Five Things I Learned In 2016

A year ago, I wrote a post called Five Things I Learned About Creativity that summed up what I’d discovered in 2015. As 2016 comes to a close, I thought I’d continue that tradition and share a few things I’ve learned this year, as told through (don’t act surprised you guys) Hamilton lyrics*.

*Hamilton lyrics and one tiny Mixtape reference I was able to work in. What can I say? Immigrants, we get the job done.

Can we get back to politics? Please, yo.

Every action has an equal, opposite reaction. And America learned that the hard way this year. This feels like the year where no matter where you go—your local gas station, your hometown for the holidays, or even another country—you can’t escape the election and all the baggage that came with it. And honestly, you shouldn’t.

I’ve allowed myself to be complacent. As an immigrant and a non-citizen of America, I told myself that my voice wasn’t heard or even needed. But I realized this year that I’ve been hiding behind an excuse. The cavalry’s not coming. No one is left to fight for us, except us.

This year has been so, so hard on our hearts. So many of our communities are hurting. And every day it feels like we’re up against a new monster. But while we can’t change what’s happened, we can choose how we go forward. And I am choosing to fight.

And I urge all of you—even if you feel like you’re America’s ghostwriters and the credit’s only borrowed—fight in whatever way you can. Figure out whether that means giving your time (calling/writing to your representatives, getting involved in local politics, volunteering) or your money (donating to organizations that are important to you) and then go out and do it. Don’t allow your social networks or the media to normalize what’s happening in our country. Get creative. Grab a friend—that’s your second—and get them involved. Educate yourself, and then educate those around you. #RiseUp.

I’m not falling behind or running late.

To be entirely honest, all year long I’ve felt like I was standing still while everyone around me moved forward—in their careers, in their relationships, in their lives. When friends tell me all that they’ve done this year, it sucks that I can’t “prove” what I’ve accomplished. Some days it’s easier to smile and say that I improved my craft, wrote something I’m proud of, and finally found the courage to write a book about my own culture.

Other days… Well, other days I’ve spent all day reading in bed, trying not to think about the fact that I took a year off work to write, and in the eyes of many, I have nothing to show for that year.

But the truth is, everyone feels this way sometimes. It’s so easy to get caught up in the competition. It’s so easy to feel like other people’s forward momentum means you’re going backwards. And it’s so easy to feel like success is only the tangible, measurable things you can put on social media.

When those days get me down, I’ve learned to remind myself of the fact that all those people around me, the friends I love and admire, spent weeks or months or even years showing up every day and working hard at their craft. It doesn’t matter whether that craft was medicine or writing or art, but they worked even when they felt like they weren’t going anywhere. And they continue to work just as hard now.

All I can do is follow their example and keep working. And when those bad days come around, I will continue to remind myself that everyone faces an endless uphill climb. We all rise, fall, break, make mistakes. But the only way we truly fall behind is if we stop moving.

I never had a group of friends before I promise that I’ll make y’all proud.

As this year has gone by, I’ve really realized how important it is to have your people beside you when there’s reckoning to be reckoned. Nothing seems quite so bad when you’re surrounded by people who get you. The people you can talk to about the things that matter to you, especially in a year filled with so many dark moments. The people who validate your feelings and listen to you—and who in turn share their own perspectives and trust that you’ll be just as courteous.

I’m so grateful for and humbled by the friends I’ve met or gotten to know better this year, as well as those who’ve stuck with me for many years. Friends: you’re all my heroes, my sounding boards, my sources of hope, and my voices of reason in the good times and the bad. I’ve learned so much from you all this year. I hope I’ve been the kind of friend you can be proud of, and I will try my best to continue to be the kind of friend you deserve.

Look around, look around… Look at where you are. Look at where you started.

No one needs this reminder more than me. Step back. Count to nine. Take a break.

Look at everything you’ve done. It may not seem like much, but it’s more than what you had at the beginning of the year. Take a moment to congratulate yourself for the things you’re proud of—and forgive yourself for the things you regret.

Let’s have another round tonight!

2016 was a difficult year for so many reasons. There was a lot of death. A lot of politics. A lot of hate. And the biggest lesson I’ve learned this year is to stop and celebrate the little moments, the little victories, and the little things that make me happy. There’s always time for a drink, or two, with friends.

I wish you all a happy and safe New Year. Here’s to 2017. Raise a glass!

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Short Story: The Magic Harp

Hello! I wrote tiny fairytale! It was inspired by this tweet:

It was also kind of inspired by the vibe of Pushing Daisies (which if you haven’t seen it is an incredible show with exquisite worldbuilding and excellent banter). I listened to the theme song on repeat like 150x while writing it.

Anddd here is the Pinterest board for it:

Continue reading

Quest for Productivity

I’ve been obsessed with productivity for as long as I can remember. I’m both lazy and a procrastinator, so naturally I am always looking for ways that I can put things off until the last minute and finish them in the quickest amount of time possible.

