When Other People Get Good News

The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.

As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.

I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.

My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.

Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.

The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.

I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding12wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.

My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print.  My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.

I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.




NaNoWriMo: Stands For…?

Image found here

N is for Not Doing the Laundry and Writing Instead
A is for All the Decaying Food in the Fridge Looks More Tempting Than Writing
N is for Never-ending Licks from a Grooming Cat Who Insists on Shoving Your Laptop Off Your Lap
O is for Obnoxious Cat Who Scratches Your Chair While You Write
W is for Why Am I Doing This to Myself?
R is for Resentment of All Those Who Are Making the 2500-Words-a-Day Goal
I is for I’m Not Up for This
M is for Mentioning Your Pitiful Word Count Too Many Times on Facebook
O is for Opportunities, Dreams, and Hopes That This Month Fosters

If you’re a writer, what’s the best part of NaNoWriMo? The worst? If you’re a teacher of writing, what can a day of NaNoWriMo teach you–and remind you of what we ask our students to do weekly?

I’ve begun a new novel, THE CHASTITY CLUB, part of a NERD GIRLS series of books with Wendy’s story as the inaugural tale. I’m 6,500-some words in, with a good 3,000 written prior to NaNoWriMo, but who’s counting?

Meanwhile, I’m still querying agents for HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT and weighing my self-publishing options.

If NaNoWriMo stands for anything, it’s the belief that fuel my writing mission: Fall 8 times, stand up 9. Just keep writing, seeking, trying.

For more prompts on NaNoWriMo, visit my 2011 post.

Yes, Virginia, It is Rocket Science

Doris makes teaching look so easy, doesn’t she?

Those of you who follow my blog know I write YA fiction, but you may not also know that I’m a former high school and middle school teacher (15 years), an online instructor, and a teacher trainer. That my other consuming passion is writing lessons for teachers and talking shop with them. I’ve authored, co-authored, or contributed to four different works on the art of lesson design.

That’s right, I said “art.” And let me mix metaphors, in a major way, right now: The art of lesson design is rocket science. An excellent unit of instruction is hard to launch, you have a million variables to consider, and everyone is watching you fail.

Yet there are people who talk about teaching as if they could step in and take a teacher’s job tomorrow. These are the same people who would never dare presume to talk about their lawyer, doctor, or plumber’s skill with any type of knowledge or dare say, “Excuse me, I could do that!”

But let me reel myself in here: this post is not a rant against those who have done seat time in a classroom, apparently suffered, and then look down their noses the rest of their lives at the teaching profession.

Though I do believe it would be a lot of fun to see those folks take on a full day of teaching and see where they are by 3:00 PM. I’d like to be there to tell them to, “Peel yourself off the floor; keep going. Your day has just begun. You have parent phone calls to make; practice/club/rehearsal to run; papers to grade; meetings to attend. Nope, you’re not going home yet, or if you are, please take this bag of stuff, or these gigs of digital work, and please get cracking. And just when you’re most exhausted, you need to be designing cutting-edge, differentiated, 21st-century, Common Core State Standards-aligned, engaging, student-centered, blended, and flipped lessons.”

If you are not a teacher, I imagine at least a few of the adjectives I used sailed over your head. Ed jargon, some call it. And that’s how it should be. A profession worth respecting has a vocabulary–not unlike nanotechnology and neuroscience–cultivated from years of research, experience, and experimentation.

As I work with teachers headed into a new school year, I consider the vast array of knowledge, processes, and new mandates our educators have to juggle when designing lessons, and something in me craves a formula, a distillation of all the complexity in order for our teacher-soldiers to march onward.

So for those of you surrounded by notes, texts, computer, and other resources to plan those units of instruction, I’ve created a formula for lesson planning. It is not perfectly comprehensive or suited to every teacher’s learning style. For example, some of the sequence may not follow the way your brain thinks, but try to take each step as a crucial task and determine how you can approach each one thoroughly.

  1. Select a complex text with colleagues.
  2. Identify concepts, or Big Ideas.
  3. Create Essential Questions, global and local, to be used in every assignment.
  4. Select 10 scenes or chapters of the complex text.
  5. Identify CCSS goals and subskills, finding at least three readiness levels (ELL or novice, on-target/grade level, and advanced/gifted).
  6. Identify “how to read” skills, strategies for independent reading.
  7. Develop assessments, formative and summative, with rubrics. 
  8. Develop lesson activities.
This may seem like a quick and simple formula to outsiders, but there’s lots of knowledge and expectations and standards buried in these. I could do a full-day workshop on each step–and we could spend a whole year perfecting the art of each step in our classrooms.
For those of you who don’t teach, please take a moment to take in these steps and appreciate the hard work teachers do to prep one three-week unit of study. For those of you who do teach, you do so much with so little time and resources, and I applaud you. Enjoy this adventure of launching great ideas, thinking, and explorations with our students this year. 
Stay tuned for future blogs with writing prompts for you and your students at the end of each post. And check out the last 4 years of posts; there’s probably a concept, a whole set of journal prompts, that might suit a unit you’re teaching now. 

How Do You Do It?

“I don’t know how you keep track of it all.” — from a colleague in reference to my workload

I like being a chef with multiple burners heating multiple pots, simmering full of somethin’ good.

