murmured. “I had all the right almosts. I was always glad of that.”

“Me too, Papa,” I whispered, watching his soul pull away. “Me too.”

Dear Writer, You Are Enough

No two writers are the same.

Isn’t that a lovely thought? I know this because I am part of a writer’s group.

We meet once a month. Sometimes every third month.

What can I say? Life happens.

When we do get together, we talk about our work, read each other’s books, and, sometimes, write together. Have you ever sat down to write with another writer? It’s loads of fun. We pick an object or a word—last time we used a broken glass—set a timer, and each of us writes a short story about said object.

And you know what the shocking part is?

All of the stories are vastly different. Every. Single. Time. The five of us can sit down in the same room at the same time and each write a story using the same prompt, and we all come up with something completely unique, without comparing notes or even mentioning what we intend to write about. One will be about magical realism and fantastical journeys. Another will be the origin story of a spine-chilling villain. Someone else will take the idea and create a contemporary story about lost love and grief.

All of them will turn out to be lovely and memorable stories, each stamped with our own signature styles.

I have a point here, I promise.

Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Unfortunately, writers fall into this trap all too often, especially on social media. We look at all the amazing writers out there, the books that blew us away, the authors on Twitter with thousands of followers and daily word count goals that double or triple our own weekly goals, and suddenly our own efforts feel impossibly weak. And quick as that, our joy in this incredible, life-changing craft is snatched away.

And with it goes the stories we have loved and labored over.

No two writers are the same. Our styles are different, our methods, our world-views, everything that we pour into our writing is unique. Without this distinction, we wouldn’t have books as distinct and remarkable as Lord of the Rings, The Ordinary Princess, and Michael Crichton’s Micro. All of which were written by very different people in very different ways.

The world needs your unique abilities. Whether you are a novelist, write short stories, or delve into non-fiction and articles, you are a writer. If you wake up at six AM, run through a yoga routine, then write for an hour before breakfast, then you are a writer. If you stay up until 3 AM with your windows open, letting the moonlight play across your floor and whisper ideas to you, you are a writer.

Writing is not a contest. It’s a craft. A place for you to be completely yourself. Your soul on the page, your style, your heart in the words is what makes the story sing and lifts it off the page. Without that, no matter what characters you have or what genre you write, your story will fall flat.

You are the magic, dearest writer. And you are enough.

Snowstorms and Michael Crichton

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Fun fact: it is snowing today.

Actually, it has been snowing all week.

I think it might have something to do with it being January. And my living in Colorado, where we randomly get blizzards in January and sometimes have to stay at home because the snow is almost as high as our knees and we can’t get our cars out of the driveway.

Crazy, right?

This week has been one long succession of crazy, actually. Besides a round of job interviews (or attempted job interviews), I have also done my best to get to work, finish my writing projects for the week, conquer a cold, and keep my house warm enough to comfortably live in despite the frigid temperatures and high winds.

I managed most of these things.

Definitely not all.

For example, on Tuesday, in the midst of a snowstorm that was actually a blizzard, my dad and I piled into his Subaru in an attempt to make it to work.

Spoiler.

We did not make it.

We got stuck three times. Once on the way and twice on the way back. In-between, we waited at a neighbor’s house for the plow to come and save us. My dad worked. I binge read Michael Crichton’s Micro.

If you have never read Micro, I would highly recommend it. Michael Crichton’s books are a rather new addition to my shelves, and the more I read, the more impressed I am. I think Micro is my new favorite of his works. The story is engaging, fast-paced, and about as scary as they come. If you’re a fan of Michael Crichton, Jurassic Park, or monster thrillers of any kind, I would highly recommend it.

To be honest, it was the perfect book for the type of day I was having. Instead of focusing on being stuck at a stranger’s house for several hours, trudging through calf-deep snow, and being battered about by bone-chilling winds, I got to explore another world and immerse myself in the dangers and grandeur of a microscopic world.

And, seeing as how we were stuck for seven hours, and I never did get to work, I managed to read the entire book that day.

