Tuesday, December 31, 2013

New Year, Same Me... And That's Okay.

I used to have a thing for New Year’s Resolutions. To me, it was a time to sit down, reflect on the year and make a list. It was a fresh start, a new beginning, the page was blank. Who would I be this year? What could I accomplish? What could I change? There’s a freedom in that, to allow yourself to believe that all the things you’re unhappy with can change in a year, like gulping down pure oxygen.  

At the end of 2012, I made thirteen resolutions. THIRTEEN. I go big or go home. I figured, the law of averages, right? If you do something enough times, it will work out at least once. Some were shallow and easy (learn how to apply eyeliner) and some were lofty (be a size eight), and even others seemed insurmountable at the time (stop yelling at my kids). In some way, they all revolved around self-improvement. Be a better (fill in the blank). Be more romantic with my husband (be a better wife). Catch up on backlogged paperwork (be a better employee). Write 2-3K a week (be a better writer). Give more money to charity (Be a better human). The overall message from 2012 Me to 2013 Me: You are not good enough.
I didn’t even realize it until almost November, when I went back and reviewed the list. I laughed a little at myself, but at the same time, deep down, I felt like a failure. I had accomplished maybe three of the items on the list (which upped to four when I quickly found an eyeliner tutorial on Youtube).
I tried explaining all this to my husband, who has always insisted that I am ridiculously hard on myself. I have always countered with: self-improvement can never be bad. We can all afford to be better people. To me, it’s always been arrogance to assume you’re perfectly fine the way you are – that you couldn't improve your parenting, or maybe be a better friend to someone, maybe say you’re sorry to someone you should have apologized to years ago? I dismissed him as too self-satisfied. I was clearly the enlightened one.
A few weeks ago, I went to my daughter’s kindergarten classroom for National Education Week. I watched her sit, straight-backed, at the Star table listening to instructions, and then cut out turkey feathers in perfect shapes. I watched her collect all her scraps and throw them away and put away her scissors and pencil in her pencil case and then refold her “quiet hands” and wait patiently for the next instruction. I watched her scan the classroom to make sure she was the first one done. I watched her run a small index finger along the edge of the turkey feather to make sure it was a flawless, clean cut. I watched her get frustrated because the glue on her page was slightly smeared. I watched her write and erase the “L” in her first name probably fifteen times, until I thought the paper would rip. Later that night, I said to my husband, “What kind of five year old demands that level of perfection? Where would she get that from?” He quipped back, “Maybe there’s a thirteen New Year’s resolutions gene.”
I was frustrated. I've never pushed her – her drawings were always hung proudly on the refrigerator, she dresses herself in whatever she wants, and even does her own hair. I don’t fix her crooked ponytails. I don’t tell her that pink doesn't always match pink. I stress that “doing your best” is all I ever ask. I’m conscious of letting her find her own way. How could I have done that to her? I clearly needed to do something different, something better. But what? I started Googling things, how to tame a perfectionist child, how to calm an anxious kindergartner.  I watched her do her homework and erase letter after letter, and I said to my husband, “What did I do wrong? What can I do differently?” And his answer was simple. “You are too hard on yourself.”
With that simple phrase, one he’d said a hundred times in our marriage, I realized he was right. For the first time, I understood what he meant. I wasn't hard on my daughter. I was hard on me. I was loving and forgiving and encouraging to my daughter. To myself, I was critical, unkind, harsh. And it was possible, maybe even likely, that whatever perfectionist trait my daughter had inherited had been nurtured in herself by watching me.
I thought back to every Pinterest project we’d ever tackled, every picture we’d ever colored together, every date night she’d watched me get dressed, trying on outfit after outfit, probably sighing. I wasn't a perfectionist, necessarily. In fact, in the moment I can be frequently very lazy. Only later do I fret, worry, feel guilt, think about what I should have said, or should have done, over-apologize, or stress about how I come off to others. She’d spent her whole life watching me critique myself, and come up short in my own eyes. She wasn't trying to make her “L’s” perfect for me—she knew my love was unconditional. But I had inadvertently taught her that self-love was something to be worked for, to be earned.
This year, I’m making one resolution. It’s one word, and it’s mildly cheesy. Accept. Accept that I will yell. Try again tomorrow. Accept my size 14. Eat healthy choices. Accept my work day ends at 4. Accept that I might disappoint someone someday. Whether it be my husband or my best friend, my boss, my mother or my sister. Accept that giving what I give to charity is better than nothing and maybe just give a little bit more.
 We are teaching our children how to be people. Not just with House Rules charts and Rewards Jars, but with our actions. Not just how we treat our kids, but how we treat others, how we treat ourselves. Some of the greatest lessons aren't sound bites (Hands are not for hitting! Kind words, kind tone!), but choices we make every day, reflected by how we view the world. Maybe if we want our kids to be happy, we should be happy. Maybe if we want our kids to be kind, we should be kind.
Maybe if we want our kids to love themselves, it’s not enough that we simply love them. We must also love ourselves.

 I never said I'd quit drinking

Friday, March 15, 2013

Giveaway Winner!!

Thank you to everyone who entered the THOUGHT I KNEW YOU Book Club giveaway!! The winner has been chosen, and congratulations to Katie and her book club! I can't wait to Skype or call into your meeting!

We had a fantastic turnout - over 600 entries and to celebrate, we've lowered the kindle price of THOUGHT I KNEW YOU to $1.99 for the weekend (click here to download)!

Want to enter another giveaway? My publisher is turning a year old, and they're giving away hundreds of dollars in Amazon gift cards, books, and prizes! Check it out!

