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.

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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.

HOW HOPE AND PANTSING GO TOGETHER

The past week or so has been an exhausting emotional rollercoaster for me. As I hope you know by now, Reflection Pond released April 1st. Be sure to GET YOUR COPY! Since the release, I’ve dug into Poison Tree, which is the sequel to Reflection Pond. I’m about 20,000 words in, good progress so far.

A lot of writers find the task of authoring a novel an organic experience. There’s a lot of pantsers out there, as in, we write by the seat of our pants. Similarly, there’s also a plethora of authors who approach writing methodically, outlining and plotting every word.

I fall into the first camp, the pantsers, the ones who sit down at the computer and cut and bleed at the same time, as opposed to the authors who outline, cutting first, and then letting the blood flow later. Because I’ve been submersed in a writing environment for so long now, I no longer know what this looks like from the outside, but lucky you, I’m going to try to explain what this is like from an author’s perspective (the organic, pantser perspective).

The Reflection Pond series covers some issues that I have trouble speaking about in normal conversation. Not only are they very personal and close to me, it’s difficult for me to see my characters suffer through them. And while I try to handle the situations with care and respect, it takes a huge toll on me emotionally. So if you see me at Barnes and Noble with a latte and a vacant, teary-eyed stare, I hope you understand that this is not easy for me.

I’m trying to do my characters justice. I want their stories to not only be satisfying to me as an author, but also to my readers. What do I mean by this? Hell, sometimes even I don’t know. I hope this resonates with someone and doesn’t come off as another crazy author rant. I write young adult. I think that society sees young adults in a very specific way. Not just young adults in books, but young adults in life. There are expectations, fair or unfair, it’s the truth. As an adult, I always try to acknowledge that everything I felt as a teenager is real and valid. Just because I experienced it in some heightened way due to my age is regardless to the issue at hand. I understand what it’s like to read a book and become a character. And when a reader becomes my characters, I want them to feel something, and specifically, those readers who have experienced the situations that happen in my books, I want them to find hope. I want them to understand that there is no wrong or right way to feel, just as there is no wrong or right way to be. We’re all still learning here.

Knowing this, as I’m writing, sometimes freaks me out. Then I call up my writer friends for encouragement. I keep getting the same advice. If it’s making you uncomfortable, then you are writing something worth writing. If it’s scaring you, if you’re afraid you’re crossing lines, then you need to keep going.

Somehow, I’m trying to circle around to my point (if I have one…I think I do!). It has to do with writing organically. So the other day, after spending the afternoon working on a particularly difficult scene, I sat back and thought, what the hell, why is my character so angry? I hadn’t planned for her to be angry, but the more I wrote, the angrier she got, and the more confused I became. She had to be angry. She just had to be. That’s when I got in contact with a friend who told me she thought I was on the right path. But if I’d been a plotter, a methodical writer, would my character still have been angry? I don’t know.

Recently, I read the Q&A on John Green’s blog about The Fault in our Stars (Be wary, there are spoilers, so don’t read unless you’ve finished TFioS.). John Green is a very smart author who I respect IMMENSELY. But ever since I read it, I couldn’t get over how many times he said that he planned things all along. Every bit of symbolism, every reference, every tiny nuance, planned and plotted to the last detail. And the final product is unbelievable. And while I’d never consider myself in competition with another writer, I do find myself comparing my methods to theirs. Methodical works well for John Green, not so well for me.

I believe in immersive writing. I can’t stand outside the story and be fully committed to my characters at the same time. I cry. I laugh. I celebrate their triumphs and I cringe when they fall. I am their biggest fan, after all.

Does this mean I think my characters are real people? No, of course not. Do I think that people read and relate to them, that people identify some of those qualities in themselves, that readers find hope when a character has the strength to get up and go on even after everything they know is broken? I sure hope so.

So when I say I want to do them justice, I really mean that I want them to be worth reading. I want the reader to take something away from the time they invested in my story. Some people read purely for entertainment, and that’s totally fine, but for those who are looking for justification of life, for those who are looking for hope, I want you to find it hidden in my stories, because I certainly feel it when I write. It’s pure heart in there. It’s pure experience. Because in the end, I’m a lot like my reader. I need these characters to help me figure out how to go on.

