I Left My Heart In Firenze

Florence.

There aren't enough words, enough pictures, to describe this place or my feelings about it. It is absolutely possible to fall in love with a place, and I fell in love with Florence.

I arrived mid-afternoon and walked from the train station to my hostel. I was greeted at the door by a lovely, smiling woman named Nadina.

"Jessica?" she said as she held the door open for me.

"No, Meika," I corrected her.

Her face fell. My stomach did, too. "Oh, no you are not here until tomorrow."

Um. What?

Apparently, when booking my next couple hostels in the middle of the night while I was in Verona, I totally skipped a day on the calendar. Nadina's place was completely booked. I had nowhere to stay.

I must have looked on the verge of a complete meltdown, because Nadina jumped into action. She sat me down and went about making me a cup of coffee and a snack. "Don't worry," she said as she worked. "We'll find you a place. No problem."

And, true to her word, she looked up hostels in the area and found me a bed just up the road. "See you tomorrow!" she said as she sent me on my way.

Crisis averted.

That night, I had dinner with a lovely woman from Taiwan named Fleur (her nickname, she said. She never did tell me her real name), and settled into bed. The next morning, I packed up and went back to Nadina's place. Got settled in, and went out to explore.

It was instant, the love I felt for this city. The rain-slicked streets, the smell of leather in the market, the magic in the air (could've been the humidity, but hey. I'm calling it magic). My first full day in Florence went a little something like this:

 

Tattooed by Fabiano (my talented friend Victoria designed it for me), dinner with Karin (who also stopped in Florence after Venice), and a rainy evening.

Tattooed by Fabiano (my talented friend Victoria designed it for me), dinner with Karin (who also stopped in Florence after Venice), and a rainy evening.

The next day, I woke up early, had breakfast surrounded by chatter (everyone in my hostel this morning, it seemed, was Korean. I didn't understand a word they were saying), and left with my heart set on the Duomo. It was easy to find--something I loved about Florence was that it's not a huge city. For someone who gets lost in her own city at least once a week, I navigated Florence rather easily.

Dudes, there were a lot of moments during my trip that took my breath of away. One of them: rounding a corner to catch my first glimpse of the Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore. I mean, COME ON! 

In front of the church, a woman stood in a long, flowing gold gown, playing the violin--a nice soundtrack for the moment. I walked around the building, taking in all the tiny details--and there are A LOT of tiny details. This building is magnificent. Overwhelming. Astounding.

I toured the inside, and climbed up to the top of the dome, the cupola. That was a lot of stairs, ya'll. Like, a lot. But the view: 

Once I finished the tour, I decided to be a crazy person, and climb that there bell tower, too. In case anyone was wondering, there are 463 stairs to the top of the dome, and another 414 to the top of the tower. One piece of advice: if you go to Florence, and you wanna take in the views, go with the bell tower. Less stairs, AND a better view. For realsies:

So, so, so, so, sooooooo beautiful. But, for the love of God, guys, do NOT do both sets of stairs! I was 99.999% sure my legs were going to fall off by the end of the day. Especially because I was not done with the stairs and walking.

Later that evening, I met up with my friend Karin again for her last day in Florence. We went to Piazzale Michelangelo--rumor had it it was the best view in Florence. I would venture to say it was the SECOND best view in Florence. I'll let you decide:

Pretty glorious, right?

Pretty glorious, right?

IMG_2608.jpg

You ask me, I thought the view was better here:

I cannot, for the life of me, remember the name of this church, but it was across the street from Piazzale Michelangelo, and up a bunch of stairs. Karin and I went here and sat in on a mass, which included monks singing. My favorite part of this was when the church bells started while the monks were singing. So surreal. When we exited the church, it was to this amazing sunset.

I may or may not have cried a little bit.

We finished the night with dinner. A pork steak and roasted potatoes for me:

I still dream about those potatoes sometimes...

Anyway, that sums up the first two days in Florence. There are three more to write about, but that's another post (or two).

Now, if you'll excuse me, I'm suddenly starving...

A Little Venetian Magic

Venice.

What can I say about Venice that hasn't already been said?

It's magical, beautiful, spell-binding...

Crowded, over-priced, confusing.

Yes. All of the above. But, even with the crowds and the twisty-turny alleyways, this place is unlike any other.

Venice was a little bit different than the rest of the stops on my solo trip, in that I'd been there once before. A few years back, I made this trip with a former friend, and we spent about a week here. I almost took it off my itinerary for this reason--why spend some of my precious days in a place I'd already been, right?

Except that it's Venice, guys. And you can't so no to Venice. I mean, look at it:

The Santa Maria Della Salute, the Rialto Bridge, and views of the Grand Canal.

The Santa Maria Della Salute, the Rialto Bridge, and views of the Grand Canal.

When I stepped out of the train station in Venice on a sunny (yet chilly) day in October, it was a lot like visiting an old friend. The smell of water, the bustle of crowds, the beckoning calls of street vendors trying to sell you selfie sticks.