Saturday, February 2, 2013

My So-Called Writerly Life

One of my New Year’s Resolutions was to blog more frequently. I guess, technically, a resolution can’t be a failure until you start it, right? Okay, so here goes.

This is my first “writing” post. Mostly, I’ve blogged about my weird kids, or observations of family life, but I’ve strategically avoided writing about…well, writing. I don’t know why – can something be unknown and strategic? Not sure, but there it is.

I thought I’d give my five blog readers (waves at Mom, Aunt Mary Jo, Becky and Molly, maybe Megan) a little insight into my writing life. Sometimes my friends and family will ask questions, but always seem a little unsure of what to do with the answer. Did they know that? Are they supposed to understand what that means? Generally, I change the subject back to mom things with a collective sigh of relief – messy houses and screaming kids are solid ground. But my writerly life is usually met with a that’s cool, I guess?

I don’t write every day. I work every day – I commute an hour to a job that I mostly like, but don’t feel passionate about. In that way, writing has ruined my life. The rest of you are just along for the ride. At night, after I get home, and the kids are in bed, instead of folding laundry or cleaning the kitchen like I should be doing, I email bloggers, check my twitter and my facebook, check my Amazon rank, reply to fan mail (that’s a joke. Unless one of you e-mails me)…oh, and try to be a decent wife by paying a little attention to my husband.

Before you all start thinking I’m martyring myself, here’s my secret: It’s so much fun. I love it way more than I thought I would. Or, at least its more fun than folding five loads of kids clothes (oh, cute, you thought I was exaggerating). But this means my kids are mismatched, permission slips are always lost, my dishes are overflowing and my husband is over-houseworked (I’m trying to make up for this by giving him props everywhere. Oh wait, he doesn’t read my blog either. Just...tell him I said so, k?)

On the weekends, while the kids nap (luck, luck, luck, and sheer will play a huge part in having a four-year-old who still takes a nap), I write. This means that if I’m lucky, I write a chapter a week. There are about thirty to forty chapters in my new book. Talk about slow goings. I thought dieting was thankless.

But a few weeks ago, something totally awesome happened. Unexpectedly, I finished the first draft of my second book. Why unexpectedly? Oh, I don’t know, I guess somewhere in the back of my mind, I never know if I’ll abandon something or finish it until I write The End. I spent two weeks smoothing out the issues I knew about, but at sixty-five thousand words, I knew there were more problems. It simply wasn’t long enough to be good, in my mind (*SIGH* disclaimer: there are very good books at that length. I could tell that mine was not one of them). It needed….something. But what? (Side note: the average novel is about eighty-thousand words, roughly.) Enter, beta readers.

Um, what?
A beta reader is an early draft reader. Everyone has different definitions or uses for these readers but to me, they must be the following:

  • Tough but fair
  • A big reader – I’m talking reads a few books a month
  • A decent communicator
  • Not afraid to tell me the truth
  • Not extraordinarily busy

Beta reading sounds like fun. It’s not. If you’re a beta reader, you’re reading a novel with problems. You’re helping the author identify these problems. You can’t kick up your feet and unwind after a long day, pour a glass of wine, get lost in your kindle. No, you have to pay attention, take notes, answer questions on characterization, consistency, plot holes. It’s work! I appreciate every little note I get back from them, because I know that at least once when they were writing up those notes, they didn’t want to be doing it.

I found six beta readers. I’m still waiting for four of them (patiently, no rush, really…. This isn’t an implied prod. I promise). The notes from the first two overwhelm me. I open them, open my manuscript, stare, stare, stare, close everything, check Twitter, check Facebook.

When I get all my beta reads back, I’ll incorporate as much as I agree with (which will not be everything I should, I can assure you that) and begin my own personal line editing. Getting rid of words like just and about, then, that, had, and eliminating clich├ęs. Hopefully, hopefully, by sometime in March, I’ll be ready to submit my new manuscript to my publisher. If I’m lucky, they’ll like it. Then they’ll edit the heck out of it (tell me that I have to get rid of all the things my beta readers told me to get rid of and I ignored), I’ll repeat all my editing steps from above but with more crying, and I’ll publish it in late 2013. If I’m incredibly lucky! We’ll see.

So, uh, what’s your second book about again? Is it a sequel?
No, I think Claire’s journey is told. My second book is a tiny bit darker, but still involves a troubled marriage. Only this time, the couple accidentally kill a man. Instead of calling the police, they bury the body. The novel is about what that secret does to them, as individuals and as a couple.

Do you want to write for a living?
This is the one question I get asked the most by my family and friends whenever the topic of conversation goes to my new weird life. And the answer is of course.  I would love, love, love, to write for a living. But let me break it down for you, in broad strokes. This year has truly been an eye-opener for me. I sell anywhere between one and five books a day, depending on the day. (As a side note, for a debut nobody, those are great sales!) Hopefully, that number increases? But to make “a living”, let’s just say half my current salary (here’s where I really hope my husband doesn’t read my blog), I’d have to sell close to seventy copies a day. Seventy. That’s not even close to New York Times Bestseller list stuff. I should just buy a lottery ticket – same odds.

So there it is. My writing status, how writing (barely) fits into my life, what I give up to do it and why, and what I’ll never get out of it. Good thing I love it. Somehow, unexpectedly, I’ve become passionate about it. At almost thirty-five, with a house, two young kids, and a hectic life, I’ve learned that feeling passionately about something outside of those things is important. It keeps me happy, sane, grounded, reasonable.

Well, mostly reasonable. I’m still sort of a writer, you know?

She has better hair than me, but you get the idea.