Your First Retreat

*Cross posted from: Flint Area Writers

The Flint Area Writers are going on retreat in August. One weekend, Friday through Sunday, devoted to writing, critique, and camaraderie among like-minded people. To prepare, I’ve gathered some suggestions and advice from veteran members Martha J. Allard, Melodie Bolt, and yours truly, about the DOs and DON’Ts of writing retreats.

The most important, and also least important, aspect of your retreat is finding an amicable location. This can be a tiny cabin snuggled in sleepy woods, a tent parked in a campground, or even a friend’s house – anything that takes you out of your normal space and forces you to adapt. A favorite of FAW is Gilchrist in Three Rivers, Michigan. Another location I researched recently is the Highlights Foundation Unworkshops in Pennsylvania, where $129 gets you a cabin and three meals per day. Wherever you go, make sure it’s equipped enough to keep you comfortable and inspired.

No matter how long you set aside for a writing retreat, be it a day, a weekend, a month, that span of uninterrupted time can seem daunting. It’s nothing but you, your notebook or laptop, that inevitable blank page, and hello, writer’s block! Your retreat begins well before you leave home. Use the following list the week before to prepare.

  • Reconnect with your work. Reread your manuscript, peruse your notes or outline.

  • Complete any necessary research and pack it with your writing materials.

  • Read a new (or old favorite) book about writing and get excited for what’s to come.

  • Make a plan.

    • Be realistic. If you don’t normally write 50 pages in one sitting, don’t expect to do it on retreat.

    • Decide if you’re writing for quality or quantity and stick to it. Maybe you only want to revise or write one scene, perhaps you’re looking to spew as many words as you can because you’re still figuring out what you’re writing. Maybe you’re starting something new. Whatever it is, make a concise plan for how you will spend your time and then stick to it.

Now that you’re prepared, the fun part begins.

  • When you arrive, give yourself some time to acclimate to your surroundings. Go for a walk, peruse the items left behind from others (Gilchrist has a lovely collection of journals in every cabin.) Breathe. Appreciate being in the moment, because there is nothing better than having time and space for creativity.

  • Pick out your writing spot and get comfortable. We suggest snacks, tea, or if you’re like me, a GIANT cup of coffee. Headphones for music or a fan to block out noises. Keep your notes close so you don’t have to get up to cross the room if you’re lost in the moment. Don’t be afraid to make a bit of a mess. I prefer to work in chaos.

  • Revisit your plan and remind yourself to stick to it.

  • Get to work!

  • If the words are flowing, make sure you take breaks. I once came back from retreat with a knot the size of Texas in my shoulder. Since then, I always bring my yoga mat and stretch between writing. Vary positions, put your feet up, sit on the floor, take your work outside. Remember to move!

  • If you find yourself staring at that annoying blank page, repeat the above steps. Go for a walk and take your notebook. Read a bit of something you find inspiring. (I often read 1-2 books on retreat.) Knock on your neighbor’s door and ask for a cup of sugar. (Just kidding, you should respect your neighbors!)

  • Some retreats will be more productive than others. Remind yourself of your plans and goals for your work. Being a writer means deadlines, even if they’re self-imposed.

  • If something else draws your attention, go with it. I started my current manuscript on retreat when I was supposed to be writing something else. Don’t waste your time or creativity!

  • WRITE! Fill that blank page with words. Even if you’re feeling uninspired, write one sentence. Then another. Ignore the devil on your shoulder that says it’s not good enough. Worries are for rewrites.

  • Remember to take care of yourself.

    • Sleep! Retreat isn’t just for writing, it’s also for recharging. If you’re tired, sleep. If you’re awake, write. I usually go to bed early on retreat and wake up at 4:30am. There’s something about a sunrise that’s so beautifully inspiring.

    • Stay hydrated! Tea, water, coffee, juice, whatever floats your boat. Keep that cup full and drink up. Sometimes an adult beverage or two will loosen up apprehension and help the words come. (Who am I to judge, right?)

    • Move! Go for walks, do twenty minutes of yoga, stretch your mind and your muscles.

That’s it for the list of dos. Now for the much shorter list of DON’Ts.

  • Don’t bother your fellow writers. Plan ahead of time when you’ll meet up to read aloud, commiserate, etc. Breakfast and dinner are usually good times to meet.