Okay, that last one may be new.

I fired up my Google maps and put in the address for my hostel. Handy tip for anyone who's planning to visit Venice someday: Google maps is basically useless. I don't know if it was the tall buildings or the never-ending alleys, but I spent over an hour hoofing it through the city before I finally found my hostel. Once there, I got settled and went out to explore. First step: find the Rialto bridge. According to the reviews of my hostel, it was five minutes away. As a main tourist attraction, I knew that it should be fairly easy to find. And if I could find the Rialto bridge, I could find my hostel. Pretty strong logic, eh?

Later, when I returned to my hostel, I met one of my roommates. A lovely woman named Karin from Vienna. We chatted for a while as she uploaded her pictures to her computer from the day, and then she said she was about to head out to explore Venice at night. Well...yeah, I wanted in on that! So, I asked her if I could join, and she was kind enough to let me.

Venice at night, guys...

Glowing canals, eerie angels, and a nearly-empty San Marco. This side of Venice is a side not to be missed!

Glowing canals, eerie angels, and a nearly-empty San Marco. This side of Venice is a side not to be missed!

It's hard to pinpoint my favorite part of my stay in Venice. Was it my trip to the outer islands? Burano, with its candy-colored buildings and irresistable charm. Murano, where the famed Venetian glass is made. Or Torcello...ancient, slightly spooky, completely gorgeous.

From the top: Torcello, Murano, Burano.

From the top: Torcello, Murano, Burano.

Or my visit to the astoundingly chaotic Libreria Acqua Alta? This place, guys. It was amazing. Books everywhere. Overflowing from bathtubs and shelves, and even a gondola. In the back, it opened up to a canal on one side. The other, a staircase made of books. A staircase! Made of BOOKS! Seriously, a writer/reader paradise!

While all those things were incredible, I think the prize for my favorite moment in Venice goes to the last morning I was there. I woke up before sunrise and walked down to San Marco. It was nearly empty, and the sun was slowly coming up. It is a rare thing to find this place empty--it's one of the most popular tourist attractions in the city. And, yes, it is still astounding while filled with people, but empty...there is nothing like it:

This quickly became my favorite moment of my entire trip (well, until Sorrento, but that'll come later). Standing alone in a place like this...there are no words.

The walk back to my hostel was filled with all kinds of gorgeous, too:

Other highlights from Venice:

Watching a group of pigeons fight over a slice of pizza in San Marco--I swear, one bird picked up the entire slice and tried to fly away. That bird was my spirit animal. 

Hot chocolate at the Hard Rock Cafe.

Dinner beside a canal in Murano--salmon gnocchi, in case you were wondering.

Spotting a jellyfish in the water off Torcello. No, seriously. Check it out:

All in all, I absolutely did not regret revisiting Venice. Pretty sure it's impossible to regret spending time in a place this enchanting. Leaving was bittersweet, but I couldn't be too sad--my next stop was Florence!

Fair Verona

With my heart still firmly in Amsterdam, it was a challenge moving on to Italy.

You read that right. A challenge. Being in Italy. What's wrong with me, huh?

Well, that's a loaded question, and one I'm not digging into right now.

Anyway.

I left Amsterdam Friday morning, dragging my feet the whole way. I made it to the airport with no problem, got on my flight, and off I went. It was smooth-going the entire journey. Touched down in Milan that afternoon, hopped on a bus to the train station, where I caught a tram to my hostel (here's a secret: I accidentally stole my tram ride. I was unsure of where to buy a ticket, so I got on, thinking maybe I could purchase one there. Nope. I spent the entire ride afraid the Italian police were going to cart me off to jail!). Found my hostel and checked in with absolutely no problem.

And then I burst into tears.

You won't find any pictures of Milan here, because I didn't leave my hostel. I sat on my bed and cried. Ate a granola bar, sure that it was hunger bringing on the emotions, called my best friend, who Googled the nearest restaurants for me so that I could get some real food in me, and when we hung up...I cried some more.

At some point, my roommate wandered in. A middle-age Austrailian woman. She seemed sympathetic at first, asking if I was okay. I assured her I was. Just hungry and tired. I got my tears under control long enough to go downstairs to the hostel's bar and eat a hot dog and fries (that's right...my first meal in Italy was a hot dog and fries). 

When I came back to my room, I sat down and...yep. Started crying again. My roommate's patience ran out. She sort of rolled her eyes and said, "Oh, no. Are you going off again?" And then rattled on about how I must be a water sign, because I'm really sensitive.

We had a nice conversation once I stopped crying, and then I got a full night's sleep. The next day, I was off to Verona. I woke up, packed my things, and headed to the train station. I was okay until I got to my B&B.

And then I cried again.

I don't know what my deal was, guys. Maybe it finally hit me that I was thousands of miles away from home? Maybe I was sad about leaving Amsterdam? Whatever it was, my onslaught of tears took two days right out of my itinerary.

