Monday, April 25, 2016

Day by Day, good Day

Nearly five years ago I'd hit something of a low point in my writing life. My manuscript Thin Space had been floating around the publishing world for a year and a half. "Floating," for the record, in publishing terms, is actually a nice way of saying "Sitting unread in multiple editors' inboxes."

Then my agent quit the business. 

During that floating time, I'd written a sequel to Thin Space. Also, two other novels, companion books of sorts, set in the same dark weirdo mythological world. I started a third that winter.

The book was about a boy who wanted SO MUCH to have the powers and talent and special gift that his family members and friends had. But, alas, it wasn't happening for him. Still, he refused to quit. Consumed by the quest to transform himself, he set about trying to MAKE THIS THING HAPPEN by logically approaching the problem-- devising a plan  and checking off items on his checklist. Practicing. Exercising. Stubbornly refusing to stop despite every setback. 

He was a trooper that little guy.  

The parallel to my own situation was pretty clear to me and somewhere over the months of writing I could see that the book had morphed from 

Boy Makes Dream Come True Out of Sheer Willpower 

into 

Writer Comes to Terms with a Failed Dream. 

By the time summer rolled around (and my agent quit) I was torturing the poor boy. But for whatever reason, every day, despite the growing futility of the endeavor, I parked my butt in the chair and wrote the latest installment of this idiot kid as he pursued the dream we both could see was never going to come true.

30,000 words. 40,000 words. I was writing the Five Stages of Death and Dying. Accept it, I wanted to tell the boy. Get a grip. Move the F on. 

50,000 words. 60,000. I kept writing. What else was I going to do with my time? 

70,000 words. 80,000. 90,000... The plot, if there had ever been one, had long since fallen apart. The story was meandery and repetitive and pointless. I kept writing it. 

I think it was the end of August when it hit me. Something was happening to this kid. All of his work and crazy determination had gotten him somewhere. Strangely, it was not the place that he'd been striving toward. 

He was no longer afraid. No longer consumed by his quest. He was not the same boy he'd been at the beginning. Somewhere along the way, he had been transformed after all.

I finished the book and never looked at it again. 

A few weeks later my second agent told me that there was serious interest in Thin Space and if I could hold on for a bit longer, I might have a book deal. (spoiler alert: it took 6 more months before that happened). In the mean time, while I was almost manic with anxiety and frustration and worry, I did the only thing I knew how to do. 

I wrote another book. 

Last week I went to the Columbus Museum of Art. On a wall in one of the galleries there was a row of pictures, what looked like the same empty glass. The artist is a German man named Peter Dreher. Apparently, those paintings are the representatives of over 5,000 that Dreher calls his magnum opus, Tag um Tag guter Tag (Day by Day good Day). 

Every day since 1974 Dreher has painted the same empty water glass. Basically, it's the guy's practice. Wake up, paint a painting of the same glass. He's done it at least 2,500 times during the day. He's also created 2,500 paintings of the same glass at night-- because hey, why the hell not? 

In case you're wondering, he does other things besides paint the same glass. 

Over the next few weeks I am finishing up a revision of my tenth book. I haven't sold my two weirdo mythological world books. Or the sequel to Thin Space. I still have never opened the 100,000-word first draft of the Boy Who Refused to Quit story. 

Oh, I also no longer have an agent. 

When I finish my revision I will query it, which may or may not snag an agent's attention. If I do snag an agent's attention, he or she may or may not be able to snag the attention of an editor. 

So, all of that is up in the air. 

But here is what is NOT up in the air: 

as this tenth book floats around in the publishing world, I know with absolute certainty what I will be doing. 

I will be writing. 

each day
every day 

good day  





Sunday, April 17, 2016

The Haunting. Part Two...

From the outside it looks like an ordinary house. Inside, it is charming.

Comfy furniture, artwork on the walls. Cutsy knick-knacks. Flowers and candles. Bible verses written in calligraphy... The perfect place for a writers' retreat, and you and your friend drop your bags, ooh-ing and aah-ing--

--up the steep, narrow stairs to the bedrooms, and for some reason, your skin prickles and you chide yourself because what is so scary about steep narrow stairs? and at the top of the stairs, two bedrooms, one with a twin bed and a door that opens into an--okay, you have to admit it--a creepy attic space. You close the door fast and leave the room and find your friend.

I want to stay in this room, you say, pointing at the bigger room with the bigger bed. You are halfway embarrassed to say this, but whatever.