But one of the hardest things I’ve discovered when it comes to writing is that I can’t procrastinate or be lazy. And I work from home. I don’t answer to anyone other than myself, so if I really want to take a day off and binge a Netflix show, I technically can. I have to constantly reassess my life to make sure I’m being as productive as I can, and this summer, I’m planning to try out a whole bunch of things to see if I can increase my productivity.

Step One: Turn off the noise

The first thing I realized is that I need to be honest about how much of my productivity is based on external distractions. For fellow Hamilton fans, I saw someone on Twitter recently question “Would Hamilton have written the other 51 if he had the Internet?” And truthfully I don’t think so. Like he would have definitely Facebook stalked Angelica (and sent her too many Macbeth gifs) and trolled Jefferson on Twitter and turned Burr into a meme (#waitforit) and did I take this too far? Oops.

  • Social media break

I’m trying three things this summer. First, I deleted all social media apps (except Instagram) from my phone. Second, I installed a Chrome extension called “StayFocused” which lets me set the total amount of time I can spend on restricted websites. Once I hit my 30 allotted minutes per day, I have no way of getting back on. And third, for times I’m feeling particularly unfocused, I’m using my trusty “Self Control” app that will additionally block Hulu and Netflix for however many hours I tell it to.

The point of these apps isn’t to make myself miserable, but to change my focus. I know if I’m really desperate, there are workarounds. This is just to allow myself an extra second to ask: “Do I absolutely need to do this now, or can it wait a day?” And I’m hoping that by giving myself that time, I can eventually get to a point where it isn’t second nature to open up Twitter and not even realize that I did.

  • Notifications

And speaking of apps, one of the simplest ways to keep me focused has actually been to turn off notifications on my phone. I’ve had my phone on scheduled Do Not Disturb from 10pm to 6am for several months now. No calls. No texts. But then I decided to try and silence more things during my waking hours. Removing social medias apps made it easier, but last week I took the leap to shutting my email notifications off, too. And wow. I went from checking it every few hours to checking it TWICE a day.

Step Two: Figure out what works for you

I think the thing with productivity is you have to know what will actually motivate you. For example, I like crossing things off lists. I like graphs and Excel spreadsheets that tell me how many hours I’ve worked in a week or how many words I’ve written. I like schedules and calendars. I like accountability buddies—friends I can check in with and talk about how much work we’ve gotten done.

But it’s also important to know what doesn’t work. I don’t really work well with self-imposed deadlines. Either I get really stressed about making my deadline and my productivity declines, or I miss the deadline, feel really terrible and then my productivity still declines. I also hate competition, but I LOVE collaboration (like no joke, I cry at the part in movies where teams unite and start working together). Competition stresses me out a lot, and I will lose on purpose just so I don’t have to deal with it. Basically anything that stresses me out (and for someone with anxiety it’s unsurprisingly a lot of things) will deter my productivity.

Step Three: Track your progress

  • Goals

While I’m not a huge fan of deadlines, I do like daily goals. When I’m drafting a book, my daily goal is easy: 1,000 words a day. But revising is different. Sometimes I’m adding words, sometimes I’m changing words, and sometimes I’m cutting things out. So instead of tracking my word count, I’m tracking my hours worked.

My “easy” goal of each day is 2 hours (or 4 focus sessions of 25 minutes each with a 5 minute break between each one). But my ideal goal is actually 10 focus sessions for a total of 5 hours. I like having an easy low goal because things come up or I can have a bad day and this way I’ll at least know I did some work. But because I only have another 6 months of writing full time, I want to make sure I take advantage of that time and push myself to work more hours each day.

  • Habitica

Oh boy. I found out about Habitica from the lovely Susan Dennard, and after much encouragement from Maddy, I downloaded it. And… I am OBSESSED.

All those good habits I was supposed to be cultivating for the last two decades but never found a reason to– well, I have a reason now! It combines so many of my favorite things. It lets me check things off (hooray!) and gives me points for each. I can use those points to buy myself in-game rewards, but also some things I added in, like a glass of wine or turning off “StayFocused” for a day. I get to join groups with my friends and go on quests where we don’t compete with one another but collaborate– the more of our dailies we check off, the better our group does.

It’s giving me the extra motivation I need to not only accomplish all of my writing goals, but it’s also helping me human better overall. I eat breakfast every day and drink bottles (yes plural!) of water because I can check them off. For someone who used to replace meals with coffee and drink a cup of water every other day, it’s amazing how quickly an app is changing many habits for the better and making it fun.

  • Shared calendars

Every Sunday I make a calendar for the week and share it with Maddy, who sends me her calendar, too. We set work hours for the week that we aren’t allowed to change. If we want to change our writing hours, we have to treat it like we were requesting time off from a regular job: we have to ask at least 24 hours in advance and justify why we need to shorten or change them. And if the other person says no, we have to cancel that social engagement and work those hours.

