On New Blood, Next Books, & Tending the Well (and Self)

Turning in a book is like graduating, or making a purchase you have saved and scraped for, or (this writer imagines) achieving long-schemed revenge: victory followed by a fog of purposelessness. You go from hell-bent, immersed, and productive to…not in the time it takes to send an email. Then, slowly or with evil speed, the real demon rises:

What now?

The next book is a logical answer. But what if you aren’t one of those writers blessed with constant ideas as you go? What if to start a novel you, like me, need that one enchanting, concrete detail of something that sings to you so deeply you cannot help but write a story around it – and don’t have it yet?

You start looking. Digging. Mining for that glint of a diamond. But if the gems are half-cooked? If all you find is coal? You can carve and hack and try and try and try to cobble pieces together, reverse engineer something, and still come back empty-handed.

What now?

In writing, this is where you’d turn to showers or a walk or some activity, place your thoughts can go to simmer. But calling up the heart of a novel is thornier magic than summoning names or a plot fix, and doesn’t come from nothing. A potion is only as good as its ingredients, and if something’s stale or lacking, all the stirring in the world won’t make it act right. So how do you enrich the pot – or, as I am trying to work on – keep a fresh stock roiling in the background?

You add to it.

You pour new life into the well.

The creative well: that’s what I hear it aptly called. The confluence of our inputs, from the wealth of our own lives and experiences to those we curate: favorite shows and reading and music, what we do, live, consume. Writing this, I wonder if that’s not just the subconscious: that dreambed of parts and possibilities we all carry, ever soaking and swirling.

So why is it so damned hard to harness sometimes?

In my limited, but growing experience, I’ve found ideas need at least two things to manifest:

  1. influences – parts of stories, art, research, experience, pop culture, events, etc. that excite us – and
  2. leisure. The time, and a space where your mind is relaxed and not looking for ideas – but has the luxury to wander, consider and connect. Sometimes right into them.

So if I’m feeling creatively stagnant, I’ve learned, and aerating the cauldron isn’t working (hello fodder folders, short works, journals of meandering freewrites), it’s time to mix things up. That might mean reading more, a new show or music, going out of my way to do or see something that interests me. Like cooking, there are endless ways to make a dish, and sometimes it’s more about intuiting needs than the recipe. What am I missing? What do I crave more of? What would I like to try, or haven’t I tried before?

Recently, I turned in a draft and felt something greater lacking. I was hungry – and not just for a new podcast or genre. Incidentally, I kept seeing people talk about hobbies and the importance of pursuing something regularly, for fun, not related to your vocation. Play. And maybe that’s where the magic happens: when we free ourselves of constraints and expectation and do something just for us. At a minimum, I figured, a new activity would be refreshing – and maybe operating at a different wavelength would rake the well.

So I turned to art, my longest-neglected hobby. And currently I’m beginning something I have dreamed of for several years: making art on a tablet, and taking art-related classes on Skillshare. (See new banner!) Is it turning up new story leads? Not measurably, not yet. But it is:

  1. feeding the well, as I can listen to audiobooks, music, shows, podcasts, etc. while drawing
  2. a thing that occupies me and isn’t writing, which is where I tend to find ideas
  3. soul nourishment
  4. giving back to me. I’m learning something new, plus efforts yield visible fruit at the end of the day. I love that every finished piece is something you get to keep, share, enjoy — perhaps put to purpose (and I have one in mind – keep an eye out in the coming months, or catch glimpses of work over on Instagram & Twitter!)

But can we focus on those last two a minute? Number three in particular?

This post has taken weeks to write, because when I set out to, I think I felt this latent pressure to justify how this new venture I was pouring time and self into was helping my writing. But that’s just it – I think that’s the whole point. People, but perhaps especially creatives, need a non-work hobby that nourishes the soul, period. It shouldn’t have to help writing or whatever your vocation is. In fact, having no bearing on the writing is what makes it self-care, and therefore specifically by virtue of not helping writing IT IS HELPING WRITING, because it helps me function as a human being. It is grounding, meditation, an anchor when I need one. It is wonder and joy.

It is a thing that makes me okay with not yet knowing or throwing myself at my next passion project—

Which is exactly what I think I need to find it.

Dziękuję, Polska ! — & other things I never expected within a year of being published

Hey all! It’s been a while. A little less than nine months ago Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index (aka my first book) came out in the United States, and I must admit my focus has been away from this blog since — but some excitement is happening abroad, and while I stopped by to share it, I thought I would interrupt my hiatus with a quick list of highlights and things I have learned as a debut author so far, starting with said news:

1. Juniper has been nominated for Book of the Year 2017 (young adult) on Lubimyczytać.pl, the Polish equivalent of Goodreads!