Your friend says, Oh, well, okay, I'll sleep downstairs on the couch.

And you say, um, no, let's both sleep in this room. Because you can't imagine sleeping upstairs alone and you're a little mortified about saying this too, but you don't care.

You have been in the house for fifteen minutes, but it's time to leave. You explore the charming town, snapping a picture of the barn across the street, the one with the human skulls in the windows. You drop inside an antique store. You buy a funny postcard.

You walk with your friend across a long bridge. The day is lovely and sunny and warm.

It's after ten that night when you come back to the house. It's strange because every light is on and the TV is on with a fuzzy blue screen and you don't remember leaving the lights on, and maybe someone is home? Maybe this isn't the house? But no, there are your things, your sneakers kicked off and your laptops.

That night you settle into the bigger bed, a little embarrassed, next to your friend. It's so cold in the room and then it's so unbearably hot, but eventually, you fall asleep. You sleep like the dead.

In the morning you wake up early. You walk down the steep narrow stairs. You don't realize you are walking sideways. Just a silly thing. You want to make sure your back's not turned, that's all. Silly.

Your friend sleeps like the dead until nearly noon. When she wakes up, she's bleary-eyed. It was so hot last night, she says. I couldn't sleep. I had to keep messing with the heat and every time I did, the temperature was higher.

Huh. You don't remember that.

You leave the house together, exploring the town again. Driving this time, across the long bridge. You leave the car in a parking lot and go out with people you know from the town. It's late when one of the people offers to drive you and your friend to the house. Good idea, you say.

We'll go back for the car in the morning.


Your friend wants to stay up and write but you're so tired, you can hardly think. Still, you sit for a while in the living room. You don't want to walk up the steep narrow stairs alone. But this is silly. You go up the stairs sideways. You go to sleep--

And then it's 3:00 in the morning and your friend is shaking you awake. I'm so sorry, she says. Her voice is panicky, and you instantly sit up.

Something is happening in the house, she says. And just like that you hear it. Rattling and clanging and banging. It's coming from the basement, she says. Do you hear it?

Well, of course you hear it. It's freaking loud. Water running through pipes?

But we aren't using the water, your friend says.

Steam banging in the radiators?

But the house doesn't have radiators.

You walk down the stairs sideways, so scared now that you don't notice that your friend is also walking does the stairs sideways. The noise is coming from the basement. The door to the basement is locked.

Well, whatever, you're not going down there anyway.

Let's get out of here, your friend says, and you realize that she has her sneakers on and her coat on over her pajamas and her purse draped over her arm.

Hell, yeah, you think, as the noise clanks louder up from the basement vents and you are trying to think logically but it's 3 o'clock in the morning and maybe something is going to happen, bad, like the furnace will explode. This happened in your town last year, so it's not an insane possibility, and now, you've got your shoes on and your coat on and your purse in your hand, and the noise is growing louder and who the hell knows, maybe someone has broken into the basement, a homeless person, knocking and banging around.

Forget this! You're going to a hotel. You'll come back for your things in the morning.

Your friend is digging for her keys, and then it hits you:

the car is on the other side of town,

in a parking lot. On the other side of the long bridge. It begins to storm.

You and your friend huddle together on the couch, the TV on, every damn light in the house on, listening, hyper-alert-ly to the banging and metal scratching, and now improbably, the walls have started to make noise too, something that sounds like knocking, and your friend says, Rodents? and you nod, but you know that rodents don't have fists.

Or knuckles.

You grab your friend's arm and you lean against each other on the couch. You have never been this scared in your entire life. No. This is a lie. You have been this scared. You were scared your entire childhood. Of the dark. Of going to sleep. Of waking up. Of people dying. Of people creeping into your bedroom in the middle of the night. And you remember the terror of your childhood self as you hold your friend's hand, telling yourself that all of this is in the past and you are an adult and you have escaped and you are safe now and this, this, THIS, whatever this is, has a logical explanation even if you can't think of what it might be at the moment.

Morning.

The house is quiet. You wake next to your friend on the couch and you are both crazed and wrung out, packing your things quickly, and walking sideways up and down the steep narrow stairs for one final time.

You cross the bridge together, nearly sprinting for the car. You return to the house. You have to go to the bathroom, but f that. You'll go pee at a McDonalds. You gather your stuff and flee the charming lovely house. You get into the car and shudder out relieved sighs.

You start to drive away and you both gasp at the same moment.

What is THAT? your friend says.

