Archives for posts with tag: writing

Alhamdulillah. So ten years ago, around this time, I tinkered with the idea of beginning a blog. It was my way of working myself back to writer-me.

And writer-me wanted to publish a book.

You know how they say persistence pays off? Well it’s true. Here’s proof on goodreads: (The blurb still needs fixing so ignore that) Saints, Misfits, Monster and Mayhem, Simon & Schuster/Salaam Reads – Summer 2017. (And, yes, that review is by my daughter.)

If you’re on goodreads and you’re so inclined to support the publishing of narratives not often seen in the industry, please click the green [Want to Read] button.

What brings tears to my eyes: it will be the first North American YA novel featuring a main character in hijab published by a mainstream publisher. 2017, guys.

It’s seems like a whirlwind of a publishing journey – from query to agent to book deal =  just a bit over 3 months – but I know it actually took ten years.

Because my book deal would not have happened without this blog and its readers. Thank you so much. And, alhamdulillah, truly.

 

Advertisements

So excited about my current work-in-progress! It’s making me wake up EARLY.

Which is something I have to thank my last manuscript for. Among other things, these are some of the ah-has I had while writing it:

  • the amazing-ness that writing in the morning hours is
  • when you hit a wall, take yourself & your laptop to a new location; you will break through somehow (it can be as simple as writing in another room or, my favorite, an episode of writing in Istanbul, overlooking the Bosphorus)
  • imagery is so important to the process of acquainting yourself with a new world (or a discover-again world); use photographs as aids
  • if a certain part of your story becomes dead and you dread picking it up again, go back to where it was still enjoyable to write and begin again; if you don’t want to write it, no one will want to read it
  • liven scenes with sensory details
  • always plot with all the threads – be a fair writer
  • organization and set-up allows creativity to flow more freely; pantsing & plotting go hand-in-hand

I am not a multi-tasker. When I teach, I teach. When I cook, I cook. When I write, I roam the moors and shires of my mind, scythe in hand.

I can only focus on one thing at a time.

So when my puff-cloud of a dream of becoming published, anchored FOR THIRTY-TWO years, left Earth and embarked on a swift ascent in a manner uncharacteristic of cumulus matter (i.e. I signed with a literary agent within three weeks of submitting my manuscript), I kept on cutting construction paper and getting band-aids and talking about the differences between a square pyramid and a triangular prism. With weird mechanical calm.

Sure I shared with friends and family and my yoga teacher, but I didn’t SCREAM AND FLAIL AND GO INTO A HAPPINESS COMA – like I imagined I would when I cracked the code of getting someone in the industry to say, hey, this might be sorta good, this two hundred page thing she’s been working on for five years.

I am still waiting for the giddy.

BECAUSE, GUYS, EVERYONE, MY-SEVENTH-GRADE-TEACHER-MS. ZULTEK-WHO-STARTED-MY-WRITERLY-OBSESSION: MY BOOK MAY HAVE A CHANCE OF BECOMING PUBLISHED!

Let us back up and trace how it is that this white puffy wonder that is my writing aspiration snapped its sail to set off. (I’ll drop the cloud metaphor now that it’s getting unmanageable, like pirates are waiting to enter stage left.)

In 2007 I decided I wanted to return to pursuing my publishing goal. The one I’d chased since I was a child and gotten a degree for in the 90’s but placed on hold to parent two children and be everything else.

In 2009, I took a year off work to write. I wrote the novel that taught me how to write beyond a short story/article. It was bad. Very bad – it even had a scene where a silverfish (yes, the insect) helped the main character of a contemporary young adult novel make the decision that would bring the story to its climax. No it wasn’t magic realism. And no, the main character wasn’t on drugs.

Still I queried this thing because, damn, I’d worked on it for FIVE MONTHS! And wonder of wonders, out of the five queries + pages I sent out, I got two full requests – and from Writers House and ICM to boot! The lovely Tina Wexler read it ALL and suggested things I needed to work on and even offered to be there for a revise and resubmit. (I still cringe on imagining her face when the pivotal silverfish crawled in.)

I went back to teaching but also came back home to work. I read about what goes wrong in novels and what makes things go right. I went on a revision retreat in Boston with writing mentors. And I saw that this first novel was a trunk novel, the kind you put in a drawer and close tight.

But one character in it, the one everyone loved without fail, crawled out of the drawer.

She wanted her own story. In early 2011, I let her start it via a private blog. When her story started to take shape and form, I plotted it a bit and teased all the threads and wove them with equity a la J.K. Rowling’s most magnificent spreadsheet. I kept doing this: micro writing and macro planning and weaving, always in bits.

I worked on it for three more years. And it was done. I had two great critique partners and six beta readers.

