Sunday, August 28, 2011

When do Dreams Stop Being Dreams?

I have a vivid memory. A year or so ago, Gretchen McNeil, YA Rebel extraordinaire, tweeted something along the lines of "FINISHED MY FIRST DRAFT OF BANISH! SO EXCITED!" (I searched but couldn't find the exact wording, though I'm confident it involved something about celebratory champagne!) Being a Rebel fan and aspiring writer who had written absolutely nothing, I was filled with a sense of hope and awe. That would be me one day. I watched my twitter stream erupt with congratulations, surely throwing in one myself. Banish, now retitled POSSESS, came out a few days ago. Surely there's great poeticism (or romanticism) that this novel was published in the same week that I finished the first draft of my first novel. 

It started with an outline last summer. Brain crack. It blossomed into the month of terrific terror known as NaNoWriMo. On December 1st, 50,000 words in, my novel was far from done. The next few months consisted of hardcore reading and procrastinating. When June rolled around, I swore to myself that I would finish that freakin' book. And I wrote, and I plotted, then I kept writing. My daily word counts were low, nowhere near the November days of 1,667. When August rolled around, I forced myself to kick it into high gear. It was like falling in love with writing all over again. 

It was the magical combination of writing the LONG-awaited climax of the story and the rush of throwing myself so deeply into a world that I had built in a dreamscape. In the most phenomenal way, I got lost in the fantasy. I would be at work, or in my friends basement, or getting ice cream and all the while be having conversations with fictional people in my mind. It was freakin' incredible. The story bubbled inside of me, dying to spill out onto the page. 

And then I finished. Late at night, curled up in my bed, I wrote the final words of the novel. As I read the last sentence over and over again, I waited for the immense jubilation. I awaited the high-pitch squeeing and totally embarrassing happy dancing that occurred at the end of NaNoWriMo. I tried, but it didn't come. I was excited only because I knew that I should be excited. In fact, I was terrified, completely in shock. I'm still not sure why I felt the way I did, but there was no tweeting in all caps. Why was I not responding like Gretchen? Why was I not running to get champagne...I mean...err...sparkling apple juice?!

It was only the next morning that I realized the question gnawing at me. What next? My dream of writing a novel was complete. Or was it? I knew I wanted to make lots of edits. There were parts I wanted to add or stretch out. I knew that there would be more. But what is it all for? Should I start querying agents? Even now the thought makes my stomach flip. 

This morning I gave the bulky 80,000 word manuscript to a very close friend who offered to beta-read and "edit the hell out of it." I can't wait for her notes, but I'd be lying if I said I wasn't terrified. I didn't realizer how much this "book" was a part of me. It felt like I handed her a bit of my soul in the form of a shitty first draft. I had never expected this feeling, and, to be honest, it's pretty exhilarating. 

Of course I'm excited. In fact, at this point, I'm beyond thrilled. I'm obviously overjoyed at the fact that I have a finished first draft. But what really blows my mind, what I'm really ecstatic about, is the realization that I don't want it to be over. I don't want it to end! Just as I wrote the last sentence, I had a craving to write more. I can't wait to throw myself back into the story! My dream isn't over, and I don't think it ever will be. Will this story ever be published? Where will this story be a year from today? Where will I be a year from today? I have no idea.

What I do know is that I'm addicted to writing. I am completely in love with it. I'm also eternally grateful to all of those who inspired me along the way: Gretchen McNeil, Leah Clifford, all of the Rebels (past, present, and future), Robyn Schneider, every author on my book shelf. And, of course, my wonderful friends (especially Emily, who has just informed me that she's already half-way through the manuscript) and family for being supportive. Thank you to the writing community for always supporting a delusional kid with a dream. Cheers to hoping that we never stop dreaming *clinks imaginary champagne glass...I mean sparkling apple juice...right...sparkling apple juice glass*

Sunday, January 23, 2011

The Cork Board of Awesome: A Look Back on 2010

As humans, change is the only thing we can truly rely on. We couldn't stop it if we tried. Well, okay, that's not true, but I'm not planning on cryogenically freezing anyone in the near future. So if change is so reliable, why are we so intimidated by it? I'll admit it, I'm terrified of change. But I can't help wonder why. Change is good. Granted there can be "bad" changes, like the death of someone you love or a traumatic parting of ways. But in the end, I believe everything happens for a reason. If that old girlfriend of yours that you were just SO in love with didn't break up with you, you may have never met your wife. And if your beloved grandfather hadn't died, you wouldn't have learned how to cherish life. My point is that change isn't spontaneous. Change happens because there is a need for it. And yet, even though we understand this, we're still so often frightened by it. 