And there, directly behind the house where you stayed, is another house. It's gray and weathered and collapsing in on itself. It's a stereotypical horror show, so stereotypically horrifying, that you both laugh hysterically and your friend presses her foot on the gas and says, let's get the hell out of here.

That night, when you are safely at home, you try to explain all of this to your husband, but you know none of it makes sense. Why would you be afraid of steep narrow stairs? Lights coming on. Heat. Noise. Rodents in the walls. It's all so silly.

But look at THIS, you say to your husband.

You pull up Google Earth as you tell him about the unbelievable freak show of a house that was looming up directly behind the one where you stayed. This is something you have got to see, you say.

You find the charming house on Google Earth easily. You zoom in. You zoom around. You zoom above. You zoom to the sides. This can't be right, you tell your husband.

There is no house behind yours.

(no lie. THIS is the lot behind the house where you stayed.)




Thursday, April 7, 2016

Passive Aggressive Postcards from the Edge. (The Haunting. Part One)

A few weeks ago I went on a writing retreat with my writing friend Natalie D. Richards (not her real name) because "Natalie" wanted to get new author photos done and her cousin owns a studio in Marietta, Ohio, and so we decided to turn the photo shoot into a longer weekend of writing.

This will be fun, we said. Relaxing and inspiring and productive, like previous roadtrips and writing retreats we've gone on together...

but little did we know that we would soon embark upon a nightmarish horror journey that we are still trying to make sense of to this very day.

Cue: Scream

We found a darling little house to rent (which turned out to be haunted, but we didn't know that yet) and we set our suitcases and laptops and bags of fun food and wine treats down, and because it was a lovely, uncharacteristically sunny day, we left the house to explore the town.

For reasons that aren't quite clear to me now, we thought that the rustic looking barn across the street from the darling little house-- the one with the human skulls propped in the windows-- was funny.

(funny? Or, creepy as HELL. I'll let you be the judge)

Further down the street, we came upon something else that caught our eye, an antique shop with all sorts of fascinating objects outside in the adjacent courtyard. Objects such as a ladder and bicycle sculpture hanging from the trees, and an old wheelchair, and 

an animal skull jutting out of the wall.



Also, a little boy statue standing in front of a washtub.



"Hey! Let's go inside this place!" we said. Because we are stupid.

The store sold old furniture and old photos of people, mostly babies, the kind of old photos where you just know that now all of those people are dead.

We were the only customers.

I gravitated toward a wall of old postcards and found one that I thought was hilarious. It was a postcard with a picture of a crying baby that said "WHY DON'T YOU WRITE?"


"What a perfect motto for our writing retreat!" I said to "Natalie." And I bought it and took a picture of it and tweeted about it, something clever, I thought, about how this postcard made me think of the beginning of a Supernatural episode, and one of my Twitter friends immediately tweeted back, something like GET RID OF THAT POSTCARD NOW! and I thought that was funny too.

I am going to skip over the rest of the weekend--the photo shoot at the Hot Tomato studio and the burlesque show that "Natalie" and I found ourselves going to, dressed in our Hot Tomato costumes and teetery high heeled shoes, and the fun dinners we had and the walks back and forth across the river on a lovely bridge and our talks about writing and major breakthroughs in our respective writing projects, and also, the hellish two nights we spent in the HAUNTED HOUSE,

and return to talking about the postcard.

It was a real postcard, sent on July 28, 1911 in Zanesville from a woman named Mildred to a man named Moody, and on the postcard, Mildred wrote, passive-aggressively:

Hello. Why didn't you write to me? 

I don't know if Moody ever wrote back to Mildred. Or why Moody kept the postcard from Mildred. Or how the postcard ended up, eventually, in the antique shop with the animal skull and freaky child doll in the courtyard. Or, most importantly, why I bought the postcard and carried it around in my purse for three days.

What I DO know is that I got home from my haunted weekend, anxious and exhausted and freaked out, and that night, after telling my husband the entire story, I remembered the silly tweet about the Supernatural episode,

and I put the postcard in the fireplace and set it on fire.


The End.

Or is it?

[tune in next week for The Haunting. Part Two.]






Thursday, March 31, 2016

April. Otherwise Known As the Month In Which Martha Presses Her Table Linens and I Scoop Monkey Balls out of My Yard

I didn't know until the April issue of Martha Stewart Living magazine came in the mail that Martha Stewart and I have a lot in common. 