  • Don’t beat yourself up, but do reward yourself for meeting goals.

  • Don’t waste all your time on social media. If you MUST Facebook or Twitter, save it for break time.

  • Don’t make unrealistic goals. I said this earlier, but it bears repeating. If you aren’t a writing sprinter, don’t expect to suddenly change your habits. If you’re a slow writer, plan for a scene or two, and then make it happen.

What advice do you have for writing retreats? What’s your favorite part of getting away from it all? Let me know in the comments.

Thanks to Martha J. Allard and Melodie Bolt for the suggestions. I’ll see you on retreat!

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STEPPING STONES – A LOOK BACK (PART 2/3)

Stepping Stones - FinalIn anticipation of Stepping Stones’ release on August 25th, I’ve dug out my old manuscripts and, along with some amazing friends, torn them to shreds. I’ve been writing consistently for 6 or 7 years now, and I’ve come a long way. What you see below is progress. Sometimes (READ: ALWAYS) you don’t get it right on the first try. It takes multiple drafts, a lot of heartache, and tons of hair pulling to finish a manuscript. It’s worth it. Learning to write in a way that affects people has no comparison.  I’ll never forget when I read at Flint Area Writers and one of the other authors (who I respect immensely!) turned to me and said, “I hate you.” You can read the piece she loved. It’s in the inaugural issue of Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things. The point is, it took me YEARS to reach that point. And it made all the work worth it. (Getting published certainly helped, too.)

Joining me today are my partners in crime, Stephanie Keyes (of The Star Child fame) and Hannah R. Goodman (Founder and Editor of Sucker Literary and All the Way YA). These ladies have taken off their gloves and given me their honest opinions and suggestions. When you’re a new writer, you NEED people like this. Grow some thick skin and let’s get down to it.

STEPPING STONES VERSION TWO – 2010 (CATCH UP Read Version One HERE.)

KACEY: I will prequel Version Two by saying that I shared Version One with a few close friends who I love dearly. They, bless them, LOVED it! This bolstered my courage. “I am a writer,” I shouted. “Hear me roar!” Which essentially means I sought out some writers online. Writing groups. Writing websites. Things about *gasp* publishing.

Here’s what I learned between Version One and Version Two:

*Agents won’t look at a YA manuscript that has 125,000 words.

*As a writer, you can’t just ramble on and on for no reason.

*Self-editing sucks, and it’s not something you learn how to do overnight. (HANNAH: Toughest rookie lessons to learn but once you let go of taking anything personally, this is a game changer in a manuscript.)

The first bell rang forcing me into my final year of high school. The last two weeks of summer had passed quickly. My mother moved out and away without a backward glance. My dad and I still reeled from the shock of it. Even though she’d served the divorce papers I’d never really believed she would go through with it. She wasn’t my mother anymore—her entire personality had changed.

HANNAH: Aha! Yes! We are in the moment! Things are HAPPENING! And backstory is given with succinct, action-oriented language. “Moved out” and “still reeled” although simple, get the idea across with a feeling of movement in the wording. Much better!

I should’ve been excited to start the final year. I’d looked forward to it since fifth grade when I realized that school ended eventually. But instead, I thought about my mom and worried about my dad.

KACEY: BEHOLD! The condensed version of the INFO DUMP. At least it’s condensed, but it still doesn’t belong here. Slightly fewer HADS, still FAR TOO MANY.

STEPH: I like this better, but there’s still no emotion in this. Also, it needs to be more active for an opening paragraph. Everything’s still happening to her. Her mom ditched her entire family. How does she feel on the first day of school with that news weighing her down? That’s a big deal. We should feel the weight bearing down on her shoulders from this.

I slammed my locker door and wound my way through the familiar hallway flanked by red lockers. Halfway down the hall Hunter joined me, already talking a mile a minute about the new guy. I’d heard snippets from other students in the halls.

KACEY: Hot guy? What is this? Better yet, WHO is this? That’s right. I discovered that it’s important to introduce BOTH main characters in the first scene. This is a CATALYST. Something needs to happen to the character that gets her story going.