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I was so stunned to see this. Even if I don’t win — even if I come in last place — I might never get over seeing my book alongside John Green’s and Nicola Yoon’s! Have a Lubimyczytać.pl account or know someone who does? You can vote on best young adult book of 2017 here!

2. Readers are the best. This may not come as a surprise to anyone, but readers sure keep surprising *me* with their boundless kindness and honors! The above is an extreme example — it was a big deal even to see Juniper translated into Polish, let alone nominated for anything — but really, everything from a shoutout in a Tweet to a quick message, fan mail, or “bookstagram” photo is spectacularly uplifting, and really strikes the heart every time. I’ve made excellent use of that tears-streaming-down-the-face emoji the last few seasons.

3. I’m really glad I joined Instagram. Confession: I did not own a smart phone until last year. But I made an account a little before I got one at the recommendation of another debut author, who had observed how nice it was to be tagged in posts and see some of the love your book was getting without seeking it out. As someone with epic anxiety around reading reviews, that approach really works for me 🙂

4. Postcards = business cards for your books. Book swag can come in handy in any number of situations, but in my opinion, postcards are the absolute best. I always carry some with me on the go, and if the fact that I write books for a living happens to come up in conversation (as it often does), I have a visual + one-line summary and all the book’s details in one neat place — and whoever I’m talking to can take it home with them!

I especially recommend book postcards if, like me, you either loathe being a salesperson, feel flustered to discuss your book on cue, or both.

5. Yes, Book 2 really does suck…but you’ve got people in your corner. If you’re an author or aspiring novelist, you’ve likely heard about the notorious struggles of writing a second traditionally-published novel. Every situation is different, but I can tell you from where I stand: IT’S ALL TRUE. Mainly it’s just that circumstances have changed and there are any number of unique pressures that weren’t there for your first book — but they add up, and whether it’s coming up with an idea everyone likes, meeting parameters, deadlines, or turning in the ugliest first draft of your life, the stress is alive and well.

BUT: the same people who helped you sell, and possibly publish your first book remain your steady champions. As long and harrowing as your path to Book 2 might be, your people want to see you succeed — and in my experience, are excellent about working with you to make it happen.

6. I have a favorite business expense?? I knew online giveaways (***see below!***) were A Thing, but I never expected I’d be so dang happy making semi-regular runs to the post office! Readers really appreciate the chance to win a copy of your book via social media or Rafflecopter, and every winner I’ve interacted with has been so wonderfully gracious and ebullient, I can’t help but grin too when I get to play Bookmail Fairy.

7. Some things don’t change. A few: imposter syndrome. Bottomless TBRs (I am only just now starting to catch up on all the excellent debuts I purchased last year). The desire to to urge people to leave a review*, but want to be more Person than Salesperson and thus only occasionally vague-Tweet about how much authors love and appreciate reviews 🙂

*Reviews help authors. They are appreciated in any capacity — Amazon, Goodreads, Barnes & Noble, etc. — but especially on Amazon, where I am told that 50 is the magic number to start enjoying the benefits of their algorithms.

Anything to add? Comment below!

And while you’re here…

***CURRENT GIVEAWAYS***

As of this posting, I am hosting TWO ongoing Juniper giveaways: one on Instagram and one on Twitter. Check them out for details! Winners will be drawn February 21, 2018.

february giveaway.JPG

One month of Juniper, or: What’s it like to be a published author?

My book that came out a month ago was my first and nearly four years in the making. It didn’t take four years to write Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index, but it did take four years to plan, write, revise, get an agent, revise, find a publisher, revise, complete a slew of publishing firsts, revise, and eventually end up in bookstores. Add on a practice book, the study of the craft, and a commitment to reading, and it’s probably been closer to five years since I decided to pursue writing fiction.

So what’s it like to finally be published?

The answer is…

Pretty much the same?

audrey hepburn quote

There are a few differences:

1. I’ve started carrying around a Sharpie. Not to be pretentious—because in regular life I sometimes encounter friends, acquaintances, etc. who’ve bought the book and would like it signed.

2. I have readers??? I mean. I know the book is out there, but it’s always an unreal, lovely, and moving thrill to hear from people who’ve enjoyed it — or are looking for my next book! O_O

3. People are suddenly eager to tell strangers what I do for a living and that my first book just came out. Friends and family have always been supportive of my writing, but now that there is physical proof of success out in the world, it is easier to talk about and boy, are your cheerleaders excited to share for you. Even I’m more likely to admit to being a writer in public!