Maybe that’s why I’m a pantser, because even I haven’t figured it all out yet. So while all you planners and plotters are scribbling over your notebooks and painting the curtains red with anger, I’ll just be here, sobbing into my laptop, hoping that I’m making a difference for even one person, because that’s all I’ve ever wanted to do. I need to break convention, I need to get outside of this YA box that the industry is putting us in. You know what? My characters aren’t always strong. They’re flawed, but they’re learning, and so am I.

Yesterday, I had a set up at a local craft show, and a woman picked up Reflection Pond, read the blurb, and skimmed the pages. Then she asked me, “So, does he ever help her figure out how not to be broken?” I smiled and said, “Read the acknowledgements.”

She bought my book.

So when you pick up your copy of Reflection Pond, know that I’ve left hope between the pages for you. Perhaps I pants my way through the novel, but the hope? I put that there on purpose. It came from a very deep and personal place inside of me. It hurt when it came out, and it still hurts today, but if it means something to you, then it was worth it to me.

All the best,

Kacey

DON’T SWEAT THOSE BAD REVIEWS

Does anyone else turn into a mess right around book release time? I swear, Goodreads and Amazon have made us neurotic. I’m always on Goodreads, hands trembling, waiting to see what awful thing has been said about my work now. Then my stomach is in knots because *GASP* not EVERYONE LOVES ME? WHAT IS THIS??

But I’m here to tell you—you don’t need to stress over those bad reviews.

Let me tell you why.

First of all, you wrote a book. And not only did you write it, you edited it (hopefully), and published it. How many people do you know who’ve said, “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” but they never have? Dozens, probably, maybe more. You wrote a book. You are a hero. You look at your book and be proud of what you’ve accomplished. LOOK AT IT!

Secondly, writing is learning experience, not an exact science. Let’s compare it to school. We start out in kindergarten, not knowing all that much. But we’ve got people to help us. We’ve got teachers and parents and our community. By the time we’re seniors in high school, we think we have this whole school thing figured out, only to find ourselves in college with no idea what the hell we’re doing. Being a writer isn’t all that different. We all start out at the beginning, but we learn and we grow. Maybe your first book wasn’t a bestseller, that’s okay. You’re learning. You’re making mistakes, but more importantly, you’re learning how to correct them. (And remember college? We may have a degree, but sometimes we still don’t know what the hell is happening!)

Truth is, you can’t undo that book you published. Maybe if you self-published, you can edit again, change the cover, try to garner some better reviews, and you SHOULD, especially if the book was unedited. (Please don’t publish unedited work. There’s nothing worse.) But if you’ve grown as a writer, if you’ve learned from the books you’ve published, then you have nothing to stress over. I know. It’s art. It’s so hard to put something out there only to have people tear it apart. But the past is in the past, and that book, it’s now a part of your past. You’re not the same writer you were when you faced that first blank page. You’re not even the same person.

Did you learn something about grammar?

Did you learn how to foreshadow?

Did you learn how to subtly nuance a character’s personality?

Did you learn not to split infinitives?

If you learned, then you are doing it right.

There will always be people who don’t like your work, and that’s okay. It’s hard to accept, but it’s okay. When you sit down at your computer to write, are you thinking about those people who don’t like your work? No. You’re thinking about how great it is to write. How it feels to accomplish something. You’re remembering that fluttering in your stomach when you reach that really important scene. You’re finding your release. And maybe, just maybe, you’re a little scared, because you’re really putting yourself out there this time. You’re really taking chances. You’re writing about something that matters to YOU.

So let those bad reviews roll off your back and keep going, soldier. There’s still books inside of you and many more lessons to learn.

IS HAPPILY EVER AFTER NECESSARY?

I’m up to my neck in my latest rewrite and it’s got me thinking. What do readers REALLY think about happily ever after (HEA)? What are the rules of the classic HEA? What about a happy for now (HFN)? How do readers feel about an unhappy ending?

 

I did a quick poll of my Facebook and Twitter followers, and the answers may surprise you. (Or not, that was my blatantly obvious attempt at suspense.) The HEA may not be as necessary as we think, and readers want, what’s this? An ending that makes them think? Who knew?!

 

Warning! There are spoilers from Allegiant in the next paragraphs.

