Thursday, April 14, 2016

The Hide of a Rhinoceros

Now that my agent is about to send my manuscript out to various editors, it's time to toughen my hide. The submission process isn't for wimps, I tell ya. In general, though, editors are a pretty tactful bunch. Rejections are often very benign, such as: "It's not right for my list," or "I'm going to have to pass." Passing, as we all know, also happens to be a euphemism for death. No matter how gracious the phrasing, a 'no' is still a 'no' and it hurts.

When we choose the creative life, rejection is part of the deal. The trick--which is much easier in theory than in practice--is to not take any of it personally. To do this, we need to remind ourselves that our work is not us. It comes from us, but it is separate from us. It is not a measure of our worth. When we tie our self-worth to our creations, we are begging for trouble.

Repeat after me: I am not my work. 

I am a writer, but I'm also a wife, a mother, a daughter, a friend, a volunteer. Writing is a big part of my life, but it isn't the only thing in it. When my writing isn't going well, I have these other aspects of my life to lean on. Success doesn't have to be tied to money. Some of my biggest successes have come from the volunteer work I've done at our local elementary school. Or from raising my daughters. I chalk those achievements right up there with some of the highlights of my writing career. If I never publish again I know I will be okay (a tad miserable, but essentially okay) because I'm not just a writer, but a whole person.

Not only do we have to detach from our work, we have to recognize that it's imperfect. 

I'm sure you can find flaws in ever book you've ever read--and I guarantee someone will find the flaws in your book, too. There will be weaknesses that you know about and others that have never even occurred to you. It's okay. Writing is a learning process for all of us. Submit your work with humility. In the words of my writer friend Howard Waxman, offer up your work by saying, "This is the best work I am capable of at this moment in time." When we are humble, there's no reason to be 
embarrassed. We are not frauds waiting to be found out--we are artists who are learning, searching, experimenting with our craft. 

We need to recognize that failure is an option.

Success is never guaranteed and it is certainly not owed to us. I've been working hard to set my expectations low. It's entirely possibly that my manuscript will not catch the interest of any of the big publishers. So I have a plan B. And a plan C. And I'm already working on something else. And I will continue to write, because that is my vocation. When I was young, I dreamed of literary stardom, because when you're young, everything seems possible. I have some life experience behind me now and I've learned that big publishing success brings along with it big responsibilities. I also know that big success is bestowed only upon a chosen few. If we are to live a creative life, we must be motivated by something other than the conventional definition of success.

So...have I managed to toughen your hide at least a little? Believe me--that pep talk was as much for me as it was for you. I know that I frequently blog about this topic, but it needs to be repeated often. Writing takes a particular type of courage that few people can appreciate. Let's witness it in each other. 

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The One-in-a-Million Monica Wood

Not to sound like too much of a fan girl, but I love Monica Wood. 

Her work is tender and evocative. She gives the best readings. And by all appearances, she's just a decent human being. 

Basically, I want to be Monica Wood when I grow up.

A few weeks ago, I saw that Ms. Wood had a new novel coming out and on a whim I asked her for a quick interview. To my delight, she agreed. Below, you'll find our conversation and a promo video of Monica describing her new book, THE ONE-IN-A-MILLION BOY.

What does your typical writing day look like?

Years ago, every day looked about the same, but my professional life is far more complicated now. I spend a ridiculous amount of time on email, for example, managing the business of a full time professional writer. I usually have a stack of manuscripts that people have asked me to read. So my writing time is ever more precious, and I guard it jealousy. I am naturally a night owl but because I married an early bird my writing time is midday, about 10 until 3. Given my druthers, I would write all night and sleep till noon.

One thing I should mention if any young writers are reading this. I turn off all devices while writing. I don't have internet access on my laptop, which is where I write. Instead, I have a separate computer to connect to the wider world.

I had the good fortune of attending one of your events and it was the most entertaining reading I’ve ever seen. You have a terrific way of engaging the audience. You read just enough to whet the audience’s appetite and then weave in anecdotes and stories from your own life. What are your secrets for giving a great reading?