They loved it but I didn’t. The beginning wasn’t working for me. One of my critique partners agreed that it wasn’t as strong as the rest of the book. But she couldn’t figure out what was wrong either.

So for another year, I worked on just the beginning. I vacillated between wondering if I was just hiding my fear of failure behind this excuse and knowing with certitude that I needed my novel to be in tip-top-silverfish-free shape before I queried again.

Last year, I decided to do a query-run. Again sent out 5. No bites. I knew the query and first pages had to be strong and, frankly, they weren’t.

In December, I wondered what it would feel like to not want to be a writer. I imagined the freedom. I did that for three days before I went sobbing back to the keyboard.

And in that reaffirmation of my dream, I found a beginning that worked better for me.

During March Break, I wrote a query I liked, no double-guessing involved. I sent it out before the break ended, figuring it would take about three months to know if my book had a chance – just in time for summer vacation, when I could spend more time on my writing.

Instead, I got a steady stream of immediate requests for the full manuscript from rockstar agents I’d considered untouchable. In shock, I complied.

Then, offers of representation! I cried and wanted to jump on the first one – which was from a highly-sought after agent I’d queried after I saw my pitch was working.

That’s when experienced friends stepped in. Published people who helped me hone in on what kind of a published writer I wanted to be. With their guidance, I allowed myself to envision my career as an author.

And with that in mind, I chose THE agent that fit my writerly-style and writerly-aspirations: John M. Cusick from Folio Jr. Literary!

johnmcusick

Guys, guys, guys, I have to gush here because I’m so thankful that I took the time to think things through and ask questions. John has insight, strong sales and industry experience but more importantly, he came with resounding recommendations, has a communication style that fits my impatient-bratty-self and most most amazing, he’s a writer himself! The kindred spiritedness that springs between writers – I’ve never found that with any other human species when the topic of writing comes up and with John, I got a strong sense of his true passion for writing and writers.

That’s who I want to begin my (please God, LONG) writing career with. I am so so so excited!

Okay, cue pirates. Enter moor, stage left, sidestep crawling insect, and start your story – I’m more than ready to write it down…

2296485013_4ddc2fd8cb_m

photo by Oliver Dodd

 

P.S. Getting this far took a long time but it would have taken even longer without the many great writers out there who actively share what they’ve learned. I’m always willing to share what I’ve learned – both from them and from my experiences – so if anybody has any questions/wonderings, please do let me know. I’d love to help others with their own dream clouds.

Writers, listen to this until the very sweet slightly tedious end:

We are gathered here today, dearly beloved, to talk about beginnings. Why they sometimes suck. Well, for me.

Beginnings are introductions. And I’m an ambivert, bad at introductions, good when things get going, great when there’s action, awesome when it’s time to say good-bye and the exchanging of numbers, information and business cards are happening.

I’m shy and hesitant initially – because I don’t know if you’ll like who I am and what I offer. When there’s warmth and things are safe, I let myself be and then hopefully, you’ll like what you see.

My first meet with my husband was like that. I was quiet for the most part but then our second meet was in a bookstore and that’s safety-city for moi, so I was me. And we got married seven months later.

This pattern unfortunately presents itself in my writing. I’ve worked on this but it reasserts itself in every new project.

New writers need a leg in the door and that leg starts with a foot called the first five to ten pages. And this foot’s supposed to be your best foot.

Alas, my foot is not the prettiest.

I’ve read most of the recommended books on the importance of your manuscript’s opening and I’ve done the work (start later, ditch the backstory or weave it seamlessly, start with inciting incident, NO prologue etc) but beginning the beginning right is not my forte.

I know this because I’ve had the awful but lovely experience where a new writing teacher/professor/mentor reads my work with pen striking often in the initial pages, admonishing inks becoming sparse on the next few pages and then disappearing in the middle only to reappear at the end with a Bravo! or an A+ or an I can’t wait to read more of your work.

They don’t go on being so critical on the openings of my subsequent pieces, but the uniformity of responses to my introductory set-ups have made a deep impression on me.

So I kind of play around with my beginnings a lot.

Is it a form of procrastination? I don’t think so – because I do send work out. Is it a form of perfectionism? Yes, that it is.

I try to console myself that other notable books have less than stellar beginnings. But they all made it in the door somehow. Their feet squeezed through.

Okay, back to pedicuring my MSs.

My manuscripts, all lined up. Ugh. Photo by Vern Hart

One day I woke up and I was in my 40s. Early 40s, but when did this happen?

I know the truth is that I forever will feel these four ages: three, seven, fourteen and twenty-one, with bouts of thirty-six. My husband pegs me as having the heart of the second of the ages I listed. After seven solid years of marriage, he’s still in awe of my marveling at simple joys and amusements.

