Finding Joy in Writing While on Sub

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

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Being out on submission with a book is a strange thing. On the one hand, you’ve reached a huge milestone by just having something that’s actually in good enough shape to send out. But it’s probably something you’ve been working on for a long time; something that feels finished even though it’s nowhere close (more on that in a later post).

I decided that during this process, it would be best for my mental health not to know much unless there was serious interest. I thought it would be easier to focus on my WIP this way. For a little while, this tactic worked.

But then there was interest. Suddenly. Shockingly. It all happened really fast and the next thing I knew I was on the phone with editors. Actual editors at actual publishing houses. And each one had a very different vision for my book. This thing that felt finished to me, was just a starting point for them. It was a little jarring and the more I mulled over the options, the harder it was to think about anything else.

I woke up every morning at 3:30AM, my mind racing. And not just about the book out on sub that now had the potential of being reincarnated into a million different things but also my WIP, the companion novel to the book on sub.

I tried desperately to re-enter that world, to continue getting to know these other characters, to flesh out a plot that made sense. But then I realized that significant changes to book one would inevitably lead to significant changes to book two and if I didn’t even know what those changes were going to be yet, how could I possibly keep forging ahead blind?

I’ve been struggling with this manuscript for a long time, and being that I’m the type of person who’s always looking for signs, I decided that this must be one. This book hasn’t been working because it wasn’t supposed to. Because things are going to change and I have to let them. I have to let go of what I thought these stories were supposed to be in order to make room for the stories they’re meant to be.

But I also need to write. In the midst of all of this uncertainty, I need to work on something that returns me to the joy of writing, that reminds me why I do it in the first place.

Right now, my middle grade WIP is that happy place. It’s about witches and magical burritos and prophesying horny toads. It’s about friendship and bridging cultural divides and families that function as one beating heart.

Trying to write something new while receiving critiques of something old is hard. It can mess with your head and make you second guess every creative choice you’ve ever made. But instead of avoiding the work, I’m trying to find a way to use it as an escape. The way writing used to be when I was in the midst of grief, when I was struggling financially, when I was experiencing an existential crisis (or two).

Maybe part of being a writer is figuring out what you need out of it every single day. What needs healing? Where can I go; what can I explore that will bring me closer to that healing?

Right now, I need to heal from my own expectations, from my inability to accept my own limitations. I need to find joy and feel good. So I’m getting back to what I know–that the world is magic, that when we love, fearlessly, wholeheartedly, we become magic too.

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Latinx Book Love: I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter, North of Happy, and Sabrina & Corina

Motivation & Inspiration
Latinx Book Love is a Newsletter Feature where I gush about Latinx authors I love and try to convince you to buy their books : )

_0026_lace 034Sabrina & Corina
by Kali Fajardo-Anstine

It’s been a really long time since I read a short story collection. This one was so incredibly satisfying. The characters, the setting, the voice, everything about it was like finding rain in the middle of the desert–an experience I hadn’t even realized I’d been longing for until I fell into these women’s stories. Each one was absolutely stunning in its portrayal of a reality we rarely get to see, let alone reflect on. I’ve heard the statistics before about indigenous women going missing and never being found. Not all of the stories in this collection take this as literally as the title story, Sabrina & Corina, which was gut-wrenching, but so many of the stories deal with loss, with erasure, and with the kind of generational pain that is perpetually present in indigenous, Latinx, and WOC’s lives and how difficult it is to break free from. That was the sense I felt at the end of every story–this deep, visceral longing for freedom. I also felt anger, confusion, bitterness, sadness, and hope. There are flickers of it, here and there, when a character whose circumstances make you ache, finds some agency, or realizes some truth. But more than anything, it made me long for more of Kali’s words because they are absolutely perfect.