Experience helps. You learn over time to select not your best stuff, necessarily, but the best stuff to read aloud. Look for a lot of white space on the page; that's a good rule of thumb. Also feel free to heavily edit. The audience doesn't need a lot of context. I have also learned over time an audience would rather have you speak about the book then read at length. I usually read for about 20 minutes in 10 minute segments, between which I talk about different aspects of the book itself or the writing of it.

Last year your first play “Papermaker” was brought to life by the Portland Stage Company an drew wide acclaim. How did it compare to the world of novel writing?

There is simply no comparison between writing a novel and writing a play. 

With a play you need constant input from readers, actors, and a good director. I was crazy lucky to have all of the above. With the play I had all kinds of people rowing the boat with me. What a difference from typing alone in a room. For years. With no input from anyone. Alone. Did I already say alone?

It must be magical to see actors embody your characters.

It is indeed magical, but it requires a huge willingness to let go. Actors are interpreting your words and you have to give them room to surprise you. Some of my favorite moments in PAPERMAKER were quite different from my original intention. Also, every performance is different. I both dread and look forward to seeing the play with another cast.

In your new novel, THE ONE-IN-A-MILLION BOY, you do something rather unusual--you kill off the title character on page two (I don't think I'm spoiling anything here!), yet his character continues to influence the story throughout. Was this your original intention, or did the idea evolve during the writing process?

Most things happen as I am writing, but this wasn't one of them. The challenge for me was to keep the boy alive for the reader throughout the book and I think I accomplished that. The boy appears so often - through lists he composed, recordings he made with his elderly friend, and flashback scenes -- that many readers forget he's dead. This challenge led to some structural quirks that I like.

Another unusual choice is that you never reveal the boy's name--why? 

Every time I started to name him it felt wrong. To name him was to pin him to the earth, but he no longer is of the earth. he does actually have a name but only I, my husband, and my oldest sister know what it is. She named him. 

The cover is gorgeous. Did you have a hand in choosing the design, or was it a complete surprise to you?

Oh, boy, is this ever a long story! I hated this cover with a red hot passion but everyone from sales and marketing adored it. I thought it was too whimsical for the content , and I despised the literal depiction of a boy on a bicycle. My US publisher agreed to alter the cover. But then my UK publisher went nuts over the American cover, their sales and marketing people went nuts, and so I finally caved. And they were dead right, of course: most of the countries publishing this book are using the original cover. Lesson: writers should stick to writing and leave selling to the sellers.

It can be a fine line knowing when to stick to your guns and when to defer to the 'experts'. When it comes to editing, how do you react to those occasional suggestions that seem to come out of left field? 

I have worked with a lot of editors over the years, and very very seldom have I had to put my foot down. I can honestly say that an editor has never given me terrible advice. This is not to say I have never had disputes, but I have always found that the best way to handle differences with an editor is to take a deep breath, step back, and try to see the manuscript afresh. They are frequently right. At the same time, we must not forget that as writers we have the right to say no. Lots of new writers are afraid to say no because they fear alienating the editor. But editors expect give and take. They thrive on it! The world will not end if you speak your mind. 

THE ONE-IN-A-MILLION BOY (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt) by Monica Wood is available in bookstores, now. Click here to access Ms. Wood's tour schedule. 

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

An(other) Interview With Judy Sheehan

Judy Sheehan and I go way back. All the way back to 2005, when we were part of an emerging writers panel at Book Expo America. We probably chatted a sum total of thirty minutes but hit it off right away. Since then, we've kept in touch a little through social media and cheered on each other's writing careers. In 2008, I interviewed her upon the release of her second novel WOMEN IN HATS, which you can read here.

When I recently heard that Judy had a new novel coming out I just knew I had to ask for another interview. She graciously obliged. Her latest, entitled, I WOKE UP DEAD IN THE MALL, is Judy's first YA novel. Having just finished the book, I have to say it's a perfect fit--this is Judy's best work yet. Here's our conversation about the creative process, rejection, and the afterlife.

In our previous interview in 2008, you mentioned working on a third novel—was this it?

