I HAVE AN AGENT!

The title says it all, or most of it anyway. I HAVE AN AGENT! I am officially an AGENTED WRITER-TYPE PERSON! It honestly still doesn’t feel real. Not to be too cliché, but I keep expecting to find out someone drugged me with an experimental hallucinogen and my trip involved career advancement instead of bloodthirsty unicorns or whatever.

So, how did this happen? Mostly in the usual way, but I’ll give you the whole story anyway. Just in case you’re interested.

This doesn’t start with me as a child dreaming of the day I’d publish a book. I didn’t grow up scribbling stories or daydreaming about characters and adventure and magic. Beyond a few (truly horrendous) fanfics in high school, I didn’t write for fun. There are a few reasons for that, some of which I’m still parsing out, but the big one was that it never occurred to me to try.

Not until college, when my writing-major BFF suggested I take a creative writing elective. I figured it might be a fun way to spend three credit hours, but didn’t think too much of it. COLOR ME SURPRISED when I discovered, wait a minute, I’m really really really into this. Between that class and another one I took later, I also figured out I might have a knack for this whole stringing words together thing.

I kept writing, but I wasn’t doing it in any serious way. I toyed with the idea of writing a novel, and I wrote maybe 5,000 words on two different ideas before moving on. I was getting a political science degree! I was going into a nonprofit master’s program! I wasn’t A Writer.

Until halfway through said master’s program when I realized, no, wait a minute, I absolutely am a writer. Not only that, but it’s what I want to do for my career.

After graduating, I was accepted to the Clarion Writers’ Workshop in San Diego. I’ve talked at length about the experience before, but suffice it to say this was the single greatest boost to my writing up to that point. Not only because of all that I learned and the people I met, but because it solidified my previously shaky confidence in my dreams and abilities.

A few months after I got home from those intense six weeks, I decided I was finally going to write a novel. I started it in November 2014 and by January 1, 2015, I had a finished draft of a middle grade contemporary. I sent it to my betas, revised through February, sent it to them again, and did one more smaller revision in early April.

And then I started querying. I sent out my first batch at the end of April. My first two responses came less than a week later within an hour of each other, and they were both full requests! That was more than a little unexpected.

Also unexpected? The terrifying and painful health stuff that hit me in June. Suffice it to say that I was out of commission for the entire summer. I didn’t send out any more queries, and when the (really very lovely) rejections on the fulls came in, I couldn’t quite bring myself to care. When you suddenly can’t eat anything and you realize you’ve been dealing with depression for months on top of that? Querying becomes significantly less of a concern.

But I eventually got feeling better and I started sending out more queries. I got more and more full requests, along with some more wonderful rejections. (Seriously, personal rejections are the greatest gifts.) I didn’t query systematically, though. I kept a spreadsheet, but I didn’t update it as regularly as I should’ve. I didn’t send out planned batches of queries so much as periodic, spur-of-the-moment ones. I did my research on everyone, of course, but I did it in a spread out, unorganized way. A lot of times, I’d see an agent tweet something that made me think they’d be a good fit and go from there.

So when I saw Beth Phelan was hosting a query contest for diverse writers on MLK Day, I immediately researched her interests. Lo and behold, she wanted middle grade contemporary, and my particular flavor of it, too! I honestly don’t know how I’d missed her before this. I’d looked into The Bent Agency and even queried other agents there, but somehow Beth had slipped past me.

I queried her on that Monday, MLK Day. Something like an hour later she requested the full! This was super exciting, but I’d had enough “I really like it but I’m not the right fit” rejections on fulls by this point to know not to get my hopes up. Plus, since she promised personal feedback to everyone who entered, I didn’t expect her to read the manuscript anytime soon. I settled in to wait with more caution than optimism.

Wednesday night, I woke up and checked my phone for the time. It was almost 1am and I had an email from Beth. I knew such a fast response had to mean a rejection, but I felt a weird flutter of hope regardless. I opened the email. Read the email.

It wasn’t a rejection. It was an offer.