 

Sara says, “I don’t like when it feels unnecessary to the story. Romeo and Juliet needed that ending… I just finished the divergent series… And I was not a fan of the ending…”

 

Me neither, Sara. What is it about killing off a main character that makes us so angry? Especially when we spent three books growing to love the absolutely kick ass Tris. While Veronica Roth promises she wrote the ending she saw for the story, I have to wonder, how could she put her characters through all that turmoil just to let her die? It hardly seems fair or necessary. Sorry, Ms. Roth. I think you’re fantastic, but we’ll never see eye to eye on this.

 

Jacci says, “I don’t like them because they ARE like real life. Some people read to escape to a “happier place” than what their life is about.”

 

I’m down with this, but it kind of limits the genre of books you can read. And…what about that dreaded, unexpected unhappy ending? Sometimes they take you by surprise (see previous rant about Allegiant). Sometimes you go into a book expecting a character to die, why hello, every John Green book ever written. Sometimes the author gives you the heads up, thanks Cassandra Clare. And sometimes, you know EVERYONE’S gonna die.

 

Lana says, “If it’s an unhappy ending in the first book, then it’s really not necessarily an unhappy ending. So long as you don’t continue these unhappy endings in all of the books! Because then you would be Game of Thrones.”

 

I’m about a quarter of the way through A Clash of Kings by good old George RR Martin and I already know not to get attached to anyone. Spoiler alert: Everyone dies. Don’t believe me? Behold the series, with every death tabbed.

 

It seems closure is important:

 

Angela says, “I would prefer happy endings, but if they are not necessarily happy but at the end I feel like I had closure, then I’m okay with it. If it’s for the best, you must do what is needed!”

 

Leah says, “First book, ok, overall, not a fan. There’s Harry Potter where everything was resolved, but I wouldn’t necessarily call it happy. We lost a lot of good characters in the fight for peace. I was good with the closure.”

 

Of course, we had to bring up Harry Potter. I’ll admit, while it was a semi-happy ending, half of the characters died. Damn, there’s another spoiler. Sorry. I’m fifty-fifty on the end of Harry Potter, only because I didn’t even care about any of the characters until the end of the fourth book. I wasn’t ready for them to die yet. And, she didn’t kill any of the main three characters, so, can we really count it as unhappy? Harry got Ginny. Ron got Hermione. Good won. Sounds pretty darn happy to me.

 

Jeff says, “If the ending is unhappy because that’s just the way the story was going to go, that’s fine. If the ending is unhappy because the author just decided to be mean spirited, then no. I’ve seen stories end where everything went to crap at the last minute for no discernible reason, and I hate it.”

 

A mean spirited author? Well…I’ve never! I have to agree with Jeff on this point. Some writers employ the “I’m God, therefore, this can happen,” approach. Need your character to fly? Suddenly they have powers. Need them to turn invisible? They amazingly discover this ability. Same thing goes for endings. If you can’t give me a legitimate reason…I’m probably not going to buy it. (Want an example of this? Read anything by Alyson Noel.)

 

Kristin says, “First of the series = good story telling. You’ve sucked the reader into an unhappy ending and now you HAVE to read the next book, because naturally we secretly want resolution.
And in the case of a single novel with an unhappy or uncomfortable ending…… Sometimes the moral of the story is the hard lesson we take away from the book. Maybe the death or catastrophe needs to happen so that the character learns something, or the reader learns something. I like a variety. Some happy, some not.”

 

Yes. Yes to this so much. Want a perfect example of this? Read The Fault in our Stars by John Green. The Infernal Devices by Cassandra Clare. If something makes you uncomfortable, then we’re probably headed in the right direction.

 

Pat says, “I’m thinking of Grapes of Wrath . . . a happy ending would negate the whole premise of the novel. Some people read for entertainment only – they read the same romance novel a hundred times (only the names and a few details are changed) – they know how it will end, and like it that way. I want the ‘end’ of a novel to work – it’s great when it’s happy, but not always necessary or ‘good’ for the reader.”

 

You mean it’s not okay to be oblivious to things like pain and suffering? This is a novel idea (pun intended).

 

Lastly, we go to Twitter for my favorite response.

 

Kevin Moore says, “I feel happy endings are the end for characters. Endings with a bit of disarray let characters live on in the mind”

 

Right on, Kevin, right on. I mean, who watched Inception? Who is still wondering if that damn top is still spinning?

 

So, what’s the verdict?

