Tuesday, January 31, 2012

At Last! Principle the Ninth


Or maybe that should read, "Redefine the Terms Success and Failure."

Once when I appeared on a panel, an audience member asked a) how many kids I have and b) how many books I've published. I answered, "I have five kids, and I've published eleven books." And then suddenly THESE surprising words flew out of my mouth: "But I wish I have eleven kids and five books."

Which . . . isn't true. Hello. ELEVEN KIDS? Apparently I just had one of those little mini-strokes you're always reading about. And besides, that's not what I really meant. What I really meant to say is that I have other meaningful things in my life besides a career . . . just like you do. Family. Friends. Hobbies. Cupcakes. Dogs. A church life. Mexican food. Road trips. Satisfying TV shows. Novels. My garden.

Sometimes, though, we start tossing that label FAIL around when we don't achieve what we want to in certain arenas. And we start stretching that label to define everything about us, which is . . . silly. Why devalue the things about our lives that we value?

(BTW m-m-m-m-m. Cupcakes.)

Monday, January 30, 2012

Okay. Back to Work. Guiding Principle the Eighth


Oh gosh. This can be SOOOOOO hard to do. Especially when you really, really, really, really, really want something someone else has.

True Story. A few (maybe even 15?) years ago I was consumed by envy of another writer* who shall remain nameless. But I will mention that she is incredibly talented. Also physically beautiful. Also downright kind. WHY DO TALENTED, BEAUTIFUL WRITERS ALSO HAVE TO BE DOWNRIGHT KIND? IT MAKES THEM SO HARD TO HATE.

Anyway, my career felt like it was going nowhere at the same time hers shot into the stratosphere. And I will confess that I partook of the Jealousy Apple. I hated feeling like that--all wormy on the inside--but I couldn't help myself.

And then one day those feelings were gone. Poof! Just like that. I hadn't gotten any more successful or mature. I was just the recipient of a strange, supernatural grace. People, I was delivered from myself.

The experience led me to reflect on the nature of envy, which is certainly an enormous occupational hazard. I just knew I never ever wanted to feel consumed by jealousy in that pre-grace way again. Shannon Hale's grandma was right when she said, "Feeling jealous is like drinking poison and expecting it to hurt the other guy." (Thanks for that, Shannon! I quote you and your grandmother on this subject a lot.)

This is why I try hard now to celebrate the success that any of us has a writer. Notes. Flowers. Phone calls. Whatever. Do I still feel jealous? Sure. Sometimes. But who says you can't feel happy for someone else and a little envious at the same time?

After all, we're only human.

*I'm pretty sure you won't guess who it is, so don't worry about it.

Friday, January 27, 2012

We Interrupt This Principled Discussion Again

Before we proceed, take a look at this.

Sara Z. provided this link for everyone who feels diminished by what they see on other people's blogs. It's a good reality check. I looked at it last night and suddenly wondered if this Principled Discussion is having the same effect on you, my Cyber Family.

I'm wondering if I've included too many success stories here. I want to make it very, very clear that I'm a muddler. I try and fail and try and fail and fail and fail and try some more, and it all feels incredibly messy. Not only that but I often revert back to that place where I don't take risks, where I don't pursue opportunities, where I don't do the real work. So I just want you to know we're all in this together.

Discussion resumes next week. This won't take long to wrap up. I'm almost out of principles.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Guiding Principle the Seventh


This is my new (and daily) mantra. I have to say it over and over, because I am notoriously resistant to change. Always have been.


Everything about my professional world is changing--book-selling, publishing, newspapering. I feel like we're in the middle of another Industrial Revolution and no one knows exactly where it's going. I've resisted the digital/electronic thing as much as possible. But I've finally just had to tell myself, "Sweetheart"--I like to call myself Sweetheart for self-esteem purposes--"Sweetheart, the horse is out of the barn. You gotta accept that fact and try to make all this strange new-ness work for you."