All 400 pages of it.

So it wasn’t entirely a lost cause.

And we did make it home eventually. Neither of us were frost-bitten, and my dad even got his car back with minimal damage.

I think next time, though, I will just stay home and read Michael Crichton by my wood stove instead. Blizzards in January are not some of my favorite things.

For The Writer Who Is Facing Criticism

Writing is an incredibly vulnerable business.

Anyone who has ever shared their writing knows this. Not only are we opening up our hearts and sharing pieces of our souls with the world, but we are also exposing ourselves to a great deal of criticism.

And the world is full of critics.

Unfortunately, there is also another kind of criticism that writers seem to attract, beyond bad reviews on our books. This kind is a little more personal. And, whereas we can learn to brush off the negative reviews and grow a thick skin for the readers who hated everything about our writing, it’s a little harder to brush aside persistent comments from well-meaning co-workers, relatives, and sometimes even close friends. Comments like, you spend too much time at your computer. You need to get out more. Or, you realize writing isn’t a realistic career, right? Who is going to support you while you’re ‘chasing your dreams’?

Or, one of my personal favorites (or least favorites), writing fiction is a waste of time. People should be paying attention to the real world.

Um. That’s what we’re doing, Mark. Fiction mirrors reality and creates the opportunity to influence and teach without shouting opinions in someone’s face.

Disclaimer: Mark is a fictional character. Any resemblance to a person or persons living or dead is purely coincidental. Don’t hunt Mark down.

Writing is hard, both for people who pursue it as a hobby and for those of us struggling to make it our career. It takes a lot of time, it takes a giant amount of commitment, and—sometimes—people really don’t understand why we do what we do. After all, writers aren’t known for earning a lot of money, and we spend a lot of time alone.

For some reason, people seem to resent that. I’ve never understood why.

So, no matter what kind of criticism you’re facing, here are five ways I’ve learned to absorb or deflect it without getting too hurt in the process.

1) Consider the source.

Is it someone you respect? Or is it someone who has, in the past, said negative things simply to hurt you?

Or, is it someone who you don’t know at all and who doesn’t know you?

The source of criticism is extremely important. Before you take the words to heart, decide if the person speaking them has your best interest at heart, if they care about you, and if they make wise decisions in their own life.

If they do, it may be time to pause and consider what they’re saying.

If not, brush it off. Not everyone deserves the chance to help direct your path.

2) Ask yourself if there is any truth behind what was said.

This one may take a bit of a bite out of your ego. But that’s okay.

Is it true? Do you need to spend some time outside, both for your mental health and your physical health? Are you pushing yourself too hard and neglecting parts of your life that are important and need attention? After all, life is about balance, and taking care of yourself and your relationships is important.

On the flip side of that, do you really have no chance to make a career as a writer? Are you really not good enough to make this happen? Are you really being irresponsible for pursuing your dream?

This world needs writers. It needs storytellers, and people who are willing to sacrifice for their dreams. And, if you’re not ‘good enough’ to be published yet, you will be if you keep after it. The only way to fail as a writer is to quit. We are always growing and there is always room for improvement.

3) Ask for a second opinion.

Go to someone you trust. Someone who knows you, who knows your dreams, who knows what you are working so hard for. Tell them what the person said, and ask what their thoughts are on it.

They might surprise you.

4) Adjust accordingly.

No good ever comes of being stuck-in-the-mud stubborn and never listening to anyone. So, after you’ve considered the source, considered the truth behind what was said, and asked for a second opinion, it may be time to adjust your habits. Maybe take a walk before you start writing in the morning, or take an evening off to spend with friends. Work that extra part-time job so that you’re not going under financially while you’re doing what you love.

On the other hand, no good ever comes of being swayed by every opinion that comes your way. If you don’t trust the source, if there’s no truth behind what was said, and, especially, if your ‘trusted someone’ called bull, then brush it off and move on. You’re under no obligation to change yourself to suit the world.

5) Realize that you cannot please everyone.