To help prove my point in an unorthodox way, I share with you the small cork board that hangs above my desk. To the uninformed eye, it looks quite random. Actually, it looks quite random to me sometimes as well. In truth, there are some random things on here. There's a black ninja bumper sticker that my dad gave me. The ticket stub from the midnight release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows part 1 (the first Harry Potter where I gave into the craze and actually dressed up.) There's another ticket from when I saw Promises, Promises with Kristen Chenoweth and Sean Hayes on Broadway last summer. But there are a few more substantial things; things that truly mean a lot to me, no matter how silly the are. 

I know I've mentioned this before, but a year ago I was a completely different person. 2010 (and the last six months of 2009) was a rough year for me. I had a lot of personal issues. The only change that I wanted was a complete escape. And though I never ran away or became a hobo, I did change. I discovered something; something that's been there for me since I was a child. Yes, I became a writer. You see, writing gave me confidence; something I thought I would never have again. Writing gave me life; something that I was convinced I didn't want. Writing gave me hope; something that I thought didn't exist. And over the months that I outlined and wrote, re-outlined and rewrote, then re-outlined and rewrote again, I acquired some souvenirs. These artifacts are a symbol of a rebirth, which was just as awkward and glorious as my actual birth. I'll share a few of these wonderful mementos with you. 

Up in the top left corner is a pen, held up by two tacks. To an outsider, it's a seemingly normal pen. However, that is the pen James Dashner, author of the 13th Reality series and The Maze Runner trilogy, signed with at one of his book signings. I was there. I met James, he's an incredible author and one of the most genuinely nice people I've ever met. Since there weren't many people at the first St. Louis book signing he went to, I had the opportunity to talk with him quite a lot. I learned so much about the struggles and rewards of writing from him. 

Similar to the pen hanging on the wall, there's multiple Beautiful Creatures and Beautiful Darkness merchandise on the board. These are also the products of a book signing. It was a release party for Beautiful Darkness that was hosted by the authors themselves, Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl. Accompanying them were Heather Brewer and Kaleb Nation. I listened to the inspiring talks they all gave and was thrilled to hear them speak about the new book. As they were talking, I realized that the writing community, although difficult to get into, was quite rewarding. These authors truly enjoyed what they were doing. They had a career that they loved, and I was envious. You shouldn't write for imaginary fame or fortune, you should do it because you love it. Margy described writing as a drug. It's addictive and gives you a sort of high while you're doing it. Although not the best analogy for the younger audience, she's completely right. 

Finally, my favorite. I'm staring at it right now and can't help but smile. In the top right corner is a note. A note scribbled on inconsequential post-it. This note is from author Leah Clifford, who's debut novel A Touch Mortal comes out next month. The note reads, "Matt, congrats on winning and happy writing! Best, Leah." It's something so simple, yet means so much. You see, a few months back I won a contest on the amazing youtube channel the YA Rebels ( The contest was for a Barnes and Noble gift card, and was hosted by Leah. I emailed her my address and such and we got to casually talking over email. I won't exaggerate, she wasn't taking me under as her apprentice or anything drastic like that. She simply spoke inspiring things about writing and all that comes from it. Her emails, although simple, filled me with so much hope. And when the gift card came, this note was enclosed. When I saw it, I was beaming. Leah gave me the hope that I could be whoever I wanted to be. If I wanted to be a writer, I could be a writer. Even though dreams sometimes seem unreachable, it is possible to catch them. And with a lot of hard work and failure, I could make something out of myself. I'm sure Leah didn't know that such a simple little note would inspire me so much, but it did. Years ago I believed that hope was simply a distraction and that it only brought disappointment and pain. But I've learned differently. I've learned to accept change, and not run away from it. I've learned to seek dreams, because I know that I have a chance. And thanks to people like Leah, I've learned to be happy.