  • Journaling 

This is something I’ve been doing for over a year now. I talked briefly about my writing journal here, but basically I write half a page in the morning (usually goals for the day and how I’m feeling about them), and then check in later that day with what I actually did and how I feel.

Step Four: Take a break!

And runaway with me for the summer! But only if you want to have daily Hamilton and Disney sing-alongs.

I’m the last person in the world to tell anyone to take a break, because I never do. It always felt like a waste of time. But then my friend Erin suggested something that made me see it in a whole new light: scheduling them in. And since I love scheduling so much, it made perfect sense. So now, when I make my calendars on Sunday, I include a day or two that I plan to take off. I spend it reading, free-writing, leaving my house, hanging out with friends and family, and just generally recharging my muse.

So there it is: my thoughts on productivity and how I plan to spend the next few months. And if I’m a little hard to get a hold of, this is why! I’ll check in mid-September and share how these productivity experiments worked for me and anything else I may have learned! Until then, I wish you all a happy, productive summer! <3

Critique Partners

Hello!

Last week I was at RT with a bunch of my closest writer friends and we had an absolute blast! Because we’re all so spread out geographically, we only get to hang out once or twice a year so we really try and make those few days count. And because a bunch of us were together, I thought I’d take the opportunity to answer some questions I get frequently about my critique partners—and have them chime in with some thoughts as well!! They were all so generous with their time despite a packed schedule at RT, and I’m so grateful that they were all willing to share their thoughts!

Fair warning: this is a LONG post. But hopefully it’s a fun read/cool to see the insides of our very weird brains. Or I should say, coherent versions of our brains. In person we make a lot of very lame jokes and laugh for hours about literally nothing (you think I’m exaggerating but we will laugh over a single word for days.)

Maddy: Hi!!! One of said critique partners here, hailing from the Chicago area. I may or may not be a real person. That or I’m a figment of Aks’s imagination. Who really knows? (Blog) (Twitter)

Janella: Okay, correction: we only hang out physically once or twice a year. In reality, we Skype like fiends and pretty much keep in constant contact with each other. How’s that for Stage-5 clingers, eh? (Blog) (Twitter) (Akshaya: She just signed with an agent GO CONGRATULATE HER!!!)

Katy: I’m Katy! It’s been AWESOME getting to actually hang out with these fools the past few days. Well, Akshaya and I are lucky enough to actually live close to one another… which was something we didn’t realize until a couple months into exchanging emails. So we get to actually hang out a little more often, and go to book events together! (Twitter)

Erin: Hi!!!! I’m Erin!! I feel like everyone’s pretty much taken up all the great greetings so, I’ll just stick with HI!!!! (Blog) (Twitter)

How did you meet?

Akshaya: On the amazingness that is the interwebz! I met Maddy here and I met Katy, Erin, and Janella here (both are FANTASTIC resources and I highly recommend them). Funny story, Katy and Erin had both already been CPing with Janella when I met them! So after a bit of “OMG I can’t believe you know each other!!” we all started talking.

Maddy: Yeah, basically Akshaya emailed me one day because I’d posted my info in Sooz’s forum, and we got to talking/exchanging life stories… and proceeded to get mildly creeped out as we discovered we were low key the same person. Seriously – we’d both just graduated, both were living at home, both working on the first of our young adult fantasy series… so basically we’re narcissists and it was instalove. 

Janella: This entire story is seriously a further reminder of just how small the publishing world is. You know a person who knows a person and then BAM—they know your people, and then become your people. Totally agree with Maddy on the instalove thing. Even though it’s awful when used in novels, it’s pretty magical when experienced in real life.

Katy: Yeah, it’s actually happened more than once that I would start chatting or exchanging work with another writer, only to find out that they already knew one of my other CPs! So it’s nice we’ve been able to make like this little extended family of writers who are all at roughly the same stage. It’s excellent to have a support network like that.

Erin: Bahaha, this story actually makes me laugh because I got an email from Akshaya last summer and later found out that Akshaya and Janella knew each other when I noticed them talking on Twitter. Then, I later found that Amanda and Akshaya had also already met as well!! Sooooooo yeah. It’s all just a whole crisscrossing of people.

Akshaya: It all boils down to: I am the creepiest and the YA community is a pretty small place to be.

But weren’t you worried they were creepy old men/not who they said they were?

Akshaya: Not gonna lie, that was a possibility. But like we’d already registered for RT last year and bought our plane tickets so I guess that was a shot we were willing to take?

Janella: To be honest, I think everyone else around me was more concerned than I was! As the daughter of a psychiatrist, I have a pretty good radar when it comes to crazies and shady characters. Unfortunately, I was already in too deep when I realized just how insane we all were.