 

It seems to me that it comes down to planning, plotting, and weaving the perfect story. The ending may be awful, but if it’s necessary, go for it. Now, hold on a minute, don’t be killing off characters for sport (also don’t randomly give them magical powers), you must have reasons. And these reasons the reader must understand.

 

What say you, readership? Do you like HEA, HFN, or the necessary unhappy ending? Sound off below!

 

All the best,

Kacey

THINGS I HAVE LEARNED

The past year has been a tremendous time of growth for me as a writer. A little over a year ago I joined the Flint Area Writers, an amazing group of gals and guy (and occasionally guys) who have taught me SO MUCH. It’s taken my writing from “just okay,” to something that’s a bit more. While I’m not one to blabber on about my own stuff, I can tell a difference, not only in my writing, but also in my confidence. Sometimes now I actually feel like I might know what I’m talking about.

1. Show your work to a lot of different people.

Writers tend to be stagnant. Admit it, we’re set in our ways. When you work with lots of different people, you’re going to get LOTS of different opinions. My favorite thing when working with someone (either as a writer or critique partner) is when you get or give the response: Oh, I hadn’t thought of it. Interesting…

I write YA. This means I’m always in fantasy land because I’m an adult. I tend to overlook things like “laws” and “rules” that apply to normal life. My writing group is really good at pointing that out.

2. Let your work simmer.

I’m an anxious writer. If someone tells me to fix something, I fix it and then get all frantic to get it back to them for more feedback. Give yourself a few days, weeks, if you can manage it. Let the feedback settle, look at your work from a different angle, THEN rewrite. Then simmer again before you send it back.

You don’t want to regret your revision decisions. In the end, your story should resonate with YOU, which brings me to number 3.

3. You write for YOU.

It’s great to think, “Oh X person is going to love this because I totally considered everything they think when I wrote it.” Except, no. We write because we have to. And I don’t mean that in the it’s a job so I must do this kind of way. We write because it fulfills our lives in a way that nothing else does. Your writing should make you happy. You should feel proud of it. If you have edited something beyond pride and happiness, it’s no longer yours.

Claim ownership! Sometimes this means saying no, and that’s okay.

4. Know how to say no.

Have you ever heard the phrase Those that can’t do, teach? This is true of some editors, too. They can’t write their own work, so they want you to turn YOUR work into THEIR work. Don’t. Do. It.

This doesn’t mean that you need to say no to every editor as this isn’t always the case. But you need to think and consider what they’re telling you to do. If it changes WHY you wrote the story to begin with, they may not be the editor for you. Writing is your art, it’s subjective, but it should always be yours.

5. Have an open mind.

It’s hard to have your work critiqued, but my view on this has changed. I used to be scared to get responses, but now I LOVE IT. You should take any chance to improve and immerse yourself in it, especially from people who are better writers than you. The writing world is unique in this way, we love to help one another. Every critique may not be the correct one for you, but you should consider it. Welcome feedback. Beta with someone you don’t know who isn’t afraid to hurt your feelings.

6. Write the stuff that hurts/ that’s scary/ that takes you out of your comfort zone.

So many times I hear, I can’t write that! And I ask, why? Time and time again, the answer is, I’ve never done it before or I’m scared, or I don’t know how. Here is where I quote Warm Bodies:

“What wonderful thing didn’t start out scary?”

Writing can be TERRIFYING. We face fears, we slog through trauma and life experiences, but writing is meant to be FELT, not just read. If it doesn’t hurt sometimes, you’re not doing it right. Make a list of things outside your comfort zone. Pick one. Write.

Remember when I did this? THINGS I WANT TO WRITE ONE DAY.

And I’ve tackled some of those. Short stories? Check. Male lead? Check. Third person? Check. Make a list. Make it happen.

7. Don’t ever expect to be perfect. (Or think that you are.)

We learn from the moment we are born until the day we die. You will never be perfect and that’s okay. I suppose I could change the title of this to Be Humble.

1. not proud or arrogant; modest: to be humble although successful.
It’s okay to be proud of your work. It’s not okay to be conceited.

8. Help Others.

Teach what you know to everyone around you. Teach those who ask for help. Offer help to those who don’t. (REMEMBER: OFFER!) Unsolicited critique will be met with anger, almost ALWAYS. Offer help. Accept help in return.

Tomorrow starts the Sucker Literary Blog Tour. I hope all of you will come along for the ride!

All the best,

Kacey