Writing Merit Badges

I’ve been trying to focus on celebrating this journey every step of the way. It’s easy to get so caught up on the BIG goals that we forget to notice the small victories and progress we’re making.

So in that honor, I present you with WRITING MERIT BADGES. You’ll notice, these merit badges do not include the normal milestones we all think of. (Write a book, find an agent, get a book deal, move to Bahamas.) But it has some other milestones you’ve either already hit or probably will hit and weren’t even thinking about.

Category 1 – DRAFTING

THE SHOWER RUN – This merit badge is awarded when you have an idea so good and so profound that you have to rush out of the shower, dripping wet, to write it down. **This badge can also be awarded during the revisions stage**

THE ROLLERCOASTER – When you go from thinking this is the best book you’ve ever written to considering trashing the whole manuscript and then back up to thinking you’re a creative genius. **Must complete cycle within a period of 24 hours.**

THE NOTES INSTEAD OF PROSE- When you can’t think of a certain detail or comment for a character to say so you leave yourself a note instead. i.e. “[Insert something sarcastic about wombats here.]”

 

Category 2 – REVISING

THE CRYBABY – When you get back feedback that makes you cry (good or bad.)

THE REWRITE – When you realize your manuscript needs more than a revision. It needs an entire rewrite. And you actually do it.

THE “MY SUBCONSCIOUS IS A CREATIVE FREAKING GENIUS” – When you realize that a detail you only threw in haphazardly, for no particular reason at all, in the first draft, is the key to a major plot problem, or symbolic of something, or otherwise deepens your story in a way you didn’t originally intend.

 

Category 3 – RELATIONSHIPS

THE FRIENDSHIP BADGE – When you call your critique partner “my friend” and realize that’s what they’ve actually become.

THE BETTER THAN “IRL” FRIENDS – When something non-writing happens to you and you decide to talk about it with your writing friends before your “real life” friends.

THE MEETUP – When you make plans and meet up with your writing friend in real life.

 

Category 4 – QUERYING

THE DEAR AUTHOR REJECTION – Self explanatory

THE R&R – Self explanatory

THE REJECTION OBVIOUSLY MEANT FOR SOMEONE ELSE – When you get a rejection that mentions something not in your book, or is even addressed to a different person.

THE MULTI-REJECT – When the agent or editor hates your stuff so much, they feel the need to reject it twice.

 

Category 5 – SUBMISSION

THE EMAIL WITHDRAWAL – This badge is awarded the day you stop refreshing your email more than twice a day.

THE CLOSE BUT NO CIGAR – When an editor tells you they went back and forth on it but ultimately decided no.

THE FAILED ACQUISITIONS – When you make it all the way to acquisitions but fall short of that book deal.

THE EXTREME SELF CONTROL – When you suppress the urge to email/call your agent and beg them to put you out of your misery

THE SHELVED MANUSCRIPT – Self Explanatory

 

Category 6 –SUCCESS

THE ACKNOWLEDGEMENT – When your name appears in someone else’s acknowledgements.

THE SUCCESS BY ASSOCIATION – When your CP has a book come out and you get recommend it to everybody you know.

THE COMP TITLE – When your book is used as a comp title.

THE CLIENT INTERVIEW – When your agent is bringing on a new client and they send them to you to answer questions about your agent

 

Category 7 – MISCELLANEOUS

THE QUITTING BADGE – When you decide you’re done with writing once and for all and quit. **This badge can only be awarded after you come to your senses and return to writing.**

THE ADMISSION – When you finally describe yourself as “a writer” to someone else without embarrassment.

THE AWE AND WONDER – When you look at your life and wonder how much more boring it would be without writing and feel that immense sense of gratitude and awe that you actually are doing this!

COLLECT THEM ALL! WE’RE ALWAYS EXPANDING! WHICH BADGES WOULD YOU ADD?

 

 

 

 

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Changing How You Tell Your Own Story

Yesterday I typed “The End” on my third novel. I’ve been writing for nearly four years now and there’s still a thrill in finishing that first draft. But there’s also another feeling, a wonder and amazement. I can’t believe I’m actually doing this. I can’t believe I’m still on this journey.

And since tone is hard to get across sometimes, those sentences are uttered in a good and happy way.

Writers, this is an amazing journey we are on. How many people think about or talk about writing a book? How many people actually sit down and do it. Slave over it? Get their heart ripped out of their chest over and over again? Put themselves out in that arena and get knocked down? And then…sit down and WRITE. THE. NEXT. BOOK.