And let me warn you about all the adverbs coming. ADVERBS are like dialogue tags. They should occur rarely, if ever, and only if they’re super special. I have a friend who uses prettily to describe sighs and I’m down with it. I’m sure there are a few in my final version. But adverbs are not our friends. They’re distant relatives that you visited once when you were a kid but can’t really remember.

HANNAH: I will point out the words that improve this…slammed, flanked. Strong verbs that evoke immediate feelings and images. Cliché alert! “Mile a minute”.

STEPH: So what feels familiar about this hallway? How does she feel seeing it and knowing her mother isn’t around? That the last time she was there they were a family? Describe it more fully. What else is there besides red lockers. Are they freshly-painted, chipped, older than God? We need to see this. Also, what does Hunter look like? Can we have dialogue with Hunter talking about the new guy? Describing him?

“And, oh my gosh, Onna!! I cannot believe how hot he is.” She sighed longingly, “If only I wasn’t still with Brody. I would be all over that.” She pulled a tube of watermelon lip gloss from her newly acquired Coach purse and applied it liberally, smacking her lips. “I mean, I love Brody…” She smiled, “Of course I do.”

“Who are you trying to convince?” I asked. Hunter rolled her eyes.

I couldn’t comment on the supposed hot new guy. I hadn’t met him yet, but news traveled fast at Swartz Creek High School. I wondered how long it would take for everyone to know the details of my parents separation.

KACEY: INFO DUMP

STEPH: Most people don’t use one another’s names in casual conversation that often. Hunter is a girl? I missed this! It could just be me, but let’s be clear on Hunter’s gender. A good description of her above would help.

We passed the library. It was empty except for the frumpy librarian who was steadily stamping newly donated books, looking as menial as her job.

I was distracted, thinking about my mom again. She was going to miss my senior year, my senior prom, graduation, all of it. I hadn’t heard from her since the day she left nearly two weeks ago. I was beginning to think that she didn’t even care. The morning she left, I’d woken to pancakes. It was almost a normal day; her heading off to work at the salon, my dad was already gone for the day. We ate breakfast in oppressive silence—not that I’d worried about it. I went school shopping for a few hours and when I returned all of her stuff was gone. I hadn’t seen her pack. She left her wedding ring on the kitchen counter where Dad was sure to see it.

KACEY: So I moved on from HAD and developed a love for WAS. WAS is HAD’s illegitimate brother that always gets drunk at weddings and embarrasses the family. Almost always, WAS sits in front of what could be an awesome VERB. She was going to miss my senior year, my senior prom, graduation, all of it. WAS GOING…so ugly. Simple fix? Mom would miss my senior year… Better fix? Mom abandoned me. ABANDONED. Hits you right in the feels! Also, Onna’s inner monologue makes her sound super selfish, which she isn’t, I promise.

HANNAH: I just wonder if we could skip all the narrative and get to the immediate, present day action.

STEPH: So explain a little more clearly that they are still walking. Where are they going? What’s her goal. YES! I want these thoughts about her mom. I want them sooner. Again, we’re slipping into backstory here. Show this all to me as it’s happening. I’m getting everything after the fact.

“Um, hello. Are you in there?” I forced myself to meet Hunter’s insistent stare, her watermelon lip gloss shimmered on her pursed lips. Her summer blonde hair flounced around her shoulders as she nodded towards the door. “Are you going to go in, or are you just going to stand here looking dazed?”

KACEY: Oh gosh. That description of Hunter’s lip gloss and hair. Less is more, people. Less is more.

STEPH: If you spend that much time on the lip gloss, we’re gonna think it has magical properties. : ) Also, I’m not sure who’s speaking here. Just be clear.

Inside, I could see students milling about, chatting with friends and already looking bored at the prospect of a new school year. I could relate.

The sociology classroom was unusually full, which forced Hunter and I to sit on opposite ends of the room. She blew me a kiss and headed to an empty seat in the back. I had to take the last seat in the front of the room, directly facing the teacher’s desk. I wasn’t a bookworm, but sitting in front of the class wasn’t unusual for me. My grades were important because I wanted to go away to college—not just any college, either. Only a big university would do. But it was all just dreams, even though it was my senior year.

The second bell rang and the teacher bustled into the room. She was intimidating at six foot two. She had a short, no nonsense haircut that left brown strands fringing her face.