I legitimately didn’t know how to react. You have to understand I was still half-asleep. This could SO EASILY have been a really cruel dream, but I kept staring at the email and it didn’t go away. When I woke up the next morning (although, let’s be real, I didn’t get much sleep), it was still there. She really wanted to be my agent!

We talked that afternoon, and it was perfect. She fully understood the story, the characters, the themes, everything. I could tell her edit suggestions would make the book even stronger, and I honestly wanted to start working on revisions right then. But I told her I’d get back to her in a week.

Nothing about the next week felt real. I think my brain was experiencing so many feels–excitement, fear, anxiety, euphoria, disbelief–that it shut down entirely and refused to process any feels at all. I spent a few days in a haze, not a bad one, but a haze nonetheless. All the agents who still had my full started responding, saying they loved it, but they’d step aside for the greater interest.

I talked with Beth again and it just made me even more sure that she was The One. When I hung up, all I wanted was to sign with her as soon as I possibly could.

And this morning, sign is exactly what I did!

I am so honored and thrilled to say that I’m now represented by Beth Phelan of The Bent Agency! I can’t wait to start this next phase of my career with her. Time to get started.

Favorite books of 2015

I was originally going to do a top 10 list for this post. Then I was going to do two top ten lists (one for books published in 2015 and one for those that weren’t). But then I decided top ten lists are overrated altogether. So we’re going the superlative route today! I did always love superlatives (even though I didn’t get any good ones in high school—and no, I’m totally not still bitter, shut up).

Because I make the rules here, I’m pulling from all books I read this year, regardless of when they were published, but most of these ended up being 2015 books anyway. Go figure!

 

Young Adult

Favorite Contemporary

Pointe by Brandy Colbert

Colbert’s debut (from 2014)—about a ballerina whose best friend suddenly comes home after being kidnapped four years ago—absolutely gutted me. It’d be easy to call Theo a complex or flawed or compelling character, but none of those feel sufficient (or informative at all, really). I ached for Theo. I felt her in my every bone while reading, and I wanted nothing more than to soothe her pain and fight her demons and bring her joy.

This is not an easy read, but it’s a necessary one, a powerful-beautiful-wrenching one, an unforgettable one. And Colbert infuses so much compassion and empathy into these pages. She pulls you through the story almost gently but without ever letting you flinch away. Colbert writes as much grace as Theo dances with, and it’s a painful joy to read both.

 

 

Favorite Fantasy

A History of Glitter and Blood by Hannah Moskowitz

This is a book about fairies and gnomes and tightropers. About war and violence. Sex and power and desperation. Choice and choices.

It’s about history and fiction and where they meet and where they fight and where neither is enough but both are all that matter.

It’s about a girl and a boy and another boy and the one speck of a boy they’re trying (hoping, praying) to find.

It’s about writing a story that’s not yours but somewhat yours but does the somewhat make it yours enough to tell?

It’s about bodies and glitter. Broken bodies and missing glitter. Perfect bodies and more missing glitter.

It’s about life and death and both and neither.

It’s about Beckan and Scrap and Josha and Cricket, and you need to read it.

 

Favorite Science Fiction

Illuminae by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

I don’t read a ton of sci fi and even less space-based sci fi, so it’s saying a lot that I capital-L LOVED this book. That it’s told entirely through “found documents”—emails, interviews, chat logs, audio transcripts, and some other, shall we say, less expected formats—was enough to hook me, but then Kaufman and Kristoff had to go and write a story that’s at times terrifying, breathless, hilarious, and philosophical, thus capturing my heart entire.

Illuminae also boasts one of my favorite ships of this year. Kady and Ezra start the book as newly minted exes, and it’s fascinating to watch their relationship evolve in the midst of multiple disasters and threats, not to mention almost certain doom.

Also, there’s a malfunctioning AI, a legitimately don’t-read-with-the-lights-out scary virus, and all sorts of shady intrigue.

Also also, Kady’s a hacker. Just in case you needed more reasons to read this thing and flail with me while we wait for book two.

