Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Bail Out or Keep Going?

If you’ve done any kind of endurance event—running, cycling, walking—you may be familiar with the concept of the SAG wagon.

It’s a car, sometimes a bus, also called the Sweeper. It rides along at the back of the race and picks up anyone who’s had to drop out due to fatigue, injury, or a shameful lack of intestinal fortitude.

Oh, and you can also get picked up if you’re still chugging along, but at the rate you’re going, you’ll finish long after sundown and even your mother has given up on you and wants to go home.

In the Tour de France, when you quit the race, they strip your number off almost as soon as you dismount your bike. You then climb into your team car, and that’s it. You’re done. On your team roster, next to your name, is written a single word: “Abandoned.”



What a horrible word.

I think there’s a point in writing every novel when you wonder if you should keep going or abandon. Maybe you’re tired of the story or you’ve got doubts about whether you’ll be able to finish it before the leap year after next. Whatever. There are lots of reasons to quit, and you can probably think of them all when you're staring uphill, panting and sweating.

Of course in writing, for better or worse, there is no SAG wagon gonna pick your sorry butt up if you bail out. And it’s probably fortunate that you can’t be DQ’d for going too slow because we’d probably all be sitting in the SAG wagon singing “99 bottles of beaujolais on the wall” right about now.

When I get that “I’m not gonna make it” feeling, though, there’s something lurking along the literary roadway, something that goads me on when I’m having a bad patch. I wish I could say it was inspiration, artistic drive, a passion for truth and beauty. But it's not.

What keeps me out of the SAG wagon is this: I simply hate not finishing something. HATE. IT. 

And I’d feel like an especially big loser for quitting when I was more than halfway done. So unless I’ve got three broken clavicles that keep me from typing or a raging case of flesh-eating bacteria, I’m going to finish if it kills me. 

So there. I guess shame is a pretty strong motivator for me. Or pride. However you want to look at it.

What about you? What gets you across the finish line when you feel like getting into the team car, going back home to your villa in Spain, and making excuses to the press all winter?

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Meanwhile, In Other Dimensional Realms…

This week I’ve been struggling against all manner of enemies, both foreign and domestic--OK, mostly domestic--in my attempt to get the words down.

Hey, that's the way it goes. Sometimes you can’t get the numbers on ye olde manuscript odometer to roll over, not for love nor money. Things get in the way. 

But, you know, that doesn’t get me down too much. Because distractions and obstacles are part of life, and you need to plug away regardless. 

Here. This about sums up the attitude I try to adopt every morning when I get to work:


The reason these small, everyday frustrations don’t bother me too much is that I know they’re nothing compared to the much greater obstacle I faced in the past, namely my own attitude toward writing and my lack of courage to just do it.

I can’t tell you how much time and energy I devoted to the subject of Should I Be Writing when I was in my 20s. Gah. So many, many journals filled with tremulous maundering on the question, “But what if I waste my entire adult life pursuing something I have no real aptitude for when I could have put those years to more productive use?”

Yup. That’s about the size of it. Thems the chances you take.

And then one day I decided to proceed even though, all things considered, yeah, it probably would be best if I didn’t. Because writing was what I wanted to do, and all the shoulds in the world weren’t going to change that.

Occasionally I think about what Alternative Reality Kristen is doing right now, in some other dimensional realm. That girl who overpowered her silly desire to write and got a law degree or some such thing. Maybe she’s got a closet full of power suits and terrorizes her assistant for failing to put the correct ratio of sugar to milk in her macchiato. Who knows?

Mostly, I feel sorry for her.

For this I have learned: you can live quite happily without your dreams ever coming true, but you can’t live happily without pursuing your dream at all. And if you’re going to fail, fine, but make the world say no to you, don’t say it to yourself.

You've got to be committed.


Like a crazy person.

What do you reckon your Alternative Reality/Non-Writer You is doing right now? 

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Tuesday, November 8, 2011


Twice in the last month I’ve had occasion to be sitting in an audience, listening to a keynote address. Once at the SCBWI regional meeting a few weeks back. And again this past weekend when I attended a foodie event in D.C. featuring some Food Network celebrity chefs.

And lest you think, wow, that Kristen is livin’ large with all her conference/special event attending, I’ll just tell you that these two events were the only times in the last year that I was out for more than, like, 90 minutes. Seriously. The Junior Mint and his older sisters don’t often let me up for air. And to be honest, the only reason I went to either event was that my husband forced me to get out of the house and not come back for several hours or else he’d give me a whack with a pair of nunchuks. 

So here’s the lesson I learned while at these two events: likeability -- you either gots it or you’re sunk. And if you don’t gots it, you better pray that I’m not in the audience with a laser pointer.

We’ll start with the keynote speaker at the SCBWI event, Han Nolan. She was fabulous.


Well, for one thing, she knew her audience. You know how we writers are. We’re a wretchedly envious lot, and here we’ve got this National Book Award winner, talking to us about perseverance. It would be very easy to alienate people in this situation because you’re basically going to tell them: “Here’s why I am so successful, and you may never be.”

But she was so human and likeable, and her stories were so relatable for any aspiring writer that she had the whole room groaning along with her as she told us about her early trials and tribulations. The one story I most remember was how she got a review for her debut that was so bad, she was certain her publisher was going to cancel the print run for her book as a result. Within five minutes, she had us all rooting for her. The hour flew by. She left me feeling inspired.

Now to my other example--the foodie event.

There I was, beaten-down mother of four who gets to go out about once every ten weeks, sitting in the D.C. Convention Center, anxiously awaiting a Certain Food Network Celebrity Chef, and the emcee says, “Before we bring out the person you’ve actually paid to see, I’d like to introduce a woman who’s going to talk about stuff you’re not interested in!”

Well, that’s what the emcee should have said because that’s what we got. This woman was basically the human equivalent of a pop-up ad.

Who was this person?

I’ll tell you who she was. She was trying too hard. She was rambling on and on about … what? Something about her website? No idea. I know she told some self-congratulatory story about having Martha Stewart over to her house for dinner and how it went so well despite how nervous she was.  (I mean, who hasn’t been there, right?) After about 30 seconds, I began tuning her out, and the more she talked, the more I wished I’d brought a laser pointer so that I could shine it in her face. 

Not that I would do that or advocate doing that because it’s childish and also illegal.

(OK, maybe I’d do it, like, once. But then I’d put the laser pointer away and pretend I didn’t know what security was talking about if they asked me, “Ma’am, did you just shine a laser pointer into that woman’s face?"

And I’d be all, “What! How dare you insinuate that I look like the kind of woman who would shine a laser pointer in someone’s face? I mean really. I’m the mother of four kids, for heaven’s sake.”)

Yeah, needless to say, this speaker had ZERO likeability. Not for a moment did I think she understood what her audience wanted nor did I believe she really cared. We were there for her, not the other way around, and she left me feeling like my time had been wasted. And that, my friends, makes me very, very cranky.

So an interesting comparison and yet another important reminder for when you’re writing: you need to create empathy, be sincere, and above all, know your audience if you really want to get your story across effectively.


I should be patted down at every conference I attend to make sure I’m not packing a laser pointer.


I really do need to get out more. 

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