Latinas of Indigenous descent living in the American West take center stage in this haunting debut story collection—a powerful meditation on friendship, mothers and daughters, and the deep-rooted truths of our homelands. 
“Here are stories that blaze like wildfires, with characters who made me laugh and broke my heart.”—Sandra Cisneros
Kali Fajardo-Anstine’s magnetic story collection breathes life into her Latina characters of indigenous ancestry and the land they inhabit in the American West. Against the remarkable backdrop of Denver, Colorado—a place that is as fierce as it is exquisite—these women navigate the land the way they navigate their lives: with caution, grace, and quiet force.
In “Sugar Babies,” ancestry and heritage are hidden inside the earth but tend to rise during land disputes. “Any Further West” follows a sex worker and her daughter as they leave their ancestral home in southern Colorado only to find a foreign and hostile land in California. In “Tomi,” a woman leaves prison and finds herself in a gentrified city that is a shadow of the one she remembers from her childhood. And in the title story, “Sabrina & Corina,” a Denver family falls into a cycle of violence against women, coming together only through ritual.
Sabrina & Corina is a moving narrative of unrelenting feminine power and an exploration of the universal experiences of abandonment, heritage, and an eternal sense of home.Image result for amazon icon

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North of Happy
by Adi Alsaid

Before #DVPit I was searching for comp titles and happened to come across North of Happy by Adi Alsaid. It has all of my favorite things–tacos, restaurant dynamics, a quiet, internal conflict, and Mexicans (I’m partial). This book has the most beautiful slow build and an ending so poignantly and poetically human that it left me feeling alive in all the best and worst ways. That is the heart of this story–that life is both hopeful and heartbreaking, wonderful and devastating and that it is those quiet moments in between when we are doing something we love with people we love that matter. This book reminded me that the human experience is nuanced and full of “small stakes” moments that shape us in so many unexpected and significant ways. We don’t have to be on a quest to save the world to have a live worth living. We are all big and we are all small. Whatever we can create with the gifts we’ve been given, it is enough. The pursuit, the attempt, the imperfect execution, it is enough.

Carlos Portillo has always led a privileged and sheltered life. A dual citizen of Mexico and the United States, he lives in Mexico City with his wealthy family, where he attends an elite international school. Always a rule follower and a parent pleaser, Carlos is more than happy to tread the well-worn path in front of him. He has always loved food and cooking, but his parents see it as just a hobby.
When his older brother, Felix—who has dropped out of college to live a life of travel—is tragically killed, Carlos begins hearing his brother’s voice, giving him advice and pushing him to rebel against his father’s plan for him. Worrying about his mental health but knowing the voice is right, Carlos runs away to the United States and manages to secure a job with his favorite celebrity chef. As he works to improve his skills in the kitchen and pursue his dream, he begins to fall for his boss’s daughter—a fact that could end his career before it begins. Finally living for himself, Carlos must decide what’s most important to him and where his true path really lies.
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I Am Not Your Perfect Mexican Daughter
by Erika L. Sánchez

THIS. BOOK. The title says it all and yet, the moment I heard Julia’s voice, so unapologetically raw and real; so disinterested with playing the part, with pandering to expectations that do not make her feel alive, I was stunned and seen and completely sliced open. THIS BOOK was my permission to write characters that don’t fit perfectly into either whiteness or Latinx. Into either American or Mexican. Julia is perfect because of her imperfections and isn’t that the truth so many Latinx women need to hear? I didn’t have a mom like Julia’s who was distant and unable to summon empathy when her daughter needed it most. But Julia’s interactions with her mom reminded me of stories I’d heard my own mother tell about what it was like growing up with adult siblings and older parents. With a mom who was critical and how that air of criticism, even when unspoken, was suffocating. This book allowed me to see into my mother’s life, into her girlhood dreams that were snuffed out by cynicism and fear. And I was able to understand how those experiences shaped the parent she became; the mother she was to me. For that insight, for Julia’s inspiring bravery, for her brokenness too, I am grateful.