 

Favorite Overall

The Weight of Feathers by Anna-Marie McLemore

McLemore’s debut takes a familiar premise—a boy and a girl from two feuding families fall for each other—and creates one of the most tender, complicated, beautifully-rendered romances I’ve ever read. Though I did indeed swoon throughout, calling this book “swoon-worthy” would feel dismissive and woefully inadequate. Like I said when I finished it, this book “filled me up, filled me almost to bursting. The language is so delicate it hurts and so powerful it soothes. The relationships are all as layered, complicated, and wrenching as the language, too. There’s beauty tangled up with pain in every moment. This is a book that reaches into you and lifts you up so slowly and surely that you don’t even notice until you’re floating.”

I stand by every word of that, even months after finishing it. I still find myself drifting back to its world of mermaids and tightrope walkers, my eyes lingering on its spine, my fingers tracing the cover. Even now, all I want to do is go curl up in the haunting, lyrical, magical comfort I found there the first time.

 

TIE—Favorite 2016 Releases

The Girl from Everywhere by Heidi Heilig

I am so grateful I stumbled upon an ARC of this one, and I am so sorry for everyone who has to wait until February to read it because it. is. so. good. Time traveling pirates! Hawaii! Fairy tales! Boys from fairy tales who will steal your heart! But also TIME TRAVELING LADY PIRATES who will steal it even harder.

Seriously, though, this has one of the most immediately engrossing plots I’ve read and it never lets up. The writing is beautiful (and beautifully suited to the story), and the characters are so dear I imagine they’ll feel like family before this series is over. (Oh, who am I kidding, they basically already do.)

And did I mention the time travel? It both makes intuitive sense and leads to unpredictable twisty-ness that will make you gasp at least fifty times. (I’m guesstimating.) Definitely get this one when it comes out and start reading immediately, although I should warn you you won’t want to stop until you’re finished.

 

On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis

I beta’d this one, and I’ve been dyingggggg for people to read it ever since. Set in Amsterdam, this is an apocalyptic novel that explores (among other things) morality, equity, whose lives are worthy, and how we measure worth. It uses the apocalypse to the greatest possible effect by exposing, examining, and critiquing existing societal values.

It’s also super worth noting that this book stars an autistic protagonist written by an autistic author. If you (for some reason) need convincing that ownvoices books are important and wonderful, look no further than this one (which was written by the person who coined the term in the first place!).

On top of all the above goodness, the familial relationships are complex and difficult, the plot is tense throughout, and the stakes are literally astronomical.

This one doesn’t come out until March, but when it does I need everyone to read it because I’ve been waiting ages to shout about its brilliance with others.

 

Middle Grade

Favorite Contemporary

George by Alex Gino

(Slight spoilers in this one.) This is possibly the cutest book I’ve ever read. Of course, it’s an incredibly important book, too, but I really want to talk about how freaking adorable it is. The core friendship, especially, had me beaming throughout. Melissa’s so passionate but nervous, and her BFF is so supportive. When they were running lines together? I died from cute.

I also don’t think I was happier for any character this year than when Melissa took the stage as Charlotte and dazzled everyone, even herself.

I’m so thrilled that trans kids have this book, one that’s written by someone trans themselves no less. It’s the perfect blend of sweet, earnest, eager, and joyful, just like Melissa.

 

 

Favorite Fantasy

The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste

As I said when I first finished this, The Jumbies is spooky, citrus-soaked perfection. The story itself is tense and unpredictable with Baptiste zigging when I expected her to zag. The writing is gorgeous and so present throughout that I could hear the sea, feel the mud, taste the oranges. And the characters felt just as alive as the setting, just as vibrant and full.

Not to mention that there is some serious creepiness in here. Quietly creepy moments building and building on that slow dread until you’re suddenly wary of flipping every page because you know something worse surely lies ahead.

This Caribbean fairy tale—focused on family, history, and magic—is lovely with just a spritz of scary, which is pretty much my favorite combination.

 

 

Favorite Overall

Bird by Crystal Chan

I read Bird fairly early in the year, but I can still feel the chills I got when reading this lyrical, penetrating book. I imagine I’d be happy to read even a research paper on the history of dental fillings by Chan, but it’s not just the writing that floored me.