But you know what? The next day, I got up, got dressed, and hit the streets. Once I got into Verona, I was so caught up in the sights and sounds that those tears were long gone.

The first day, I did the requisite Casa do Giulietta, where it is believed Shakespeare's Juliet lived. I groped the bronze statue in the courtyard below the balcony (it's supposed to bring you luck in love...which is weird, if you think about it. That story did NOT have a happy ending), stood on the balcony, and left a letter for Juliet. Touristy as heck, but still fun!

I followed up with some gelato:

(WHITE chocolate...stupid autocorrect)

And a visit to the Arena di Verona:

This place was really cool. It's smaller than the Coliseum, and way more preserved. To this day, it's still used for concerts (you can see the floor seating in the picture). In the summer, you can attend operas here...makes me almost wish I'd gone then...

I was back in my room and ready for bed by 630pm. My feet were tired, my brain was overloaded with beauty and history, and I needed a rest!

I started bright and early the next day with a hike up the 200-something stairs to Piazzale Castel San Pietro. I'd heard the view was not to be missed, and, well, it was free, so...of course I was in.

The stairs, though.

I couldn't feel my legs, definitely couldn't breathe (I started to get a cold this day), but that view...

I sat on that ledge for what seemed like minutes, but was actually well over an hour. The church bells rang, the breeze blew by, and I sat there, soaking it all in. I didn't want to leave, but I had started shivering, so I knew I had to get moving.

The rest of the day consisted of tours of a couple of churches, a delicious plate of Lasagna Bolognese, more gelato, and a trek across the Castelvecchio.

All in all, a very successful two days in Verona! The next morning, I packed up and hit the road. Next stop: Venice!

Side note: If you want to follow my antics live, my Snapchat is meika622. You're missing out!

Amsterdam Love Story

If you've been following me on any of my social media, you know that I've been planning a trip to Europe for about a year. Well, I'm on that trip right now. I'm writing this from a darling little room in a B&B in Verona, Italy. I arrived this afternoon from Milan, after three glorious days in Amsterdam.

I'm still getting my bearings here. Italy is completely different than Amsterdam, and DEFINITELY different from the US. I spent my afternoon decompressing after a long train ride, followed by a long bus ride. Let me tell you, public transportation here, while plentiful and convenient, is CROWDED!

But that's another story.

Let me tell you about Amsterdam.



My flight touched down early afternoon on Monday. I made a beeline to the bathroom (because I really had to pee, and I needed a moment alone), and immediately burst into tears.

I was thousands of miles away from home, all alone. What was I thinking? Why would I do this to myself? I'd be lying if I said it didn't occur to me to hightail in the opposite direction and buy a ticket home.

But I'd come all this way. I was at least leaving the airport, dammit!

So, I did. And that was the best decision I've ever made.

Amsterdam, guys...



Sigh.

I arrived in the city mid-afternoon, and proceeded to get thoroughly and spectacularly lost. I got off at the wrong bus stop and wandered the streets with my three-hundred pound backpack for two and a half hours (one of those things is true, the other is a huge exaggeration, guess which is which).

I must have looked really lost, because I was stopped by a guy offering directions who just happened to be from New York. "It's the street right next to Vondelpark," he said. Sounds easy, right? I'd wandered by the park a few dozen times by this point, so I was confident I'd find it. I thanked him and went on my way.

And kept going.

After a few back and forth trips, I wandered down what I thought was an alley. Super narrow, cars parked along one side, the park on the other. Surely my hostel wasn't down here. I was about to turn back when I ran into a lovely Mexican woman. I asked her what the name of the street was and she said she didn't know and kept walking. Luckily, she paused and asked me what I was looking for. I told her the name of my hostel and her eyes lit with recognition. She was staying there, too! It was right down this alley/street!



There were more tears when I finally made it to my room and sat on my bed. Pure exhaustion after my adrenaline wore off. But I was here. In Amsterdam. I did it!

I did a walking tour the next morning--my guide was a super hot Austrailian guy who'd moved to the city for a girl seven years before. He took my group through the Red Light District, to the house Rembrandt used to live in (it's a museum dedicated to the artist now), which was also located in what used to be the Jewish neighborhood before WWII, and we ended just outside the Anne Frank House. I learned so much about Amsterdam's history, and, really, I was captivated by the way my guide spoke about the city (and not just because he was pretty). He seemed to really be in love with the place. At the end of the tour, he said something that stuck with me: "Amsterdam is a place where you can really be yourself." The whole point he kept driving home was about how Amsterdam was a city of tolerance. It welcomes people of all different types with open arms, and it always has. It welcomed HIM with open arms.



And I felt welcome, too. 

Even that first day, wandering lost and alone, I didn't feel afraid. Every person smiled (except for the cyclists...I can't tell you how many times I almost got flattened by a bicycle), and everyone I asked was willing to help.