Erin: To be honest, I don’t think I was ever super worried about accidentally picking up a weird CP masquerading as a young adult writer I was just lucky enough that I found true, honest writers who were looking for friends and serious writers.

Maddy: I mean I am a creepy old man. I have a weakness for scotch and am fairly crotchety/hermitlike. As for the creepy part, I mean, I do stare at people intently and observe them from a distance (for book inspiration, of course) so…

And you all just happened to be around the same age, in similar stages in the writing process, and have a ton of other interests in common? How is that even possible?!

Akshaya: Sorcery. I’m pretty sure that’s just a sign from the universe that these ladies were badass and I needed them in my life.

Maddy: Not a coincidence at all. All part of the stalking I’d done for months before I arranged our meeting. I mean… Sorcery.

Janella: I’m throwing in a bit of ~destiny~

Katy: I think something that was told to me over and over in college is that “You will find your people.” And that’s true now that I’m out in the real world. You can always find your people, if you look for them.

How did you get so close in so short a time?

Maddy: Well, when the dark forces started to take over and our magical wizardry school was usurped by toad-like ministry officials, we were basically forced to overcome my differences and bond in order to teach ourselves defensive spells in secret. I mean…Skype. And a shared love of fermented grape juice. Mostly the latter. REAL TALK NOTE: Skyping with your critique partners is actually the best idea ever. Do it. Seriously.

Akshaya: I saw one of my favorite authors mention that she Skyped her critique partners. I was totally new to the industry and had no idea that this was not the norm so I threw it out there. Maddy loved the idea so we tried it out. I remember scheduling an hour for our first call. Yeah, we talked for like four hours. Since then, we’ve all been Skyping to do our critiques and sometimes just to catch up!

Janella: With ladies this fabulous, it really wasn’t hard. It’s common knowledge that writing is a very solitary activity—and when you talk about writing with people who don’t quite get it (which is not their fault whatsoever!) it can feel even more lonely. So to be able to find people this wonderful was very earth-shattering to me, and ultimately, to my writing journey. We started off with very long emails (some filled with obsessive fanfic ravings), and then as my lovely partners in crime have stated above, we began Skyping. These hours-long conversations really sealed the deal. We realized that we weren’t just critique partners who could talk about our work, but we were also fast friends who could bond over all the ridiculous things and life.

Erin: I’ll admit… This is always hard for me. I’m very shy and I’m very awkward, so I do feel like this was one of the most challenging parts. And honestly, I think I met the right people. People who were not afraid to say, “HEY, LET’S SKYPE!!!” And while I was nervous to Skype with people I’d never met before (okay, let’s be real, I’m nervous to Skype with people I do know—I’m much more comfortable with sticking to email and writing), I’m so glad I did it because it turned out to be a lot of fun and I got to know my beautiful CPs so well!!

Katy: I think also when you’re sharing something as personal as your writing with someone else, it’s necessary to get to a place of honestly and realness that you might not get to so quickly with someone else. Like, these guys have basically seen inside my brain and they still want to hang out with me. That’s pretty amazing.

Do you really spend that much time talking about your manuscripts?!

Akshaya: Well sometimes! If things really aren’t working we may spend that much time talking about our books. But most of the time we drink wine and laugh about really dumb things. It was very important for me to find critique partners who were also friends. I love that I can call up any one of them and talk about really random bookish things or really serious life-ish things. Even if we’re not actually critiquing anything, just being able to talk to each other about the writing process and how our drafting/brainstorming/revisions are going is so cathartic since they have also struggled with the same things.

Maddy: Basically, we all share a brain. A rapidly devolving brain that wants to be reunited more and more with each passing day, kinda like Sauron and his one ring. So life is much more comfortable when we’re Skyping.

Katy: Welllllll we can get a little sidetracked (Akshaya: see above). But I’ve definitely spent a solid two hours talking about a manuscript. But considering how long it takes to write a manuscript and to read it, it’s not that crazy.

Erin: Yeah, it’s pretty funny that we spend so much time Skyping. Time goes super fast when you’re talking with CPs. I’ve also learned that no matter how times you try and say, “I’ve got to go, guys!!” it always ends up being half an hour after that you’re actually able to get off Skype.

Did you just email them and ask if they wanted to read your manuscript?

Akshaya: Pretty much yeah. One of us had a post saying what our manuscript was about and maybe a little bit about ourselves. Then one of the others would email that person and say “Hey you sound really awesome! I’m really awesome too! Let’s be friends!” Okay fine, we were a tad bit more professional than that.

Maddy: Lies. Pretty sure those are exact quotes from my emails.

Erin: We started with chapters to see if our writing and critiquing styles jammed. We included a lot of information about ourselves, including our loves and interests (par exemple: Harry Potter, Happy Endings, Arrested Development, 30 Rock) to see if we clicked!