Bird boasts easily my favorite familial relationships of the year: Jewel and her dead brother; Jewel and her silent grandfather; Jewel and her parents; Jewel’s parents and Jewel’s grandfather. Every one of these individual relationships are fraught and full of a love so strong it’s sometimes painful (for the characters and for us). Add to that one of my favorite friendships of all time, and you get a book bursting with relationships so intense and vivid you almost feel intrusive for watching them play out.

This is the kind of book I have a hard time talking about because nothing can capture the way it made me feel. Suffice it to say, I’ll keep it perched on my shelf, ready and waiting for any future kids who might be story-searching through my collection.

 

Adult

Favorite Fantasy

The Fifth Season by N.K. Jemisin

Jemisin is a noted worldbuilding master and her latest is no exception. But while the Stillness—a continent plagued by intense seismic outbursts where apocalypses are regular parts of life—is endlessly fascinating, the characters were even more compelling. (Of course, Jemisin would likely be the first to tell you that characters cannot be divorced from the world they inhabit, but still. I don’t think she gets enough credit for her character work.)

I’m hesitant to give many more specifics. This is the kind of book best approached with as little foreknowledge as possible. Not because the story relies on twists or revelations, but because part of the joy is in sinking so far into this world that the vibrations of an overhead plane while reading makes your heart skip. Let yourself get to know these characters (and this world) with nothing to go on except the words Jemisin uses to introduce them and to tell their stories.

Be warned that this is the first in a series, though, and I guarantee you you’ll want—no, need the second one as soon as you finish.

 

Favorite Science Fiction

Radiance by Catherynne M. Valente

This will end up being my last read of 2015 and one of my favorites of the entire year (and all time? Probably).

Radiance is set in an alternate universe where Hollywood operates on the Moon, kangaroos have taken quite well to a Chinese-owned Mars, and Venus is home to giant and mysterious callowhales.

The story revolves around the disappearance of documentarian Severin Unck during a shoot on Venus. It’s told through gossip magazine clips, home movie transcripts, debriefing interviews, snippets of Severin’s documentaries, scripts from her father’s more fantastic films, and more.

This is not a mere mystery, though. It’s a meditation on film, on seeing and being seen, on narrative, on reality. It’s drenched in the most alluring and strategic combination of aesthetics: noir, Hollywood glam, fairy tale, the Jazz Age, even vaudeville. All wrapped around a cast of characters you’ll adore, even—or maybe especially—when you aren’t sure you’ll ever really know the heart of them.

2015 diverse reading audit (and a giveaway!)

A couple Decembers ago, I noticed something fairly alarming while looking through my Goodreads: I’d read exactly one book by an author of color that year. One. Out of 50. I really shouldn’t have been quite so shocked. I wasn’t making intentional reading choices, after all. But to be frank, I still believed at the time that a) I chose books based on nothing more than what I felt like reading, and that b) that was a good way to make decisions.

In reality, of course, our reading choices are never only a matter of personal preference. We pick books based on recommendations, bookstore presence, marketing, cover copy, cover image, author recognition, buzz, reviews, and more. And every one of these factors are in turn affected by systemic racism, sexism, ableism, transphobia, homophobia, etc. It’s no secret that books written by and featuring white, straight, abled, cis men get the majority of publisher backing, bookstore exposure, critical acclaim, and reader attention. It’s also no secret that that’s because we as a society place a higher value on those stories and those authors—on those lives. We do it instinctively, but it’s a learned instinct, and what is learned can be unlearned—to a certain extent, anyway—with conscious, continuous effort.

When we don’t make that effort, we aren’t merely complacent; we’re actively supporting a system that benefits some and harms others. The year that I read one author of color (Malinda Lo’s ADAPTATION, by the way, which was wonderful), that’s what I did. I propped up a publishing industry and a society founded on white supremacy. (If this seems like a melodramatic intro for a blog post about What I Read This Year, well, I’d suggest researching the many ways popular culture can impact and reinforce oppression.)