I even made a friend! I'm a member of a solo female travel group on Facebook, and I had posted about my bathroom crying incident, and a lovely soul that lives in Amsterdam offered to meet me and show me around. She was amazing. We walked all around the city for hours, and she treated me to appetizers and dinner, and I got to see much more than I would have wandering on my own. I'm super thankful for her!



My last day was my most victorious. Even now, thinking about it, I'm smiling.

I had plans: I was going to see the Van Gogh museum, and the Rijksmuseum. I already had my tickets, I just had to find the places. So I left my hostel that morning, spent about an hour wandering Vondelpark (which was so lovely, guys).



And off I went. I found the Van Gogh museum and I fell in love with a painting I had never even heard of (Vase with Cornflowers & Poppies -- such a nondescript name for something so beautiful). I was so captivated I took a ton of pictures of all the little details, until a museum attendant scolded me. When I walked away, I felt like I was leaving a friend behind. 



You can study Van Gogh all day long, but until you're standing in front of his work, leaning in to see the layers of paint, the almost-manic brush strokes, the chaos that creates something beautiful...well, it's hard to really appreciate the man.

After, I went on my hunt for the Rijksmuseum. And I found it! This building was breathtaking. I sat on a bench for so long, just staring at the stained glass windows, high ceilings, tiled floors...so beautiful! A few more hours wandering this massive building and I was spent.



I ended my last day with a canal tour. It was super windy, and I was freezing, but the sights were beautiful, and I had a nice conversation with a pair of British girls on vacation. 

Once that ended, it was only 630pm, but I was exhausted. So, sans map, I made my way back to my hostel--without getting lost! Success!

(I know both museums AND my hostel are in the same area, but shhhh...don't take this victory from me!)

Part of me stayed behind in Amsterdam. I fell in love, and I look forward to returning. But for now, I am in Italy. Fair Verona. Tomorrow, I take to the streets and explore. I'm ready to fall in love with another city. Show me what you got, Italia!

In Which I Freak Out About My Trip


I leave in nine days. Just over a week from this moment and I'll be boarding a plane aimed for Amsterdam. I'll be in Europe. An entirely different continent.

I've been planning this trip for a year. Dreaming about it for a lifetime.

(This is from a couple days ago, but it still stands.)


I can't see myself there. I try to imagine getting off the plane, leaving the airport, taking a bus (or something...still need to research this) from the airport to my hostel. Checking in. Wandering the canal-lined streets.

I can't see it.

But I can feel it.

Every time I try to envision it, my heart races, my feet cool, my face heats. I can almost feel my stomach drop as the plane ascends. I try to think about doing all the things I've dreamt about--and I'm utterly overcome with disbelief that it will happen.

It's happening, though. It's real. The tickets are bought, the hostel is booked. I'm going to Europe. Alone.

HOW did this happen? How did I sum up the courage and/or stupidity to buy that first ticket?

I don't feel brave. I know I've said this, but it's still true. I'm so scared. What if I can't do it? What if I get there and I freeze? Break down? What if I have to book a ticket back home before I even leave the airport?

I think that's my biggest fear. Not pickpockets, or running out of money, or not being able to communicate, or getting lost. It's the fear that I won't even give myself the chance to try.

It's one thing to book the flight. An entirely different thing to actually get on the plane.

I have to do it. Not because I don't want to disappoint anyone or waste the money I've already spent. But because I owe it to myself. I need to make this dream a reality. I need to go out in the world--alone--and find out who I am. I need to give myself the chance to try, to claim that independence, that confidence, those experiences for myself.

This trip is for me and only me. It's not to reclaim these places from my past or to make anyone jealous. I know that on the other side, when I come back, I'll be a different person.

And while that is a thrilling thought, it's also a scary one.

Change is scary. New things are scary. The whole damn world is scary.

I just want to be brave enough to face it.

I hope I will be.

I KNOW I will be.

In the meantime, I should probably put all this nervous energy into finishing the revision on my damn book...

Feel the Fear

Forty-five days.

Forty. Five. Days.

October 2nd, 2016.

Forty-five days away.

Excuse me while I have a nervous breakdown.

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...okay.

So. Yes. In forty-five days, I'll be boarding a plane aimed for Europe.

Amsterdam, Italy--north to south--and Paris.

Just over three weeks.

By myself.

People tell me I'm brave.

I don't feel brave.

I feel terrified and crazy and anxious. But not brave.

I had a meltdown the other day. It occurred to me that, once I arrive in Europe, I'll have no idea where anything is. My exact thought process looked a little something like this:

"What if I can't find the grocery store in Florence? I'm gonna starve. I'M GONNA STARVE TO DEATH IN ITALY!"

Right. Starve to death. In Italy.

This is what my brain has become. A constant stream of nonsensical fears and neuroses.

I'll be fine. I know this. I'll be fine and I'll come home stronger, more confident. Changed.

I'm looking forward to it.

You know, in between the meltdowns.