Akshaya: If we connected well, we would exchange more, like I did with all these lovely ladies!

Maddy: And Akshaya was incredibly kind/generous/indulgent with my horrible first drafts… Seriously, I wonder every day how I got so lucky/why she kept emailing me. <3 

Janella: I second this. My manuscript was awful simile soup in the very beginning, and somehow these lovely people were kind enough to stick with me through it all.

Akshaya: Awww!! Spoiler: it’s because their manuscripts were AMAZING. And at that point, we generally graduated to Skyping, and if it was still going well we naturally became friends for life. (Not kidding about the life thing—Janella, Maddy and I are making arrangements for a shared mausoleum…)

Maddy: You think we’re joking :)

Akshaya: I never joke about mausoleums…

But what if it didn’t work out?

Akshaya: That would have been totally fine! The most important thing about CPing is being respectful. Here is a great post about good CP etiquette (and here is another one).

Maddy: If you plan on critiquing anything ever READ THESE ASAP, MEMORIZE THEM, PRINT THEM OUT, THEY ARE GOLD.

Akshaya: If we’ve agreed to CP, I always start with just a few chapters and make sure we’re sending each other roughly the same number of words. I try to get a sense of what kind of feedback the other person wants (big picture vs details, character arcs vs plot development etc.) and settle on a turnaround time that works for both of us. I also try and fit my critique into a nice and delicious critique sandwich, (Janella: YUMMY YUMMY YUMMY) where I start with stuff I loved, followed by the stuff that needs work, and end with more of the stuff I loved.

But sometimes it just doesn’t work out. Maybe I didn’t like their writing or they didn’t like mine. Maybe I didn’t like how they structured their critiques– or maybe it was my critique that was the issue. At that point I always thank them for their time and we part ways amicably. I think the most important thing is to be polite. Don’t offer unsolicited feedback or argue if you disagree with a point. It’s hard and scary for everyone to put themselves and their writing out there so just be courteous.

Maddy: Seriously, this is actually the important part. It’s like dating… if your dating pool was tiny/the relatively small community in which you’ll build your career. Don’t be an ass, don’t burn bridges, and don’t leave someone hanging if they critique your work–always reciprocate critiques (even if you move on/end the critiquing relationship afterwards), always be courteous, and always assume you’ll have to deal with this person for the rest of your writing career.

Katy: And I think we all had had critique relationships that didn’t work out for whatever reason, and even if those relationships didn’t pan out, we were able to learn from those experiences and figure out what we really wanted from a critique partnership.

Janella: I ditto what everyone has said so far! But clearly from all answers above, this publishing and writing community is a very small world. Be kind and don’t burn bridges. You never know who you’ll meet or encounter again in the future.

Do you read full manuscripts or just go chapter by chapter?

Katy: It depends on the person and the project, I think. Some of us prefer to send out more complete work, some prefer to send out portions of manuscripts, etc. etc. I think the important thing is we always have someone who is not only willing but eager to read our stuff, and that alone can be a huge help. Just knowing you’re not writing in a total void.

Janella: Full manuscript reads usually happen if we want to tackle big picture things, or if fresh eyes for a full beta read is needed. It really depends on what the other person feels would help them most in terms of where they are/how they feel about their manuscript.

Erin: I personally prefer to polish my story as much as possible and get it as clean as I possibly can by myself, which usually means multiple, multiple drafts and my lovely CPs asking me “WHEN CAN I READ YOUR STORY?” (which is always, so so sweet and so nice to hear). Of course, sometimes when I’m in doubt, I might send a chapter or two to my CPs to see if it’s going in the right direction, but for the most part I do like full manuscript critiques. Like Katy said, I just want someone who is passionate and truly cares about my work and vice versa. I LOVE my CPs’ work. I think they have the most amazing ideas and they have such great writing that I’m always so excited to read their work!!

Okay but what if they steal your idea?

Maddy: LOL I’m pretty sure I’m half-insane to be attempting to make readable the mess of a world that is my story. Why would anyone else be crazy enough to willingly sort through my chaotic half-disaster of an unfinished manuscript, when they likely have their own books to work on? 

Akshaya: I know this seems like a terrifying thing but it’s not actually something I worry about. For starters, while we all write YA fantasy, we all have VERY different styles. We all love different things and get our inspirations from different places. A lot of the times, we love reading what our critique partners write but wouldn’t want to necessarily write that specific subgenre of fantasy. For instance Janella is working on an incredible pirate fantasy. (Janella: *blushes*) I LOVE pirates and would read/watch the crap out of any pirate story, but I don’t really have any desire to write my own.

Katy: I can say with full honesty that I have never once ever worried about this. Because as similar as our interests are and as much as we all get along, our writing is very specific to who we are as individuals. And if you’ve ever met a writer, you know that they’re drowning in their own legions of half-finished manuscripts and partly-plotted ideas, so why on earth would I imagine that they would be looking to take some of mine?

