when i grow up

When I was young, I specifically remember wanting to grow up to be a writer.

I have this vivid memory of creating a book stand with an old childhood friend. Seven or eight years old at the time, we thought we were geniuses, sure we had come up with the Next Great Idea. While our peers were busy squeezing out cups of lemonade to sell for 25¢ on the neighborhood corner, we were up to our elbows in Xerox paper and Crayola colored pencils, eagerly writing and illustrating our own books. After bounding them with her parents’ stapler, we set up shop on the sidewalk in front of her house, ready to make our millions.

Spoiler alert: our ingenious idea didn’t exactly take the publishing industry by storm. While we did sell a few books—one to an indulgent neighbor, a couple to her mom and probably one to her little sister after a bribe or two—I don’t remember being disappointed in not fulfilling our bestseller potential. Like many things as a child, our bookstand was a fad. It didn’t take long for us to forget about it and move on to bigger and better things. Like the bedazzler.

For me—as I’m sure like many of you—the answer to “What do you want to be when you grow up?” was constantly evolving. After winning an art contest in grade school, I traded my writing career aspirations for those of becoming an artist. After watching the Magnificent Seven take home gold for Team USA in ’96, I was sure—as a 10-year-old not currently enrolled in gymnasticsI had what it took to become an olympic gymnast. Some time in high school, I decided biomedical engineering + medical school was the right choice for me. While covered in hardened cookie dough and earning minimum wage from my local mall’s bakery, the thought of some day becoming a rich doctor was extremely appealing. Then I got to college and realized I didn’t actually like science (thank you, Momma & Daddy, for your patience).

So, yeah. Growing up, I never replied to that age old question with the same answer. As my hobbies and interests changed, so did my professional career goals. Even today, nearly six years into said professional career (holy crap I’ve been working a big-girl job for almost 6 years excuse me while I figure out where all that time went), I don’t have a definitive answer.

Don’t get me wrong. I count myself lucky that I am currently employed and actually enjoy what I do. I still get excited when I design a new poster or advertisement, often giddily pulling up a picture on my phone to show my sister at home. Yet, being a full-time graphic designer means I only get to write on my downtime. And I really love writing. I sometimes can’t help but think…wouldn’t it be fulfilling to make my living by writing every day? What would that feel like? To be able to wake up and have writing as my only responsibility? To write for a living? To be able to answer that question with Oh, I’m a writer? Though, if my writing was to switch from hobby to career…would I still enjoy it as much? Wouldn’t I miss graphic design?

Aaaaaand…back and forth. And back and forth.

Then I have my paintings and other art to think about. With Cooper Young Festival in less than a week, all my free time over the past few months has been dedicated to the booth my sister and I will have this Saturday (Booth D-23). Instead of trying to fit in time for my writing, I’ve been painting and crafting. And guess what? I forgot how much I love to paint. And while my sister and I have only joked about the idea…the concept of us opening up our own shop to sell our work becomes more appealing by the day (as long as I don’t have to be in charge of my taxes because all those forms stress me out).

So, what do I want to be when I grow up? Ha. Good question. When is the deadline for my answer? It can’t have already passed, right? Because at 27, I don’t feel grown-up. I feel like I’m just beginning. How long before I actually have to pick one thing and commit? Because the thing that scares me most of all…what if I pick the wrong one?

Seriously. What if?

– lindsey archer

P.S. – Cooper Young Festival 2012 is THIS Saturday, September 15th. If you’re planning on attending, please stop by Booth D-23 (we’re in the Congo Church parking lot) to say hello and/or introduce yourself. If you live in the Memphis area and are NOT planning to attend, stop being boring.

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stranger danger

I’m not good at networking. At all. Like, I’m horribly, shockingly dreadful at it. So, naturally, the idea of attending a writers conference all by my lonesome scares the shit out of me.

Do I think it would be good for me? Benefit me tremendously? Widen my literary connections? Sharpen my writing skills? All of the above.

It still scares the shit out of me.

It’s the whole fear of being thrown into a room full of people I don’t know and being forced to socialize with them syndrome (FOBTIARFOPIDKABFTSWTS). Despite what you think, it’s actually very common. I wouldn’t be surprised if it had its own WebMD page. You know…right next to the how to turn your common cold symptoms into ‘You Only Have One Week To Live’ page.

I’m good with tweeting and texting and everything else the older generation spits on my generation for in terms of communicating. I mean, who isn’t comfortable with allowing technology to talk for them? It’s when you stick me in a room with complete strangers that I freeze up and turn into a crazy mute person. I revert back to my days of infancy when I had yet to learn any communication skills other than crying and defecating into a diaper.