“Full house,” she joked, her voice sugary, more fitting to a preteen girl than a forty something woman. “Okay, this is Sociology 304, if this isn’t your class, get out your schedule and we’ll help you find it.” She smiled as five students, including the boy seated beside me, stood up, looking slightly embarrassed. I assumed they were freshman, as lost as an Alzheimer’s patient at Detroit Metro Airport.

KACEY: This is a lot of description for the teacher. She’s not even important to the story. Save your words for people and things that matter. Also, what’s happened so far in this scene? A whole lot of nothing. It’s Onna’s first day of school. There’s a new hot guy. This is normal, boring, everyday stuff. The reader is bored. I’m bored. Somebody please throw this manuscript in the trash.

Just kidding…

Kind of.

HANNAH: I hate to say this, but I agree. I keep waiting for the “something-big-to-happen” and I’m waiting too long as a reader.

STEPH: Inside what? I need more transition so I know their walking to Onna’s first class. Did they have their schedules before they came to school? Wouldn’t they swap schedules? Alzheimer’s patient at Detroit Metro Airport.—love this image.

As she assisted them in finding their respective classrooms, I stared blankly at the wall. I wondered what Mom was doing, and if she was happy. Should I pop in for a visit at the salon she worked at?

I thought better of it. If she wanted to see me, she would come home, or call, even.

Dad was taking it hard. He still went to work, but I’d noticed the dark circles forming under his eyes. When he came home he no longer wanted to watch television or play pool like we used to. He just went into his office and shut the door. We didn’t eat dinner together anymore either.

Though I was capable of taking care of myself, I worried about him. I’d cooked dinner since my mom left; though it used to be something my dad enjoyed doing. Now he wasn’t interested in anything. His portion of the food usually went uneaten, even if I wrapped it up and left it in the fridge. I was at a loss; I didn’t know how to make it easier for him. I cleaned the house, I did his laundry, but he wasn’t seeing anything anymore. He just went through the motions of living, but didn’t feel any of it, like a zombie or a robot.

I could only imagine what he was feeling because he refused to talk about it. He’d slammed his office door in my face one too many times, and I’d lost the will to pursue it. I wanted my dad to be happy, but I didn’t think he was ready to deal with his grief yet.

I didn’t know if I was ready to deal with his grief yet, let alone my own.

The teacher handed out papers about the course and the required project, and I forced myself to take notes. I refused to let my grades slip. I wanted to apply to Yale, and it was a stretch if I didn’t have perfect grades. So I settled into the mundane task of recording every word she said.

KACEY: We spend SO MUCH TIME in Onna’s yet when we’re not yet invested in her story. She thinking about her life, which is code for INFO DUMP. Are you sick of me saying that word? Because I am! There’s hardly any dialogue, nothing to move the scene along. Nothing happens! This makes the opening COMPETELY USELESS. Nobody cares about Onna. Nobody cares that her parents are getting divorced or that she wants to go to Yale. Nobody likes her best friend. INFO DUMPS don’t make friends.  

Moral of the story? ACTION! DIALOGUE! PLEASE GOD LET SOMETHING HAPPEN.

HANNAH: You said it all perfectly for me : )

STEPH: While this is interesting, it’s all told. We aren’t seeing any of this happen. If this is all important enough to mention then the book should start with the scene between Mom and Dad. If it’s so pivotal then show it to us, don’t cheat us. Inquiring minds want to know!

Version Two is in the books…well, sort of. What do you think? Is it better? Did I learn a thing or two those first couple years? Writing is a JOURNEY. It’s a lifelong learning experience. I get better at it every day.

Hang around. The final version is coming!

All the best,

Kacey

THIS IS NOT GOODBYE

Alas, friends, it’s time I must impart some (sort of) sad news. If you haven’t noticed, I’ve scaled way back on my social media time, my blog has gone quiet, even Twitter is out there flapping in a lonely wind without me. So let’s just get it over with.

It’s unlikely, aside from Stepping Stones, that I will publish any more novels this year.

