How To Stay Motivated About Your Story Even When You Want to Cry

Sometimes, writers crash.

It happens to all of us. To some of us it happens all the time. It’s hard to stay motivated about your story when it gets rejected 8,000 times or you publish it and nobody reads it or you are still writing the draft and it feels more like drudgery than song.

And being a writer is weird. A lot of things mess with your head.

Once, one of my books was up for an award and it totally didn’t win.

One of my friends emailed me and he said, “Grrr…. I hate that your book loses anything.”

Which is SO funny because he’s so protective in a happy-good way and also funny because let’s face it: Books lose things all the time.

Not every book gets on the NYT Bestsellers list
Not every book gets a Printz or a National Book Award or a Cybils or a Caldecott or any of those big fancy prizes where you get to wear ball gowns and look all elegant.

But just getting a book published is really cool. And I am so okay with losing contests because I am really super lucky to get books published at all. There are so many stories that are brilliant and life-changing and funny that don’t get that chance. So I am SAVORING IT!

And it’s kind of like getting a significant other….

If you are like me you pine ALL THROUGH EIGHTH GRADE and hope for a boy to somehow eventually like you, and of course it isn’t just any boy it is… um….

But of course he’s like a British pop star who dates models and doesn’t hang out in New Hampshire and even if he did he’d get arrested for dating you because he is like way old.

And you pine…And you hope… And you send out your query (or yourself) to editors and people who aren’t British pop stars and EVENTUALLY someone who is NOT a BRITISH POP STAR (or Super Editor Celebrity) actually says

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Hey Baby Let’s get together.

(Sorry. Check out the guy in the background! Is he a zombie? I think so!)

And you are all YAY!!!!
And you are published/in love and not eaten by the jealousy/the loneliness zombie. And it doesn’t matter that it’s not Super Celebrity Pop Star. It’s your significant other. It’s your editor. And they love your book. How cool is that?

It is AMAZINGLY COOL and you don’t want to spend all your time thinking, “I could have won a Printz” or “I could be dating a British Pop Star.” Instead you’ve got to savor what you have.
So, yeah. I’m okay with losing things. Because I have won already in SO many ways and I will lose again in SO many more. And I’m cool with that. And that’s what I have to remember when I feel stuck with my story or my career or anything.

Here are some quick tips on how to stay motivated about your story.

Dig Deep

I don’t mean dig deep about your story, but about why you are a writer. Who are you doing this for? You. Good. But add someone else. Are you doing this for your mom so she can be proud of you? Are you doing this for kids like you who have never had a story about them before?

Digging deep and finding your motivation to be a writer and to write this specific story helps. It helps a lot.

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Sparty digs deep a lot. He is the most existential of dogs. And his point in being here? It’s to eat bacon.

Make Daily Story Goals

If you commit daily to making a word count goal or a revision goal for your story it helps. Make a goal every single day. Make those goals your own. Don’t let other people tell you to write 1,000 words a day or whatever. This is your story. You get to make the goals. You’re in charge.

Start Early

If you are a write every day kind of person, try to write earlier on in the day before all your daily chores and stress drain away your motivation. A lot of people won’t put their writing first if there is a house to clean, a kid to get to school, another job to work at. But remember, this is a job, too. You’ve got to work at it to be the best writer you can be. So, if it matters to you, write as early as you can. Being productive and hitting your goals actually helps you stay motivated. Weird, right?

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Gabby and I both have a hard time starting early, but we know our days go so much better when we do.

When Writing, Focus On Your Story Not the Other Stuff

If your goal as a writer is to make money you’re not really going to be constantly motivated about your story. If your goal is to be the best writer you can be? To learn everything you can about craft? Yeah, you will probably be more motivated.

Try Not To Succumb to the Negative

It’s really easy for a lot of us to succumb to our negative thoughts. Don’t limit yourself with negative thoughts about how you suck. You don’t suck. Look at you, you’re so motivated to be a good writer, you’re reading this blog. Think about all the ways you’ve made yourself awesome.

You can do this.

You just have to work, to be persistent, and to believe.

Write down those negative thoughts. Do this a few times – not all in the same day. Sometimes by writing them down, we escape from them and realize that we don’t need them holding us back anymore.

Do Good Wednesday!

