Monday, June 25, 2012

Write Those Novels While Ye May

Envy is pretty common in the author world. We tell each other it's not productive. We tell ourselves to focus on our own progress, our own work, our own success. But still, it's hard not to feel jealous sometimes of someone else's great book deal, or awesome review, or amazing marketing plan, or superstar agent if you're still in the agent-querying phase of your career.

I've been there. Of course I have. But the thing I find myself most jealous of these days isn't money, marketing or new contracts (though I'd happily take all of those). It's time.

I see fellow authors without children or day jobs (or authors with older children who now have lots of free time) Tweeting and Facebooking about spending all day on their WIPs, or about going to conferences and writer's retreats, and it makes me green. Time is probably the most valuable asset we have in a day when authors not only have to write great books, but they also are expected to be their own marketing teams. And what ticks me off is that I didn't make the most of it when I had it.

I didn't start writing books seriously until I'd had my first child. I wrote before I had kids; in fact, I started RIVAL a year or so before getting pregnant. But I spent most of that glorious free time doing things like napping, watching TV and going out with my husband and friends. Something about being a working mom snapped everything into focus for me. I started writing at least 500 words a day. I started working toward getting an agent. It was as if I suddenly understood just how precious those couple of hours were each night, after my little one was in bed and I had the choice to either veg online or do something productive, like write and publish a novel.

I talk a lot in blogs and author visits about how I manage to work, raise a family and write books.  I don't want to imagine a world without my children and I love what I do for a living, so I make time for novel writing, however limited that time might be. I've been very public about my lack of sympathy for people who talk about wanting to write but then lack the discipline to sit their butts in a chair and do it. And I know authors with more children and much more demanding jobs who manage to be much more prolific than me. In short, I don't think being busy is an excuse not to write novels, if that's what you really feel called to do. 

Every now and then, though, when I see a Tweet about a marathon novel-writing day from an author in a different stage of her life--someone who doesn't have the responsibilities of children or a mortgage or a job that isn't writing books--I can't help thinking, "Ah... man!"

But it isn't so much the time that I envy, it's the fact that these young authors are making the most of the time they have. I wish I'd had the discipline and the foresight to do more marathon writing days back when that didn't mean finding a sitter or negotiating equal time with my husband. I admire authors who don't take time for granted, and I know I never will again--even when my children are grown and I suddenly have more time than I know what to do with. For now, I do what I can with what I have, and remind myself that my seemingly limited resources have actually allowed me to write several books already. In this case, envy not only isn't productive, it's a waste of time I don't have!

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

On Choosing One's Words...

At my last school visit one of the teachers came up to me, full of praise for RIVAL. "It has such a powerful message about friendship--just the kind of thing our girls need to read," he said. "It's too bad we can't give your book to our middle school students."

The reason? RIVAL contains a decent amount of swearing. And this isn't the first time I've heard readers, librarians, teachers and parents mention it, which weirds me out because when I was writing it, I didn't feel like it was a particularly foul-mouthed book. My work is nowhere near what you'd call "edgy." Compared with many other YAs, my books are fairly sweet and clean. But I write the way I hear my characters speak, and they speak like today's teens, which means they occasionally have potty mouths.

I don't mean to give the impression that RIVAL is littered with f-bombs. Though it did surprise me when one blog did a tally of all the swear words in the book. I didn't think there were *that* many. And now I wish I'd thought twice about some of the language I used.

I know authors who feel like they shouldn't have to censor themselves at all. Kids are hearing and saying those words, and worse. Of course they are. And our books need to reflect their lives. Certain topics and certain voices demand that kind of honesty. I, personally, am not offended by swearing in literature for teens.

But when I look at my book, and the instances where foul language is used, I have to be honest and say that I could easily have found different words. None are vital to my story or to any character's voice, and I hate to think that a few cuss words might be the one thing keeping RIVAL out of some libraries and schools--that girls who might really love the book might have a harder time finding it.

I'm often asked if I have advice for debut authors, and this has become one of my biggies: If swearing is necessary for your book, then don't shy away from it. But if you can choose less-offensive options, and thus open more doors for your books to get read, then you might want to consider a lighter touch. That's what I'm doing with all of my new projects--so if you see an off-color word, you'll know I thought long and hard and decided it really, really, really needed to be in there!