Perfect Mexican daughters do not go away to college. And they do not move out of their parents’ house after high school graduation. Perfect Mexican daughters never abandon their family.
But Julia is not your perfect Mexican daughter. That was Olga’s role.
Then a tragic accident on the busiest street in Chicago leaves Olga dead and Julia left behind to reassemble the shattered pieces of her family. And no one seems to acknowledge that Julia is broken, too. Instead, her mother seems to channel her grief into pointing out every possible way Julia has failed.
But it’s not long before Julia discovers that Olga might not have been as perfect as everyone thought. With the help of her best friend Lorena, and her first love, first everything boyfriend Connor, Julia is determined to find out. Was Olga really what she seemed? Or was there more to her sister’s story? And either way, how can Julia even attempt to live up to a seemingly impossible ideal?Image result for amazon icon_0026_lace 034
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How I’m Avoiding Book 2 Hell

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

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Book 2 Hell is where writers typically flail about, trying to write something new with the added pressure of reader expectations. It’s a place where imposter syndrome has you in a death grip and getting words on the page feels like pulling teeth. And every day you don’t hit your writing goals makes you question your very existence.

So I’ve heard.

I’ve listened to enough podcasts and read enough blog posts to know that Book 2 Hell is not a pleasant place and therefore one I would like to stay as far away from as possible. Which is why, even though I haven’t sold my first book yet, I’m already thinking about how to avoid it.

In publishing, there is a seemingly endless amount of waiting. You wait for agent responses when you’re querying. You wait for editor responses when you’re on submission.

And again, because enough authors have been generously transparent online and therefore I have some kind of an idea of what I’m getting myself into, I can look at the time between each publishing milestone as a curse or a blessing. In other words, I can let the hours that tick by drive me mad or I can use them to actually make this journey a little easier.

Right now, no one is waiting for my next book. No one is asking me what it’s about or how far along the manuscript is or if they can read a few pages. No one cares and that’s actually a good thing. It means that I can toil away on it with zero outside influence. I can make a mess. I can clean it up. I can write with no one’s voice inside my head except my own.

Is writing still difficult? Of course it is. But probably not as difficult as it would be if hundreds or even thousands of people were waiting for me to deliver a product perfect enough to satisfy them all. Which is why my greatest motivation for finishing my next book is to finish it BEFORE a significant number of people know I exist.

If I stay focused and use my summer wisely (in between summer school and an externship with the ADL) I might just be able to have a strong draft of this thing by the end of August. I might also be able to have a semi-decent draft of my new middle grade MS. Which means I might just be able to completely side-step Book 2 Hell and just head straight for the promised land.

Or it might mean that Book 2 Hell actually becomes Book 4 or 5 Hell.

Either way, finishing something (or maybe even two things) at least by year’s end means that I’ll have another project queued up and ready to go if and when my first book sells or doesn’t.

In addition to soaking up all the info I could about being on submission and writing the dreaded book 2, I’ve also been listening really closely to author’s advice on finances. It seems like most of the writers who’ve been able to transition to being full-time authors staggered their projects in a way that made their income a little bit more predictable.

If author X knows she can finish a book in 8 months or knows that she has Y number of drafts in her queue, she can better anticipate when/what she might be able to sell and when those payouts might happen. If they’re staggered evenly enough, she can see months in advance by when she’ll need to finish the next project and by when she’ll need to sell it. The math probably isn’t ever exact–there’s a lot of unpredictability in this profession–but there is a way to make it work.

So finishing the next book isn’t just about avoiding Book 2 Hell, it’s also about setting up my entire career. It’s about planning for the future I want and taking the necessary steps to getting there, no matter how dark and obscure the path may seem. I just need to trust that it’s beneath my feet, carrying me closer to the place I’m meant to be. As long as it’s not hell. Please don’t make me go there.

 

3 Ways to Support Marginalized Authors

Marketing & Promotion

ahmed-zayan-684478-unsplashIt’s been absolutely incredible to see more and more books by marginalized authors being published. But it’s still those creators who are shouldering a huge amount of the promo they need to sell copies and, you know, make money.

I’ve been thinking a lot about money lately and about how marginalized creators are at such a disadvantage from the get-go because generational wealth hasn’t afforded us the privilege of being able to take many financial risks, like quitting our day jobs to write full-time or funnel any of the money from that day-job into marketing our art.

It’s obvious that when it comes to generational wealth, who has it and who doesn’t reinforces so many of the systems of oppression operating in this country. This is evidenced by the recent “Varsity Blues” scandal in which the rich and powerful bribed colleges to let in their mediocre children, spots that could have gone to qualified students from marginalized communities.

Not only are most marginalized creators facing many obstacles to becoming wealthy but we also are not allowed to be mediocre. It’s a lot of pressure, which is why it’s so incredibly important that we support each other in our efforts, not just to make the kind of art we want or to find a way to support ourselves financially with that art, but also towards the goal of building generational wealth that will benefit our families and communities.

Bottom-line: I want every marginalized artist I know to be rich. I want them to create the kind of wealth that allows them to become a force for good in the world.

So I’ve been thinking of ways I can use my resources and platform to better support marginalized authors and I’ve settled on a few things that are within my power to contribute. Maybe some of these will inspire you to increase your support of a marginalized creator you love.

1. Tell people they exist and how much you love them

I created a new newsletter feature called “Latinx Book Love” where I’ll be sharing books by Latinx authors I love. I’ll also be posting about them here on the blog. These aren’t traditional reviews because there is no critiquing going on. Instead, these are reactions where I talk about how the book made me feel, which themes resonated with me most and why.

My newsletter has almost 700 subscribers and this blog has over 1,000. They’re not huge numbers but if even one person chooses to buy a copy of one of these books from reading about it on my blog or in my newsletter then I’d call that a success.

How can you do something similar?

I know this one seems obvious but I also know a lot of readers who don’t write reviews. If you’re at all intimidated by posting your thoughts on an online retailer, find your own online space to share the books you love. AND remember: a review does not have to be time-consuming or 1,000 words long.

Like I said, my posts will be more like reactions to what I loved. A quick reflection on how a book made you feel is plenty to post as a review on Goodreads or Amazon and those reviews have a huge impact on a book’s visibility. As soon as you finish a book by a marginalized author, open up notes on your phone or grab a sticky note and jot down a few thoughts before you forget. Then post them to Goodreads, Amazon, or another online retailer whenever you can. Don’t forget text the reaction to a friend who you think would also love the book or share your reaction on social media.

2. Make your neighborhood libraries more inclusive

I mostly read library books because I happen to have a library right down the hall. Our ESL team has a great relationship with our librarian and at certain times of the year she asks for diverse books recs and/or linguistically accessible books (what we’d call low-level high-interest) that our ESL students might enjoy. I see this as an awesome opportunity to make our library’s selection more inclusive for all. The more diverse books that are in the library, the more likely it is that students will pick them up, fall in love with them, and want to read more by that author.

How can you replicate this at your own library? It’s super easy! I worked in libraries for several years before becoming a teacher so I know for a fact that the librarian at your local branch is a superhero and would definitely love to hear what you’d like to see more of. Especially if you check out books often, staff will really take your recs to heart. Even if you’re new to the library it’s really important that a library’s selection reflects the values of that community. So if you don’t see a book by a certain marginalized author on the shelves, give the title to the librarian who will either request it through an inter-library loan (which gets the books on their radar) or add it to their next order.

3. Make your neighborhood classrooms and communities more inclusive

Personally, it’s better for my budget to use the library at the school where I work to get most of my books. BUT because money is power I also want to make sure the things I’m doing are leading to actual sales for those marginalized authors. One of the ways I do this is by allotting a certain amount of our ESL department money to stocking our classroom libraries with diverse books. I always buy two copies of everything so reading is more social and kids can talk about what they’re reading with a friend who’s also reading the same book. This also helps when I want to do lit circles led by student choice because it ensures every book in my classroom library is an option for discussion.