I know many of my readers are anticipating the final installment in the Reflection Pond series, Torch Rock. I know I said it should be done by the end of 2015, but the truth is, I just don’t have it in me right now. I can give you all kinds of excuses: I’m working too much. I don’t have time to write. I’m not inspired. I don’t have motivation. I have a LOT of other things going on right now. All of those excuses are true. I’m still writing, it’s just at a much slower pace than I’m used to. And the truth is, I’m burned out. Writing has always been a safe, relaxing place for me, but once I got going, I started demanding more and more from myself, and it’s too much. I need to not worry about publishing right now. I need to worry about growing myself as a writer and spending time getting to know my characters. Stressing out over publishing has turned writing into a chore, something that causes me grief and guilt if I don’t reach my ridiculously high standards RIGHT THIS MOMENT. What can I say? I’m a dictator, even to myself.

This is by no means a goodbye. I’m not going anywhere. I’m still writing. I’m still publishing Stepping Stones (now available for PREORDER) on August 25th. I’m just giving myself a much needed breathing break.

This announcement, while difficult for me to accept, is lifting a huge weight from my life, and it’s giving me the time I need to finish Torch Rock at my own speed, without the worry that I’m letting myself, and others, down. The story will be better because of it.

I hope you can find it in your fantastic reader hearts to be patient with me. I love all of your support, messages, reviews, and requests. Keep them coming!

Lastly, I’ve joined Authorgraph, and can now autograph your digital books. Head over to their site and request my signature!

All the best,

Kacey

IT’S NOT ALL ABOUT MAKING IT BIG

It’s not news how much I want an agent. I’ve wanted one for years, but maybe it’s only lately that I’ve begun to think my writing will actually snag me one. My friends accuse me (lovingly) of romanticizing the idea of having an agent. They’re not magical creatures who will suddenly make me rich and famous. I realize that. I don’t even think I want one for the sake of being “rich and famous.” Sure, that’d be nice, maybe, but my goals in having an agent have a lot less to do with fame and a lot more to do with personal growth.

I’m a member of a couple of writing groups. I get a lot of feedback, a lot of it complimentary. Does that go to my head? Not really. I’m a writer, so I suffer from crippling self-doubt on a daily basis. It’s awesome that people like my work, it makes me feel good, but feeling good isn’t getting me an agent. Feeling good isn’t making me a better, more rounded writer.

My intense desire to be repped stems from my own personal drive. I’m an over-achiever, eager-beaver, always-have-too-much-on-my-plate kind of girl. Sure, I’m a good writer. People tell me all the time I can string two sentences together, but I’m not a great writer, and I want to be GREAT. I want someone to tear into my writing and comment on things like plot and character arcs and theme. I want someone to get down and dirty about word choice and blocking and structure…and…oh gosh. It’s like a writer’s dream to talk long and low about words, like two friends whispering in the dark. I want these things so badly. Because I want to be great. Because I can’t settle for good.

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Why don’t you just get an editor? These words and phrases you’re talking about sounds like editor business. You are correct. It IS about having an editor, too. But do I have $800-$2,000 laying around to pay someone to edit EVERY manuscript I’ve written? Sadly, the answer is no. I can’t afford to pay someone to get down and dirty with my work, no matter how much I want it. Wishes don’t pay the bills.

So my logical course of action in all this is to get an agent. And I’m trying SO HARD to make it work. I’m eyebrows-deep in manuscripts and edits and rewrites. I know that I’m working towards a goal, yet most days it feels like I’m spinning my wheels and watching everyone else pass me at light-speed. It makes me wish I were younger, or that I lived in California or New York, or that I was rich kid with a trust fund to support my writing habit.

I want an agent NOT because I hate being an indie writer. Indie writing is fun. I’ve gotten quite the following this way, and I love each and every one of you for having faith in me and my work. I want an agent so that I can learn how to be a better writer, so that I can plot a course for my future work, so I can have someone to bounce ideas off of, someone who will champion my work as much as I do.

I need a partner in crime, someone invested, someone who will love my characters and give me the harsh criticism. I want to put in the hard work, the hours, the pain and frustration.

Because I want to be great. I want to learn. I want to progress. I want to be the very best writer I can. And really? What’s so wrong with that?

2014: A Look Back

2014 is almost over. I think it’s time to look back on everything I’ve accomplished this year and what’s coming in 2015.

Wow, judging by my posts for 2014, it’s been a rollercoaster. I decided to publish some books (3 to be exact) and had my work published in Sucker Literary Volume III. I think, though the date is up in the air, I’ll have another published in Ember: A Journal of Luminous Things by the end of December.