Since then, I’ve tried to make more intentional and more diverse reading choices, but I’ve still got a long way to go (not that there’s any end destination—you don’t read a certain number of diverse books and pack up shop). So in the interest of keeping myself accountable, here’s an overview of what and who I read this year, broken down into three categories: authors, main characters, and ownvoices.

(I realize this may not actually be interesting for anyone but me, so feel free to skip down past the charts to the “Now What?” section where I try to translate all this into action and host a giveaway! Ooooh!)

 

Authors

With this section, I’m looking at the number of books written by authors with marginalized identities rather than the number of authors with marginalized identities. Yes, this means some people were counted twice if I read more than one of their books (Seanan McGuire and Hannah Moskowitz, for example), thus increasing some category counts a bit. But I decided it was worth it, because a) with the exception of McGuire, all authors counted more than once were writing in multiple series/worlds, and b) I’m interested in not just whose voices I’m reading, but also where my money’s going, so looking at number of books versus number of authors seemed like a decent approach.

None of this is an exact science, of course, not least because people don’t always disclose every aspect of their identities (which is completely legitimate; readers have no right to any personal information except what the author chooses to share). And even when an aspect of their identity is public, I may still miss it. Having said that, it’s fairly easy to find most of this information for most authors.

authors of x id

The numbers work out to 82% women, 28% POC, 23% queer authors, 3% trans authors, 9% disabled authors.

I’m doing pretty okay with women (although I would’ve bet good money I’d be at 90% at least), but I could/should be doing better with pretty much every other category. Especially trans and disabled authors. Part of the reason those category counts are so awful is that there just aren’t as many trans and disabled authors being published as cis and abled authors (see: ableism and transphobia), but mostly I just wasn’t intentionally seeking those authors out. They exist, they’re writing, they’re being published, and I need to be better about supporting them.

And even when I was making intentional choices—like with POC and queer people—I’m still only averaging 1 in 4. It’s tempting to say, well, that’s much better than 1 in 50, but that’s not how this works. I don’t get to pat myself on the back for doing better than Absolutely Abysmal.

 

Main Characters

I’m mostly interested in the authors I’m reading and supporting, but I was also curious how those numbers lined up (or didn’t) with characters’ identities. Determining which categories each character belongs to tends to be pretty clear cut, but I did have to settle on a definition of “main character.” For my purposes, a main character is any perspective character, meaning we follow them specifically and get inside their heads (even in third person). Note that I excluded some books from the total count: essay collections, short story anthologies, basically any book without proper main characters.

diverse mcs

The percentages here work out to 73% women, 38% POC, 22% queer characters, 3% trans characters, 22% disabled characters.

What I find interesting here is: a) quite a few white people writing characters of color and abled people writing disabled characters, and b) more women than I would’ve expected writing men. I don’t have anything conclusive to say about these observations. There are all sorts of nuanced discussions surrounding who is “allowed” to write whom, but it all boils down to complexities of power, ownership, marginalization, self-determination, etc., none of which I have room to tackle here. Still, I think it’s important to pay attention to not only which authors you’re supporting, but also whose stories they’re telling.

 

Ownvoices

Speaking of which, Corinne Duyvis coined the super handy term “ownvoices” earlier this year. It refers to books where the author shares some marginalized identit(ies) with their character(s). For instance, Corinne is autistic and she wrote about an autistic girl in her upcoming ON THE EDGE OF GONE, making that an ownvoices book. These books are important for many reasons, but a big one is that people with marginalized identities telling their own stories will forever and always be more important than outsiders (usually privileged outsiders) telling those stories for and instead of them. Which doesn’t mean marginalized folks should only ever write about people just like them, because super nope. This is about what you as a reader should be seeking out, not about policing what authors should be writing.

(Here again I excluded books without proper characters.)

ownvoices

Percentages: 25% POC, 12% queer folks, 3% trans folks, 3% disabled folks.

Once again, this shows some pretty big gaps. While I read a fair number of ownvoices characters of color (not that I shouldn’t be reading more, just that compared to the other categories and considering the total number of authors of color I read, this is the most “successful”), I’m super lacking in the other areas, especially trans and disabled ownvoices. But really, I need to do better across the board.

