My Dead/New Car, My Book, and Other Life Updates

It’s that time again! Where is my book, where is my life, and what IS life?

Ninja Car is Dead: My car has been dying not-so-slowly. The transaxle and fuel emission lights would come on about once per week (up to a few times per day near the end). A dead starter and a AAA tow, and I spent the weekend on the hunt for a new shiny car.

Now to welcome my new car (which I have not yet named)! It’s a gray 2014 Honda Accord–quite the step up from my 2001 Ford Taurus. A 13-year step up, to be exact. There are things that will take getting used to: like driving faster than 55mph on the freeway and bluetooth and rearview mirrors and actual acceleration.

60-hour Work Weeks: Through the last few months, I’ve been working 60-hour weeks. That’s a lot of hours. Multiple hours. Too many hours. That’s what happens when you love your job, you have a sudden and spontaneous deadline, and you don’t mind being the only car in the parking lot of an office building.

New Coworker: We’ve hired a new Technical Writer to our team! See the above 60-Hour Work Weeks fiasco. Having a new coworker that I have to train will mean more work for a while and then less work when they are trained enough to take over some responsibilities. Woo hoo for sharing responsibilities!

The Never-Ending Outline: I’ve been working with my editor on the outline for my debut book, THE NAMELESS QUEEN, for a while now. We’ve spent a good chunk of time (ie months) settling on the new structure and motivations. I’m finally at the point where I have a deadline for the revised manuscript! Labor day! That’s six weeks from now! Six…. weeks…… *panics* Nope, everything will be fine. Deadlines are encouraging and motivating. A bit of healthy stress, right?

The VACATION! The SOLAR ECLIPSE: I started my current job in 2014, and I’m finally about to take my first real vacation! A whole week! On August 21, I’ll be somewhere near Alliance Nebraska, in the Path of Totality for the first total solar eclipse to pass through the USA since 1979! The next time it happens in America is 2024. (Though, there IS an annular eclipse in 2023 on my birthday!)  For the rest of that week, I’ll be hiking in the black hills. Road trip!! (We will not be taking my new car, because of mileage and warranty reasons.) And with those long long weeks I’ve been working, a vacation will be just what I need.

What IS life? New cars and coffee stains and computer keyboards. All of these things and everything else.

5 Tips for Women in the Workplace

After getting an office job almost 3 years ago, I’ve picked up some tips (aka: mistakes and lessons learned) for women in the workplace and for anyone looking to be more confident in their profession. Let’s jump right in:

1. Don’t say sorry when you mean something else. Say excuse me, pardon me, or Hello There.

  • Don’t say sorry when you mean “pardon” or “excuse me.” I caught myself saying “sorry” ALL the time when I would turn a sharp corner and almost bump into someone. And you know what? Other women would say “sorry” as well, but men almost NEVER say it.
  • If you round a corner to fast, try saying “Oh, hey there!” with a smile. Or just say “Pardon” and be on your merry way. There’s this misconception that women always have to be smiles and polite or else they’re being bitchy. Aside from being sexist, that’s just untrue.
  • Don’t say sorry in conversations with coworkers when what you mean to say is “Hey, I want to to say something, but I don’t want to interrupt.” Just say it. Or have a polite-interruption lead in, like “What about…” or “So what if…” Saying sorry isn’t polite. It’s an apology. Be polite, not apologetic. Be strong!