Oh ha ha ha ha ha. This is possibly my third third novel. Or is it my thirtieth third novel? It’s been a long, long road. I came back to this process so many times, I considered changing my last name to Sisyphus. I still have a file called “12pp.” It’s a twelve-page story that serves as a prologue to a book. But I have no idea what that book is. I had books that I finished, books that I dropped midway because they were dead in the water, and one book that got all the way to publishers before it gave up the ghost. So please imagine the stress levels I was soaring through when my agent sent I WOKE UP DEAD AT THE MALL out into the world. And of course, now it’s going much more public. Ack! 

When I started the first chapter of your book, I was laughing out loud by the fifth sentence--which is probably a record for me. What inspired you to choose the Mall of America as the setting for the afterlife?

Thank you!  That was the goal! In an early draft of the book, the afterlife was its own special Mall, populated only by the dead. But then my super-smart agent suggested that I try setting it in a real Mall, and I went for the Mall of America. It felt so iconic. And there was a kind of logic in the location. The living never notice that the Mall is haunted, what with all the bright lights and free samples. And the dead have access to everything they need or want. My daughter and I even spent a few days at the Mall of America, in the spirit of research. And shoes. And Orange Julius.

As soon as I moved the characters into the Mall of America, the story accelerated in all the right ways. In this case, it feels like the living are almost haunting the dead, as Sarah and the others try to finish their unfinishable lives. And since the Mall of America is insanely big, it offered me lots of locations – a gorgeous aquarium, roller coasters, and so much more. It’s a self-contained universe over there. I now have a happy, almost proprietary feeling about the Mall of America. I never would have predicted that.

It's interesting how just the right detail can set everything in motion. I find that just a word or turn of phrase can suddenly unlock a character. How did you discover Sarah's voice?

I love this question, mostly because I have a very specific answer: parentheses. Yes, for me, it wasn’t a phrase, word, or even a sound—it was punctuation. All her life, Sarah has put herself on the sidelines. She has actively avoided being the center of attention, so naturally, her narration would contain a high volume of side comments. That’s how she’s been narrating her life for years and years.  Even when she’s really just thinking out loud, Sarah has a side comment that drops into parentheses. I think/hope that her use of parentheses diminishes as the story goes along. That was always the plan.

This idea grew out of a remark a college friend said to me, during our senior year. I whispered a comment mocking a professor, who absolutely deserved the mockery, I swear. Later, she dubbed me the Queen of the Asides, and I realized that those side comments had become quite a thing for me. And now I’ve handed them off to Sarah. (And she’s eternally grateful.)

This is your first foray into the world of Young Adult literature
What sparked your interest in this genre?

photo credit: Paul d'Innocenzo 
My daughter got me started. When she became old enough to start reading Young Adult, I joined her because I probably have boundary issues. We even read a couple of books together. Really obscure ones, like THE FAULT IN OUR STARS and IF I STAY.  I was egged on by an online editorial that said that adults should not read Young Adult books. That made me want to both read and write them. Read or write whatever interests you, and don’t let an online snob stop you!

Amen! Was your publishing experience in YA different than for adult fiction?

It was mostly the same experience. And I think that this illustrates the fact that real grown-ups appreciate YA and any other genre of fiction. The one thing that's different for me with this book is the big bump forward in social media. I've had to dedicate a lot of time to ensure that I'm in touch with the YA bloggers, Twitter giveaways, Facebook pages, and author forums. Some of it is quite wonderful, since I get to create an introduction to my book, my characters, and me. But oh my, it's a lot. It makes me feel productive, but it isn't the same as actually writing. Sigh.

Meanwhile, I'm focusing on getting the word out to school librarians. Who knew they wielded so much power? I thought they were just there to shush me.

What does your typical writing day look like?

The truth is that I don't have a typical writing day because I shoehorn writing into days that refuse to be typical, or even mildly predictable.