Akshaya: And there aren’t really any new ideas anyway. It’s just how you present it that matters and each person would present it in a different way. Even if they stole my idea, the story they wrote would be WILDLY different from what I wrote.

Erin: I’m with Katy!! I’ve never really had a worry about someone stealing my work! Like everyone says, I do think that your vision for a story is COMPLETELY different than anyone else’s.

Janella: Even though there are horror stories out there of this happening, I definitely trust my CPs enough to have faith that this will NEVER happen! We love each others’ ideas, but not at a level that would cause us to steal them.

So you’re all friends and you hang out and talk about writing and drink wine. That sounds great in theory, but there must be a lot of competition and weird group politics…

Janella: Absolutely not! What’s so wonderful about finding your writing herd (Akshaya: or as we like to call it, our cult) is that we are all obscenely supportive of each other. We are all different kinds of writers in different places of our writing journey, but that doesn’t matter. Through all of the ups and downs, we’re always here for each other.

Akshaya: Okay time for some real talk. While we all started in very similar places, now we’re a bit more spread apart in where we are: some of us are revising, some querying, and some working with agents. It seems like being in different stages would only increase the competition, but we’ve actually gotten closer as we support each other and celebrate those successes. We don’t put each other or ourselves down for being in a different stage. Is it always easy? Of course not. (I’ve linked to it before but I will link to it again because this is seriously such a fantastic post on dealing with writer envy). We all have days where we feel like crap. But it really is powerful to remember that we control how good or bad we feel when we hear about other people’s success stories.

Truthfully, publishing is a strange industry. While there is a very low barrier to entry (you don’t need to have contacts—you only need to write a book and query agents) that also means it’s luck dependent. You have to have the right book at the right time that resonates with the right people. That’s not something that is in anyone’s control. Going your own pace, whether that’s slower or faster than your friends, is no indication of success or failure. It’s most important to stay focused on the writing, because the fact that a friend got an agent or a book deal or reached whatever milestone you were aiming for has nothing to do with whether or not you will get an agent or a book deal or reach that milestone.

So yeah, I can spend all my time and energy comparing myself to my CPs and feeling miserable. Or I can be proud of and happy for them and know that their successes don’t mean that I’m a failure.

Maddy: For me, it’s this simple: if you start to feel yourself getting envious of one of your critique partners/friends/anyone important in your life really, remember how much you love them. And be happy for them. Because you do love them. And loving people means being there for them in their hard times, celebrating their successes, and trusting they will also be there for you, when the low times and the high times come to call.  

Besides, we chose each other. It wasn’t like we were put into a group at random and forced to work together. We actively sought out people we connected well with and whose writing we loved. It’s not that surprising that we would want each other to be successful.

Katy: Akshaya and Maddy really said it best! I can definitely see getting jealous or envious of people on twitter who sign with dream agents or get amazing book deals but when it comes to my CPs, I KNOW these people, I KNOW how hard they work, and I know how great their writing is, so why wouldn’t I be happy for them?

Erin: We are all super supportive of each other and only happy for each other’s successes. It is a very competitive industry, but we know how hard we all work. I have definitely have met jealous/competitive people, but for some reason, this just WORKS. I don’t know if it’s the YA community or whether it’s that I’ve been lucky to only have met supportive friends, but I have never really felt this way with writing before.

Wow this all sounds really awesome!

Akshaya: I know. And this is why I can’t shut up about how amazing my critique partners are! I’m incredibly lucky to have met such a fantastic group of people!! I don’t even know how I found the most amazing people, but I would not trade this for anything.

Maddy: Blushing hardcore over here. So much love to all my CPs!!! Cannot emphasize how lucky I am to have found them/not made them run away screaming. If you’re still searching for the one/ones–don’t give up. You will find your people. And then you will know just how worth it the search is. <3 <3 <3  

Erin: Like I said, I’m SUPER lucky to have found these great group of friends and writers. I honestly did not think that I could meet such great people and I really did not think that I would ever get to be such amazing friends with these lovely peeps!!! I’M SO LUCKY, GUYS!!!!!

Katy: And we didn’t even MENTION our Disney-and-Hamilton-sing-a-longs!

Janella: STOP GUYS I’M CRYING.

And there you are! Insight into how our friendship/critique partner relationship works! Now go follow these lovely ladies on their own blogs and Twitters because they all have fantastic things to say and are writing some truly wonderful books! <3

India, Social Media Break, and Upcoming Travel

The last few weeks have been a little crazy. I was in India and in Dubai and in true Akshaya fashion I was sick for 60% of that trip. I’m kinda over my shitty immune system. Anyone want to trade?