 

Now What?

Tracking your reading habits is an excellent first step, but a meaningless one unless you use the data to make better choices in the future. I’m all about measurable goals, so in 2016 I want to read at least:

  • 85% women
  • 50% authors of color
  • 35% queer authors
  • 20% trans authors
  • 20% disabled authors

(I’m particularly interested in reading more authors with intersecting identities, so that’s a sort of sub-goal.)

Hopefully I’ll soar way past those figures, but I like to start with something that seems pretty easily attainable based on past performance. If I give myself a goal (any kind of goal, not just in terms of reading) that feels immediately daunting, it’s likely that I’ll go hide from it until it goes away and forgets about me.

I considered giving myself an ownvoices goal as well—for instance: 50% of books I read should be ownvoices—but I figure if I’m already hitting all my other goals, I’ll probably be getting a lot of ownvoices books in the mix automatically. I’ll keep an eye on it, though, and if I notice my ownvoices numbers aren’t where I want them, I’ll reassess.

And now, the fun part of the post! Book giveaway time! I’m hoping others will also be in a reflective mood given the upcoming new year, and I’m hoping even more that you’ll join me in committing to your own diverse reading goals in 2016. So! If you want to win four wonderful books by women of color, follow the instructions in this tweet by December 31 (US only, sorry!!):

Even if you can’t or don’t want to enter the giveaway portion, please still join the discussion on Twitter using #DiverseReadingGoals and/or in the comments. I can’t wait to see not only what everyone else is aiming for, but also how everyone’s fared come next December.

Microaggressions and Erasure
of Disability in Diversity Discussions

I don’t know how to write this. I honestly still can’t decide if I should—even as I’m writing it—because I’m afraid I’ll be misunderstood, or because I’m afraid I’m overreacting, or because I’m afraid I’ll be perceived as overreacting. All of the above, really. But I’m more afraid of not saying anything, of letting it blister only to burst open deep and raw over and over again. I’m afraid there’ll come a day when I choose to withdraw from this community altogether rather than be scraped open one more time.

Before I start, I want to be clear that nothing I’m going to say is directed at any one person or event. This is something that’s been happening for as long as I’ve been part of the YA community, but it has admittedly been happening more frequently lately since diversity discussions in general have been happening more frequently. And maybe that’s why I’m saying something now even though I’ve been planning to write this for ages: because the little hurts are coming in quicker succession and turning into bigger ones. Bigger hurts are harder to ignore.

I also want to make it clear that I admire the hell out of every single person in this community fighting for more and better diversity, risking their careers and well being to do so, and facing unconscionable harassment and abuse for speaking at all.

Having said that, I’m finding it harder and harder to feel welcome in these diversity discussions. And no, I’m not talking about the ones that are focused on racism or transphobia or anti-Semitism or Islamophobia or any other specific marginalization. Those are all incredibly important conversations where my voice does not belong, except perhaps to boost the voices of those who do. My voice doesn’t belong in discussions about A Fine Dessert or For Such a Time, for example. Beyond boosting those affected, my voice would be derailing at best and actively harmful at worst. That’s not what I’m talking about.

I’m talking about the general diversity discussions. Sometimes these develop from those specific ones, sometimes not. Regardless, we have a lot of (sorely needed) conversations about diversity and marginalization in this community…and disability doesn’t always feel welcome there. I’ve started dreading these conversations because they inevitably turn into a string of microaggressions and erasures.

It’s in the way disability is so rarely listed in definitions of diversity.

It’s in the way people say, “You’d never say [X] about someone disabled! Why say it about [other marginalized identity]?”

It’s in the way books with disability tropes and painful portrayals are included again and again in recommended lists and award nominations, even after #ownvoices critics have spoken out against those titles.

It’s in the way those harmful portrayals are often the only ones recced at all, and how #ownvoices writers tend to be overlooked entirely.

It’s in the ableist language used so often and so casually to make a point: “Those people are CRAZY!” “Anyone who says/thinks/does that must be INSANE!” “You’d have to be BLIND to ignore that!”