When I'm really in the groove, the day tries to run like this: the morning is all about getting my daughter and me out the door. I go to work, where anything can happen. If it's a quiet day, well, how lucky that I brought my laptop with me. I can plug into Pandora and write. If it's a busy day, I wonder why I brought this laptop with me. Back home, I get dinner on the table (dinner is a pre-occupation for me), clean up, and then I sit down and really write. I don't sit at my desk, but at my dining table. I play my playlist or Pandora, and eat something cakey with cinnamon in it. I take breaks to check on my daughter and her homework. I write until my eyes hurt. That's when I know I'm done.

Rejection is a big part of any artist's life. How do you handle it?

Thankfully, most of it occurs over email, so I can pretend to be brave and noble about it when I reply. The truth is that it hurts, it gives me a stomachache and I hate it. I usually give myself a good 24-hour wallow, but after that, I just have to suck it up and move on. Life is busy, so wallows must be contained. The distractions of motherhood, life, and work can be a hindrance to getting writing done, but they are a balm when a rejection lands.

I get weirdly maternal about my characters, so a book rejection feels like someone just kicked my child. That would be my boundary issues rising up once more. 

Just last week, I suffered a painful blow, and thought I was handling it with grim steeliness. But then an author that I barely know tweeted me that she was reading my new book and loved it. That tweet pushed me over the edge, and I had a good cry. And do you know what? I felt so much better after that.

Who do you like to read?

Kate Atkinson walks on water. I met her at a book signing, and I asked her this exact question, and it threw her. I felt so terrible, I can't remember her answer!

Kent Haruf and Dawn Powell may have spent some time walking on water, just like Kate. Reading with my daughter, Michael Marpurgo's War Horse was one of the most moving books I've encountered. I felt that Where'd You Go, Bernadette?, by Maria Semple, and Gone Girl, by Gillian Flynn, both completely lived up to the hype.

After 9/11, I found myself immersed in children's literature. Later, I realized that I was probably reaching for a moral, ordered universe through books. I re-read (and loved) all of the Narnia books, the Anne of Green Gable books, and Madeleine L'Engle. It was escapism, and it was specifically helpful. Maybe it set the groundwork for me writing a YA novel today.

Any words of wisdom for aspiring writers?

Is it an act of hubris for me to dispense wisdom for aspiring writers? Too bad. You asked, so here goes:

Live your life. See every art form you can. Try every art form you can. Take jobs that make you learn new skills. Get your heart broken. Get confused. Read a lot -- and not just the books that seem tailor-made for you. Read things that seem unlikely for you. Talk to old people, young people, and people who disagree with you. Make some stupid choices, but not so stupid that you put your life in peril, because I'll worry about you, okay? Travel, as best you can, even if it just means finding a different commute to work or school. Pay attention. 

These experiences will all enrich your writing, even if their impact doesn't seem obvious. Don't go for the obvious. Surprise us.

Friday, March 4, 2016

This Is When the Fun Starts

Sorry to leave you in the lurch for so long, Dear Blog Reader, but it was with good cause. I finished yet another round with my manuscript and have finally submitted it to my agent. For reals this time. We're finally moving ahead with it. This novel has definitely been hard-won, which makes reaching this milestone all the more satisfying.

Yet, the manuscript is still far from complete.

If my agent manages to find a publisher for it, this version will only be considered a first draft (hilarious, really, since it's actually the fourth draft). I will still have many more revisions ahead of me. I welcome the chance for new insights and suggestions because I want to produce my very best work. I want this book to be the best it can be.

This is how the next few weeks/months will go: Mr. Agent will read my latest draft. Next, he will email my manuscript to a group of editors he thinks would be excited by this kind of book. The editors (or their assistants) will read the manuscript. Some will read a little of it and decide right away if they are interested (or not). Others might be intrigued and read the whole thing. If one editor gets excited quickly, another editor who is on the fence might suddenly jump into the ring and express interest. Interested parties will make offers. If more than one publisher is interested, there could be an auction. It could be over in a couple of weeks, it could take months. Every sale is different. You just don't know how it's going to go.