Some people will just not understand. They won’t look at what you do and see value, and some of them will make a point of telling you so.

Let it go.

You’re a writer. If you are settled and at peace with it in your own heart, and—for those of you who believe in this kind of thing—are at peace with it before God, then let it be. You have passions, you have dreams, you have a life that is yours—and yours alone—to build and cultivate. Make the choices that you can live with, and don’t conform your life to other people’s expectations.

You’re the one who has to live with your decisions. So make sure they’re ones that you want to live with.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

For The Writer Who Is Tongue-Tied

Shockingly, not every writer is introverted.

Really. There are magical extroverted people who can talk about their books and answer questions about their writing career without panicking or breathing into a paper bag or stumbling over their words twelve times.

At least, that’s what I’ve heard. I’m an introvert myself, so I wouldn’t really know.

However, joking aside, whether we’re introverted or extroverted, talking about our books is hard. The dreaded ‘elevator pitch’ is an essential part of spreading awareness for our books. We need it for agents at writing conferences, the pitch line in queries, and well-meaning friends and family who want to know what our book is about.

Why do people ask that? I get it, it’s harmless and inquisitive. They’re not really trying to make me sit on the floor and cry, right? They’re doing their best to show an interest in that weird thing I do where I lock myself up in a room for hours on end and stare at a computer with a lot of squiggly lines on it.

Or sometimes a blank screen, because those days happen to all of us.

Still, condensing fifty to a hundred thousand words (or more) into a single sentence can feel impossible. It’s hard, it’s frustrating, and all too often, it falls flat. There is nothing more irritating than having a book you know is brilliant and compelling, and then stumbling over a vague and cheesy sounding explanation that features ummm more than any other word in the English language.

Believe me. It’s torture.

Unfortunately, it is also a necessary torture. So, introvert or extrovert, if we want our books to see the light of day, we have to learn. Here are five tips that I’ve found helpful in learning to explain my crazy books to people.

1) Don’t be afraid of making mistakes.

You’re going to mess up. It’s going to sound weird. It’s never going to be completely perfect.

And that’s fine.

As with everything else, practice makes perfect. So resign yourself to making mistakes, to looking a little foolish, and even to one or two embarrassing failures. As long as you continue to try, to learn, and to perfect what you’ve got, you’re conquering it.

And, honestly? It’s the mistakes that are teaching you, not the successes.

2) Know the heart of your story.

Not everything needs to be a part of your pitch. You’ve got tens of thousands of words in this wonderful book of yours, and myriad of ideas.

And one sentence (maybe two) to catch someone’s attention.

So take some time, be realistic, and decide what is the heart and soul of your story. Sure, maybe dragons attack a city at some point and the hero has the ability to control them with his mind but decides not to because the bakery in that city wouldn’t sell him a donut, but is that really the heart of the story?

If not, then skip it.

It’s still in the story. You haven’t lost it. It’s just not the core of what you’ve written, and the core is exactly what you want to give them.

3) Practice.

This is definitely not a skill that you are automatically going to have. It needs practice, it needs polishing, and it needs feedback. Use your friends and family as guinea pigs (respectfully), jump at the chance to practice your pitch whenever anyone asks about it, and practice by yourself in your bedroom mirror.

Yes, I’m telling you to talk to yourself.

When I drove down to the writer’s conference in Missouri last July, I spent most of that trip going over my pitch alone in my car. It sounds weird, maybe it will feel weird for a while, but it works.

And if it looks dumb, but it works, it’s not dumb.

The point is, the more practice you have, the better your pitch will be. You want it smooth, you don’t want it to sound rehearsed, and you want it to look effortless.

And, as everyone should know, if something looks effortless, it means there is a whole lot of effort behind it.

4) Don’t give up.

This is one of the most discouraging and scary parts of being an author. It’s so intimidating, it’s so easy to get it wrong, and for some of us, it goes against the grain of our personalities.

It would be much easier to simply duck under this one, and not try it.