2. Walk in the middle of the hallway.

  • If it’s a long empty stretch of hallway and there’s no one around, take that middle road. Stride down the hall like you own it! Too often, I see women hugging the wall, when oftentimes we’re the faster-paced among the hallway walkers. I’m not saying barge into folks when they’re walking by you or to block the path forward, but this is just a small example of stepping forward and owning your own space.
  • Eye contact: I’ve found that people make eye contact with people they’re walking past you, but very briefly. The eye contact lasts for less than a second and typically occurs when they’re 3-6 steps away. Sometimes they nod and say hello, but most often the eye contact is brief and uneventful.
  • Also, a tip I’ve found (because I’m that weirdo who nods and either smiles or says hello to everyone I pass), is that if you’re going to smile at someone as you make eye-contact, make sure to keep your smile until you pass them. Peripheral vision is powerful, and I can’t tell you how many times out in the real world, I see people do the “polite” smile and then go back to grumpy-face or neutral face immediately afterward. I’m not saying you have to smile at everyone/anyone, but just that I find it to have a more positive impact on my own mood if I let my smile last a bit longer. Then, it’s almost like each of those small interactions are built to improve my mood.

3. In that same spirit, take the lead when walking with a group.

  • Don’t just trail behind (unless you don’t know where you’re going, in which case you should not lead the way haha). Oftentimes, you can kind of walk in an awkward group together, but you’ll find that some circumstances require more single-file movements.
  • If you have to file single file, pick up the pace and drop in line ahead of your coworkers or slip in behind them. Be the person to proactively adjust, because it shows forethought, spatial awareness, and initiative of group dynamic movements. Regain your position when you can.
  • I know it sounds like I’m over-thinking it, but just think about how often you take the lead and how often you just mill forward with the group. Really, you just want to take notice of where you’re reflexive behaviors are. Once you identify them, challenge them!

4. Another reflexive thing I see myself and others doing: folding in on yourself at meetings.

  • Try changing your posture. Sit up straight. Put your elbows on the table. Sit with your legs apart instead of crossed legs. Basically: rethink a thing that you do without thinking: posture.
  • If you’re tall, lower your chair to the proper height for the table. If you’re short, raise it up. Don’t be ashamed or afraid of fumbling around for the hidden level on the chair. Comfort is important. I’ve had many a ice-breaking conversation at meetings that start with “Geez, how do you adjust these seats?”
  • Keeping your elbows on the table is a way to lean forward and stay involved in the conversation. It says “I’m participating and paying attention, and I’m ready to learn and lead.” Plus, it can keep you from rolling away and fidgeting in a rolly chair (not that I do that).
  • I know it can be a comfort or a wardrobe or a body temperature thing, especially for women. But if you’ve ever had a guy sit across from you, wide stance, slouch with their arms spread out wide, and mansplain your job to you, you know there is power in posture. Try mirroring the posture of someone you respect. See how it changes your whole dynamic. It’s just super interesting to change the way you present yourself, because it’s SO automatic and subconscious. Challenge the way your brain works! It’s a fascinating experience!

5. Think first, then ask. But don’t overthink.

  • I can’t tell you how many times I take an immediate question to someone else without really thinking about it first. Then they ask a question I don’t know the answer to, and I realize I’ve basically made a gut reaction of complaining instead of thinking about the issue. Take some time. Think about it. Don’t just react. When I see something dumb, and I *immediately* wheel around and tell someone. Which is cathartic and lets me move on, but it isn’t productive for the unlucky soul I keep distracting (sorry, David). Communication, as with most things, requires balance.
  • I’ve also had the opposite issue, where I reach a problem, come up with a complicated solution, only to have someone say “Oh, we can just do THIS, and it’s all fixed.” Working in a vacuum bubble is never good. Vacuum bubbles are a straight ticket to a world of popped balloons.
  • Basically, there’s a long gray smudgy line between not thinking enough and overthinking. I wish it was clear-cut, but it’s not.

 

If you have any tips you’ve picked up at your office, let me know! I’m a weird nerd who pays too much attention to social dynamics and physical behaviors, so I’m always looking to learn more!

Getting Published: Setting Achievable Goals

My life goals typically look like this:

  • Acquire matching socks.
  • Acquire fingerless gloves.
  • Buy a stupid mango and actually eat it instead of forgetting it exists and throwing it away two weeks too late.
  • Acquire fresh produce and cook a meal. It’s been a while, and I’ve gotten lazy at this.
  • Accomplish list of things required to maintain the frimbly facade of being an adult (including, not limited to: go to bank, schedule ophthalmologist appointment, research cars, probably call internet company?)