The quote. Yes, it was Pinterest.
I read a quote somewhere the other day. Pinterest, probably. It was something like, "Feel the fear and do it anyway."

Well, that's what I'm doing. Each step of the way. From buying that first ticket to booking my hostel in Amsterdam. I'm terrified, but I want this more. I want to see and experience new things. I want to venture out all by myself, to discover new things about myself and the world. I want to claim the independence and confidence that has been just out of reach for most of my adult life.

I want to come home changed. Stronger. Braver.

And, dammit, I want gelato.

And so, in forty-five days, I'll get on that plane.

But that doesn't mean I won't freak out until then.

Forty-five days, guys.

Shit.


IWSG: Doing the Thing That Scares You

A couple months ago, I did something. Something big. Something scary. Something I have always wanted to do.

I bought a ticket to Europe.

Not as part of a group tour, or a cruise. A single, solitary, one-way ticket to Amsterdam.

The moment I confirmed the purchase, my stomach fell straight to my toes. What was I doing? Who did I think I was, planning a solo trip thousands of miles away from home? I wasn't that brave!

Here's a secret, though: I AM that brave.

We all are.

Life, I have come to learn, is often choosing to do the thing that scares you. It's not easy, and there are a million reasons NOT to do it, but what's the worst that could happen?

Given, of course, that the thing that scares YOU is not, like, committing murder or jumping off a high-rise. DON'T do those things. They're scary for a reason.

But buying a ticket to Europe? Applying for a job you really want? Asking that cute dude out that you see every day at the coffee shop (probably not for coffee, though)? Yes. Do those things.
Moments after buying my ticket.

Because the worst that could happen is that you fail. You get lost in the streets of Florence. You don't get the job. The cute dude says no. You're still okay.

This applies to writing, as well. A book idea that scares you might turn out to be the best thing you've ever written. Joining a writing group could earn you some new friends (and writer friends are the best) and maybe some solid advice. And self-publishing the book babies you've put your heart and soul into for years...

Okay. That last one is super scary, no matter how much optimism I sprinkle over it.

But, just like that ticket to Amsterdam, I'm gonna do it. I'm gonna do the thing that scares me. Because what's a life spent sitting on the sidelines while others chase their dreams?

What scares YOU (writing-wise or not)?

Writing Lobsters

Let's face it. This writing thing is hard work. Hard, lonely, crazy-making work. You can go it alone, spend every day staring at your computer screen, banging out word after word, steeping in your own stink while subsisting on coffee and chocolate.

OR you could do all these things in the company of someone else. What's better than sharing body odor and snacks. Misery loves company, right?

By our very nature, writers aren't usually fans of people. If given the choice, most of us would never leave the house. We'd be like that guy in Finding Forrester, that gets groceries delivered to his house and everything. (Now that I mention it, that DOES sound kind of nice...)

But that would be the WRONG choice.

In the video below, author Jenna Moreci talks about why Writer Buddies are necessary (Note: If you've never watched a Jenna Moreci video, two important things: She is AWESOME, and she swears. A. LOT).


Jenna makes some excellent points. Who else is going to understand when you've been stuck on the same chapter for DAYS and you just want to set your book on fire? Who's going to give you a chocolate bar and a "Suck it up, buttercup," speech when you're thinking about throwing in the towel and taking up Alpaca farming instead?

Not "regular" people, that's for sure.

I am lucky enough to have an amazing group of writers around me. For about four years now, I've been a member of the fabulous foursome, Pigasus Pen. When the group began, we were all fledgling fiction writers, giving this thing our best go. Now, two of us are querying agents, and two of us have decided to self-publish. We've come a long way, baby.

Before I joined this group, I was floundering. I'd rewritten the same book at least a dozen times and I was spinning my wheels so hard I'd worn them down to nubs. With the help of these amazing ladies, I have come so far. I firmly believe that if I hadn't stumbled upon a "looking for a writing group?" post on the NaNoWriMo forum, I would still be staring at that same manuscript. Or, worse, I would have given up on writing altogether.

In addition to my Pigasus ladies, I have a strong and supportive community of writers with the Capital City Writers Association. Between the workshops and conferences and spur of the moment write-ins I've had with CCWA members, I feel more invigorated and prepared to take on the world of publishing than ever before. The resources and knowledge this group possesses are absolutely priceless.

So, yes. You COULD stay at home and fester in your own stinky, stubborn stench. Or you could get out there and mingle. Meet some like-minded folks and form a bond. Find someone with your brand of crazy and WRITE ALL THE WORDS!

Go on...mingle.

Oh, and if you're wondering about that title, it's based on the Phoebe Bouffay lobster theory. Only, instead of old lobsters wandering around the tank, holding claws, picture two bedraggled writers in their leggings and sweatshirts, sharing a bag of M&Ms. It's a real thing, I swear! Just ask Christina.

Pigasus Pen




I am fortunate enough to take on this crazy writing journey with three of the best, most talented women I have ever met:

Christina Mitchell, writer of angsty, sexy romance and watcher of terrible B movies.