Side note: I am not typically a Martha Stewart Living magazine reader, but a few months ago my husband got an email from our credit card company announcing that if we didn't use a bunch of accumulated points, we would lose them forever, and the only thing that we seemed to be able to use the points for was ordering magazines, and so now we are receiving Martha, Self, Dwell, and Us Weekly in the mail. Side note two: My husband threatened to order more magazines but I told him that four is plenty (see: my recent de-hoarding obsession), and he was forced to order Cigar Aficionado, Wine Enthusiast, and Guns & Garden for our friends, possibly now our enemies. 

But back to Martha. I was joking before when I said we have a lot in common.   

And nowhere is this more starkly clear to me than on page 2 of the April issue which has a feature called Martha's Month: Gentle reminders, helpful tips, and important dates.

Martha's Month

I read this page with interest, thinking that maybe I should put together a calendar page for myself too, and write out my own gentle reminders. I have that vague naggy feeling that April will be a busy one, a mish mash of the writing project that I'm slowly picking my way through, a handful of writing workshops to plan, organizational stuff for my new SCBWI Regional Advisor position, and all of that sandwiched around general housekeeping and yardwork that must be taken care of, ASAP, most importantly, my vegetable garden.

But before I can even begin work on my vegetable garden, my husband and I have to deal with the mud bath that is our backyard. 

(Our backyard, last year, after a rainstorm. This was the
day that my husband and I crafted a shark fin
out of cardboard and set it afloat upon the surface of
our new mudpond, which just goes to show how
artsy-craftsy we can be. Take that, Martha.)

Over the past few weekends, dealing with the mud bath that is our backyard has involved digging a fifteen-foot long ditch and lining it with stones so as to create our own dry creek bed for excess water collection. 

Next up on the To-do list: scooping up piles of dog poop left behind now that the snows and waters have receded. 

And collecting the monkey balls that dot our muddy lawn like landmines. 

Monkey balls, as I am sure you know, are the sharp edged fruits that drop from the monkey ball tree. (I just looked this up for my own edification and because I was wondering if they are really called "monkey balls." Weirdly, the answer is yes. Officially, the tree is the American Sweetgum and the fruit, in addition to being fondly referred to as monkey balls, is also known as "bommyknockers" "sticker balls" and "gum balls."

Whatever you want to call them, I highly recommend that you do not step on them with bare feet.) 

Anyway, what I am trying to say is that, according to our calendars, while I am "picking up monkey balls" and "navigating piles of dog poop," Martha will be "making fresh ricotta" and "going for horseback rides" and "baking homemade treats for the dogs" and "visiting Maine for the weekend."

It should be a fun month for both of us. 

three fewer bommyknockers to pick up


  


Friday, March 25, 2016

Because It's There. Also, a word about SCBWI

I can't remember the mountain climber guy's name. But a reporter asked him why he wanted to climb Mt Everest and the guy answered: "Because it's there."

Side note: I just googled it and it was George Mallory. Side note #2: the George Mallory story is fascinating. In 1924 he tried to climb to the top of Mt Everest and died on the way up, and for 75 years people wondered if maybe Mallory had made it to the top and died on the way down (which would've made him the first to reach the summit, as opposed to Sir Edmund Hillary in 1953). In 1999 a team found Mallory's body and hoped it would settle the question once and for all. But it didn't. You can read all about that controversy here. Side note #3: I know the guy who was on one of teams in 1999 who went up Everest to search for Mallory's body. Andy Politz. (you can read all about him, here)

But I don't want to write about climbing mountains. I want to write about Writing, specifically, my relationship to Writing and why I am in that particular relationship.

I met Writing as a kid, pretty much at the same time I met Reading and discovered that I could use Reading to escape my not-so-happy little life. Writing, kindly enough, gave me the same joy and pleasure as Reading, but with a side dish of power. When you write, I quickly figured out, you not only get to fall into a story, you get to create the story you're falling into.

It was a nice romance for many years. Writing and Me. When I was a kid, a teen, a young adult, I spent a lot of time with Writing. I got good at being with Writing. I was praised, more often than not, and that made me want to keep writing. But mostly, I enjoyed writing for Writing's sake.

Then I went to college and grad school and Writing and I hit our first rough patch. Reality. And reality meant criticism and analyzing and studying and revising and most of all, Writing meant Work. We had a pretty solid foundation though, the two of us, me-n-Writing, and the relationship felt like something I wanted to work on. So I did.

Until I was out of school and long out of the practice of writing for my own pleasure, and without the deadlines and assignments and structure of school, and minus the joy of it, Writing and I broke up for a few years.