Given that this is my sophomore literary effort, it will probably take a while. Things went pretty fast with my first book because everyone loves a debut--everyone wants to find THE NEXT BIG THING. Once they figure out you're not THE NEXT BIG THING, everyone is much more cautious the second time around. Back in the day (pre '90's) publishers would take on a writer with the intention of grooming her and developing her career. Conventional wisdom was that most writers didn't break out until their fourth or fifth book and publishers were happy to wait. The business climate is much different now. If your second novel doesn't make a splash, you might not have much of a career ahead of you.

Knowing this--and knowing that quiet literary novels have a harder time than most getting published--I'm still crazy excited. This is when the fun starts. Waiting to hear back from publishing houses is one of my absolute favorite parts of the process. All along the way, I'll be sure to keep you updated with all the highs and the lows that are sure to come. I am so excited to finally give you a real, up-close look at the publishing process. Stay tuned.

Also, in the coming weeks, I have two author interviews I'm sure you won't want to miss. Who are they? You'll just have to come back to find out. 

Finally, the literary world recently lost a giant--Umberto Eco. Among the tributes, I found this short video of Eco imparting a little wisdom for aspiring writers. Click here to watch the short video. This is some of the best writing advice I've ever heard.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Is Your Writing Group Too Nice?

I've been part of a writing group for over a year now with a terrific bunch of writers and it's been a great asset to my writing life. We share our work, talk about the publishing business, books we're reading, chat about our lives and laugh. We offer suggestions and encouragement. Our group is a safe, comfortable place to explore our work. We know that when we share a piece of writing, it will be treated with fairness and respect. We give each other slack. We are each other's biggest fans.

Our writing group is a vastly different experience than what you'll find in most college workshops, where a collection of not-necessarily like-minded souls are thrown together. Sure, you'll find a few kind people here and there, but also a few sticklers, a curmudgeon, that one person who 'doesn't get' your work, and a competitive type or two who are more interested in their own talent than anyone else's. Even with careful ground rules in place, workshops can be a little intimidating--and that's actually a good thing. If you know your work is going to be met with a critical eye, you're more likely to try harder. A tough workshop is excellent preparation for the larger, even more critical world you'll face when you're published.

I was thinking about the difference between my cozy little writing group and a true workshop after receiving e-mails from two of our group members who were apologizing for not having anything to share for our upcoming meeting. At first, we'd all been great about keeping to our deadlines, but little by little our collective discipline was starting to erode. All it took was one person saying they weren't going to be able to make deadline and suddenly we all relaxed. I was probably the worst offender of all, not submitting work for months because I was editing my novel. It occurred to me that the reason why we all joined the group was to write more and to be held accountable for it. Instead, we were enabling a lack of discipline. We were being too nice to each other. I decided it was time for us to buckle down and I was going to be the meanie to say something.

I was a little nervous about sharing my thoughts. By bringing this problem to the fore I, too, would no longer have a free pass. But it had to be done. Overall, the other group members seemed to take it well and everyone agreed that we needed to buckle down.

To soften the blow, we changed our rules a bit. Instead of submitting our work every other month we changed our deadlines to every three months--giving us all a little built-in leeway. If we were unable to generate something new or didn't have a re-write to share, then we had to write a piece using a prompt. One of our members distributed a list of some interesting prompts she found on the internet.

It was settled. No excuses. No more missed deadlines.

If you're in a self-run writing group, I recommend an annual assessment of how the group is functioning and then making adjustments accordingly. Don't be afraid to set goals for your group. On a whim I threw out a challenge to everyone--by the end of the year, we all had to submit a piece of writing to a journal or a magazine. The piece doesn't have to be perfect--we just have to get over our initial anxieties about trying to get published and start getting into the habit of regularly submitting our work.

What challenges does your writing group face? How do you overcome those challenges?

Friday, January 15, 2016

Working With Your Personality To Reach Your Writing Goals

Have you caught Gretchen Rubin fever yet? She's the author of best-selling self-help books including THE HAPPINESS PROJECT and her latest, BETTER THAN BEFORE. She also has a new hit podcast called HAPPIER, which she hosts with her sister, television writer Elizabeth Craft (who, incidentally, was an editor for the SWEET VALLEY series around the time I was ghostwriting, but our paths never crossed). If you aren't familiar with Rubin's work, she studies behavior and how we can work with our personalities to achieve our goals.