Lots of time people want to do good, but they don’t have the money to donate to a cause. The thing is that you don’t have to have money to do good. You just have to want to do good.

Here’s an example of a cool skills-based volunteer matching service. Catchafire lets you “give what you are good at.” How cool is that? You should check them out.

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MY BOOK COMES OUT TOMORROW! 

My nonfiction picture book about Moe Berg, the pro ball player who became a spy,  is still coming out March 1.  I’m still super psyched about it. You can order it. 

Kirkus Review says:  Jones gives readers the sketchy details of Berg’s life and exploits in carefully selected anecdotes, employing accessible, straightforward syntax.

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And also says: A captivating true story of a spy, secret hero, and baseball player too.

Booklist says it’s: An appealing picture-book biography. . . Written in concise sentences, the narrative moves along at a steady pace.  

This is lovely of them to say.

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Dogs Are Smarter Than People

And yesterday, I posted a new podcast about self doubt and how Shaun can make me believe almost anything because he is so confident about even the ingredients of a cocktail he’s never had.

There are new podcasts every Tuesday and our handle on the tech gets better as you go along. I promise.

We talk about love, marriage, living in Maine with dogs and also give writing and life tips with linked content back on the blog. It’s um – cough – different. Sort of like us.

My Post-2 copy
Dogs rule. Or they should. Please subscribe and give us a good review. It’s a great act of kindness.

 

 

 

 

 

Wednesday Writing Wisdom & Being a Woman who is Not Ditzy

A few years ago, I attended the Poinsettia Ball, which was THE main social event in our community. I helped set up the Friday before the event, during which time I learned how to make sure all the flatware is aligned EXACTLY the right way.

It was actually kind of fun… the setting up part.

But, then, at the actual ball, this man comes up to me, and he’s vaguely familiar, but I can’t remember who he is. He’s got a red tie on. He’s a bit stooped over. But I smile anyway when he grabs my hand. I usually get hugged upon greeting instead of a handshake, so I figure it’s okay that I don’t know who he is right away. A handshake means we aren’t on hugging terms.

And he goes to me, “Hi, Carrie. Are you still –zy?”

I lean forward, although trying not to lean too far forward because of the whole breasts-in-gown thing, and I say, “Am I still busy? Yeah, I guess so.”

“No. Are you still –zy?”

He’s shaking his head at me.

I back up, he’s still clutching my hand so I can’t get free. People swarm around us, getting drinks, admiring each other. They are all loud talkers and it’s not easy to hear.

“Busy?” I ask.

“NO!” he yells. “Ditzy!”

Ditzy? Am I still ditzy?” I have finally evacuated my hand. What do I say? I have no idea. And because I just want to get away, I blurt, “Um. I guess so?”

I am immediately angry at myself for this answer, for being so shocked and surprised that I just let this random red-tie-wearing man define me.

Things like this always shock me. I had NO IDEA anyone perceived me as ditzy. Can newspaper editors (which is what I was then) be ditzy? Can former city councilors?

It’s amazing how many different perceptions people can have of you and how many different perceptions you can have of yourself.

Really.

So, after running away from HE WHO CALLS ME DITZY, I bump into a past teacher of the year, marathon runner,and told him the story. He actually gets angry on my behalf, which is SOOOO nice and says, “Carrie, do you want me to take him outside?”

“No,” I tell him. “I just want to know if I’m ditzy.”

“You are not ditzy,” he tells me.

“You swear?”

“Swear.”

Thank God for teachers of the year.

But there are two things that make me come back to this story as both a writer and a woman.

  1. As writers, we need to remember that not everyone always sees our character the same way – defines them the same way. And some people who define them are terribly wrong.  But that’s a good thing to remember when trying to give our characters depth and layers.
  2. As a woman, I keep thinking to myself, “WTF?”  Did I seriously let some random guy tell me I’m ditzy and agree? And then the immediate person I talked to was another man? Yes, second man was awesome. But why was I even so worried about how they defined me? What they thought of me? Why didn’t I go ask a woman instead? But more importantly, why did I ask anyone at all? The only person who should get to define you is you.  I say that to people all the time. Why couldn’t I have said that to me? Why didn’t I think, the only person who gets to define me is me?  