But other than that the trip was wonderful and relaxing. I got to see my family and eat a lot of very delicious food. I even got a couple of new story ideas! I’ve never been to Dubai before so it was awesome to add a new country to the list of places I’ve been lucky enough to visit. Unfortunately my mom and I were both really sick with a nasty cold for most of that trip so we couldn’t really do a lot of the things we wanted to do, including going into the desert. Hopefully I can make it back there one of these days!

But now that I’m back home and finally recovering, I’m diving right into Camp NaNoWriMo. I’m kind of half drafting, half revising a manuscript and I’m hoping to add 20,000 new words in April.

I’ve also got some more travel coming up. I’m headed to RT next week in Las Vegas! My critique partners and I had SO much fun last year that we decided to go back this year! And at the end of the month, I’m headed to Yallwest in Santa Monica! I’ve been going back and forth on if I want to go, and yesterday I committed to it since it’s not that far and that author line up is seriously ridiculous. I cannot wait!

But between the traveling, praying to the immune system gods that I won’t get sick again (seriously my body cannot handle travel anymore!) and all the writing I want to get done, I’ve decided to step away from social media for most of April. Exceptions: I am still on Instagram and I will be on Twitter for the duration of RT and Yallwest.

I logged out of everything and deleted the apps from my phone. The first few days were pretty hard, but it’s been surprisingly easy to stay away. And wow. I have so much time when I’m not aimlessly scrolling through Twitter or Tumblr or Facebook 30 times a day! I’ll be honest—I don’t know that I’ve been that much more productive because of it, but it’s certainly been great for clearing my mind.

I do have some more substantial new blog posts in the works that I’m very excited about, so hopefully I’ll have those up pretty soon!

The Importance of Having Creative Fun

Today I’m going to tell a story about having fun. So much has happened in the last few months, but let’s start with the two biggest.

First, I quit my job. It was a long time coming. I’d been contemplating taking time off to write full time since June of 2015. I’ve had a job since I was 18. The thought of being unemployed was frankly terrifying. It took me six months to work up the courage to quit, and up until the very end, I don’t think any of my friends actually trusted that I’d go through with it. Honestly, I’m still a little surprised I did it.

Second, I put away the second manuscript in as many years. Last January I tabled City Book because it was so terrible (in that special way first books are) that no amount of revising could fix it. This January I put away Space Book.

It started when I was forced to take a break from writing. I am big on schedules and goals and deadlines so by the first week of January, I, of course, had all of 2016 planned. That plan lasted less than two weeks. The second week of January I developed awful wisdom teeth pain, and I had to have emergency dental surgery. Between life obligations and the tooth extraction, I ended up spending a full week away from my computer. And it was only at the end of that time that I realized I hadn’t once thought about my novel. I hadn’t missed it.

It was shocking because since I started writing seriously 1.5 years ago, not a single day had gone by where I wasn’t desperately in love with what I was writing. I was always itching to get back to my computer. I never wanted to take a day off, and even when I did, I couldn’t go more than a few hours without thinking about my world and characters. And I had gone a full week without thinking about my novel.

Ups and downs in creativity are totally normal which was why it took a bit of time for me to differentiate that this was more than just one of those normal downs. I had put this book away for a few weeks at a time before, but I always found myself picking it back up again. This time was different. I couldn’t figure out why. I told myself it was less stressful for me to work on that super secret project because it was secret. I wrote a short story while at a retreat in November, and I told myself that story came out easily because I was improving as a writer. I told myself revisions are hard and I was just procrastinating by wanting working on something else. I told myself that it was grass is greener on the other side syndrome—any other thing I worked on would be just as hard as Space Book.

But when I took that week off in January, I finally came to terms with what was really wrong with Space Book: it wasn’t fun.

I think deep down I’d known for a while it wasn’t working. Every chance I got to take a break from it, to work on something new, I did. And then I would guilt myself into returning to it. It was the first book I wrote to the end. I had to revise it. I had to finish it to prove to myself, and the world, that I could write and revise a book. Putting it away felt like giving up.

Putting it away was hard. Most of the people in my life didn’t agree with that decision at first. Give it a few more months, they said. Just finish it. I felt guilty enough that I gave in and decided to keep working on it. But a few days in I was tired. I knew I didn’t want to work on it anymore.

That’s when it hit me: I am not agented. I am not published. I have no contract. No one is waiting for my next book. So why then was I making myself miserable by forcing myself to write a book that wasn’t fun anymore?

So I put it away.

I was in a pretty terrible place for a few days. I’d already put away one book. Did putting away another make me less of a writer? Did it mean I was going to forever keep writing first drafts and then giving up on them? If I hated revising that much was I even cut out for publication?

But after a few days the anxiety subsided and the guilt passed. The primary feeling I felt was relief. Freedom. For the first time in a year I was giving myself permission to work on something else and not feel like I was cheating on Space Book by doing so.