So there we are. Check back with me in ten years to see how I did.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Guiding Principle the Sixth


A lot of people want to write books, and I say yay! But wanting to write one and actually writing one are (sadly) two separate things. I know a writer who has already planned a monster, cross-country book tour, down to that writer's outfit (awesome hats are involved). However . . . there's no manuscript yet.

Writing is often hard work, which is why it's so easy to avoid doing it. But it's doable work. Set realistic daily goals and then carve out the time to achieve them. Right now I'm happy if I can get down 500 words a day. But if I keep this up (and I've said this before here, so forgive me for repeating myself), there will be a book at the end of the tunnel.

Possibly a crappy book.

But that's not the point.

The point is that you gotta make a plan and roll up your sleeves. And then roll your sleeves down again if it's freaking cold in your house. Obv.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Guiding Principle the Fifth


I am acquainted with an author who wants to write a novel for young adults. So this individual writes novels with young adults in them. The problem? They're not young adult novels. A teenage character in a book does not automatically equal a young adult novel. The above-mentioned author, however, doesn't realize this, because the above-mentioned author has never read an actual young adult novel.

Which is a problem. OBVIOUSLY.

You have to know who your audience is--what they like, what they expect, what they'll tolerate and what they won't. And then you write for that audience.

Sometimes it helps to write to a single person. I always write my columns for my brother Jimmy. I try to make him laugh. I figure if he laughs, someone else out there might laugh, too. My colleague (such a fancy word!) Robert Kirby at the Trib has said he likes to write columns for his mother-in-law because she was (God rest her soul) easy to offend. And sometimes he likes to (surprise!) get a rise out of folks.

The point is--know who your audience is, know how you want them to respond, and go for it.

Monday, January 23, 2012

We Interrupt This Principled Discussion

. . . to tell you what I did this morning.

1. I met Lisa B. for breakfast, and
2. I refused to pay for my parking space with a credit card, so I
3. worried a little between bites of sausage and egg whites if
4. Mayor Becker was gonna get on his bike and
5. personally give me a ticket, in which case I
6. would have to explain that I didn't pay for my parking spot
7. because I am totally pissed off about credit card meters
8. for a variety of reasons, one of which is
9. that I can never remember what my stall number is by the time
10. I get to the payment booth, so then I have to
11. walk back to my stall to re-check the number over and over
12. like I have OCD, and also
13. WTH you can't tell if there's any time left over in a parking spot like you can with coins, which
14. makes me even pissier, and yes
15. I hold Mayor Becker and his bicycle personally responsible; the good news
16. is that apparently he got the ANN-IS-PISSED memo, because
17. I didn't get a ticket.
18. And also I had a nice breakfast.
19. Thanks for that, Mayor!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Guiding Principle the Fourth


You may have writing opportunities that don't interest you much, but maybe you should think twice before rejecting them--especially at the beginning of your career.

Okay, so I knew early on I wanted to write YA novels. Still, when an opportunity to be an in-house writer for a bunch of MLM companies all over the company presented itself, I took it, mostly because the money was good and my employer promised to upgrade my computer. Anyhoo. I acquired a fairly valuable skill set while I did this. I learned how to . . .

a. write for a closely defined audience
b. write on a tight deadline
c. write to a set word count

And guess what? I now do those things every time I write a column for the Trib. Thanks for that, MLM companies! And thanks, too, for providing me with material I used later on when I wrote AMAZING GRACIE.

No writing is wasted writing.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Guiding Principle the Third


I think that's awesome advice, don't you? The only problem is I realize I got mixed up and already told you my pursuing-the-unexpected-opportunity-which-led-to-my-writing-for-Utah-Holiday story.


So instead I'm going to invite you to come listen to me and Louise Plummer talk about books that turned us into readers at the BRAND! NEW! SPRINGVILLE! LIBRARY! tonight at 7:00.

