Overcoming the Sequel Struggle

Hey guys!

I hope that if you celebrate Easter, it was a special day for you…and that it served to wake you up. The winter months can be long and dreary, even dismal. The shorter cold days will do that to you, I suppose. But with the arrival of spring and all the brightness and color that come along with it, it’s easy to feel more awake, even joyful. And that’s where I am now…after feeling like my writing slept through most of the winter, I now feel awake and so ready for the sunshine and happiness of Spring to give me the recharge I need.

Writing through the winter was not what I expected it to be. Having signed with my agent at the end of last summer, I worked out a solid writing plan for the fall. And it worked. Knowing my manuscript would go on submission, I knew the right thing to do would be to draft my next book right away. I had already sketched out a plan for a sequel so with Rebecca’s go ahead, in September I formulated a more solid plan for Book 2. Not exactly chapter by chapter but I had the main plot ironed out and even most of the subplots. I began drafting it in October and had completed several of the early chapters before the end of the year.

By the first of the year, I had high hopes for all I would be able to accomplish through the rest of the cold dark winter. I was on a roll after all. Surely I could hammer out the rest of this draft by April 1st. I had the time—even with freelance projects to work on, and normal family life happening.

So why then, as January, February, and March rolled on, was it so hard for me to keep drafting? Why was I stuck? Why wasn’t my heart in it suddenly?

I have a couple of theories.

Maybe it was because I wasn’t even sure an editor would make an offer on my manuscript. That made it kind of hard to see the need for a sequel. In the doldrums of the winter, I think I doubted my vision for these two books a bit.

Maybe it was because I knew there was a small chance an editor would offer and then want to read or at least hear about the sequel. That may have been too much pressure—not exactly a great environment for the creativity necessary to write another book!

Maybe it was because I didn’t actually have another book in me. Maybe this story had run its course and I didn’t believe in the sequel and much as the first book. Maybe my heart wasn’t in it even though I wanted it to be.

Maybe it was because I had other things in my life that demanded more of my attention than I accounted for. Additional freelance projects, kids’ sports, school activities, my daughter’s college preparation, and so much more.

It’s not like I wasn’t writing at all this winter. I just wasn’t drafting much. Instead, I spent my writing time revising those first several chapters. And boy did I revise them! In fact, they are the shiniest beginning chapters that I’ve ever written. But still, as happy as I was with those chapters, I wasn’t drafting. My sequel wasn’t moving forward.

Except that now that the sun is shining and I’ve opened the blinds completely in my house to let all the light pour in finally, I realize I was wrong. My sequel was moving forward. My brain just needed a break. It needed a long winter’s nap away from the story, away from the pressure to make it amazing, away from my own expectations.

It took taking a break for me to see that I do have the sequel in my heart…the story has not run its course, and I am dying to write it. Yesterday, with my break officially over, I spent the day re-reading what I had drafted so far and I was pleasantly surprised. It was actually good. The characters felt real to me—just like in Book 1. Their world felt bigger and more amazing. The conflict felt on target with where I had hoped it would be, and most of all it felt like a perfect continuation of Book 1. Like it didn’t skip a beat!

Now of course as I continue drafting and ultimately revising, parts of what I’ve written may change, but I realize what was holding me back. This is the way I draft. I write several chapters and then I go back. I revise and revise some more. I integrate those chapters with the earlier ones. I make sure I love what I’ve written before I move on. Obviously pushing myself to draft new words before I was ready didn’t work for me. I needed to be sure I had a solid beginning to work from.

Sure I know that the point of a first draft is to just get the story down on paper. But when the story isn’t ready to come out, sometimes it’s best to work with what you have and make that part stronger. And I’m so glad I did. After re-reading what I had yesterday, somehow overnight, five new cool scenes came to me when I was in my half awake, half asleep state of mind, and I actually remember them all!