See, growing up, you’re always told by adults to not talk to strangers. It’s dangerous. Wrong. DON’T DO IT. STRANGER DANGER! STRANGER DANGER! They program that shit into your head. Then, you start school and those same adults leave you alone in a room full of strangers and tell you to go have fun and turn them into friends. I mean…where’s the consistency? If I’m not supposed to even talk to strangers, why the Hell are you trying to make me become friends with them all of a sudden? What happened to stranger danger? I don’t know any of these people! Why are you abandoning me here???!?

I blame this for why I freeze up around new people. I was just such well behaved child and followed everything my parents taught me (Momma, stop laughing).

It’s not that I’m socially awkward per se, but rather socially hit or miss. Once I get going—alcohol always helps—I can talk for hours. It’s the get going that I have trouble with all too often. I call it the stranger bitch effect (SBE). As in, when people sometimes first meet me, I tend to come across as a little bit of a bitch. When really, it’s my inability to function normally around strangers in combination with what my sister and close friends refer to as my natural bitch face that tends to screw up that coveted first impression. I apologize. I can’t help it if my default expression lacks roses and rainbows. I try to be conscious of it, but then I end up with this weird, creepy, fake smile—which I can assure you is way scarier than the aforementioned stink-eye face.

I am getting better, which was evident at the recent MPACT Happy Hour I attended at Alchemy last week. I actually talked to people, networked a little, gave out at least one business card, gained a new FB friend…yes, alcohol was involved (we’re talking a few drinks here, I’m not a lush). I also had my sister there as back-up, something I won’t have at a writers conference.

So, yeah, back to writers conferences…the whole point of this post. While I am scared out of my mind at attending one of these solo, I’m not going to let that fear deter me from experiencing one. I just needed to talk about it a little bit. You know…get it off my chest, get it out into the open to all you other writers out there. So that when you happen to run into some random girl at your next writers conference who you notice keeps looking around with this crazy bitch expression frozen on her face…you’ll actually come up and say hello.

Really. I would love to meet you.

– lindsey archer

PS – I have no idea which conference I am going to attend, just that I will be going to one sometime in the next calendar year. If you have any recommendations for a newbie writer like me, please let me know! There are so many out there. I seriously need all the help I can get.

rhymes with schmeary schletter

Do you know how many ways there are to write a query letter? According to Google, approximately 2.16 million. Adding the word successful into your Google search bumps that number up to around 3 million. So, apparently, more people know how to write a successful query letter rather than just a query letter. Amazing, right?

For those of you who just read the words query letter and are subsequently staring blankly at this screen, perhaps with a little drool peeking out from the corner of your mouth, because you have absolutely no idea what I’m talking about, allow me to provide you some background. A query letter—as defined by good ole’ Merriam-Webster—is what you sell your soul to the devil for in order to obtain a literary agent and/or publishing deal. No, I kid. A query is only the first step in acquiring said agent/publishing deal, so I highly doubt you have to fork over your entire soul for it. More like…just a sliver.

Okay, really. For those who don’t follow the publishing industry, a query letter is what you write unsolicited to agents to pique their interest in your work. In order for an agent to request to see any portion of your manuscript, you must first submit a query letter to them. Similar to a cover letter written when applying for a job, it serves as a gatekeeper of sorts, separating the good writers from the not-so-talented. It’s your introduction. It’s your foot in the door. In other words, if your query letter sucks, no agent is going to want to read your work, let alone want to represent you.

No pressure.

As I’ve previously mentioned, I’m in the midst of developing my query letter for Jaded. I say develop because a query letter isn’t just all about the writing. Yes, writing serves as the majority vote, but there’s also research and reading and research and googling and more research involved throughout this whole soul-sucking experience.

Every writer/agent/publisher out there—including your cousin’s mother’s uncle’s great-grandmother’s last of kin—has advice on how you can write the Best. Query. Letter. Ever.

Now. So you don’t have to, I’ve collected a few of my favorite tidbits of advice I’ve found while sifting thru Google’s 2.16 million answers on how to write the best query*:

By including everything the editor needs to know about your novel and about you—in one page.

Oh, that’s it? Well, shit. I’m totally done researching, now. That explains it all. No one told me it was that easy!

It must demonstrate that you can write effectively.

Oh, reeeeally?

There should be no spelling or grammatical errors.

Oh I ain’t thought agints lycked it wen I show’d ’em mah collage edgukashion sckillz

Do not give your social security number.

Wait. What?

Be sure to show them your voice, your personality.

Okay, good. Got it.

Don’t show too much personality. Your query letter should be formal.

Screw you, Google.

The problem is that there is no magic query letter formula. There is no A + B + C = getting signed by an agent. I can research as much as I want, but eventually it will come down to my own skill as a writer to hook my own agent. What may work for Writer A might not be the best thing for me and vice versa. Also, I eventually have to hit send. As far as technology has come these days, agents can’t actually read e-mails still stuck in my drafts folder. Such a shame.