More tomorrow, kids!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Guiding Principle the Second


Getting rejected sucks. It sucked when I first started sending out stuff 30 years ago, and it still sucks today. In fact, sometimes it sucks harder. You start to wonder if the game has passed you by, and suddenly you get so sad you start wandering around the house with a forlorn expression on your face while singing "Send in the Clowns."


The fact is that a lot of great writing doesn't get (immediately) (if ever) picked up because that cliche is true: "doesn't meet our needs at this time."

Also, sometimes you and your innocent little manuscript wander into a larger context that you know nothing about. Example. I used to write scripts for Music and the Spoken Word. I know! I'm a former Sermonette Writer! Anyway, I wrote my scripts for years, submitted them, and collected my paycheck. Occasionally I had to re-write, but usually I nailed it with the Tabernacle folks on the first go around.

And then one day . . .

My scripts started getting rejected. And I had to re-write. Over and over. Also, over.

Okay, I am really not a diva. I am a big fan of re-writing, and I take editorial direction well. But I couldn't understand what was happening, nor did the edits always make sense to me. Then one day I DID figure out what was happening. There'd been a corporate reorganization, and suddenly there were lots of new voices sounding off about my little scripts. And, in fact, my scripts were sometimes battlegrounds where egos clashed and duked it out.

At least I think that's what happened. Maybe I just started writing crappy scripts.

I suspect, however, the rejection on that front didn't always have a ton to do with me personally.

Another day. Another Guiding Principle. Thanks for listening.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Guiding Principle the First


For people who want to write, the biggest risk (often) is sending something out. But here's the deal. No one's gonna come hammering on your door, BEGGING you to see that manuscript you're too afraid to share. So put it out there. And while you're at it, put yourself out there.

I am not a natural born networker. I was grotesquely shy when I was younger. And now I'm just (kinda) fat and (thoroughly) lazy. But I do like to remind myself of that time when I forced myself to go to a party where I knew absolutely NO ONE and met the editor of Utah Holiday who (upon discovering that I was from that wasteland, aka in his world as "Utah County") told me to find out about a Junior Great Books controversy brewing in Lehi and write something about it for him.

Which I did.

When I showed up at his office a week later, he was surprised I'd followed through, which was instructive in and of itself. How many of us don't follow up on opportunities? He published the piece, and for a few years thereafter I often had a feature article in the magazine.

Anyhoo. Take risks.


Monday, January 16, 2012

But first! This!

Okay, so Ken had shoulder surgery today, and both of us misunderestimated (thanks, George Bush!) how long all that takes. I am planning to start up the Principles Discussion tomorrow.

Meanwhile, El Ken is comfortable, which is always how I feel when I'm on drugs. (Thanks, drugs!) Also, he is wearing support hose, and all I can say is dude has seriously good-looking legs--trim ankles, nice calves, lovely thighs. It's enough to make a girl jealous.

Tomorrow then!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Seven (plus two!) Guiding Principles

Yesterday I visited with the Master's Track class at Westminster and shared nine things I've learned over the course of my writing career. I've given a variation of this talk before--also wrote a piece for WRITER'S DIGEST a few years ago based on the talk. Back then, however, I had only learned seven things, but now it's up to nine . . .

Anyhoo! For the next week I'm gonna devote a post-a-day to these principles. Hope you'll tune in.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Empty Nesters, pt. 1

Here's the dealio about LIFE: you never know how a thing's gonna be until you actually experience that thing. If you have a good imagination, you can figure out part--sometimes even a lot--of it before hand. Still, when you're in the thick of a new experience, some things surprise you.

For instance, I realize I now have to build extra time into any departure strategy from the house, because the dogs need to be let out and also retrieved before I take off. I used to have back up. I could say to Geoff or Q, "Hey, Geoff or Q! Let the dogs out for me, okay?"

But I can't do that now that one of them lives in Provo and the other one lives in Logan.

