External validation (or, I won, I won, I won!)

digital_badge_shortstoryFor several weeks, I’ve mulled over how to share the biggest announcement in my writing career to date (translation: I’ve been procrastinating as usual). Do I write some important-sounding essay on how you should put yourself and your writing out there, because doing so might just pay off? Should I announce it like a press release, making sure to include the phrase, “award-winning author” at least twice? Should I dip my head demurely and modestly thank everyone from God to my fourth-grade teacher the way actors do at the Oscars?


I’m going to squee all over this dang post like a thirteen-year-old with her first boyfriend. I won. I WON. I WON! I WON! I WON! I WON!!!!!

Specifically, my short story, “Proof Text,” took first place in the short story division, and my novel, Vanishing, Inc., took second place in the unpublished novel division. In other words, I WON. I WON! I WON! I WON! I WON!!!!!

They even gave me digital badges! The short story one is the leading image for this post. Here’s the one for the novel:


What, you expected dignity from me? C’mon… get real. Since the awards banquet on November 2, I’ve been acting like the authorial equivalent of a Price Is Right contestant, jumping up and down and screaming like a coked-up baboon. You want dignity? Try the Nobels.

And speaking of the awards banquet… We were supposed to dress up as our favorite sleuth. My favorite sleuth is Sherlock Holmes, but I figured a) there’d be about 50 billion of those (spoiler alert: I think there was one), and b) I wanted an excuse to do something I only do about once every 3 years: wear a dress. So I dressed up as Kate Warne, the first female detective in US history. She was a Pinkerton who helped foil an assassination attempt on Abraham Lincoln while he was traveling to his inauguration. My husband decided to go as the Scotland Yard detective who investigated the Jack the Ripper murders, so we were from roughly the same time period, give or take about 40 years. Here we are in our fake 19th century finery:

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Clearly he doesn’t have any dignity either. And neither of us have any common sense. Did I mention where this event took place? Phoenix. Y’know, Phoenix, Arizona, where even in November the outside temperature is roughly equivalent to the temperature on the surface of the sun. Does anyone know of any female detectives who wore shorts and tank tops? I want to start preparing for next year.

OK, OK, I know what you’re thinking: enough shameless self-promotion. Hey, let me have my moment, will ya? Because that  moment meant quite a lot to me. You see, writing is a solitary activity, and creative writing is a really personal activity. My stories are just that: mine. They are a product of my life experience, my taste in fiction, and my demented imagination. To put them out there at all, to let even one person read them, is scary as hell. To send them off to a literary contest was not something I could have seriously imagined doing even two lousy years ago. Enter a contest? Me? And don’t even get me started on, “literary.”

I didn’t show anyone my fiction until last spring, when I joined a critique group with great fear and trembling. It was the best thing I ever did for my writing “career” (Is it a career when you don’t make any money off it? But I digress…) other than actually writing. But it was still terrifying. So being recognized publicly for my work was an incredible experience. External validation matters, no matter how uncool it is to admit it.

And that’s the perfect lead-in to how I should end this post: by encouraging my readers to take the risk, let others read their work, hell, even send it off to a literary contest. You just might find yourself sitting in a room on the surface of the sun in Phoenix in a high-necked, long-sleeved gown while having a hot flash… er, I mean receiving that sweet, sweet external validation.


I’m going to end this thing with all the truth, honesty, and authenticity befitting my new status as an award-winning author:


(But seriously: put yourself and your work out there. It’s scary as hell but oh, so worth it. Now drop me a comment and tell me about your first external validation or some other good news about your writing. I’ll jump up and down and scream for you, too.)

#NaNoInspo: Write Badly

Insecure Writers Support Group BadgeMy November post for the Insecure Writers Support Group Blog Hop is all about writing badly.


Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. — Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird.

A quick Google search on “Anne Lamott shitty first draft,” reveals that lots of bloggers have written about this quote and the importance of writing badly. Now I could do the responsible thing, and find another topic, or I could just carry on anyway, because I really want to write about writing badly.

Guess what I’m going to do?

One of the most valuable writing lessons I’ve learned in the 5+ years of my fiction writing “career” is the value of the shitty first draft. Or, more politely: the value of writing badly.