Basically, my lists are now-oriented. I’m not a big fan of Bucket Lists or Life Goals. Why? Because I want attainable goals that I know I can accomplish. I want to dangle the cookie just within reach, because then I’ll fight for it. I don’t want to hang the cookie on a distant star in outer space where I can only see it through a very expensive telescope that I can’t afford.

There’s a metaphor in there, I promise.

Anyway, my goal lists are always concrete and reasonable. This goes for things like basic human functions, and larger scale goals that are linked to my passions.

So when I set the goal as a wee child to publish a book, I knew I had a lifetime to do it. It was my cookie in the stars. But as I grew up, I broke that goal down into cookie-on-a-string tasks. Here’s a brief list of goals I set:

  • Write 100 poems and 100 short stories during high school.
  • When, among one of those stories, a premise had enough promise to potentially be a longer story, I set the goal of writing a novel.
  • I set the goal of finishing it while I was in high school. Two years later, as my high school graduation neared, I finished it with less than a week to spare.
  • My first year at college, I set the goal of writing my first NaNoWriMo book during my first year of college, where I wrote 12,000 words on the first day, and I finished the book by that January.
  • I set a goal to revise my first book and write my first query letter.
  • Then I read the entire Query Shark archives to actually learn what a query letter is supposed to look like.
  • I set the goal of researching and querying 10 agents.
  • After I graduated college, I had written three books, and I gave my first manuscript another pass on revisions.
  • Then I gave myself an end-of-year goal: apply to grad school for creative writing or get a job. I got a job as a technical writer three months out of college (which I love).
  • Instead of moving on, though, I entered Pitch Wars 2015 on the last day of submissions. I’ve talked a lot about my Pitch Wars experience here (and feel free to ask questions about it here), but a hop, skip, and boat ride away, I got multiple offers from agents. Then I got multiple offers from publishing houses. Then, suddenly, I had a book deal for two NAMELESS books.
  • But my goals didn’t stop there. Now, my goals have been things like:
    • Cut the opening 100 pages to 50 pages.
    • Write my first outline (it ended up being 13 pages long!) to guide my revisions.
    • Write an outline for book 2.
    • Do line edits for a friend’s book (which I’ve never successfully done before) ((and guys, she’s awesome))

Things are crazy. This place I’ve found myself is crazy. Setting goals makes it seem less crazy and stressful and makes it seem possible. It makes it achievable.

At times, it’s incomprehensibly and phenomenally lightning fast. Sometimes it trudges like dregs of unmixed hot cocoa: delightful and painfully out of reach. Sometimes its simplicity is astoundingly sharp.

Sometimes I get to write blog posts about the hundreds of tiny steps and goals, the relentless and torturous ambition, and the unending thrill of finally being so close to my sky-cookie that I can taste it.

And guys? It tastes like starlight.*

 

*not literal starlight, which tastes more like electric blue and unsaturated nebulas… so I’m told.

The Concerns of a Someday Author: Coping with Inevitable (Hilarious) Mistakes

Fact: Someday, I will sign my own name wrong in a book that I have written.

Planned Reaction: Hey, yeah. So… I spelled my name wrong in your book here. I’m just gonna… yep. I’m just gonna keep this one and, uh, slide you this shiny new copy. Isn’t that shiny? So shiny. And you know what? I’m not even going to sign it. We’ll just call this a wash–a net zero situation. You walk away with a totally neutral book, not marred by any egregious misspellings, and I’ll just have this pile of reject books over here. That’s okay, right? No? Okay. Well…. No, yeah, that’s totally how I’m spelling my name now. Yep. There are three C’s in Rebecca now. Totally.