We started dating again, on and off. But the emphasis in our relationship had shifted from Pleasure to Work and finally to the Product of the Work, otherwise known as Being Published. After a few years of that, I was published. And that was cool.

But by then Writing and I had a love/hate relationship. It's hit me lately, as I've written four books since publishing one, that maybe Publishing is not the summit of my particular mountain. Which has led me to question:

So, what IS? And why should I continue to climb?

Several years ago I went to the SCBWI (Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators) conference in LA. It was a month before my book Thin Space came out. Reviews were rolling in and they were good. I was walking around in a glow-y daze of joy. At last my dream had come true and my book, MY BOOK!! would be on library and bookstore shelves and I was ON MY WAY, the culmination-- no, the beginning of my life as an Author-- with more books coming out and critical acclaim and money and fame and woo hoo hoo, etc.

I was happy, is what I'm saying.

One of the speakers at the conference was Matt de la Pena. He gave an amazing speech about writing and his childhood and his late discovery of books and all of the ups and downs in his writing journey. The part of his speech that snapped me out of my glowy daze of joy for a moment was when he started talking about his mission as a writer.


We have to figure out why we're doing this, he said, and he told a story about a kid in a hoodie sitting every day at a bus stop and how the kid was kind of rough around the edges, maybe even borderline thug-looking, and the people in all of the cars going by didn't look at the kid. It was like the kid was invisible. Matt de le Pena drove by every day too and he saw the kid and it made him realize why he was Doing This:

To give kids like that kid a voice, to tell their stories, and to get people to see those kids.

That was Matt de la Pena's mission statement, and he said all of us in the audience should have one too.

I scribbled that down, half thinking about it, but mostly, not thinking about it, because I had a Book coming out!! and that was the important thing to me that day.

Four years later and four potentially never-to-be published books later, I think I get it.

Publishing is not the summit. Publishing was never the summit. Writing is the summit. And I am writing because that's my mountain and it's there and damn it, it's what I do.

It's what I've pretty much always done. I know I will continue to do it regardless of the end product because writing is how I want to spend my time. It's work and joy. It's puzzling things out and sitting on hot painful stoves. It's challenging and maddening and fascinating and boring and heartbreaking and laugh out loud funny.

It gives my life meaning.

Over the past few years it's spread out beyond me as I've been talking at conferences and in classrooms and teaching writing classes and talking to other writers and seeing that they too are struggling with the same kinds of things I've been struggling with.

So this is a long, meander-y, roundabout way of saying I've figured out my mission statement.

TO TELL MY STORIES
and
TO HELP OTHER PEOPLE TELL THEIR STORIES

And to that end, I am writing my way through Book Number 5 and finding it, as usual, challenging and maddening and fascinating and boring and heartbreaking and laugh out loud funny.

Also, I recently took over as Regional Advisor of the Central/South region of SCBWI. I joined the organization in 2005 and the group was there for me as I learned more about the craft and business of writing children's books and now I want to give back.

If you're a writer in our region, look for news and events going on in our area here. We meet at the library in Upper Arlington at 7:00 on the fourth Wednesday of the month (for Columbus area folks) and at 7:00 on the second Tuesday of the month at the library in Sharonville (for Cincinnati area people).

Hope to see you there.

xxoo





Friday, March 18, 2016

Portrait of the Artist as a Self-Doubter

The first rejection derailed her. Maybe it was a sign from the Universe. QUIT, she imagined the Universe shouting. ORDINARY PEOPLE LIKE YOU NEVER BECOME PUBLISHED WRITERS!

(Although, she did reread the rejection letter several times-- true, it was the typical form letter This story does not fit our present needs...--but the editor had scrawled a note across the bottom Nice work! Try us again!...)

She waited six years before she tried again.

Sometimes she missed writing, but most of the time, she was too busy to think about it. She worked full-time as a teacher. She had a two year-old running around at home. Writing was something she'd done as a teenager and in college, but she'd grown up since then. She'd put away childish dreams.

A fellow teacher passed along a brochure about a writers conference in town. Wanna Be a Published Author of Children's Books? Come to our conference! Meet a Real Live Editor!

For an extra fee the editor would critique the first three chapters of a novel.

She had never written a novel. It seemed like a ridiculous idea. When would she have time to write novel?

She paid the fee. She wrote the novel during her planning period. The conference was cool. She ate lunch with the editor who worked at Simon & Schuster and she told him that her toddler's favorite book was Chicka Chicka Boom Boom, which was published by Simon & Schuster. The editor told her that he'd just signed a new author and he was so excited about her and her book. It's called Running out of Time, he said. It's by a woman named Margaret Peterson Haddix.