Jeannie Miernik, creator of lush, sensual fantasy worlds, and one badass mama.

Victoria Solomon, writer of young, spunky heroines, ready for adventure, and wrangler of rugrats.

Do yourself a favor and check 'em out. I have a feeling you'll be reading their books in the near future!

IWSG: Writer Angst



The first Wednesday of every month is reserved for Insecure Writers Support Group (unless I forget). In these posts, I write about my insecurities as a writer. Make sure to check out all the wonderful bloggers participating!



Current Writing Mood:




Thank you, Schmidt, for summing things up so nicely for me. 

How is YOUR writing going these days?

Monday Mixtape: Novelin' Music


Music is an integral part of my writing process. For me, it's very much the first stages of character development. I'll hear a song and go, "Oh, this song is totally so-and-so," or "That song is perfect for the scene where this thing happens." I'm even known to do this for my writing lobster's novels.

While plotting, I always compile a playlist of songs that strike something in me about the story. Usually, the playlist gets absurdly long--we're talking 75-100 songs sometimes.

As the story comes more into focus, as I get to know the characters better, the playlist shrinks. I listen to these playlists on loop while I write, and for months and months after I finish a draft, every time I hear a song that had been on a playlist, I go right back to that story.

I'm currently almost done with the third book in my first series, and its playlist sits at about twenty songs. Each one represents something about the story, or a piece of a character, and they immediately put me into the story.

I decided to share a few of these songs with you guys today.

First up, "Till the Casket Drops" by ZZ Ward:


"Show Me Your Fangs" by Matt Nathanson:


"I Really Like You" by Carly Rae Jepsen:


So, there ya have it. The soundtrack of random that is on repeat in my head right now!

What about ya'll? Do you use music playlists as you write? What kind of music do you listen to? Any recommendations? I'm always on the lookout for new music!

IWSG: Publishing Paranoia

The first Wednesday of every month is reserved for Insecure Writers Support Group (unless I forget). In these posts, I write about my insecurities as a writer. Make sure to check out all the wonderful bloggers participating!

These days, the number of insecurities I have as a writer is lower than it's ever been. I'm confident in my stories and the way I tell them. I believe in these books, in these characters, and I love the ever-loving shit out of them.

That doesn't mean there aren't things that still scare me.

Publishing, for instance.

I've made the terrifying and exciting decision to self-publish. I'm taking the rest of this year to polish the three books in my first series, and then off I go.

There was a lot of back and forth that went into this decision. And though I now feel this is the absolute right thing for me and my books, I'm still wrought with insecurities.

Mostly, its the whole, "Everything is my responsibility so if I fail then I have no one to blame but myself, and also what if no one likes my books and they think my characters are stupid and my doin' it scenes are awkward and my dialogue is stilted and unrealistic and..." thing.

I could keep going, but I'll leave it at that relatively small list of things that are running through my head.

I'm sure traditionally published authors experience a lot of these same insecurities. You spend months and months and years slaving over these books, falling in love with these characters, laughing with them, crying with them, and then...then, you let them go. You put them out into the world and you hope that people love them as much as you do.

Someone won't though. Maybe lots of someones. And there's nothing you can do about it.

It's like birthing a baby, and of course you think it's the most beautiful baby in the whole damn universe, but someone is bound to tell you that your baby is ugly.

I don't want anyone to think my babies are ugly.

So, what about ya'll? Those of you that are published, both traditionally and self, how do you deal with these insecurities? Any tips for that inevitable moment when someone doesn't like your book? I'm freaking out over here!

Owning It


            A person can spend their entire life trying to figure out where they belong, what their purpose is, what they should be doing with the blink of time they’re given on this planet. Most people, I think, don’t ever find the answers.
            I’ve spent a lot of time being uncertain, being told that my writing was a “dream,” and a silly one at that. That the odds are not in my favor. That I should focus my energy on something “logical,” something “real.” And, for a while there, I listened.
            My life has shifted a lot in the last couple years. It’s morphed into something I don’t even recognize most days. The person I am now, I firmly believe, would punch the person I used to be right in the face and tell her to stop being such a chicken shit. And that is an amazing thing to realize.
            Along with those changes came a confidence I’d never had before. A confidence that the purpose I’d convinced myself was stupid for years was, in fact, the thing I should be doing with my life.
Charming, racy, funny, snarky.
            That realization was confirmed this weekend when I was fortunate enough to be in the company of over a hundred people with the same passion as me: writing.
The Capital CityWriters Association put on one hell of a show with their annual Write on theRed Cedar conference. And, with each hour that passed surrounded by so much fire and passion and support, I realized: this is where I belong. This is what I’m supposed to be doing.
            I’m a writer, goddammit.
            Man, that felt good to say.

           

IWSG: Revision-Induced Terror




The first Wednesday of every month is reserved for Insecure Writers Support Group (unless I forget). In these posts, I write about my insecurities as a writer. Make sure to check out all the wonderful bloggers participating!