I'm particularly fascinated by Rubin's concept called "The Four Tendencies". According to her book, BETTER THAN BEFORE, people tend to fall into four different categories when faced with expectations (both inner and outer). Here's a quick overview of The Four Tendencies (if you're not sure which category you fit into, Rubin has quizzes on her website to help you determine your tendency). Disclaimer: this is my interpretation of Rubin's book and may not represent her work precisely. For a more thorough explanation, be sure to read the book.

The Four Tendencies:

UPHOLDERS are people who respond well to both inner and outer expectations. Upholders keep the promises they make to themselves and to others. They set goals and follow through. For example, if Upholders decide they need to get into shape, they'll stick to their diets and go to the gym without fail. While they are extremely disciplined, they can sometimes be seen as rigid. Upholders are accountable to themselves and others. They make up a small percentage of population.

OBLIGERS are the people pleasers. Most people fall into this category. Obligers are motivated by the fear of disappointing others, but aren't so good at meeting their own expectations. For instance, if an Obliger wants to get more exercise, they'll go for a walk every day if they have a walking partner, BUT if the walking partner happens to be sick one day, they'll probably stay home and eat potato chips on the couch instead. Obligers need accountability from outside sources.

QUESTIONERS are the opposite of Obligers. Questioners are good at keeping promises to themselves, but reject being told what to do. If a Questioner wants to go to the gym regularly, they'll go. However, if someone tells them they have to go to the gym because it will make them healthier, they'll need need statistics and documentation to back up the claim and then they'll make up their own minds to go--if there seems to be a good reason for it. Questioners are accountable only to themselves.

REBELS are the opposite of Upholders. They don't like limitations of any kind--from themselves or others. Among the Four Tendencies, this is the most rare category. When something needs to get done, Rebels have to want to do it. The task has to be fun--otherwise, forget it.

I don't think everyone fits neatly into one of the categories all the time--for example, I define myself as an Obliger with Questioner tendencies--but recognizing what motivates you can have a profound effect on making you a more productive writer.

How can we apply The Four Tendencies to our writing ?

If You're an Upholder...Deadlines from editors are not a problem for you. You know you'll meet that deadline, no problem. However, if you don't have a contract it's important that you set deadlines or goals for yourself whether it be setting time aside each day to write or setting your own deadline for a project. Use specific times and dates.

When it comes to following the advice of editors, you're very cooperative about making changes. However, be careful of your perfectionist tendencies, which can keep you from moving forward.

If You're an Obliger...You'll bend over backwards to meet any deadline because the thought of letting your publisher down strikes fear in your heart. When you're on your own without a deadline, you need to decide on a writing goal (with a specific date) and then tell everyone you know about it. Having others know your goals will keep you accountable.

Like Upholders, you are easy to work with during the editing process. The one pitfall to look out for is that your people-pleasing ways sometimes prevent you from standing your ground. You don't always have to make the suggested changes. Do what feels right and don't be afraid to speak up if it doesn't.

If You're a Questioner...Personal goals and deadlines are important to you--editorial deadlines, not so much. It may help to find out the full publication schedule, then you'll better understand why that particular date was chosen. If you know a few weeks out that you're going to miss a deadline, be sure to give your editor a heads-up. If they know ahead of time, often they can work around the new date.

You tend to push back when given editorial suggestions. While there's nothing wrong with following your gut instinct, try to remember that the ultimate goal for everyone involved is to make your work the best it can be. Take the time to consider a suggestion. Ask all the questions you need to understand the reasoning behind a change. You may discover the reason is valid.

If You're a Rebel...What can I say? If you want to write a book or short story or article, write it; if you don't, don't. Since you like to do things your own way, I wouldn't recommend sending agents proposals or half-finished manuscripts. Write the entire piece the way you like, at your own pace, before sending it out. Maybe self-publishing is the best route for you.