I will have to check that book out, she said.

Later, she read the critique of her three chapters. The voice is strong and the dialogue is realistic and there is some real emotion in the chapters... but (and she knew now there was always a BUT) it is unclear who the main character is. It's hard to tell what the conflict is. Maybe you can try to-- 

Maybe she couldn't.

She read Margaret Peterson Haddix's book when it came out. It was so good. She read other books in the same genre. They were good too. Why did she think she could Do This?

She waited another four years.

Now she had two kids. Sometimes when her son was at pre-school and her baby daughter was napping, she'd work on a story. One of the stories was published in a magazine but she couldn't manage to sell another. To have something to do during nap-times, she signed up for a writing correspondence course. She wrote a book for the teacher, who enjoyed it.

She sent it out to publishing houses and it was rejected.

The Universe was shouting at her again and this time it was saying: THIS IS A SILLY HOBBY!

She sold another story. One day she got two pieces of mail: a check for twelve hundred dollars for the story, and a brochure for a writing retreat that cost twelve hundred dollars.

(the universe?)

She wasn't sure. Should she leave her kids for a week? She'd miss her daughter's birthday, which happened to fall during that time. Also, both of the kids took part in a zillion activities and she was the Carpool Mom. Maybe Writing was a thing she once did and maybe now it was time to let it go?

She went on the retreat. The first night everyone in the small group introduced themselves and talked about what they were working on. When it was her turn, she said her name. She said what she was writing. She realized it had been years since she had admitted this out loud to strangers.  

She felt shivery, shaky. If she was writing, did that mean she was a writer?


Seven years later she sold her first book.




Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Confessions of an Arrogant Amateur

She was resistant to criticism. Disdainful to those who dared to critique her. Hostile, even.

(Although, she tried to hide it, gritting her teeth, smiling, nodding.)

She was amazed and outraged at every rejection. Why couldn't these people see the brilliance of her work? The humor? The heartbreak? The perfectly constructed, gem-like sentences?

(In her defense she was armed with degrees and experience. She had majored in English, taught writing, had written and published several short stories. Less talented writers than she had snagged publishing deals. She'd read their silly books. If they could catch the attention of an editor, why couldn't she?)

Still, she had to admit that she might be overlooking something important. Perhaps there was some secret to publishing that she had yet to discover. Perhaps, there was an essential element missing from her work...

She said she wanted someone to tell her what to DO with her manuscript. Just tell me what to do, she would lament, and I'll do it! 

(She was lying.)

What she wanted was for someone to tell her that her story was perfect exactly the way it was. When someone pointed out a problem, mentioned an area of confusion, offered--gasp!-- a suggestion, she'd think: Well, obviously they have no idea what I am trying to do here. They haven't read it carefully. This is a complicated, difficult book. They don't understand it! Blah blah blah etc.

But years of writing and submitting and being rejected had started to wear her down. One day, close to giving up, she saw a brochure for a week-long writing conference. She toyed with the idea of signing up, but wavered. Her hesitance was centered around the price tag, two thousand dollars! and for what? Workshops on Setting? Characterization? Plot? She knew all of this already! She spoke to one of the conference organizers on the phone.

I'm not sure if this is worth it, she said. I'm not a beginner. I'm on the verge. 

But even as she was speaking, confidently (arrogantly), a small scared voice in her head whispered:

If you know all of this, why aren't you published? 

She signed up for the conference. This is IT, she decided. A final effort at pursuing a dream. One last outlay of cash, of time. If she didn't get her big break, well, she'd given it her best shot.

She sent the first ten pages of her latest manuscript to be critiqued. The assigned mentor would read it and be blown away by the story. What is there to discuss? the mentor would likely say. This is perfect exactly the way it is. 

They met the first day of the conference. Not surprisingly, the mentor complimented our arrogant amateur on her writing. But then she asked several questions:

Why does your story start with this particular scene?
What does your main character want?
Where are the hints of conflict?
What is the driving question?
What--
Why--
How--
Have you tried--
Do you think--
Could you--

Our arrogant amateur could answer none of these questions. She stumbled back to her room and burst into tears.

Reality was a wave crashing over her carefully constructed wall of delusions, and she had to admit, finally, that she had no idea what she was doing.

But she wanted to learn.

Portrait of a No-Longer-Arrogant Amateur
with her mentor