But look at that last paragraph. Nobody in their right mind with any experience would actually believe that this writing and publishing gig is easy. It’s heartstoppingly hard. First you deal with crippling doubt through the entire process, followed by the fact that rejections outnumber acceptances at least 8-1. Combined with all the waiting and hopes that get crushed time and time again, occasionally mixed in with a healthy dose of envy of those who seem to get to that next step on the journey faster or easier than you.

It’s easy to spend this writing journey wondering Why not me? When is it my turn? What is wrong with my writing? And having those thoughts spiral into…It’s never going to happen for me. I’m a terrible writer. I should just quit. Nobody cares.

So what can stop us from going into that spiral? Let’s face it, we’ll all face rejection, doubt, starting over, and the green monster.

The answer should be a simple one for us. You have to change the way you tell your story.

I try to look at this whole publishing journey as one amazing adventure. This isn’t just a fun hobby, this is far more intense. This is a long term career we are trying to pursue here. We are becoming intimate with an art form. We are pouring our heart into something. We are learning the inner workings of what it actually takes to get a book on the shelf. How many people actually know how that works? How many people experience that? We are living life in this beautiful, vulnerable, and thrilling state. With big dreams and big goals and big, open hearts.

And it’s a big goal. It’s a long term adventure. And you have to look at it that way to get through the hard days.

On those days when you get seven rejections in one day, you have to be able to take the long view and say, “This will make a great story one day when I do a school visit.”

When your dream agent rejects your full even though they loved it but just didn’t think they could sell it, you have to tell yourself, “This will make the tale of how I get my agent even more satisfying.”

When you have to shelve another book and start over, you have to change your thoughts from “this is hopeless” to “This will be an amusing footnote in my life story.”

And with every roadblock, every rejection, every struggle to reach the next milestone, you have to change from saying “I’ll never get there” to “This is not the end of the story.”

Every hard, terrible, anxiety filled day of your writing journey is just there to make the ending that much sweeter. Whether that ending is the fulfillment of all your dreams, or just the sweet satisfaction of making art that changes only you and realizing that’s enough, you are the one who tells that story. So change it from a short term melodrama, to a long-term adventure. Savor the ups AND the downs, that’s what makes it exciting. That’s what causes that thrill every time a possibility presents itself.

Embrace it.

Tell your story the way it should be told and change the way you look at it.

I am a Writer

The other day I was scrolling through pinterest, when a pin with a writing quote came up. It said something like, “A real writer doesn’t write because they want to, but because they can’t stop.”

And you know what, it made me feel gross, worried, and finally angry.

I have struggled with wondering if I’m a “real writer” ever since I began writing almost four years ago. I would hear stories and quotes from people talking about how they’d been writing since they were children. How they always knew they wanted to write. This was their dream.

Well, guess what? It wasn’t mine. In fact, I have witnesses who can attest to the fact that five years ago I said, “Oh, I could never write a book. I’m way too succinct for that.”

Yes, you may laugh now.

But that history of mine, that lack of lifelong desire, it made me worry for a long time, that maybe I’m not really cut out for this writing gig. Maybe I’m not a “real” writer.

There are other comments and stereotypes out there that are unhelpful.

Real writers get an MFA.

Real writers have a dying need to write.

Real writers love every minute of writing.

Real writers make their living writing.

Real writers are published.

Hmmmm, yeah. None of these are helping me fight off that imposter syndrome. Most of the writers I know don’t have an MFA. I definitely don’t.

I enjoy writing, I really do. But I could live without it if I had to. Oh, I’d miss it. But it’s not a need. Not by any stretch.

I don’t know a single person who enjoys every minute of writing, either. I have to force myself into that chair every night. Take a deep breath before opening that document, and force myself to get into that groove. And sometimes when I’m drafting, I never hit that groove and the entire thing feels like an exercise in pain.

In the last four years of writing I’ve made less than $300.

And even though I have publishing credits to my name, they never made me feel anymore legit like I was hoping. The truth is, even after getting an agent, I still feel the same.

Because I am.

No publishing milestone, no amount of money, is going to change what I already am today.

A writer.

Not because it comes easy to me, or because I have to do it every day to maintain my sanity, or because I just can’t stop.

But because I do it. I make the time and I write.

And whether I write two pages a day, or go on 8 hour streaks every Saturday, or block out my afternoons for it, doesn’t matter.

I write. I write. I write.

That’s what makes me a writer. Not my history, or my talents, or my needs or desires. But that one, single action, done consistently.

Nobody can take that title away from me.

I am a writer.