So today as the sun shines in my window on this bright beautiful spring day, I’ve begun drafting again—faster than I can type. I’ve written an additional 1,000 words so far today and I’m still going! I, of course, took a break to write this post, but I just had to share with you my thoughts on writing a sequel. I understand how hard it can be. I understand the doubts and pressure that come along with it. But I also know that if you truly love your story and it lends itself to a second or third book, you will be able to write it. Sometimes it just takes time—and sometimes that time needs to be spent away from the story altogether.

I wish you could all read what I’ve written so far. I love it so much. I wish you could all read the entire first book, actually! Hopefully that day will come…but for now I’ll do what I love to do. I’ll write all the words I can and breathe life into this story. 🙂

Good luck to you with whatever you’re writing this week. I hope the sunshine and spring recharge your creative energy too!

Jackie <3

Why I’ll Never Write YA

Even though I write middle grade and adore reading middle grade books, some of my favorite books are YA.

Like, The Hunger Games, Catching Fire, and Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins…and Divergent, Insurgent, and Allegiant—the book I’m reading now, by Veronica Roth. And 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher. Oh and Speak and Catalyst by Laurie Halse Anderson. And definitely The Fault in Our Stars by John Green and If I Stay by Gayle Forman. I love the Twilight Books too by Stephanie Meyer and Pants on Fire by Meg Cabot… I could keep listing some of the outstanding YA books out there, but I think you get the idea.

YA books focus on one of the most amazing age groups out there. High School is a time of growth and those who write it well are able to zero in on the roller coaster of emotions and complex issues kids that age face. I am in awe of those writers and grateful that they provide readers with stories that inspire, heal, and offer adventure, romance, understanding, or escape to all issues that exists in their real world.

But as much as I love reading YA, I could never actually write a YA book of my own. Sure I could probably—well maybe (with time and a lot of practice) nail down the YA voice. I feel like high school was just yesterday and if I wanted to, I think I could call to mind all those raw emotions. And sure I have enough material for some juicy relevant plots too—I’ve been around enough teenagers for that!

But I’ll leave YA to the experts because there’s one very big reason why I would not be the best writer for the job. And here it is…

I like happy way too much.

I like happy characters. I like happy adventures. And I definitely like happy endings. But that’s not to say I haven’t learned to throw curveballs and real life unhappy scenarios and obstacles at my middle grade characters because even for kids ages 8-12, life is not always happy-happy. But the difference is that in middle grade, the story usually ends up happy. It may mean a new normal for the characters, but more often than not that new normal is a happy one.

And that’s not always the case in YA…or at the very least, the conflicts and issues the characters face can be so dark and decidedly unhappy. And that would be a problem for me. We all know how long it takes to write a novel, how many hundreds of hours we spend revising each and every scene. I would have a hard time spending that many hours, weeks, and months writing about issues that are so unhappy-unhapppy.

So I’ll stick to writing middle grade stories. I’ll stick to writing about plots that may involve tough issues, but that ultimately work out in the happiest of ways. However, I’ll always read YA. Because even though high school kids have drama and deal with tough issues, it’s inspiring to watch characters work through the struggle and in the end come through it stronger. Because that’s what I see in real life—real kids struggling through tough issues but coming through their situations stronger than ever and a better people for it. 🙂

What about you? Can you write both middle grade and YA, or are you destined to write only one? Many writers do both and who knows, maybe my focus will change one day. But for now, I’ll stick to middle grade. It seems to suit me best!

Happy Spring, everyone! I hope this season brings you joy and happy-happy new beginnings!

Jackie

When Words Cut and Sting

As a writer, I know how powerful words can be. The right ones can lift us up, take us on an adventure, or make us laugh. But the wrong ones can turn even the most confident and strong person into a mere shadow of themselves. Especially when those words are directed at someone they love.

I’ve never thought of myself as particularly insecure or powerless. I’ve always thought that when push comes to shove I would stand up for myself or for the people I care most about. I have that overwhelming mama bear instinct that many of you are familiar with. But I realize now that I’ve never really had a reason to stand up—before now.