It’s like when you eat out with a friend on a birthday and your friend (un)casually lets the waiter know what day it is.

WAITER: Oh, it’s your birthday? Happy birthday!

YOU: Yep, haha, thanks.

FRIEND: IT IS HER BIRTHDAY BRING FORTH THE CAKE AND THE GLORY

There have also been many firsts in the last month. Scroll or click through the gallery to see some of my favorites as well as other highlights from the first month of publication.

 

To those who aren’t published yet but are working towards publication, I say: even if the world does not yet recognize what you are doing, you are Doing it. Write on.

#JuniperIRL Scavenger Hunt

Juniper IRL Bingo Card - web

Here’s a thing I don’t get to say every day: My first book came out on Tuesday!!

To celebrate the release of Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index, today I’m kicking off a Juniper-themed scavenger hunt that anyone can join online, or, if you happen to be in the Portland area, in person!

The hunt list (above – prints at 8.5 x 11 in) features a combination of spot-this-items and activity prompts. Here’s how the game will work:

Online (open internationally): June 3 – June 11

Play from anywhere in the world by sharing a photo of any item from the list online using the hashtag #JuniperIRL. Each social share may count as an entry for raffle prizes including copies of the book, $20 USD worth of books from the Book Depository, and a Juniper-themed prize pack featuring bath bombs, sweets, and beyond! Winners will be randomly selected on June 12 and contacted via email or direct message.

Note: If sharing a #JuniperIRL photo on Twitter, you are entered for prizes automatically. If sharing on another social platform, please copy the link to your post and paste it in the share widget (click below to go to it):

Share Widget (Rafflecopter)

PORTLAND ONLY: Sunday, June 4th

From 2:00 – 4:00pm on Sunday, June 4, Julie will be celebrating at the Brewery Blocks Starbucks downtown (1039 NW Couch; at the corner of 11th and Couch, across from Powell’s bookstore).

Show her photos of any five items from the Juniper hunt list for a small prize, which may or may not involve ice cream (there is a Ben & Jerry’s three blocks away. It may). Or just come say hi, color a postcard, and get a book signed!

I’ve had a blast putting this all together — I hope you all enjoy it!

Juniper ARC giveaway!!

Update 3/19/2017: The giveaway is now closed– the winner has claimed her prize! Congrats to Laura J!

frame only

Hello, friends! I’m excited to announce that I am giving away an advance reading copy of Juniper Lemon’s Happiness Index— along with a prize! The winner of the raffle will receive the book and his or her choice of either:

  1. A $50 Amazon gift card, or
  2. A Fujifilm Instax Mini 8 Instant Camera (with one pack of film), winner’s color of choice.

I’m hosting the giveaway via Rafflecopter, so if you aren’t a member with them already, you may be prompted to sign up (it’s fast and free) when you click the link below.

Ready to play?

enter the giveaway

^

There’s a new cover in town…

Or rather, across the pond! Say hello to Juniper’s newest sister cover, that of the Penguin Random House Children’s UK edition!

uk-new-cover-2

Isn’t it beautiful?

This version is now also available for pre-order from Amazon UK! If you don’t live in the UK but are interested in this edition, sit tight– I will update this post with international vendor links such as The Book Depository’s (update: here it is!) when they become available.

For now, back to mooning over my screen…

jon-stewart-heart-eyes

Update: current places you can pre-order the UK edition:

Alternative Reading Goals: Go Deeper

The Bones Clocks aes 2

an aesthetic I made for The Bone Clocks

Every year on Goodreads, over a million readers “pledge” how many books they intend to finish that year: thirty. Fifty-two. A hundred and fifty. Goals vary widely and so does the average degree of completion, but one thing doesn’t:

People are always striving to read more.

As a writer, I am thrilled to see this. As a participant, I wonder about the practicality and tradeoffs of the system: namely, defining “more” as a higher number of books. More books does not necessarily mean more pages; nor does a total include the books one didn’t finish, or other (non-book) commitments to reading. A number is not a true reflection of the reading one has completed.

Perhaps more importantly, as someone who rarely finishes a book in one sitting—someone who would rather read in increments and absorb—reading “more” books, after a certain point, can start to mean getting less out of them.

So what’s a reader to do? How does she set a higher bar for herself without lessening her book by book experience?

I have some thoughts on that.