I envy you rebels, being able to write for yourself without worrying about pleasing others. I'm convinced some of our most creative minds are rebels. I would caution you not to adopt that 'difficult artist' persona, however. Find a way to work with others without sacrificing your artistic integrity. Being difficult will only hurt you in the end. But never mind what I think--you're going to do what you want, anyway.

Have you recognized your tendency? How has it hurt/helped your work?

Friday, January 8, 2016

Writing Goals for 2016

Every January I like to take a little time to look back at what I accomplished the previous year and take stock of what needs to be accomplished in the year ahead. I'm a firm believer in setting goals--it's the single most important exercise we freelance writers can do since most of the time we are accountable only to ourselves. Goals help us stay focused and moving forward.

Looking back, here are the goals I made for 2015:

1) Read 52 Books. I'm proud to say that I actually read 54 books. This is a big accomplishment for someone who used to read 1-2 books per month. I used to call myself a slow reader, but not anymore. By signing up for the annual Reading Challenge on Goodreads I made more of an effort to read. The one downside: I was less likely to drop a book that I didn't love because of the time invested.  

2) Post More Often. I was surprised to learn that I achieved this goal, too--but not by much. I posted 22 times last year, which is more than I had the previous three years. Still, not a great number. It was tough keeping my focus on the blog because I was heavily immersed in rewrites.

3) Continue to Build Platform on Social Media. This goal was purposely vague, but I did reach out to my local writers' community and had more engagement than ever before. Also, my blog readership continues to grow.

4) Finish Short Story. Yeah...this didn't happen. I did make headway, though.

5) Finish My Manuscript. I came oh-so-close. I'm in the process of finishing rewrites and hope to be done by the end of January. 

And my one wish for 2015 was...

Sell My Manuscript to a Publisher. This didn't happen, either, because I'm still working on the manuscript. 

With all this in mind, here are my goals for 2016:

1) Read 60 Books--and Some of Them Have to Be Classics. Ok, I'll admit it--part of the reason I was able to read so many books in 2015 is that some of them were pretty slim. Also, at any one time I was reading a work of fiction and a work of non-fiction. When I look over my list for the previous year, I've noticed that I read a lot more memoir and non-fiction because it was a lot easier to read quickly. The fiction I read was mostly contemporary, which can also be easy to read. This year I'm going to dive into some thick novels and some classics that I've never tried. Like War and Peace. There are just so many books to read--it's overwhelming. 

2) Post 36 Times. Instead of being vague, I'm committing to a number. I'm aiming for 3x a month. Still not often enough, but to be honest, coming up with compelling content is not easy. Maybe a book contract will give me lots to write about...

3) Stop complaining. This comes straight out of Elizabeth Gilbert's BIG MAGIC: CREATIVE LIVING BEYOND FEAR. I just devoured this book and will post about it soon. Briefly: Gilbert reminds us that we should approach our work with a grateful, playful attitude and not take ourselves or our work too seriously. Deep in our hearts, we artists know we've got it good, but we feel that if we don't act like it's a struggle, the outside world will think we're just goofing off. We should own our good fortune. So when someone asks how the writing is, I'm not going to sigh and list all my difficulties (after all, no one's making me do it!), instead I'm going to cheerfully say, "It's going well, thanks!"

4)  Finish My Short Story...and Maybe Send It Out? Believe it or not, I've never submitted a short story for publication. I stopped writing short stories the second I graduated from college. I've always seen myself as a novelist, but want to challenge myself by writing something in a different form.

5) Finish and Submit My Manuscript. This is a cheater goal, because I know this is going to happen. I'm only a few weeks away from making this goal. Sometimes you need to throw in a sure thing just so you can feel successful at the end of the year. Will a publisher buy it? That's anyone's guess. It's completely out of my hands, so for now I'm not going to worry about it. My goal is to get my work done--the rest will take care of itself.

So here they are--my humble goals for 2016. Nothing earth-shattering or exciting or all that different from the previous year. This list underscores how the writing life is just a slow and steady continuum. It's perseverance. It's keep on keepin' on for the love of the work--without expectation of glory. It's making a commitment to yourself to create (and finish your creation), even when no one's looking.

What are your writing goals for 2016?