1-FINALBookCoverPreview(1)Out of the GreenReflection-Pond-ebook-1-Vanpoison-tree-ebook

In January 2014, did I know I’d get this far? No. No, I did not. It’s amazing what we’re capable of when we want something enough. That being said, there’s still more I want, and I’m not giving up.

I’m the process of querying Stepping Stones. Those of you not familiar with this story—it’s the one that started everything for me. Back in (oh God!) 2009, I sat down on a college break and wrote a manuscript in 4 weeks. It was my first real attempt at writing, and in retrospect, it was terrible. I knew nothing of plot or characterization, or hell, even point of view or tense. I’ve come so far since that summer. I’ve written 9 manuscripts since then, not counting ALLLL the rewrites. Stepping Stones, through many, many complete rewrites, is something I’m proud of, now. The technicalities of the story have changed and improved, but the heart, the things that made me love those characters, remains the same. I’m determined to find an agent to represent my work. And never giving up is kind of my motto.

When I cleared away the cobwebs of my hard drive, I found another manuscript in there. Sleep and Shatter, which I wrote for Nano 2013. As a writer, I suffer from self-defeatism. I get an idea in my head that things suck. My writing, specifically. A lot of it comes from taking criticism to heart. So, after Nano, I had a few people read Sleep and Shatter, I took their words as truth, and shoved the manuscript to the back of my hard drive and willed myself to forget about it. A few days ago, I opened Sleep and Shatter, and read it, beginning to end.

And felt like I won the damn lottery.

Suffice it to say, this story will not remain hidden in the back of my computer. I’m currently editing it and making notes. It’s my back up plan if I can’t find representation for Stepping Stones.

So what’s coming in 2015?

Torch Rock, the final installment in the Reflection Pond series. Agent representation (cross your fingers!). More short fiction, possibly a novella, Who She Is. More writing. More good things. More. More. More.

Stay tuned.

I feel like my time is coming. My represented writer friends tell me that it’s only a matter of time before I snag an agent of my own. I sure hope they’re right, because I have so much to give and I’m SO ready to work for it.

All the best,

Kacey

WHY YOU HAVE TO WRITE THE HARD STUFF

I wrote this post a while back as a guest spot on the Antithesis blog tour. Now, more than ever, I think it’s important to remind myself why I write. Plus, it’s a good post. It’s over a year later and it’s still relevant. I spent the afternoon Googling myself, and this is what I came up with. Won’t go into detail, the post speaks for itself. Enjoy!

WHY DO YOU HAVE TO WRITE THE HARD STUFF?

Originally appeared at: YA Midnight Reads

It’s an ongoing fear of mine. I’m standing in front of a crowd holding a novel—I’ve just done a reading and now hands shoot into the air. They have questions—questions about my story that I don’t want to answer.

They want to know which character I am.

They want to know which horrible thing happened to me.

I want you to close your eyes and think back on your favorite books. I can list mine off the top of my head. The Fault in our Stars by John Green. Clockwork Princess by Cassandra Clare. The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky. The list goes on and on—now you’re trying to figure out what these books have in common. All of them deal with hard issues—and the best fiction does.

When I finished The Fault in our Stars, I thought I’d never be the same. My heart was torn out and stomped into nothing. It made me think. It made me appreciate. I cried for days. There were moments of sheer brilliance in that book, some of them quiet and beautiful, others loud and energetic. All of them heartbreaking. All of them.

Clockwork Princess. You’re wondering why this is on my list. Didn’t it have a happy ending? Yes. It had a very happy ending, but it explored things that are so important to me. Cassie has a way of portraying friendships between males that you don’t see in fiction. Beautiful love for one another that would be scorned in the real world. It makes me hopeful. It makes me cry. It makes me want to be a better writer.

The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Where to begin with how epic this novel is? It explores drugs. Suicide. Self-harm. Homophobia. Discrimination. Molestation. Sex. First love. The bittersweet taste of hope and second chances.

Writing is not a dissociative process. I find myself steeped in my stories. I cry when I write. I laugh. I let go. (And sometimes I just write for fun—I mean, we can’t be angst filled all the time.)

