Letter to an Aspiring Author

Dear Author,

Forgive me for this bout of sentimentality, but I’m a reflective sort of person. Last year, on this day, the Friday before RWA conference, I received a call on my cell phone while at work. Blithely, I called the number back when I had a break and found that it rang to the message machine of Harlequin Mills & Boon in the UK. An English accent never sounded more lovely!

The actual “Call” wouldn’t come for another several days. I had the weekend to stew, my agent had other editors to nudge, and after a little bit of this and a little bit of that, I sold Butterfly Swords five days later on Wednesday morning in Washington D.C. at RWA ’09.

It was an exciting conference for me, to sell right there among so many friends. I was also up for a Golden Heart award. Someone asked me if I still wanted to win even though I’d sold.

“Heck, yeah, I want it,” I said. “Winners always want the ball.” (Extra credit for anyone who can place that quote.)

You see, I’m absolutely awful at playing it cool and nonchalant. Some people try to downplay the possibility of disappointment by voicing their denials. I have as much self-doubt as the next person, but I’ve always been someone who fell on the side of saying, “Yes, I want it, I want it. Disappointment, I dare you to smack me in the face.”

Because can’t we all admit, we all WANT IT?

Neither approach affects the outcome. The Golden Heart scores were already tallied and that envelope was already sealed. But maybe the attitude does matter. Maybe just admitting your dreams proudly, as vulnerable as that makes you, affects you in little ways — affects your pen upon the page, trying just a little harder to pull out the words from inside you.

Anyway, it’s RWA time again. A bunch of authors, hopefuls, and the rest of Romancelandia will be converging on Orlando. I’ll be heading there and not blogging for the entire week.

This year, I’m presenting the Golden Heart award in the historical category and I just wanted to say to whoever the winner is going to be, and also to all the other writers who are pitching, networking, and waiting for “The Call”:

Aim high. Dream big. It can happen, it can happen, it can happen. Exactly as you dream.

You don’t have to play it cool.

Good luck.

– Jeannie Lin

CORE critique group last night

I know all the warning labels — technically blogging is a time suck that’s keeping me away from writing. But I’ve always liked journaling. During the long periods where I didn’t write, I still journaled. And the more you write, the better you get. It’s inevitable.

They did studies on nuns because of their extensive journaling. They lived longer, happier and more lucid lives. Researchers theorized that the act of journaling preserves and promotes neural connections. I’m too lazy to do more than a quick google search to find someone to back me up on that. 🙂 http://ironghost.wordpress.com/2006/02/01/the-magnificent-minnesota-nun-brains/

My real point is that blogging is more than procrastination. It’s a crucial part of the reflective process, at least for me. Confession done.

So last night I went to CORE. It’s our chapter’s critique group which meets once a month. Readers bring 10-20 pages of material, read it aloud, and the whole table constructively critiques the pages.

The one critical element of this you don’t get online is the feedback loop and the group dynamic. Everything is done out loud. So you learn how to critique from more experienced members, you learn how to revise by absorbing everyone else’s comments….and you learn how to take and filter feedback. A LOT of it.

Anyway, I had a better public service message than how feedback is important. I love seeing the writers around me grow and improve. As a former teacher in a school with a HUGE emphasis on literacy, I believe just the act of writing and reading makes you better. Even if there is no instruction involved.

Of course, instruction and/or feedback can help guide you immensely. 🙂

When I see a writer buddy grow in leaps and bounds from one project to another, it makes me giddy. It reaffirms my beliefs. And I love genuinely getting excited about a new story. Those drafts that I’ve critiqued in CORE are going to be published books some day. I believe that wholeheartedly.

It reminds me of when Elaine, Dana, Kay and I were all struggling through our first novels together back in my first critique group. After working for two years, I still felt my writing wasn’t “there”. I’d improved, but not by enough. Then we started reading from our next projects and the growth in everyone’s writing was phenomenal. It was a pivotal moment for me, because I could see that once we were taken out of the confines of the “learning” book, that we had noticeably improved.

That second project for me was “Butterfly Swords”. Did I get a spider sense that this was going to be the one? Well, no. Not quite.

Well, yes. Yes, I guess I did. 🙂

Keep writing.