But I think the feeling of forty is creeping up on me. So I anticipate the dawning of wisdom. I’ve heard that’s what happens during your forties. (As long as your forties are not the new twenties. Please God no.)

Looking back from this wisdom-awaiting position, I see my thirties were my pivotal years. I felt the most at peace with where I was headed, because I changed directions. I left my stagnant marriage, had a good divorce, as outlined in the Qur’an, and worked on my self, my deen and my relationships with loved ones. I started this blog in 2006 to capture some of the journey back.

I believe the work I did on finding the best me led me to be able to meet the love of her life. There was no bitterness or defensive chip on my shoulder when I went for coffee with my soon-to-be life partner. I presented myself, the one I’d uncovered.

So my thirties were beautiful.

And my twenties? They belonged unconditionally to my children – I sprang to be The Most Devoted Mother with gutso. I shoved myself, squashed myself actually, in tending to them. My early thirties taught me to balance me & them. My mid-to-late thirties forced me to balance me, the children and my husband.

What do I want of my forties? I want big wisdom. The kind that sees beyond the immediate situation immediately. Not after the fact, when the deed is done, and I’m holed up reflecting. Is it too much to hope for that first-aid kind of wisdom? The type that can stop the flow of blood, the flow of wrong decisions, word-choices, actions with paramedic calm?

I want my forties to be when I get published. Big-time published. I love writing too much to have it sit there accumulating in my dad’s old university bag from the sixties (because it is). In the ten years I’ve turned back to my craft, I’ve learned that I can be patient and that I can plod-on and that I can keep up. Now, it’s time to make my mark.

My son, in third year University, tells me that everyone’s talking about intersectionality. I looked it up and read about it. I couldn’t completely understand it, like I would’ve understood it when I was in University and my mind was in Derrida-land, but the seven year-old in me likes the simple intersection(s) idea. That my identity is made up of multiple identities, a series of crossed lines and the point in the middle is the me no one else is.

That’s the point from which I want to make my mark as a writer.

As a micro writer, I’m not used to revising in the way it’s understood to mean: re-working a draft to get to the story. This inexperience is due to the fact that I’m constantly chipping as I write; continuously re-reading, re-arranging, re-envisioning my words as I lay them down. Each time I open scrivener* to write a new chapter, I re-read my whole or most of my manuscript and cut/re-arrange as needed. (It can take hours to get to the actual writing part.) Each time I pick up from where I left off when my last complete thought finished, I have to back up and read every sentence before it. (Like the sentences in this paragraph were played around with quite a few times. Okay, maybe SEVERAL times.)

I’m not going to lament that all they teach you in creative writing/mfa programs at universities is how to write a tidy, lyrical short story and how different that is than writing an entire book with a PLOT. I think I’ve ranted on that enough in another blog. And anyways Ann Patchett does the lamenting way more brilliantly and with way more logical sense in her writing memoir, The Getaway Car – a must for every aspiring writer to read.

Short stories need a different sort of revising. Micro writers will find no discomfort in doing that sort of revising because essentially it’s what we already do: check the flow.

But a book now. That is one big unwieldy thing to keep still enough to check the flow on. Check the flow in all directions and with all threads.  Just thinking of all the times I’ve grappled with this makes me weary.

So I gathered my saved bookmarks of great revision tips and printed them out and bindered them up and they have become my personal coaches.

IMG_2916

Here are some links if you are so inclined (mostly or maybe all from writers of Young Adult books):

Laurie Halse Anderson’s Revision Roadmap

Veronica Roth’s Revision Day One, Day Two and Day Three

Mary Beth Lundgren’s PDF of collected final revision checklist

Darcy Pattison’s 2 Amazing Ways to Revise Your Novel (And When to Use Them)

Maggie Stiefvater’s From Rough to Final: A Dissection of Revision

Janice Hardy’s The Spit Shine: Things to Check Before You Submit

Hope this helps other aspiring authors out there.

*and, psss, if you don’t have scrivener, get it! It’s a must for writing big things.

Love this piece about sending/putting your writing out there: The Art of Submission: Why we submit.

I discovered that literary journals consider things you’ve put on your blog as being in the category of PUBLISHED PREVIOUSLY. Which they then don’t accept as publishable pieces.

And since I have a few blogs I keep, my writing has been PUBLISHED PREVIOUSLY in plenty of spaces. (Who knew it was so easy to be published, huh?)

I’m hoping to merge my many blogs one day so I’ll do a link here to the brief one I kept while away from home; the first post:  Snowflakes in Doha. The blog is called Marvels & Oddities and it was an attempt to balance my positive impressions with my I-wanna-go-back-home impressions. The latter was my predominant penchant.

 

%d bloggers like this: