The story behind THE THREE RULES OF EVERYDAY MAGIC is pretty long and winding. It started out as a book with two grandmas who come back as guardian angels. That was inspired by my children having old ladies for imaginary friends. Creepy, but hey, that works for story inspiration sometimes.
But then I got feedback from my first mentor that pointed out that as it was, the grandma angels were distracting to the heart of the story about a girl and her depressed father. I either needed to give the angels more purpose or find a way to tell the story without them.
I tried at first just to make the grandmas more important, but then I started getting some ideas on how to tell the story without the angels. So I decided to JUST TRY. I sent the first few chapters to my CP and she raved. This was it. All that emotion from the last half of the book? It's now in the first part of the book, too. The part everyone told me was slow before.
But as I got to the first turning point, I knew I needed something. Something slightly magical. It's hard to go from paranormal to straight contemporary! I was on a cross-country car drive when it hit me. Not magic the way we think about it, but this idea of magic, and these three rules. I can still remember that moment of inspiration with absolute clarity. It changed the direction of my story while also deepening the original heart of all of it.
So that's it, really. Imaginary friends, hard feedback, and a cross country trip. That's all you need to write a book! ;)
Last December, I was struck with absolute creative inspiration. My kids had been playing with imaginary old ladies and I'd been feeling creeped out about it. But after talking to my mom, I decided to think of them as the kids' great grandmas, and it seemed less spooky. Of course, that thought began a story...about a girl whose father suffers from serious depression and leaves his family, and the guardian angel grandmothers who return to earth to help her find him.
It was a pretty fun story to write. But I got done with the first draft, and there was little to no voice. I'd caught brief glimpses of her (Kate's) voice, but couldn't hold on to it. So after a couple weeks break, I went back to the book, opened up a blank document, and wrote the whole thing over again. With mostly the same plot, but this time the way Kate would say it.
As I wrote I kept thinking, this is beautiful. Wow, I didn't know I could write like this. The feedback from my CP's was overwhelmingly positive. I incorporated their suggestions and did some pretty massive revisions. I took risks. I added elements I loved that were unique. I sent it out to beta readers and each one wrote back telling me how it had made them cry, that they loved it. There were still some things that needed fixing. But I could handle that. I revised some more and believed that, other than a spit polish, it was pretty close to as good as I could make it.
Then I got a mentorship with three agented authors. The first one read and had many of the same things to say as my beta readers. It made her cry, it had a beautiful voice, a beautiful heart, an important topic.
But maybe think about losing the guardian angels.
I balked. I tried to wave away the suggestion. She just doesn't get my story, my humor, I'll see what the next mentor says. But I couldn't get some of her words out of my head. She pointed (virtually, this is all in email) to the heart of Kate's story, about the loss of a father-daughter relationship to depression and how to love someone in that state no matter what, and said my silly angels were a distraction.
Basically, I needed to dig deeper, get closer to the pain, closer to the heart. Stop messing with the fluff and get serious.
So I decided to give it a try. Taking a paranormal story to a straight contemporary. I changed those two guardian angels into a single grandmother with early dementia. And as I was driving across the country to visit family and working on my story in the middle of the night, I had another burst of inspiration. A way to weave just a tiny bit of magic into this serious, and gut-wrenching story.
It's hard to say where creative inspiration comes from. Because it wasn't there in my brain before I typed it onto the paper, but all of a sudden it was in my story and in that moment I just knew, this was the story I was meant to tell all along. Why had I been gumming it up with humorous guardian angels? Underneath all the fluff, there was a much more powerful story just waiting for me to uncover it.
My critique partner raved. I felt extremely confident. I sent it back to my mentor and she loved the changes. But now it was a whole new story. More like a first draft than the sixth or seventh it truly was.
Some of her suggestions required I part with things in the story near and dear to my heart. Things that felt like moments of clarity at the time about what my story needed to be and do. But I changed it anyway, clinging tightly to the last vestiges of my original story. The unique narrating format.
Then the second mentor read it. She too raved about the magic elements, the heart of the story, the beautiful language and voice. But she wanted me to change the narration. It felt like a bridge too far.
No. I've taken out the guardian angels. I've removed the notebook. And yeah, okay, it's the most beautiful and powerful thing I've ever written. I still can't believe it actually came from me. But now you want the whole format changed too?
And suddenly my thoughts were swarming with, "Is this even my book anymore?" and "Will I ever be able to write anything else without people tearing it apart and making me rebuild again and again from the ground up?"
The answer to those questions is, of course, yes. But as I've waded into the waters of this next revision with a lot of trepidation and angst, I also feel like I've gained new insight into life in general.
A lot of times we envision our life going a certain way, and sometimes it does. And it seems pretty good that way. Everyone else seems to like it. We like it. But then something comes and changes everything. Maybe it's God calling you to something better. Maybe its a sudden tragedy. Maybe it's illness, a job loss, infertility. Maybe it's your own conscience whispering to you that there's something else you're supposed to be doing.
This story's good. But it could be better. It could be a lot better. Better than you can even imagine at this point.
And sometimes when that happens, we have to step back, breathe, and then toss that old version of our life in the trash. We have to open that blank document and allow ourselves to fully walk into it and accept all the possibilities it offers. We have to be willing to open ourselves up to inspiration, changes we don't see coming, to dig into the pain and the heart and all the gut-wrenching moments of our lives and find a way to make them beautiful. To let go of the fluff. So that one day we can look at it and say, "Is this really my life? Did I really make this?" (And of course, the Christian in me feels the need to remind myself here, no you did not. Not by yourself, at least.)
And even when you have this new normal. This new, beautiful, heartfelt, imperfectly perfect normal, it might still need to change down the line. And I hope you're open to that. I hope you're willing to let go of the things in your story that aren't supposed to be there anymore and make room for better things.
I don't regret a single draft of my story. I was complaining to my longtime CP earlier this summer about my unwillingness to make certain changes because that's how I discovered the story. How could I change that? That's what it is. And she gently, and kindly said (and I'm summarizing here) "Maybe you needed to discover Kate's voice that way, but that doesn't mean it HAS to be that way."
And now I see she's right. Every single rewrite and revision has been like an archeology dig. It's less about me creating something, and more about uncovering the beauty that was always there to begin with. I hope you can look at your past with the same eyes. None of it has been in vain, even when you've had to start over and rebuild from scratch. It all led you to uncovering that better story.
Maybe you're in the middle of rewriting your life. Or maybe you just got a painful critique from life, God, yourself, whatever. Keep going. Don't be afraid to rewrite.
I don't know if Kate's story will ever go anywhere other than my computer files. She may never make it to a bookshelf or land me an agent. And I'm finally at this place in my writing where I don't care. Don't get me wrong, I really want to get this story published. But whether it happens or not, the process of rewriting and revising and rewriting again and discovering and writing this story has changed me as a person. Kate's story, in its beauty and sadness and magic, has changed the way I look at the world. And I'm not sure I can ask for anything more than that from a book.
I don't know about you, but when I think about ways that I can serve others, I usually think big. I want to help pull people out of poverty. I want to send foster kids to college. I want to feed the hungry, shelter the homeless, etc. When we thinking of service and volunteering, these acts are held in high esteem and with good reason.
But lately, I've found myself more and more thankful for small acts of kindness. I've found myself grateful for the chance to serve within my family. No, I'm not alleviating poverty, or helping someone in another country, or, I don't know, fighting for social justice, I guess. But is it somehow less than?
The service I give within my family, to my children and to my extended family, is important. It's something I need to stop downplaying and feeling like it somehow pales in comparison to sponsoring a child. When I have the chance to bring in a meal to someone who is sick, I need to stop feeling like that's just "JV" service, or not as good as working at the soup kitchen. In both situations, aren't I feeding the hungry?
I have been the beneficiary of food brought to the grieving, I have walked in after mourning a sudden, devastating loss to find my home clean and yard taken care of. And it was a burden lifted. A clean home gave me space and time to grieve. It was no SMALL act of service to me.
My sister's husband was recently diagnosed with cancer. He was about to start at his first job after finishing school, but instead he will be beginning chemotherapy in the next few weeks. And so, for the next several months, I will not be sending money to the migrant crisis in Syria. I will not be giving to international charities at Christmas. I will be sending all the help I can to my sister and her husband. And that is feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving shelter, even though it's within my own family.
Their church family is stepping up to the plate. Finding housing for them during chemo treatments, and will be bringing in meals and helping with childcare. I can tell you right now, that each one of those meals or times helping with the baby, is no small act of service. To me, while I am so far away and can't help as much as I'd like to during this time, they are not just God's hands helping my sister and her family, they are my hands too. And my mother's hands. They stand in place of us when we can't be there and I cry just thinking about it. Just knowing that she will be okay.
When my mom was in DC with my sister and her husband during his surgery, she received the smallest act of service, but it made such an impression on her. She was on the shuttle to the hospital and began to cry. She was the only one there, and the bus driver noticed. She asked what was wrong and when she heard, told my mom, "Don't worry. The NIH works miracles. They work miracles there!" A few sentences that made all the difference to my mother on a very hard day.
Never feel like you aren't doing enough because the service you give doesn't fit the normal, "big" ways we think about giving. Serving means showing up and doing what you can with what you have when you are needed. And "small" acts do not feel small to the receiver.
I'm trying to use the container story for my big chalkboard drawings and just do one a week. I'm also trying to hide each week's letters and form drawing in each picture. Above you will see the letter M,V and this week's form which is similar to letter M. Below you sill find lines, curves, and a sort of wave.
I think it's important to realize that your child will not be turning out these beautiful Main Lesson Books right off the bat and to get a feel for what real best work looks like for children. So with that in mind I've decided to show you what we are doing for our art. And along with showing you my daughter's work, I'm going to take you through my work and my reflections of what went right and what went wrong. Okay, ready? Let's go!
Here are our paintings for the letter M. M is for mountain and that's what we painted. Jane decided she wanted yellow fields at the base of her mountains so it could be like California right now. I had practiced this painting before and decided to get fancy. "Hey, let's shroud our mountains in just a touch of mist and fog. That would be cool, right?" Yeah, I went a little over board on the mist and fog. Next time, one little ring of mist will be plenty and I'll remember that. The other thing I will do differently next time is have Jane wait a little longer for the rest of her painting to dry before adding the red letter over the top of her painting. We did it too early this time and her M sort of spread out.
This is our very first block crayon drawing. It's a garden. Above, you can see the retelling for the container story from that week. I'm giving Jane lines to write with right now because without them she writes everything really huge and we only get a couple words on the page. I made these lines a bit too far apart and she still couldn't quite fit all her words on one page. This morning I made the lines closer together and she fit her whole narration on the page.
A side by side. My garden picture on the left. Jane's on the right. She though the mixing crayons were really cool and kept saying, "This is fun."
This is our painting from last week. The blue sky wasn't wet enough when I had Jane add her red. It was supposed to be a purple dawn. Next time I'll check the wetness of her page. We put the blue on first and then added all the hills and it was just too long inbetween.
This was my picture of hills at dawn. I'm not sure where all those white splotches on the hill came from. I kind of suspect some young picasso's got a hold of a wet paintbrush when I left the table. We now call them sheep.
Congratulations! Your writing life is about to completely change...for the much, much better.
One year ago, I was in your shoes. I had completed and revised and polished my manuscript for two years and when I saw my name on that list, my hopes and dreams skyrocketed and left earth's gravity for a while. Look at the numbers, this means I'm among the top 5% of queriers, right? And with a mentor my ms is going to go above and beyond. This was it. This was my ticket to success. It had to be. I could feel it.
It's a year later and I don't have an agent or a book deal, but I can still say, hands down, Pitch Wars has been the single greatest thing to happen to my writing, and it has nothing to do with my mentor or any sort of feedback, but everything to do with a Facebook group of 83 writers, dreamers, and fellow pitch warriors.
For the past year I have been part of a community of writers who all struggled through the crazy and exhausting revisions of Pitch Wars, the nail-biting agony of the agent round, the triumphs and heartaches of querying. I've been able to get an inside scoop on all the highs of this business. Getting the call, choosing from multiple offers, book deals, pre-empts, auctions, and being a PW mentor.
I've also been part of a community that bands together and lifts each other up through the absolute lows of this business. Losing an agent, firing an agent, failed R&R's, getting zero requests in the agent round, and the absolute hell that is querying and getting rejection after rejection after rejection.
We've brushed each other off and encouraged each other to keep going. We've celebrated the amazing successes, each book deal, offer, contest win, and request.
And through all of this past year of being in this community, the most important thing I've learned is this: It doesn't matter where you are on your writing journey. Agent, book deal, querying, never-ending rejections, nothing but CNR's, inbetween manuscripts, editing the never finished project, or working on a sequel. You will never feel like you've "made it." You will never be rid of that doubt lurking in all the corners of your mind. Getting into Pitch Wars won't get rid of the doubt, getting an agent won't get rid of the doubt, getting a book deal won't get rid of the doubt.
Every time you email your mentor you'll worry that they secretly are sick of you and your book and wish they picked someone else. Every time you sit down to write that first draft you will feel like it's garbage. Even after you get that three-book deal, you'll still worry that your sequel won't live up to the first. Every time you get editorial feedback, whether from a CP, your agent, or your editor, you will still feel nervous enough to throw up. You'll worry they secretly hate your book. You'll wonder if you can deliver.
But doubt is not your enemy. The doubt is what binds us together. It's what makes it so we can all say, "I know what you're going through. I understand how you feel." It's also that little voice that drives us to write it better and better. To not give up at "good enough," to put out our best work.
But alongside that doubt that you will always experience as a writer is another equally important emotion. HOPE. As long as you have words in your head and stories in your heart you will always have hope. It weaves itself into the words you write. It's what drives you to sit your butt in that chair and type and type and type. It's that voice that whispers, Maybe the next agent. Maybe the next manuscript. You can not survive in this business without it. And when you feel like you can no longer go through the pain of hoping, your PW community will keep hope alive for you, and wait for you to come back and realize that there are still stories to tell and characters to redeem.
You just got into Pitch Wars. And yes, you got a mentor. But more importantly, you just got a community that has the opportunity to take the next two months to form an amazing bond of shared experience and go out and conquer all the highs and lows of the writing world together. That's the true gift of Pitch Wars. Open it.