 

 

Writing Wisdom Wednesday

When I wrote my first book, my parents were both still alive. I’ve always been the weird one in the family, the one who didn’t make sense, who wore Snoopy shoes and had a weird voice, and was born 14 years after my closest sibling. I never felt like part of a family, but I always felt like my parents liked me okay. 

While I grew up, my parents were divorced. My dad was a mechanic and a truck driver. My mom was a real estate agent and then an dental supply company office manager.  I saw my dad on Sundays when he remembered. He was an adorable hobbit man, but pretty forgetful, honestly.  So, after years of being weird trying to be a poet and things, my first book came out. One of the first blog interviews asked me: 

Now that you’re under contract, does your family better appreciate your writing?

This is a hard question.

This is what my dad said when it happened, “Someone bought your book? That’s great. What’s it called?”

Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend.”

We were on the phone.

My dad began laughing, “Ho boy. Ho… boy. Wait till I tell your Aunt Athelee that one. Tell me that again. .. Gay what?”

Tips on Having a Gay (ex) Boyfriend.

My father then laughed some more. “Let me write that down. That’s really the title? Ho…boy. Hahahaha…. Ho . . . boy.”

Then about six months later, I was talking to my dad on the phone while simultaneously trying to make vegan shepard’s pie and he said, “How many books have you sold?”

I told him.

“Three? Three! In less than a year?”

“Yep,” I said, dicing onions, which always makes me cry.

He was really quiet and then he said, “Your grandfather was a really literate man. He was a great reader, you know. And my mother…she loved poems.”

“I know that, Dad,” I said, wiping my eyes with a paper towel that smelled like onions and only made things worse. I started snuffing. Dad didn’t notice.

But then he swallowed so loudly that I could actually hear it over the phone and he said, “I’m dyslexic you know. I don’t read very well.”

“I know, Dad. You’re super smart though,” I said this because sometimes my dad forgets that he is super smart because he only went through to second grade. He felt like everyone else in the family, in the world, was smarter than he was. He felt wrong.

The silence settled in and he finally said, “I’m just really proud of you. You know that, right? I’m really, really proud of you.”

So, even if no lovely people ever buy my books, at least I know that I did something that made my dad proud.

IMG_3643This it the Dana Farber certificate my daughter colored when my friend Lori ran the Boston Marathon. My dad died of cancer. He liked tractors.
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When I sold my first book, my mother said, the way my mother always said, “Oh, sweetie. That’s so wonderful. I knew you could do it. I am so proud of you. My daughter, the writer.”

To be fair to my sweet mother and to be honest, this was what my mother said about everything I do. Like the first time I made an angel food cake she said, “Oh, sweetie. That’s so wonderful. I knew you could do it. I am so proud of you. My daughter, the angel food cake maker.”

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The name of the second book wasn’t much better. My dad kept laughing. Even in my ‘glory’ moment, I amused the hell out of my family due to my complete lack of glamour, and my complete lack of normal.

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The rest of my family, I think, were appreciative of the fact that I sold a couple of books. It makes me more legit to them somehow. Which is strange, but typical I guess. In our culture it often seems that the process of learning and creating is often only considered worthy if a tangible product comes from it and if that tangible product has market value.

But to me… the big value was that I made my dad think about his parents and think about books and think about me and made him proud.

So where’s the wisdom in all this? Um….. I think that in our rush to produce, we often forget the joy in discovering. Our culture doesn’t make that easier on any of us, but there’s this great, beautiful joy in discovering, in being quirky, in playing, in creating just for the sake of creating.

RANDOM WRITING EXERCISE:

Write one random word.

Without thinking about it write another random word next to the first word.

Another word.

Start a new line and do it over again.

You’ll get something like this: 

Brussels sky bugs

Dad silences dog writes

Pear tree

Inside shadows

Eat trucks Nebraska

And it’s so weird, right? It’s like an almost-poem, but not quite. You should do ten lines of this and it’ll seem like a pretty bad poem, but that’s the point. The point is to make you not try to be perfect, to free up the random muse inside you so that you can write your story or your poem or your novel and be okay with a crappy first draft, or a rough sentence. Writing is work, but it is often play, and we forget that in our quest for product in perfection. So go play! You don’t even have to be a writer. You can find play in everything you do. I believe in you. Sparty does too.

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Sparty believes in you. So do I.