I’m a concrete and a random worker, moving easily off one project onto another then to another, then back to the original. I’m also good at hanging in for the long haul. A writing workshop leader once told me I was an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Inventory, which is a good profile for finishing a novel. Today’s writer can’t just be the lone warrior in the garret if she wants to be published. And while I’m not an extrovert who gains energy from others as much as I gain energy from being alone, I have just enough “I” to labor late over my writing tasks and starting early every morning.

Here are the six sections of my to-do list:


Each has at least two if not four bullets of tasks.

You have to find the joy in each demand. You have to love starting a new project like revising my old novel as a prequel or taking on a brand-new novella for NaNoWriMo. You have to love binding up a manuscript with huge rubber bands for the Bakeless Prize or Dana Awards, and you have to love scouring Poets & Writers for the latest information on literary magazines. Give your all to every bit of the process.

In “Why We Write: The Pressure of Young Promise” (latest issue of Poets and Writers) Laura Maylene Walter shares her long, arduous journey as writer without reward. If you slog and struggle daily toward your writer’s brass ring, you must read this meditation and then see the inspirational Editor’s Note.

Just this week, my former student and current friend, Teresa Smith Porter, felt her spirits flag. She’s a successful photographer (My Friend Teresa Photography) who labors to get the best shot and make her clients shine. But it was one of those days when she was tapped out and struggling to see the horizon. Then she got the call. She had won 1st Place in the Wedding Photographic Society Competition, Photojournalism category. Then she got another call: to do a spread for a magazine. Now it was one of those weeks you dream of. She’d had weeks like this before, but in between for every artist is the labor, the unglamorous, exhausting, driving toil. Bleary-eyed and dehydrated, she has posted at 3:00 AM on Facebook out of the sheer joy of loving her work. Now that’s my kind of crazy.

Do you love it? Writing. Do you? If you do, then make your list and keep your head down. Your spirits will lift, I swear by it.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

“I considered making (the movie) Kill Bill like climbing Mount Everest…That was a big mountain that I created and I climbed it and I taught myself how to climb as I climbed it.”

— Quentin Tarantino

Now it’s time to talk about the novel. I’ve made myself a mountain composed of 1,020 double-spaced pages (read 273,766 words as of this morning, and 274,301 the other day, so I’ve managed to cut 535 words this week). This beast got birthed in the early nineties (I think it was 1993) and now IT IS 2008.

Dear God, what have I been doing?

An interviewer once asked Frank McCourt (author of Angela’s Ashes, ’Tis, and Teacher Man) why he didn’t complete his first book till he was past sixty. His response: he taught high school for 30 years. To get where I am today, I have had to leave the teaching profession (14 years), find part-time jobs so I could create the novel’s first draft, and now write and revise outside the forty-hour week (easier now that my work week is no longer sixty plus!). But that excuse is over. What obviously, I’ve had spare time all along, so what have I been doing outside my forty hour work week these last few years? Writing short stories, essays, and educational materials. Doris Betts (author of The Astronomer and Other Stories, The Sharp Teeth of Love, and Souls Raised From the Dead) once described to me and fellow workshop participants something called the “stopgap manuscript,” meaning a piece you turn to when you’re stuck on the current project (or when you think you’re going crazy if you look at another page). Unfortunately I’ve somewhat abused this survival strategy and I need to face the fact that if I don’t get serious EACH DAY about the novel, doing it before all other things, then it will be 2018 and still this same lament.

Oh but wait! The other thing I’ve been doing is learning how to write a novel. Doesn’t that self-teaching take some time?

Whatever. Enough excuses.

Today I will not only cut more words but I will keep in mind this question: what mountain is Daria (the protagonist) scaling? If that mountain is “conflict” (the heart of each scene) then what is the mountain, the shifting tectonic plates beneath it, the rock slides, the avalanches moving that scene forward? Because the current scene I’m working on disregards Janet Burroway’s quote of the prior post. I’m trying to too hard to inform people about what life is like for teachers, rather than discovering things about Daria, the protagonist who happens to be a teacher. I fight to write the soapbox rant inside me – how no one seems to be interested in how teachers teach, the art and science of it, and how teachers really live, the intrigue and politics and drama of it in the faculty lounge and at home, unless it involves someone standing on a desk and ripping up a book (thanks, Dead Poets Society) or sexual scandal (thanks, today’s media). I began this rant long ago and since then a lot of people have worked hard to correct the stereotypes with works like Freedom Writers and Half Nelson. So the novel gets rant-y and teacherly at times, a lot of times.

Not allowed today.

A friend who just subscribed to the blog wrote me an e-mail: “Don’t let your blog get in the way of the novel.” He’s one of two people who’s read an entire draft and who keeps me going with promises to get the first copy when it comes out. Thanks for keeping me honest.

Today’s Writing Goal: See above

Today’s Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.

© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.

Elementary: Draw a mountain. How tall will it be? How wide? How rocky? Are there animals? Flowers? Trees and other plants? Now imagine yourself climbing this mountain. Now write a description of this mountain, telling us the most interesting parts. Write as if you were making a movie of this mountain and wanted people to see it. What do you discover as you climb? What’s at the top? What’s on the other side?

Secondary and Adult: Describe a mountain you have climbed. A mountain can be a hill, part of a trail that’s an incline, or an actual mountain. A mountain can also be an obstacle in your life, something big you’ve had to overcome. Talk about the easiest parts and the steepest parts. Talk about the side trails. Talk about the summit. Talk about the views. What did you discover while scaling this mountain? What makes you glad about this experience? What regrets do you have?

Filed Under: challenge, mountains, writing process