Check out my lit circle haul from last year focused on diverse nonfiction texts:

Left to right *marginalized authors only: 1) Diary of a Tokyo Teen by Christine Mari Inzer 2) The Boy Who Harnessed the Wind byWilliam Kamkwamba 3) I Am Malala byMalala Yousafzai 4) Americanized by Sara Saedi 5) In the Country We Love by Diane Guerrero 6) I Will Always Write Back by Martin Ganda &Caitlin Alifirenka
And here’s my BOY haul focused on diverse anthologies & multi-genre texts:

Left to right: 1) Kim’s Convenience by Ins Choi 2) American Like Me *edited by America Ferrera 3) Fresh Ink *edited by Lamar Giles 4) Our Stories, Our Voices 5) We Rise, We Resist, We Raise Our Voices *edited by Wade Hudson 6) Flying Lessons & Other Stories *edited by Ellen Oh
And the summer reading books I’ll be giving away to students at EOY:

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TOP-Left to right: 1) Darrius the Great is Not Okay by Adib Khorram 2) American Road Trip by Patrick Flores-Scott 3) Love, Hate, and Other Filters by Samira Ahmed 4) To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before by Jenny Han
BOTTOM-Left to right: 5) Picture Us in the Light by Kelly Loy Gilbert 6) We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia 7) The Field Guide to the North American Teenager by Ben Philippe

As we approach our spring deadline for spending our budget money, I usually use it to purchase even more books. This year I bought the above summer reading books for my 9th & 10th graders and plan to do a gallery walk in May so students can choose one before summer break. I was very careful to find books containing representation that matches the diversity in my classroom and purchased books by and featuring marginalized people across different racial, religious, and cultural backgrounds.

How can you replicate this if you’re not a teacher and don’t have free money specifically allotted to buying diverse/inclusive teaching/reading materials?

You could start a book club with friends or coworkers for the purpose of reading books by marginalized authors. Whether the people in your group choose to buy the book themselves or request it at their local library the author is still making money. And who knows? Maybe someone (or multiple people) in your book club will fall in love with that author’s work and buy their entire backlist. Personally, when I discover a book that ends up blowing me away and becoming an absolute favorite I buy a personal copy to someday shelve in my *dream* home library.

If you have kids, you could also encourage them to start a book club like this with their friends.

If you’ve got the money to spend you can also seek out organizations that provide books to students in low-income schools. Or check out Donor’s Choose and search specifically for literacy projects focused on diverse books. Each year I make a few donations around Christmas time to teachers in my hometown who are building diverse classroom libraries or who need class sets of diverse books. If you can’t afford to fund one of these projects, share it on social media to help get the word out. You could even stop by a school in your neighborhood and ask if they need diverse book donations.

Again, if you don’t personally have the funds for this, organize a book drive and collect donations.

I think the most important thing to consider if you want to support marginalized creators is how can you leverage your own privilege and community to make a difference. We all have different financial situations and different levels of influence. If you can’t afford to spend your own money on these books, that’s okay. Find other ways to shine a light on them by reviewing them, shouting about them online, or recommending them to people and institutions that do have the funds to purchase them.

The methods listed above are just some of the ways I’m using my available time, resources, and platform to bring attention to diverse books. But as my financial situation and zone of influence changes, hopefully this list will change and I’ll be able to do things that make an even greater financial impact on the lives of these authors.

Because the more money these authors make, the more likely it is they’ll be able to build a sustainable career, and the more marginalized creators with successful track records, the more likely it is that publishers will be willing to invest in the work of other marginalized creators. A rising tide lifts all boats so let’s help each other rise and reach our goals while also getting these books into the hands of people who really need them.

All or Nothing

Motivation & Inspiration, Writing Process

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When I think about perfectionism and creative work, the first thing that comes to mind is writer’s block. For most of us, it’s caused by this desire to avoid failure at all costs, which in turn makes it impossible to even get the words on the page. Perfectionism is never being able to finish a project. It’s endless tweaking and a sense of never being satisfied.