 

Fact: Someday, someone will ask me about something in my book, and I’ll have zero recollection of making that decision.

Planned Reaction: Errr… why did that particular plot event happen, you ask? Uhh, I see you’re holding my first book there. That’s, um. That was a tough decision to make. Having the, er, character… do that thing they did. And geez, the tension and conflict? Must’ve been… it was a bold choice, to be sure. There’s… wait, what? Whoa, did that really happen? I wrote that? And there’s that terrible plot hole? Yeesh. Well, I’m sure I had my reasons. Probably. Did you want me to sign it? Because I’ve doubled up on the number of C’s in my name. I’m now signing my name as Rebecccca MccLaughlin to avoid confusion for when I spell it wrong by mistake. I also offer fun variations like RebClawflin for that super authentic scribbling signature vibe.

 

Fact: Someday, my ego will get the better of me in a normal everyday situation.

Planned Reaction: Oh, yes. I’m buying this shiny new laptop. Why yes, I do need the full sized keyboard. You see, I’m an Author. A Proper Author who authors things, and I am in quite desperate need of a keyboard that makes the right kind of sound when you type. I’m sure you’ve seen my book. It’s on the very front shelf at that bookstore across the street. I mean, it was in the back of the store when I was snooping, and I moved it up onto the fancy bookshelf near the front. I also signed it while I was there. You’ll see that the signature matches this new driver’s license I’ve had issued: Rbcccccca Mcccccln. My name is mostly C’s now.

 

Fact: Someday, I will say something inadvertently foolish, insensitive, or dumb online.

Planned Reaction: Yeah, I tweeted about it, for sure. What did I say? Oh, just that all books in the universe should be set on fire. Well, no. I meant it as a metaphor, obviously. Obviously! Sure, that’s fair. I DID light one of my own books on fire as a visual aid for the metaphor. Well, how was I supposed to know that the–what’d you call it? The booklr community? How was I supposed to know they’d get so upset. Come on, it’s not like I threatened to light ALL of the books on fire. Oh. I did? I did say that? Well, obviously I was overdosing on coffee and caffeine, and I shouldn’t be held accountable for–wait, what? There’s a trending hashtag about me? Really? Is it… no, it’s not good. Oh. Definitely not good. It’s #RbccccccaHatesBooks. Hmmm. I can see how that would be bad. At least it’s not being–oh it is. It’s being archived on the internet forever. I see.

 

Fact: Someday, I will accidentally spoil something about an unpublished book.

Planned Reaction: Okay, well I just announced to the world that everyone dies at the end. Yeah, I thought it was a joke too, until I remembered that 98% of the characters actually DO die at the end. So, what should we do about it? Is it too late to pull the books from circulation? It is. Okay. Well. How about we do a sequel where they all come back to life? And then there’s a High School Reunion that they attend even though none of them ever went to high school? And then someone inherits the universe?? No, I know it doesn’t make sense! But I’m panicking! This is what happens when I panic! I have really terrible ideas that I immediately pursue! Yes. YES. I DID just tweet about the sequel. What do you mean, “a sequel isn’t in my contract”??? What if I publish under a pen name?? How do you feel about RccccccMcccccc as a pen name???? Why can’t I stop tweeting?? NO, I KNOW I’M PANICKING. WHY DON’T YOU STOP PANICKING?!

 

So as you can see, I’ve given a lot of thought to what my life might be like as an author. I’m basically 100% prepared for any and all situations that may face me. Except for the complications of changing my name so that it has zero vowels and an excessive number of C’s.

I mean, I’m ready for that journey, but I don’t think my driver’s license will be a helpful tool for the police officer when I’m arrested for a.) signing my own books at a book store, b.) lighting innocent books on fire for an incomprehensible metaphor, or c.) breaking into the Twitter Archives to delete panic-induced tweets.

Multiple Offers from Literary Agents

This is a crazy thing that can happen (and happened to me) where multiple literary agents have offered you representation. That offer is exciting and thrilling and terrifying, but how are you supposed to choose between them?