There's a thing I didn't expect. See what I mean?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Wednesday Stats (with a nod to Lisa B.)

Over at High Touch Megastore, Lisa B. is fond of posting personal "stats." I am so in love with these entries of hers that I am brazenly stealing the format and using it myself. Thanks for that, Lisa B.!

CONSUMED: Two cans of Dr. Pepper, half a glass of Coke, cocoa, a scrambler with sun-dried tomatoes and artichoke hearts, hash browns, 3 cookies, 3 bites of a Snickers bar

WANT TO CONSUME: Vast amounts of Mexican food

MOOD: Lazy

LISTENED TO: Some generic heavy metal on some new generic heavy metal station on the car radio--was too lazy to change the channel

HEARD: That the Black Keys are coming to town in May--feel too lazy to buy tickets

VISITED WITH: Three of the five sons on the telephone and one of the two cats not on the telephone

CONFERRED WITH: Nicole from Westminster about her Masters Track Program

WROTE: Rough draft of a column wherein I discuss my desire to consume vast amounts of Mexican food in January

WATCHED: More MSNBC than is good for your brain


DECISIONS PENDING: Should Ken and I stay in tonight or go eat Mexican

Monday, January 9, 2012


Just heard from my Viking editor, the lovely Catherine Frank, who said she received her advance copy of SOPHIE'S FISH this weekend. Haven't seen mine yet, but I'm guessing it'll show up in the next day or two.

I'm very excited about this picture book, which hits the shelves on March 15. I dedicated it to Rick Walton, who has inspired and helped so many local writers. And I want to give Linda Bethers, who was in a picture book writing class with me, a big shout out for helping me find my way to the ending.

Yay for whopping fish stories!

Friday, January 6, 2012

I Meant to Set a Few More Goals

. . . but instead I spent the day running interference for a son passing a kidney stone. He's doing fine tonight, although I have doubts about myself. I knew I was losing it when I wondered aloud where kidney stones originate. (HINT: not the lungs.)

I am looking forward to sitting on my bed in old lady stretchy pants where I can knit and watch TV in comfort. Yay, comfort!

Thursday, January 5, 2012

And may I say . . .

I did love reading all your suggestions about how to make my next Christmas more satisfying. THANK YOU. I want to marry you guys. All of you! Set a date, and let me know.

So I'm gonna be discussing goals this week. I like goals, actually. They give me direction and a yardstick with which to measure my efforts by. (Geez. THAT was an awkward mouthful.)

My number one goal this year is to take a little bit better care of myself mental health-wise. I think I've indicated here that last year turned out to be surprisingly challenging for me, even though so many lovely things happened. Some time last February I got knocked back on my heels and never quite recovered.

So this year I want to be a little more proactive, which means I will . . .

1. Sit under my light box faithfully each morning.
2. Exercise daily.
3. Take the Celexa through March.
4. Do busy--but don't do too busy.
5. Embrace the season, by which I mean to notice and savor the pleasures inherent to a particular time of year.

Ah. Setting goals is just so satisfying.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

I resolve

Yes. I have resolutions this year. And I'll get around to posting those this week. But first I want to deconstruct the holiday that just was.

Yesterday as I was boxing up stuff I said to myself, "Self, I never want to feel this way again after Christmas," i.e. totally GRATEFUL that Christmas is over. It's not that I want to be all "Oh no! Christmas is all over! Now I have to put my head in the oven!" But I do want to feel like I enjoyed the season the way I have in the past.

This year, though, I just felt crushed by it all. Flattened. Steamrollered. Is steamrollered even a word? Or did I just make that up? I felt tired and stressed and so grumpy that I thought if I heard another carol I would rip my ears off my head with my own bare hands. And the music is usually my favorite part of Christmas.

What happened to me? How can I prevent this from happening again? Help me Obiwan Kenobi! Please, help me!

Thoughts, anyone?

(And btw I missed you.)