Back to School

Sharpen Those Pencils

Hi friends!

And welcome new friends! Thanks for bearing with me while I took some time off to parent and rest. School just started this week in NYC which is so late! But we’re on our way back to a routine and boy oh boy do I love a routine. I’m excited to tackle some meaty, fun stuff in the coming weeks, and glad to have you’re here, too.

If you’re new here--welcome! You can find a bunch of helpful posts linked in the sidebar of the homepage and you can search the archive by hitting that little gray arrow at the top of the page (when viewing on the website, not in email). For paid subscribers, you get two awesome features! Thursdays we either do a Q&A Thursday or the Fifty Queries Club, a query critique for those of you who’ve been at it a while. If you have a question for the Q&A, just reply to any Thursday email and it’ll come straight to me. Thanks for signing up! Hope you enjoy it!

I LOVE back to school time. I love summer, but I also love sweaters and jeans, new pencils and notebooks. New routines, new opportunities. It’s a chance to start over with the knowledge you gained in the last year. In my mind, the calendar peaks in September, not January, and it’s just a loop getting back to there every year.

In my writing life, though, I often get very caught up in new routines, and especially new notebooks, thinking that is what will save me, solve things, lead to more productivity. A new app. A new way to organize a plot. A new color coded system. Writing for 18 minutes before I’ve had my coffee. Sometime, anything, to get myself back on track.

A lot of these things work for people! Organizing your things, your thoughts, is helpful! I’m a BIG fan of outlining. I love notebooks and will use any excuse to buy a new, pretty one. I am currently looking at a stack of index cards that I thought would revolutionize my current writing project when I created them—and I haven’t looked at them since. I am not an index card person, no matter how hard I try.

What I am learning, what I have learned, is that I am a routine person, but in writing, I am not necessarily a system person. Or, a new ~~system~~ is not what is going to help me—routine will. Writing will. Just…..writing, as often as I can, for whatever time I have. The more frequently I touch the thing I am working on, the fresher it stays in my mind, the clearer I can see what I’m doing and what I’ve done, the longer I think of it when I’m not writing, which is where the knots get untangled. Five minutes, thirty minutes, 🙏 🙏 🙏 an hour!!! 🙏 🙏 🙏 , whatever I can get, that’s what makes a difference in my work. So—writing?? That’s the secret? Actually doing the writing?? Revolutionary.

I am also not a YOU MUST WRITE EVERYDAY person. One missed day and I get so discouraged. It leads me to an all or nothing mindset and that doesn’t work for me either. What works for me—and what I want to work toward—is writing most days. Most! What a welcoming, attainable, forgiving concept.

But beyond all that, this type of self-knowledge, gained over time, is what also makes a big difference in your writing life. Whether your goal is productivity or refinement or whatever, knowing how you work is more valuable than any plan or scheme or new app. Use the tools that will help you, but don’t expect the tools to solve all your problems.

I have been stalling for a long time on what I’m working on. I might ditch it. I’m not sure I like it or want to keep working on it. That’s ok. I don’t really mind putting aside 100+ pages. (I mean, I don’t enjoy it, but sometimes that’s what happens). ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I try not to think about things that don’t work out as “wasted” time or energy. You learn something from every sentence you write. It’s not only valuable if it gets published.

I am wishing you sharpened pencils and cozy sweaters and a renewed energy to do the work you want to do, at the pace you can do it. We’re all still running on empty these days, so this is not a GO GO GO BE PRODUCTIVE AT ALL COSTS message. If you’re worrying about time lost or flagging energy or not being “productive,” give yourself a little break. And remember, it’s not a new system that is going to make you productive; it’s a sentence and then another and then another. Maybe just those three one day. Maybe six the next. It all adds up.

Starting Thursday, I’m writing a column at Catapult as part of their Don’t Write Alone series about BOOK CONTRACTS!!!! The first one is about money, especially figuring out where in your contract it tells you how much and when you get it. A little at a time, I hope to demystify some of the more important parts of contracts so writers aren’t completely lost when they read one. Enjoy!

OUT NEXT WEEK! Dana Middleton’s charming, heartfelt, funny, exciting middle grade magical realism novel NOT A UNICORN. Kirkus said it’s “for anyone who needs a reminder that they are perfect just as they are.” Pre-order now!

Glad to be back, friends. Subscribers, send in your Q&A’s for the next Q&A. And get vaccinated. Please.