So, I’m working on it. I’m reading some books (see PS below). I’m researching what agents would be the best fit for me. I’m proofreading. I’m deleting. I’m starting over.

I’m working on it.

Maybe one day, after I’ve signed with an agent, after Jaded has hit bookshelves, after, after, after…I’ll let you read my first attempts at Satan’s spawn my query letter. I mean, we all deserve a good laugh every now and then, right?

– lindsey archer

PS – All joking aside, I have found a few books/sites helpful during my query adventure. I’m currently reading Your Novel Proposal: From Creation to Contract, Guide to Literary Agents and How to Write Attention-Grabbing Query & Cover Letters. I’m also a huge fan of Janet Reid and her Query Shark site.

* I did not make any of this shit up. I found each and every one of these gems on actual query advice websites.

from blah to writing

It’s been one of those weeks.

A few bright spots have been sprinkled in here and there, but it’s just been one of those weeks where all these little things seemed to have built up, stacking pressure upon pressure until it feels like whatever it is that’s holding me together will rip at the seams with one more slight push. Like an old, creaky chair whose screws are loose, the next time someone sits down, the legs will give out and the chair will collapse into a heap of splintered wood.

Listen to me. I sound like my entire world is crashing down around me. It’s really not that dramatic. More like, it’s been a week where the smallest thing feels a thousand pounds heavier than it should. I’m not explaining it very well, am I? It’s just…blah. Like when you’re sick and everything hurts and the slightest moment can send your emotions into overdrive. My emotions feel like they’re on speed. High strung.

And you know what all this makes me want to do? More than anything, it makes me want to write.

Why is that? Why is it that at times I feel my worst are the times I feel the strongest pull to write? Like, somehow, writing will release all this built up pressure and I’ll go back to normal. Like when you poke a tiny hole in the soft area of a balloon to let the air seep out slowly, you eventually end up with the same shape as before you inflated it with your hot air. Whereas if you straight out pop its surface, the pieces of the balloon scatter—unrecognizable strips of rubber permanently torn apart.

When I’m happy and content, writing seems an afterthought. When I’m sad or not feeling fully myself, writing feels like this need. My sad feelings seem to translate into better writing material than my happy ones. Does that make me a writing stereotype?

“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
—Ernest Hemingway

When I first started writing Jaded, I wasn’t in a very good place. I was sad and dealing with a lot and writing became this sort of therapy. An escape. A way to throw all my feelings into something productive. Somehow, somewhere along the way of writing my first novel, I started feeling better. I became myself again. Like I’ve previously mentioned, I never intended to write a novel. I wrote small scenes and random conversations that turned themselves into pages and chapters and eventually…a book.

Now Jaded’s completed and I feel like I’ve lost my outlet. Yes, I have that lovely NaNoWriMo piece that desperately needs work. But, I’ve promised myself I won’t touch that manuscript until I get Jaded in the hands of agents.

That means finishing my query letter. I’m not much further along on that than I was two months ago. I do have more than an opening sentence, though. I actually have a full, working draft—albeit a rather rough one. It’s nowhere near where I need it to be. I guess it’s a start. Better than nothing, right?

Does anyone else go thru this? Do you write better when you’re happy or when you’re strung out and feeling…blah? What state of mind are you in when you produce your best material?

Here’s to hoping my blah week turns into something productive. Who knows? This time next week, I might have a working query letter.

– lindsey archer

new year’s resolutions? not so much

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. Correction—I don’t follow thru with New Year’s resolutions. Here’s a little breakdown of how they usually play out for me:

January 1st—I’m really excited about this shiny, new resolution. I’m all about it. I can totally do this. This is going to be easy. I can’t believe I’ve never completed one of these before. Seriously.

2nd week of January—I hate this shit. Seriously.

3rd week of January—OHMIGOD WHY DO I INSIST ON TORTURING MYSELF??!?

February 1st—New Year’s Resolution? What New Year’s Resolution? I have no idea what you’re talking about. I totally don’t make those. Those are for crazy people.

I’ve learned my lesson. For the last few years, I haven’t made any resolutions. Because I don’t believe in them? No. Because they’re for crazy people? Maybe. More like, it’s because I’m afraid that—like always—I’m going to fail at them. And, really, who wants to fail? Um…that would be no one.

That’s one of the reasons why it took me so long to finish Jaded—that fear of failing at something new. Besides random papers for school, I had never really written anything before. I leaped from that to investing all of my time and energy into creating something that, until it was finished, I never even knew I wanted to do. And actually finishing it? A novel? I wasn’t a writer! Complete my story? Show it off to someone? Develop a plan for it besides hiding it away in the safety of my iMac? That would be crazy! That would be opening myself up for the possibility of failure I knew I wasn’t strong enough to handle. Thankfully, I’m slowly getting over that small hurdle. It’s all about baby steps.