Writers know that to write an amazing story, they need to condense their words—they need to pare down the unnecessary ones like just or that. It becomes clear pretty quick that once all the fluff is stripped away, the strongest message of the sentence is left behind. Words are powerful when used on their own.

Even when used one at a time.

Even when used in a nasty text message, or said under one’s breathe. Especially when used to name call.

Some say that writers hide behind their words. They write what they cannot say aloud to the world. Some also say that writers figure out what they’re trying to say as they’re writing their story. Their thoughts miraculously appear on the page almost like the words magically appeared to Harry in Tom Riddle’s diary.

However, I say that writers don’t hide behind their words. They stand behind them because they speak the truth of their heart. If only all people would use words, whether written or spoken, that are worth standing behind.

In case you’re wondering if this post is a rant, it’s not. It’s more of a revelation of the destruction that can result from using hurtful words in real life.

By nature, many writers are more comfortable with the written word than the spoken word…and I’m no different. Many of you who know me well know that I like to see the world as a happy happy place. I see the good in people and in every situation…and I despise confrontation. But as someone who believes in the power of words, (both written and spoken) I draw the line when they are used for merely hurtful purposes.

In the past few months, I’ve been privy to the nasty side of human nature. I’ve had a front row seat to a show I thought couldn’t possibly be real. It played out more like a scene from Mean Girls on steroids than anything I’ve encountered before.

In the world we live in today, cowardly people are the ones who hide behind their words. Behind their social media posts. Behind their name calling. Behind their text messages.

As a non-confrontational person, I choose to turn the other cheek, to ignore, to not judge because people act out for a variety of reasons I know nothing about. I walk away and encourage my children to do the same, to not stoop to that level.

But at what point, by doing nothing, do we turn into a mere shadow of ourselves—waiting for the next word to be written, afraid to make the situation worse, wondering what the fallout would be? I thought I was being strong, and teaching my children to be strong, by not reacting to a very bad situation. I thought I was making the right decision by not engaging in the negativity.

But sometimes, our actions send a message that we don’t intend them to. Sometimes by doing nothing, we are condoning the wrong doings of others. Sometimes by doing nothing, we are telling our children that we are powerless to the actions of others.

Words can be powerful. They can be used as weapons if not kept in check. And so as a writer, I use my written words wisely from the comfort of my keyboard, but as a parent I’m forced to move out of my comfort zone… to say what needs to be said with no apologies.

That doesn’t mean it’s not terrifying. Finding the right words in a confrontational situation is hard. But just like it is when writing any good story, the right words will come if you let them.

And so I did.

All I will say about this very vague subject is that not all real life stories have a happy ending. Not all turn out happy happy the way I’d like. But this one is turning out as well as I could have hoped and for me that’s good enough.

All of the world may not respect the power that words have. But I do. Words are like the ocean, beautiful and breathtaking and inspiring. But the ocean demands our respect too because it can be dangerous as well. We need to take care when swimming in the ocean, and we need to take care when using words too.

Every great character grows as a result of their story, and in this case I am no different. I may have been a shadow of myself over the last few months, but not anymore. And as for my sweet girl, well she may be just about the strongest person I know…now happier than ever…and definitely not a shadow of herself!

And so this post is dedicated to her…and to all strong characters out there who know right from wrong, and when to say enough is enough. I couldn’t be more proud to call her my daughter. ❤

Have a great week my friends! Stay strong and smart with your words. 🙂

Hugs…

Jackie

Things You Imagine while out on Sub

So you’ve written a book (hooray!) and even managed to sign with a literary agent (so cool!). You’ve read the revision notes and revised your manuscript to a shine…even made it sparkle. Then suddenly, one day, your fantabulous agent notifies you that the first batch of submissions have been sent out. Your book baby has been released into the world for editors to see—and read! (Gulp).