It’s in all the times someone has said “differently abled” or “wheelchair-bound” or “handicapable” in an article promoting diversity.

It’s in the lack of captions or descriptions of photos, GIFs, and videos. Again, in articles promoting diversity.

It’s in the shorthand we use for privilege: white, and sometimes straight. As though sexuality and race are the only possible axes on which to be privileged or marginalized. As if abled privilege doesn’t exist.

It’s in the way so many people—even those committed to diversity—can’t list the last book they read with a disabled character.

It’s in the way disability is so rarely included when people list the intersectional characters they’d like to see.

It’s in the way people respond to my voice. There’s sympathy, always sympathy, but rarely solidarity. When my voice is boosted, people say, “Listen.” But most don’t say, “This is wrong.”

It’s in the way I’ve seen authors use #ownvoices to describe themselves writing disabled characters—because someone in their family has a disability.

It’s in all the ways we’re ignored, erased, or trampled on during these discussions.

I am white, so I am absolutely privileged. But I’m also disabled (not to mention queer), so I am absolutely marginalized. I have valuable things to add to discussions of diversity, but I don’t always feel comfortable speaking. I worry I’ll be derailing if I focus on disability, or that I’ll be seen as a white girl trying to play oppressed, or that no one will care anyway.

I appreciate the explicit support I get. I do, truly. This isn’t about that. This is about all the subtle ways I’m told over and over again that I don’t count, that I don’t belong in these discussions. It’s the microagressions. It’s the erasure. It’s the apathy. It’s the fact that a supposedly safe space is feeling less and less so every day.

Maybe this is a horribly misguided thing to write. Maybe I should just delete it. But really all I’m saying is:

See us. Acknowledge us. Include us.

Please.

I’m Terrible at NaNoWriMo…
and I’m (Sort of) Participating Anyway

I’m terrible at NaNo. Just complete and utter garbage at it. I’ve tried for the past several years to be less garbage-like, but I inevitably quit a week in with nothing but a few thousand words and absolute disgust for myself, those words, every blazing atom in this disgusting universe.

It’s not pretty, is what I’m saying.

And yet…I’m doing NaNo again this year!

No, it’s not because I actively enjoy wanting to douse my laptop in accelerant and toss a lit nutmeg and spice candle on it. It’s not even because I like a challenge, or because I think I’ll be better at it this year.

It’s because I love the atmosphere, the community, the creative joy practically pulsing out of the internet. That collective drive is more motivating than a picture of the Avengers telling you to write and more energizing than the venti-est of pumpkin spice lattes.

But before I could commit this year, I needed to figure out a new strategy. Because attempting to bang out 50K words of trash is the fastest way for me to lost interest in a story. It’s happened every time: after NaNo, I never touch that story again. I’ve finally figured out it’s because language is my way into a story. Yeah, crafting beautiful sentences that you might delete later seems like a waste of time. It goes against not just most writing advice but the very spirit of NaNo to spend an hour fidgeting with a single paragraph. To lose a day to restructuring a scene for better clarity, tone, flow, etc. To hunt for the perfect metaphor even as your peers zoom past you with 5, 10, 15, 20K. But that’s my process. If I don’t love the words I’m using, I won’t love the story I’m telling.

So this year, I’m trying something new.

Instead of aiming for 50K (or even a reduced word count), I’m resolving to immerse myself as deeply into my story as possible. I’m going to spend the majority of every day hunkered into this dark, beautiful, terrifying world I’m building. I’m not promising myself words this year. I’m promising myself focus.

Yeah, it’s a bit more nebulous a goal (and a helluva lot harder to track), but I’m hoping this strategy will let me participate without sabotaging myself.

If anyone else wants to join me in my rebellious ways, please do. Because the real gift of NaNo isn’t a pile of words; it’s the fact that for one month every year we assert–as a community–that stories matter. And when I inevitably feel guilty for not plowing through my draft as fast as I can just to hit that 50K mark, I’m going to remind myself of that assertion:

Stories matter.

The speed at which you create them doesn’t.