For the longest time, I thought that I had beaten back my own perfectionism because I knew how to finish. But perfectionism doesn’t just dictate the final product. It also dictates every step to getting there.

This week I read an article in a financial newsletter that talked about something called “0-100 thinking.” It refers to a type of perfectionism that causes people to have an all or nothing mentality when it comes to their goals. For example, if I set a goal of writing every morning before work but one morning I wake up late and only have twenty minutes to write instead of the hour I’d originally planned for, and this derails me psychologically to the point that I just give up on the endeavor altogether, then I am a 0-100 perfectionist.

Y’all, I am a 0-100 perfectionist and I didn’t realize it until now.

In my twenty-seven years, I’ve experience so many things that have literally beaten into me how unpredictable life is, how little we actually have control over. Teaching has forced me to be flexible, my long-term relationship with my partner has shown me the importance of being able to grow and change. Did I often seek out opportunities to control as many aspects of my life as I could? Absolutely. But did it derail me when things didn’t go exactly as planned? I didn’t think so.

I thought that I had learned how to go with the flow. How to fall on faith. How to take things as they come.

But in my work, I am still struggling with this beast called perfectionism that I thought I had slain long ago.

That example I mentioned earlier? That happened to me Thursday morning.

See, I was on a high last week from DVPit and all of the agents who had requested my full manuscript. It lit a fire under me to make even more progress on the rough draft of the companion novel. Waking up at 5AM to write is not new for me. I often do it at the tail end of projects or when I’m trying to build up momentum. So I decided I would work that extra writing time back into my routine, starting on Monday.

Monday through Wednesday things went really well. I woke up early, got ready, ate breakfast, and had between 45 minutes and an hour to write before heading to work. Then Thursday came around and I accidentally woke up at 4 instead of 5. I couldn’t go back to sleep. I lay there, exhausted.

That exhaustion followed me out of bed, slowing me down every step of my morning routine. My writing time dwindled down to thirty minutes. I was so discouraged I couldn’t even begin.

Then Friday morning I checked my email (which I really shouldn’t have done before getting my writing in) and there was this article all about the 0-100 mindset. I thought about how I’d totally self-sabotaged Thursday morning and then I thought about all of the other times I’ve done the exact same thing.

This 0-100 mindset has robbed me of so much progress. Of so much growth. The very things that may have fortified my confidence and given me the strength to push through my own perfectionism. The perfectionism I didn’t even think was still a problem for me.

But it is a problem. A BIG problem.

Luckily, it’s a problem I actually know how to fix. Not overnight and not all at once. That 0-100 mindset is poison even when we think it’s helping us find solutions. Instead, this is a problem I can only fix twenty minutes, ten minutes, five minutes at a time.

Friday I had exactly twenty minutes to write before work. But instead of saying, screw it, that’s not enough time, I opened up the Word document and dove in. For twenty minutes. I revised four pages of the manuscript. Four pages. That doesn’t sound like a lot but it’s four more pages than I’d done the day before and it’s four pages closer to the end.

That is what’s most important. The End.

If I can’t get there, I can’t do this professionally. But I know I can get there. I have gotten to the end eight times before with eight different novels. The question I have to ask myself now is how. Am I going to get there in weekend binges that may get wiped out by other plans? Am I going to get there by only writing when conditions are absolutely perfect? Or am I going to get there using any means necessary and with whatever time I can find or steal, whether that’s an hour or five minutes?

You can create as many versions of the perfect routine as you want. But there is no such thing. Life will always get in the way. But that doesn’t mean you can’t still do the work. Just like we have to embrace when a story takes an unexpected turn, resulting in something we never saw coming, we must also embrace a “writing routine” that is less routine than we’d hoped.

It’s okay to carve out time to write, to set boundaries, to have goals. But every time we let disappointment drive us off the path, we get farther and farther from our original destination. Whether you have all the time in the world to write or almost none, your identity as a writer does not change, and you can still make meaningful progress towards the things that matter. Telling the stories you long to tell.