Provided you only queried your dream agents (it’s best practice to only query agents in small batches), then you have a tough decision ahead of you!

I made this video which has 7 things to consider when you’ve received multiple offers. These things ALSO apply to single offers!

Let me know if you have any additional suggestions for questions to ask literary agents!! Or if you have any favorite resources!

Practice Being Creative (like you practice math)

Practicing being creative might not sound like it makes sense. But it does. When you’re learning math, you learn how to approach a problem (let’s say, solving for X). You learn all of the beautiful things equations can do. You learn how to add, multiply, distribute, expand and condense exponential equations, substitute, and estimate. All in search of X.

Question: How is doing match similar to practicing creativity? (also, math is dumb, I hear some of you complain)

Answer: X is the idea. X is the story. In order to solve for X (in order to produce something creative), you have to learn HOW to manipulate the equation first. In short, you have to learn how to think about the world creatively before you can create something creative.

Example:  If the prompt is “someone cooking for the first time”, you might want to write a story about a budding chef at a shiny culinary institute, while someone else might want to write a memoir about the first time they boiled pasta as a ten-year-old.

 

Math Language: The simplest solution will be the one you find first. But there’s more than one way to get to the answer.

English Language: Don’t settle on the first idea you come up with. Keep thinking. Keep solving the problem. Keep inventing new paths to go down.

When you’re given a writing prompt, don’t just start with the first idea you land on. Ask questions, dig deeper, go down more and more tangents. Go where the white rabbit leads you.

Example Prompt: Someone cooking for the first time.

What are they cooking?

  • Obvious first answers: lobster, pasta, a cake
  • Less obvious second answers: burnt toast, cereal, competitive soufflé
  • Lesser obvious answers (where you pay attention to details and intentionally try to twist the interpretations): poison for a villainous villain, a batch of explosives, a potion to cast a spell, cooking up a dastardly scheme

Of course, genre gets tangled up here somewhere, but it’s up to you to fall down whichever rabbit holes you like! (You’ll see my examples tend toward the fantastical.)

Who is cooking?

  • Obvious first answers: someone who hasn’t had the opportunity to cook before, such as a child, a new college student, a chef learning to cook new things
  • Less obvious second answers: a spoiled rich person who’s maid just quit, an alien who’s trying to pretend to be human by cooking a thanksgiving dinner
  • Lesser obvious (even ridiculous) answers: a grasshopper who just got turned into a human, a witch casting her first spell, a tempest spirit brewing a hurricane to send at the pitiful mortals

As you can see, the more strange and more tangential solutions you can come up with, the stranger your story will become. The more creative you can be!

The final question: Why are they cooking?

(why does anyone do anything: either they want to or have to or did it by accident, or a combination thereof)

  • Obvious first answers: They are hungry, someone else is hungry
  • Less obvious second answers: They’ve been tricked into preparing poison for the person they love, they’re trying to win back an old girlfriend by cooking a romantic meal
  • Lesser obvious (verging on the absurd): They’re participating in an execution competition where they’re preparing a criminal’s last meal, they’re searching for the ingredients to a vaccine for a earth-changing virus, they’re trying to placate the first god of time by preparing a meal at the dawn of ages (get it, cooking for the first time?)

So what might have started as a simple prompt, write about someone cooking for the first time, has origami-folded itself into a more complicated story.

Here’s Your Motto: Aim For Absurd

There is literally nothing at stake when you’re just brainstorming ideas. So don’t hold yourself back or stay within your comfort zone. Aim for absurd. Push yourself to think outside of what you’ve always done, because that’s how you’ll surprise yourself.