Once again for this year, I’m not going to pretend to make any new resolutions. No crazy, unrealistic goals. No list of shortcomings that I’m going to half-heartedly attempt to overcome for three lousy weeks until I give up and return to my normal routine of waking up super late and yelling like a crazed maniac at all the slow drivers in front of me on my short commute to work. Instead, I’m simply going into 2012 with one objective: get an agent for Jaded. I may have mentioned it once or twice.

It might not happen in 2012, but that doesn’t matter. Whether it takes one year, two years, five years…ten years—for me, this is a life goal. It’s something I’m going to strive for, but not beat myself up about if it doesn’t happen by the time the clock strikes midnight on December 31st, 2012.

I’m not naïve. I know the road to publication will be riddled with many small potholes of failure, layered with rejection letter after rejection letter. Not everyone is going to like my book. Some might even outright hate it. I’m not excited about that, but I think I’m okay with it. All I’m asking is for one agent to love it.

And, let’s be honest. I think that’s a far more realistic goal than me giving up my road rage.

– lindsey archer

i miss jade henry

After I finished NaNoWriMo this year, I set a goal to take a small break from writing. No more until 2012! I know. Seems drastic, right? It only sounds that way because 2012 is a freakishly large number (can you believe it’s already almost 2012???!?) Really, my break was only for one lousy month. December. 31 days. Not too long, right?

I worked really hard to complete Jaded this year. Then, I chose to become certifiably insane begin an entire new project during NaNoWriMo in November—58,735 words, to be exact. Conclusion? I. Wrote. A. Lot. Why not take one month off and come back in 2012 (seriously, isn’t the world supposed to end in 2012?) with a fresh pair of eyes? I’ve heard from so many other writers about how good it is to sometimes take a step back before editing or evaluating your work—to separate yourself from your writing in order to figure out how to make it better. Plus, I had already sent Jaded off to my beta readers to scrutinize and judge during the months of November & December. So, really, I found myself at a natural stopping point while I waited on that much needed feedback before making my final edits and diving headfirst into querying literary agents—AKA, crazy-depressing-land-full-of-rejection-letters (don’t yell, I’m being realistic, here).

As December draws to an end and the New Year sneaks up on me (seriously, it came out of NOWHERE), I’m finding it harder and harder to stick to my goal of enjoying this little ole thing called a writing break. More so with Jaded than Ugly Parts, which is most likely because I’ve only spent a quick 30 days with my NaNoWriMo manuscript. In case you’re unaware, I’ve been working on Jade Henry’s story, on and off, for approximately four years. I started in the fall of 2007 and while I took many long sabbaticals—often stepping away from it for months and months at a time while I figured out if I really wanted to be a writer—that’s still quite a significant chunk of time to spend on one story. And now? Almost a month removed from it?

miss it.

I miss Jaded. I miss Jade Henry. I created her and her world and her feelings and I’ve come to know her inside and out, better even than I probably know myself. She has so much of me in her that I sometimes forget where her fictional life ends and my real one begins. When I talk about her with my friends and beta readers, I speak of her by name. Jade did this. Jade did that. Jade thought this about that. I discuss her like she’s a real person and not just some fictitious character I conjured up and happened to write about. Because for me, she is real. I’m invested. 100%.

I’ve discovered that taking an intentional month off from her is far different from all those months I merely stepped away mid-novel with every intention of coming back and finishing. My hand is itching to type about her again. I keep finding my mouse hovering over that rough draft file that’s hidden away in my computer, ready to double-click and open it up to get my fix. BUT I promised myself I wouldn’t!

So, I haven’t. I’ve kept my word, despite the many many MANY unholy temptations to do otherwise. Even as that aforementioned feedback begins trickling in from my beta readers, I have yet to double-click on that rough draft file. I’ve left it to collect its imaginary computer dust until the start of 2012. And, as I’m writing this, I’m starting to think this whole break is going to turn out as a good thing.

All this anticipation has me excited. I’m terrified excited to start querying agents for representation. I’m excited to begin my journey of getting Jaded published and somehow on that Discover Great New Writers bookshelf at my local Barnes & Noble (I’ll even settle for the normal, alphabetical fiction shelf). This waiting has me excited for 2012.

So, for all those crazies professing the world is going to end in 2012 because some ancient civilization forgot to include it on their calendar…well, I hope to God you’re all wrong. I’m betting the Mayans either couldn’t count that high or were just too lazy to do so. Because I’m not going anywhere until I see Jaded on a real, actual, physical bookshelf somewhere.

Somewhere other than in my own house would be even better.

– lindsey archer

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