I gave myself a week to mourn Space Book (read: binge a lot of TV and ice cream) and then I threw myself into outlining and drafting the next book. Since then I’ve completed what I’m calling a “zero draft” of Myth Book. It was a horrible draft, but it was tremendously fun to write. I enjoyed every minute of it. Now I’m patching and kind of rewriting and revising it into a first draft fit for critique partner eyes, and it’s shocking that it’s still fun.

The lesson I’ve learned here is that none of this matters if I’m not happy.

Goals are great. Schedules and plans are great. But they are just tools. They are ways for me to get to my end goal of being a published author. At the end of the day so much of this industry is out of my hands. All I can do is write the story I want to tell and try to have some fun while doing it.

2016 New Year’s Resolution

There’s something to be said for new beginnings. Starting a new year always seems to hit a reset button in me: it’s a new start and a chance to accomplish all those things I couldn’t manage to do the year before. I’ve recently been thinking more about some things I want to accomplish in the coming year, so I thought I’d outline my three resolutions for 2016.

  1. Be kinder to myself.

I am a giant bully. I say things to myself that I would never say to another human being. Any missteps I have, whether they are embarrassing moments or genuine mistakes, are catalogued mentally in my “you’re a failure” box so that I can open them up and review them over and over again while I convince myself I’m worthless.

Friends have told me on and off over the years that I abuse myself, but I didn’t really take them seriously until a few years ago. And it was even more recently, after reading Susan Dennard’s posts on this very topic, that I even realized just how often I bully myself and how destructive it is. Over the last few months I’ve come to realize that I can’t keep being horrible to myself and also stay mentally healthy. I need to be okay with making mistakes. I need to stop beating myself up for every little thing I do wrong. I need to be okay with taking breaks and not feel guilty if I don’t write every single day or don’t hit the goals I set for myself.

So in order to be kinder to myself, I’m taking Susan’s advice (seriously, if you do anything creative, do yourself a favor and sign up for her newsletter) and enrolling in the Science of HappinessI’m going to try and actively practice not comparing myself to others (starting with this book on self-compassion). Social media always brings out the worst in my self-bullying, so I’m going to spend less time on Twitter and Facebook so I can stay in the real world and focus on the things that are important to me. I am going to try and concentrate on the positives—my writing journal is my safe space to write about whatever I’m thinking, but even there I want to make more of an effort to move away from the negatives and the worries and highlight the things I did accomplish rather than the things I didn’t. And lastly, I’m going to be better about giving myself break days away from my writing. A friend recently suggested scheduling in creative rejuvenation days so that I let my mind rest regularly instead of waiting until I break down and am forced to step away, and I want to make sure those also get added to my schedule.

  1. Find hobbies.

Speaking of breaks, I want to find other things to do on my break days that don’t involve just reading or binging something on Netflix. For the longest time writing was my hobby. Whenever I had a few minutes to spare I would spend it working on a new poem or story idea. But recently, writing hasn’t been a hobby—it’s been my life. And that change made me realize that I have nothing I do outside of work, writing, or hanging out with friends.

So my goal this year is to find some new hobbies, or rediscover old ones. I used to love dance and music until I gave them up, and frankly I miss them both. I’ve always wanted to hike more, and take self-defense, yoga, and meditation classes, but never found the time. I’ve said I wanted to grow an herb garden and start a baking blog for years now. I’ve wanted to get into photography and work in film and theater and teach myself to draw. I’m not sure if any of these things will be hobbies I pursue in the long term, but I want to make more of an effort to find the time to explore my other interests outside of writing, especially those interests that get me out from behind my computer.

  1. Care for my mind and body.

This goes hand in hand with being kinder to myself, but I can’t do all the things I want to do if I don’t take care of myself first. I thought I’d moved away from those days in college where I’d replace meals with coffee and where I’d push myself on little sleep and emotional stress. And it was true for a while. I was eating better and exercising more and getting enough sleep—until I just wasn’t anymore. And again, I began to treat it like a thing to check off my list and bully myself if I ate badly or didn’t wake up at exactly 6am and start writing.

And how I treat my mental health is even worse. I have a hard time saying no to people, especially those who ask me for help. Over the last four months, I agreed to do at least two things that put an insane amount of stress on me, made it impossible for me to write, and led to many breakdowns and anxiety attacks. Stress that my allergist believed likely led to the chronic idiopathic hives I developed. I’m lucky that my hives seem to have settled down in just under six months, after a handful of lifestyle changes and allergy medications, but perhaps it’s something I could have avoided altogether by taking better care of myself.

So I want to make sure I practice the habit of putting myself first, even if it means being selfish. I want to make sure I do whatever I need to do in order to keep myself happy and healthy, so that I can have more energy for those things I do commit to doing, even if it means saying no to more things. I will focus on getting enough sleep, eating fresh and healthy food, exercising regularly, and most importantly, I won’t beat myself up for any days where I don’t do all of those.

So those are my resolutions for 2016—what are some of yours?