And once you’ve hit the bottom of the rabbit hole, you can emerge with your strange idea. Then you can make your pitch:

Sasha never cooked anything more complicated than homemade alfredo. Now, she’s been invited to the home of Chronos, god of time, to help prepare a feast that will stop the temporal god from wiping the universe from existence. But here’s the thing about Chronos: He goes by Ron, he’s ironically impatient, and he doesn’t want a menu of complicated pastas. His feast will be a collection of the most painful and beautiful moments from the chef’s time on earth. Ron will consume the best and worst parts of Sasha’s life–and the lives of three other unlucky chefs–in order to determine whether time itself is worth saving. But can Sasha face the horrible things she’s done to the people she loved in order to save them? And is the god of time really just a cranky, impertinent deity, or is there something else he’s after? The more memories Ron consumes, the more human he seems to become. And the more time begins to unravel around them. (spoiler: probably Sasha becomes the next god of time, because that would be awesome)

 

To be fair, that idea is half-baked, spiced with whatever was in the back of the spice rack, and served up on the shiniest platter that I found outside this week.*

To be honest, it’s absurd. And that’s okay. Once you can find your way to absurd, you’ll know that your ideas are fully stretched and that you’re getting some great practice in. Creativity is a skill you can hone, but it’ll require thought and effort and time. Just like, say, if you were to cook something for the first time 😉

 

*all puns are cooked to order–consumption of undercooked puns may result in loss of time or blackouts or inexplicable, unstoppable laughter or hiccups

Writing Exercise: Shared Poetry (Campfire Style)

Think hot potato. Then think poetry.

That’s right, a really fun and probably terrible poem is about to burst into existence.

Here’s a writing exercise I did with my sister for funsies, and it was really really fun.

What you need:

  • 2+ people
  • 2 different colored pens
  • 1 or 2 pieces of paper
  • A timer (you can Google “timer” and get a really simple one)
  • A dash of imagination and adventure

Here’s the rules:

  1. You put the timer on for 30 seconds at a time.
  2. Start the timer! You each start writing a poem on your page. Hopefully you have legible handwriting.
  3. For 30 seconds, you write and write and write. When the timer goes off, finish the word you’re on. (Or don’t! You can cut off in the middle of a word if you want!)
  4. Trade papers! Start the timer again!
  5. Go back and forth like this until you’re about half way down the page. Now might be a good time to change the timer from every 30 seconds to every 45 seconds (or longer).
  6. When you get to the bottom of the page, stop! Or if you think the poem has ended or needs more space, feel free to keep going or stop early.
  7. Your poems are done!
  8. You each get to add a title to one of the poems!

Here are some helpful hints:

  • Leave an inch or two at the top of the page so you can add a title once it’s finished.
  • Leave an inch or so margin on the left side of the page in case you want to go through and add doodles or art or something later!
  • Use pens that have a different enough color so you can tell who wrote what.
  • Don’t forget to sign and date it! Sign it in the color you wrote with.
  • If you finish it and want to share it with us!
    • Twitter: tag us (@McRebecky and @MelAnn1313) with the tag #campfirepoetry
    • Instagram: @MelAnn1313
  • If you just want to let us know if this was helpful or fun, leave a comment here and share your experience!

Here’s what one of ours looked like!

20161126_201501

The final version, typed:
Except Nothing
the aroma of damp, decaying leaves
and crisp fall air with nothing,
nothing on the skyline except
except
except
maybe that’s just it — Nothing.
Does it frighten you?
You, who has spent time frolicking in fields
of death — graveyard flowers, cracking headstones,
trash left by those who couldn’t forget
the emptiness of horizons, the loneliness of what
once was, now only a void.
This is you.
Or it was. At least. Once. It was. I promise.
Death. You are Death. Right? Or have you
abdicated that title in exchange for a
new one. Are you Angel? My angel?
I almost feel the decay of winter
chilled against my fingernails, my toes. Is this–
this– the sky you’ve left for me?
Bleak, gray, unyielding to my cries and prayers?
Except
Except
It is not empty. I am not empty. I am Death, too.