Pointless digression #1: Can it really be called a career if I’ve never been paid for it? I don’t want to contemplate that too closely, so I’m going to move on to…

Turning off your inner editor (or how to tell that a**hole to shut the f*** up)

I’m writing this post on November 1, also known as the first day of #NaNoWriMo. For the first time since 2014, I’m doing NaNo as it’s “supposed” to be done, i.e. I’m trying to write 50,000 words of a brand spanking new novel. I’ve spent the last 4 years or so editing my first NaNo novel, i.e. being a perfectionist. Fix this plot hole, delete that redundancy, spend 20 minutes trying to find a stronger verb for a sentence I’ll edit out 10 minutes later… you get the idea. My overly-aggressive inner editor has been having his nitpicky way with me for quite awhile. And now that I’m trying to write something new, I’m having trouble getting him to shut up.

Pointless digression #2: I picture my inner editor as Stripe from Gremlins (if you’re under 40, Google it or visit the Wikipedia entry. I’m not going to post a picture and risk being sued out of existence by the MPAA just to save you clacking a few keys, ya lazy bum.) Editor-Stripe looms over my desk, gnashing his many, pointy teeth at every digression, weak verb, or passage of rambling dialogue I create.

When I first sat down this morning to start writing the novel I’ve been outlining for 3 weeks, I struggled. It took me about a half hour to write maybe 200 words. Why? Because I kept trying to make them good. I’d frown at my monitor, type a few words, frown some more, take a swig of Diet Coke in the vain hope that caffeine+aspartame=inspiration, and type a few more words. It took me the better part of an hour to figure out my problem and give myself permission to write crap. I went to a write-in this afternoon and cranked out > 3,000 words in a little over 2 hours.

Why you should write badly

Admittedly, most of those 3,000 words are crap. But that’s OK, and here’s why:

  1. I can make them better later. I can take Stripe’s shackles off and let him loose on my steaming pile o’ prose (this is what normal writers call, “revising”), and it’ll get better. Gradually. Iteratively. And with much gnashing of teeth (Stripe’s and mine).
  2. I have to write the crap to get to the good stuff. Writing crap is my way of feeling my way through my story, getting deep into my characters, and exploring various blind alleys and winding paths to see which ones lead to creative gold. I have an outline, yes, but until I actually write a first draft, my characters are abstract ideas. They take their first breaths as living, flesh-and-bone people when I spew out a bunch of verbal diarrhea in a blank Scrivener window. Poor things. Isn’t that a helluva way to enter the world?
  3. And the very best reason: Sometimes—only sometimes—there’s gold in that thar crap. The words I think are terrible, just page filler to pump up my NaNo word count, turn out to be actually good. My writing teacher says that’s because when we give ourselves permission to write without editing, we tap into our subconscious in ways we can’t when we’re trying not to suck.

So my words of inspiration for you this National Novel Writing Month, are these: Give yourself permission to write crap. To write badly. To write so badly that you inadvertently summon the Demon of Suckitude, who will spend the entire month perched on your shoulder, whispering adverbs in your ear.

Pointless digression #3: And now I’m picturing the Demon of Suckitude in a cage match with Editor-Stripe. Send help.

How to write badly

Anyway, if you doubt me, try it for yourself. Try making yourself just write. No editing. No making frowny-faces at your monitor while you try to cudgel some brilliance out of your under-caffeinated brain. Just write. Let the words flow, and put in placeholders for stuff you aren’t ready to write yet, such as:

    • Stuff you need to research. Example: [research history of 18th century couches and enter description here]
    • Plot holes you could drive a C130 through. Example: [explain what the heck Stripe is doing in my living room]
    • Pieces of scenes you need to figure out. Example: [explain exactly how Stripe goes about shredding the 18th century couch]
    • Descriptions you haven’t figured out yet or aren’t in the mood to write. Example: [describe the Demon of Suckitude’s hairstyle and genitalia]

You can use your writing software’s comment feature for this, but I like to put my placeholders in the text in square brackets, so I don’t have to take my hands off the keyboard to grab the mouse and navigate to the menu that contains the comment feature. I can also find them easily later, because I don’t normally have square brackets in my writing for any other reason. And, bonus! If the comments are in the text, they’ll be included in my NaNo word count when I validate at the end of the month.

You’re welcome.

Wanna see some other great IWSG posts? Check out the list of participants
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