First, if you’re going to set a number goal, be realistic. If you can comfortably read a book a week, keep at it. Two? Read on. If you struggle to finish a book a month or even five in a year, don’t “pledge” fifty. Be honest with yourself. Reading should be fun, so start with something comfortable (or a bit of a push) and adjust as necessary.

Second, consider the value—what it means to you, personally—of reading more deeply, having more fun with certain books. While deeper activities with one book won’t count towards a number goal, they can certainly enrich your reading experience—and may make you more eager to pick up the next!

Here are some ideas for deeper engagement and more fun with the books you love*:

  • Write down references and vocab you don’t know as you’re reading. Look them up.
  • Make an aesthetic (example above).
  • Draw (paint, etc.) original fan art!
  • Make a playlist based on the book, your favorite character or chapter, etc.
  • Re-read a book or series that you love. A teacher of mine used to say that you had to read something three times to get the full value of it: once for pure enjoyment, the second and third to notice things you missed and appreciate how the story comes together.
  • Commit to reading an entire trilogy/series in a year, or even just several books by the same author (bonus points for back to back). You’ll start to see patterns and notice more when it’s fresh in your head!
  • Collect favorite quotes and passages along the way. When you finish reading, post or do something artistic with them. (Then post that!)

*Side note: This list makes a decent reading challenge in itself!

Other ideas? Share below!

 

 

The Last Day of November

I haven’t posted all this month, so I thought it time for a check-in.

Writing-wise, I’m excited to be developing a new Agent-approved book idea! I can’t tell you much about it yet (gag rule), but I can say the concept’s a rich playing field for the surreal within the contemporary. Already having fun with that. *cackles*

On other artistic fronts, after years of lusting for a high quality camera, I’ve finally, finally, FINALLY purchased a Nikon DSLR. I have experience shooting both film and digital, but I never imagined what a task it would be figuring out the controls in the vessel that combines them! I’m finally starting to get the hang of it though, and mapping features has been a good chance for me to review my photography basics.

Now if only the rain would let off so I could take it out to play more!

Reading: a great many great books. TBR and TBRR (re-read) piles constantly on the rise. Will be posting a Top Reads of 2015 selection soon!

Watching: the second season of The 100 and the third of Parks & Rec. How I ever went this long without the comedic gold of Leslie Knope I’ll never know.

Listening to: Um, kind of falling in love with Panic! At the Disco lately. Since I got a set of Skullcandy, I swear I’ve been listening to Death of a Bachelor on repeat. I haven’t been this excited for an album to drop since AM! Also getting into Melanie Martinez, Halsey, and The Zolas, who I already liked, but keep finding more amazing singles from (Maggie Stiefvater introduces me to some of the best tunes).

Learning: assorted French. Said Nikon/photography. How to bottle the stars.

You?

Some things to remember when brainstorming

The phrase “back to the drawing board” should not induce panic or stress. Starting a new project is like being released into the wild: you are free, and the world is yours to explore. Your art can go anywhere, limited only by the bounds of your imagination.

So why can it be SO DARN INTIMIDATING?

As I pass into another phase of idea generation myself (brainstorming not only for the “next” project, but numerous which I could see myself pursuing), I’m (re)discovering key things that enable me to proceed in what can be an otherwise paralyzing freedom. Because they help me, I hope they will also be of use to others.

When brainstorming, remember:

  1. It’s all been done before. And that’s okay. Embracing this can be liberating rather than constrictive. [Recommended reading on this.] [A helpful chart.]
  2. Don’t take yourself too seriously. Not everything you write has to be toward your best novel yet, or even toward a novel at all. Pressure is crushing. Allow yourself to breathe.
  3. Writer’s block only truly happens when you stop writing. As long as you are writing, you are creating, and the act of creating is more important than whether what you create is good or not. (Hint: if you KEEP creating, even when you have nothing to say, every idea sucks, and you don’t know why in the name of France anyone ever encouraged you to pursue writing ever, eventually SOME of the stuff you make will be good, and you will find your springboard.)
  4. On the flip side of #3, epiphanies tend to occur away from the screen, so it’s also important to spend time not writing. This may sound totally contradictory to the previous point, but it isn’t. Writing is great for digging and jumpstarting and sometimes finding little pieces of your next idea, but often the great What if? questions that spurn whole novels come to us in the quiet moments we aren’t looking for them: washing dishes. Showering. Exercising. When we let our minds wander. So be sure to spend some time in a place your thoughts can unfold without interruption.
  5. When you’re really at a loss, go do something new. The greater our experience, the greater our pool to draw from. If your new experience doesn’t help you today, it may very well feed into another project tomorrow.

Other ideas? Share in comments below!