So often authors are afraid to step outside their comfort zone. There’s a scene coming up in my current work in progress where a girl finds her father after he’s killed himself. I initially wrote this story a long time ago—back before life turned me upside down. To tell you the truth, I’ve delayed rewriting this story because of that one scene. I picture it in my head and I’m terrified. I know exactly how it looks—how it smells. I know the sound her hands make in the blood. I know that she will never be the same. I know that she will always ask what if?

And then I cry.

For so long I told myself that I couldn’t do it. I had to let the story go because I couldn’t bring myself to write this scene that had become so close to me.

Now I’m looking forward to it. That sounds macabre, I know, but it’s not for the reason you think. The suicide, the horror, it’s something that I need to let go of, and when I put it on paper, I’m releasing it into the world. And if I share it with thousands of people, maybe each of them will take a tiny piece of the burden.

I know I have to write it—and I know it will hurt.

There are authors who refuse to write about rape or drugs or teenage sex or death. They skirt reality as if it doesn’t exist. But if we lie in our writing—if we pretend that real issues aren’t there—what are we really accomplishing? Lying in writing is lying to yourself. If you aren’t emotionally involved, you’re doing it wrong.

Sometimes writing a scene is so hard that I have to walk away.

You have to write the hard stuff. You have to face the fear of the unknown—that’s where the good is, that’s where the things you say will affect people. If your writing starts to scare you—if you find yourself questioning your sanity and wondering how you found these awful things inside of you—you’ve found where you need to be. Write. Let it out. Feel lucky that you have an outlet.

My words are like scars. I see them and I remember. Sometimes they still hurt. Sometimes I see them and I smile, because at least I had the courage to show them to you.

YES, YOU CAN

Let’s be honest. It’s a rarity to find someone who LOVES work. It sucks. It’s hard. We’d rather be watching reruns of Vampire Diaries and eating ice cream than working. Lately I’ve been struck by how much people expect when they’re willing to give SO LITTLE, be it time, effort, money, thought.

Say it with me: Life does not owe me a hand out simply because I’m alive.

Welcome to my pep talk. It’s as much for you as it is for me, and it’s not going to be pretty.

I hate work as much as the next person. I hate the overwhelming dread that accompanies a big project. I hate setbacks and missed deadlines and that horrible feeling in your gut that you’ll never be DONE. We’ve all been there. We all want something, be it to write a novel, lose weight, save enough money to buy a house, etc. The premise is the same. The wanting, the need for dedication, the inability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes it’s so hard to take the first step that we don’t even TRY.

It’s scary. Trust me, I know. You’re going to venture into unknown territory. You might not have a hand to hold or a rope to pull you back. What if you screw it up? OH GOD. What if you FAIL???

Let me be the first to tell you: Sitting on your butt doing NOTHING will accomplish exactly that. You’ll continue to be miserable. You’ll continue to be worthless, not only to yourself, but to those around you. I’m surrounded by people who like to complain about how little they have and then REFUSE to do anything about it. They don’t understand why others won’t just give them things. Why money and cars and opportunities won’t fall into their lap. They CRY because their lives are so hard, yet they’re the ones who have made the mistakes that led them to this point.

You have choices, people. You can choose to do nothing, or you can get up, walk out the door, and MAKE SOMETHING for YOURSELF. If there’s no door available, crawl through the window, or better yet, learn how to build a door. You are capable. You don’t need someone else to make it happen for you.

Life does not owe you a hand out simply because you’re alive.

This applies to everything. That novel isn’t going to write itself. You certainly aren’t going to improve as a writer if you don’t practice. Those words aren’t going to start out as genius. It’s hard. It takes work. Sweat. Tears. Maybe even blood. Roll up your sleeves. You are capable.

Newsflash: Unless you are exceptionally lucky or come from a wealthy family, money will not fall into your lap. It requires work. It requires TIME. EFFORT. Stop waiting for someone to give you a hand out. You are capable of doing it yourself.

Lastly, and I mean this with all respect to what you’ve been through—believe me, everyone struggles—your problems are not exceptional. Everyone you know, everyone you see on the street, in the store, at the office, is going through something you know nothing about. This journey is not meant to be easy. Life is HARD. But expecting everyone else to be miserable right alongside you is senseless.

Stop making excuses, start making change.

You are capable.

You can do it.

Yes, you can.

Roll up your sleeves, we have work to do.