Revisions.

Edits.

Rewrites.

These words are currently the makings of my writerly nightmare.

Here’s the deal: I am about half through writing the third book in my series. Which means I’m about 40k words or a couple months (whichever comes first) away from having three books to revise.

Three.

What. Was. I. Thinking?

Me, being scared.
When I made the decision to forge ahead with book three, it seemed like a good idea. Get all the details in place, I thought. Continuity is magic, right?

Don’t get me wrong, I like revising. I like turning something messy and cobbled together into a cohesive, smooth, pretty story. It’s fun for me. Unless I’m looking at nothing BUT that for an extended period of time.

I’m not exactly sure how to go about it. I’ve rewritten plenty of times. Hell, I rewrote the same book for years and years. Now, I have (or will have) three solid drafts that don’t need rewrites, just revisions. And it’s scary.

Super scary. 

So. How do you revise? Do you have a method? A process? A trick up your sleeve? Are you hands-on, with printed pages in front of you, or do you prefer doing everything on your computer?

I’m all ears, lovely folks. I need all the help I can get.

2015: Best Year Ever?



It’s New Year’s Eve. This time tomorrow, we will be at the start of a brand new year. Can you believe it? 2015 is almost gone, never to be seen again.

I hope your year was filled with all things that were good. I know mine was.

From start to finish, my 2015 was a lesson in changing and learning and growing. On a big picture level, there are a few things that stand out:

I wrote. A lot. Like, a lot, a lot.

At the beginning of the year, I attended a writing conference put on by the fabulous Capital City Writers Association, called Write on the Red Cedar. It was, hands down, the best conference I have ever been to. I paid extra for a workshop with Donald Maass, and, OMG guys, I learned so much. I went in to the workshop with my completed NaNoWriMo novel (the sequel to the one I had finished the year before), and when I left, I had a plan for rewriting the entire last half. That workshop was a game changer for the way I write.

As a side note, the CCWA is doing another conference in January, and this year's headliner is Bob Mayer. Interested? Ya better hurry. They're almost sold out!

So, I rewrote the last half of that book and turned it in to my wonderful writing group. The verdict? It was a solid first draft with minimal issues. The entire experience—writing that book, attending the conference, rewriting half of the book—guys, it changed me. As I’ve mentioned before, I spent a LONG time working on one book. Over and over and over and…well, you get the picture. I wrote that book so many times. I was stuck in a loop. When I decided to write something new last November, I had no idea how it was going to change me.

In about March, armed with notes from my writing group for revisions, I cracked open my manuscript, ready to revise. Only…I couldn’t. Because I had learned so much about writing and about my abilities as a writer, I knew I had to go back. I had to go back to that FIRST book. If I was going to present the two novels I had written as a series, then I had to rewrite book one. It didn’t match the tone, the voice, the everything of book two. So, with a sharp edge of hesitance, of nervousness, I rewrote book one. 


In July, I had MAJOR SURGERY!!!!! My gallbladder had been trying to kill me for a while and so I finally got that sucker yanked out. Life has been much less painful since.

I finished my rewrite somewhere around mid-August, and threw the whole thing to my writing group. At this point, it wasn’t even a rewrite. It was an entirely new book. The character names were the only constants between the new and old. And it was the right decision. My group loved it—of course, there were suggestions to make it better, but overall…I couldn’t have asked for a better critique.

From September to October, while putting together a plan of action for revisions, I went back to school. I finished one class before I decided that now was not the right time. I was finally onto something with my writing, I was excited, passionate, confident about it for the first time in forever, and I didn’t want to split my time between writing and school. It was a hard decision to make, because I don’t have much left for my Bachelor’s degree, and we all know writing ain’t a logical career choice (at least if you’re looking to quit your day job). But in the end, I had to follow my heart, and my heart was with the writing. It always has been.

So, I withdrew from school. One of these days, I’ll get back to it, finish up that degree. Hopefully by then, I’ll have a few published books under my belt.

Also in October, I took my first solo trip. I flew to New Jersey to spend a week with my best and oldest friend and her family. Jersey was beautiful, her boys were beautiful, and I finally got to see the ocean! 



It was a wonderful trip, and it gave me a confidence I needed to know that I COULD travel solo. Because that is a huge dream of mine: to hop on a plane aimed for Europe and see everything on my own. Now I know that I don’t suck at traveling.

In November, I started a new book. I didn’t “win” NaNoWriMo, but I got damn close. And by the end of the month, I had 42k’s worth of a new draft I was excited and passionate about. The third book in my series was well on its way.

Not to mention, my writing lobster and I rang in the end of NaNoWriMo the best way possible—in a cabin in the woods, no wifi for miles. It was gorgeous and inspiring. It has since been decided that this must become a tradition.




Now, at the end of December, the end of 2015, I have not added to my NaNo word count. Instead, I’ve spent the month rearranging what I wrote in November. Once I’ve got everything in its place, I’ll finish writing the book (even though I don’t have an outline, so I don’t know how it all ends), and then I’ll move on to revisions—for all three books. Because that’s not crazy or anything…

So…yeah. That was my year in a nutshell. 2015 just might be my most favorite year so far. 2016 is going to give it a run for its money, though. Which, let’s be honest, is a good place to be in.

Stay tuned for a “things I’m going to do in 2016” post.

How was your 2015? Do you have any big plans for 2016?

Crazy Little Thing Called Life

Life is crazy, you guys. Everything can change from day to day to day. The last year and a half of my life should have taught me that. Even still, I find myself being surprised by how much can change.

If this sounds ominous, it's not meant to. These most recent changes are all good ones, I swear.

First up, I withdrew from school. I'm only nine classes away from my Bachelor's degree, but throughout my first class, I found myself overwhelmed and unenthusiastic. I didn't want to take the class, and there were a billion things I could have been doing instead. And then the wheels started turning:

"Why am I doing this?"

"Do I really need this degree?"

"Do I want to put myself even further into debt for a degree I might not even need?"

"Why am I putting so much time and energy into this when I could be writing?"

It was the last question that struck me the hardest. I know I've mentioned a lot just how much writing I've been getting done lately, how much better that writing has gotten. How I feel like something has finally clicked into place. Did I really want to shove all that aside for something that didn't make me nearly as happy as the writing?

The answer: not even a little bit.

So, I withdrew from school.

I'd be lying if I said I wasn't questioning myself. Years of hard work, student loans galore, only 9 classes to go. Why not just finish? Why put something as LOGICAL as school aside to focus on something as ILLOGICAL as writing? Shouldn't I be a grown up and make the responsible decision?

I can always re-enroll later. There is no guarantee that the writing will come as smoothly at a later time. The muse is a fickle bitch. I...I don't know. I have to take some more time with the words. Finish the last book in my first series, clean them all up. I just have to.

There are a couple more big decisions that I've made recently, but I'm not quite ready to talk about them yet. Hint: they're both big and scary and exhilarating and (hopefully) awesome.

To be continued...

The Balancing Act

Last month, I picked up where I left off about a year and a half ago--I went back to school. Now, if you're sensing some bitterness there, you'd be right.

My dilemma is this: I've been writing a lot over the last year. I have discovered my voice as a writer, and I have decided on a career path for these book babies. School throws a wrench in these plans. When I'm writing, I'm thinking about homework. When I'm doing homework, I want to be working on my book. And when I'm doing neither, when I'm hanging out with friends or just relaxing, I keep thinking I should be doing something else. Cue deep breaths.

Part of me wants to say eff it and focus on the writing, but the years and student loans I've put into school would be for nothing. I've only got ten classes left for my Bachelor's. Ten classes. It'd be silly to not finish, right?

So now I'm left trying to balance my newfound fire for writing with classes that I don't particularly want to take. Throw in a full-time job, my awesome friends and a new relationship with a pretty rad dude, and I've got a lot on my plate.

So, how do I balance it?

I have no idea.

As if I don't already have enough on my plate, I have decided to participate in NaNoWriMo this year. I'm going to write the third book in my first series. I'm super excited about this book. It's going to be a blast to write. That is, if I don't let everything else eat my soul.

So, how about you? How do you balance writing with a life full of other things? Any tips or tricks for me? I suck at balance.


Plotter Panic

I’m a plotter.

A hardcore, need-to-know-every-detail, plotter.

As evidenced by the 27,000-word outline I wrote for my current work-in-progress.

Yep. 27,000 words.

So, imagine my borderline panic when I started writing the book and the opening scene was not as outlined. Borderline panic turned to full-on Omigod, what am I doing? when, scene by scene, chapter after chapter, everything was coming out new.

“Why did I spend so long outlining?” I asked myself. “Why didn’t I just start writing the damn book?”

At some point, about twenty thousand words in, I reached a point where I was like, “Okay. All right. I can do this.”

Which, given my obsessive plotting tendencies, is a big deal.

I fought the urge to stop writing, go back, re-outline, and I just kept going. Something inside me shifted, and I just relaxed into the writing. Clearly, these characters were going to tell this story the way that they saw fit. Who was I to interfere?

And you know what? So far, so good. I’ve got about three or four chapters left to write, and a new ending in mind. We shall see how it holds up…

The lesson here? Relax. At least, for me. I was so uptight about my outline, so stressed when it wasn’t working, when the story kept changing. The moment I let it go (Let it go! Let it go! Ahem…sorry.) was the moment I learned to trust my writerly instincts.

Does this mean I’m going to be a Pantser from now on? Hell no! Going into a story with absolutely no clue what’s going to happen freaks me out, even if what I plan on happening changes. But I have learned to roll with the punches. That’s a valuable lesson for someone like me.

What about you? Are you a Plotter? Pantser? Somewhere in between?