But what happens after that, when your book proposal and chapters are officially out on submission to publishing houses?

Well, after you begin the process of refreshing your email, google hangout, or any other form of agent communication forty five times per day, here are 8 things that you may imagine:

One: A message from your agent appears like magic saying that an editor from a well-known publishing house has requested to read your full manuscript.

Two: You imagine that another message appears from your agent saying that ALL the editors have requested to read your full manuscript.

Three: You imagine that all of these editors will make an offer to publish your book, and then your agent will hold an auction…and of course it will turn into a bidding war for your book!

Four: You imagine the advance the winning editor will offer as part of the deal that will surely be in the six figure range. At least.

Five: You imagine signing the contract for your first published book, with an amazing editor at the publishing house of your dreams.

Six: You imagine the announcement you’ll make, and the party you’ll have when your book deal is official.

Seven: You imagine the amazing book launch party you’ll have when the book eventually releases with your friends, family, and all the people you’ve ever met who are anxious to read the book you’ve talked about for years.

Eight: You imagine signing your name (on the inside of the gorgeous book cover) with a pretty pink or purple pen, for the boy or girl who clutches the book to their chest, anxious to go right home to read it!

Hmm. Sound familiar?

As writers, we live in a dream world much of the day. And that’s okay. Our dreams are what got us here in the first place, right? But if you’ve ever wondered what really happens after your book goes out on sub to publishing houses, keep reading. I’ll give you the straight scoop.

Being out on submission goes something like this:

You wait.

You read about an author getting a book deal and feel encouraged. If it happened to them it can happen to you.

You wait.

Your agent tells you that you got a full request and practically pass out. You tell your family and friends and imagine all of the above.

You read about another writer getting a book deal during the sleepy holiday season and think, “Oh, I guess some editors do work over the holidays. Maybe I’ll hear something from one of them soon.”

You wait.

You get a rejection from another editor on the list. You think, “Okay that’s fine. There are other editors who will be a good fit for my book.”

You wait.

You keep writing. What if an editor wants my second book? If they do, I better have it ready!

You wait.

You get another rejection and your agent reminds you that the perfect editor is out there somewhere. You smile because she’s always so positive and encouraging, and hope she’s right.

You hear of an another writer getting a book deal—a BIG six figure book deal!

You wonder what their book has that yours doesn’t—even though it’s in a different age category and genre. You’re happy for the author because they deserve this but secretly imagine the above scenario again.

You keep writing and telling yourself that waiting is a good sign. It means there’s still hope—one of the editors that has your manuscript will love it as much as you do.

You wait.

You reach out to other writing friends who are experiencing the same madness that you are and find comfort in their support. You secretly hope that all of you get a book deal at the same time because for real, how great would that be?

You wait some more and take on new projects. The realization hits you that you have zero control over this outcome and you may as well enjoy life while you wait.

You write and keep checking for updates, but not nearly as often as forty-five times per day. I mean, forty-five times a day is a lot. Twice a day- perfectly acceptable.

This process goes on and on. Waiting, writing, waiting, hoping, waiting…for how long I’m not sure. But what I am sure of is this…

Being out on submission (even with all the waiting) is the most exciting time ever.There’s nothing better than knowing that you (and your book) have been given this amazing opportunity to be considered. Yes, to be considered! There’s nothing better than knowing that Rebecca, my amazing agent, has my back, is here to support me in this process every step of the way, and is putting my manuscript out there—in all the right places. I feel so lucky—and so blessed.

Sure, I live in my imaginary world where all of the above happens, but I also live in a world where other writers like me live…the one where we long to see our books in the hands of readers somehow, some way. And even though we imagine the big stuff, we really imagine our books being published whatever way it’s meant to be.

So in the meantime, we wait and keep writing. That’s the real deal…and that’s not a bad deal at all, is it?

Have a great week, guys! I hope you have time to write and write well. I’m pulling for you to make this publishing thing happen too…the more the merrier!

Jackie ❤