But don’t. Really, really don’t. Your story is worth this attention, it’s worth this push to learn and stretch yourself as a person, and in the long run, you’ll be so glad that you took the time and the effort to make it happen.

And someday, who knows, maybe it won’t be that difficult after all.

I’m not counting on that, but you never know.

5) Be passionate.

This is your story. You’ve slaved over it, cried over it, and maybe worked harder on it than you ever have on a project before.

It’s your baby. Your magnum opus. Your symphony.

So love it. Don’t rattle off an emotionless plot outline when someone asks what you’ve written. Tell them why you love it. Passion is attractive, and, as a writer, you’ve got more than enough to share. (Believe me, you wouldn’t have gotten as far as you have with this story if you didn’t.)

Embrace it. Be willing to be wrong, be willing to need work, be willing to make mistakes, but never, never forget your passion when you talk about what you do. Writing can be a job, but writing is magic too, and magic is worth being passionate about.

Good luck, dearest writer! May your tea be hot and your dreams wild.

Go To Sleep

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I come when the library closes.

The lights are out, except for the lamp Mrs. Wilfe leaves on just for me. The doors are locked, and the windows have been shuttered. Even most of the reading desks are cleared. No one is left.

Only me. Because I have to put the stories to sleep.

I start in the children’s section. I like it back there best, because I can still hear the murmur of little voices reading aloud, and the rustle of turning pages. It’s not so silent, not so lonely.

I switch on a desk lamp as I step inside, and pick up a book lying on the floor. The Biggest Bear. An old, old favorite. The pages are stained with fingerprints, and the cover is a little torn, but it’s happy. Its story has been told today, many times, actually. It’s a little out of breath, a little tired, and I set it back on the shelf where it belongs.

The books in this section are the rowdiest, but they go to sleep fairly easily. Their stories were told, and they’re worn out from being dragged from shelf to table, table to floor, and back again. I stroke their spines, set them back in order on the shelves, and they fall asleep when I turn the lights out and leave them. They don’t have trouble sleeping, not like some do. I’m never sorry to see them awake when I come.

The adult books are harder. I can hear them murmuring when I flick on the light, their voices rustling like burning paper. They sound angry tonight, and I wonder who has been woken this time. It’s hard to tell. The stories are being whispered from shelf to shelf, passed on, overlapping each other, desperate to be heard. Old forgotten voices, caught in the dust between the pages. I can’t tell one from the other, not when they’re all talking at once. Grief and love, war and hate, treachery, betrayal, reunions, mystery, and horror. They all have a story to tell, but for some of them, it’s been a long time since anyone bothered to listen.

I walk through the shelves, running my fingers along the weighty spines. Quite a few are awake today. Awake, stifled, and frustrated. Who woke them up, I wonder? Who yanked them off their shelves, pulling them so unceremoniously from whatever dreams they were having, to page through their chapters and silence them again?

I pick up a heavy volume from a reading desk. Nearly a thousand pages, and whoever woke it up read less than three of them. I pass my hand over the cover, blow some of the dust from the pages, and set it back on the shelf. Another day, I tell it, although I’m not sure if I’m lying. Some of them have only been woken like this, for a page or two and nothing else, for a long time.

Some of them have been silent for so long that I’ve forgotten what they sound like.

I switch the reading lamps off as I go, stroking spine after spine. Go to sleep, I tell them. Forget the stories you tried to tell, the people who woke you up. Rest.

For some of them, it isn’t so easy. They’re angry, and angry books are hard to settle. I spend a long time among these shelves, soothing them, quieting the arguments. I can’t listen to them all at once, and I certainly can’t be the one to read every book, although I try to give the loneliest a chance. They know when I’m humoring them, of course, but most are grateful anyway.

But I can’t read all night. They have to sleep, and so do I. They listen to me at last, and their whispers fade into silence. I flick off the last light and listen to them breathing. Someone will come to read them eventually. Every book has a story that someone needs to hear. Every book has a heart it needs to heal, a mind it needs to open. Someone will come.

Until then, I’ll do my best to coax them back to sleep.