My Journey to Becoming a Young Adult Author

stairs in the woods

 

 

“The journey of a thousand miles begins with one single step.” – Lao Tzao

You know what I’ve realized recently? I’m great at taking the first step. It comes naturally to me, if I’m being honest. Starting is my specialty, I would say, and I’m never short on ideas – OMG let’s start a new company, won’t that be fun?! I’m going to start blogging again! I’m going to start a print shop and sell my prints! Why not write a book? It’s all going to be so wonderful! Cue that annoyingly hilarous song from the Lego Move – Everything is awesome!! That’s my mindset at all times when I’m starting something.

Yes, I’m great at starting. But you know what I’m not great at? Finishing. You know what I really stink at? Staying the course when I realize that everything isn’t always awesome. I’m just keeping it real you guys, because I’ve decided it’s time for me to start sharing about the journey of a thousand miles that I currently find myself on — the journey to becoming a Young Adult author.

I have friends who’ve run marathons. One of my best friends, actually, has run multiple marathons and is running another marathon this fall. I have so much admiration for her as she trains. She gets up, sets her alarm clock every morning and rain or shine, she runs. Then, on the day of the race she goes the distance—because she is disciplined. She has prepared. She is ready to run her race to completion.

I have realized that becoming a Young Adult author, is my version of running a marathon. The problem is, when I started the race — when I took that first step — I had no idea I was starting a marathon. I was completely and utterly unprepared for the race. I’m talking I wasn’t even wearing running shoes you guys.

In September of 2014, I wrote the first chapter to a book that I thought no one would ever see. I had no plan whatsoever. I’d never heard of character development, nor did I even take two seconds to think about my characters. I just wrote them with no plan — are you starting to see a theme here? I knew not what Deep Point of View was or how to use the Show Don’t Tell technique; I had no clue how to write discourse; I had absolutely no clue what I was doing. I just saw my son step off the bus — face heavy with pain and sadness, needing his momma – and a flood of emotions hit me with such force, I could no longer run from them.  He was eleven years old, the exact same age I was when a man hid in the back of my mother’s mini van with a knife, and tried to murder her. I couldn’t process what I was feeling — anger, sadness, so much confusion, and the reality I had never forgiven the man who traumatized my family, and me — an innocent, eleven-year old little girl who was forced, against my will, to have a front row seat to the evil in the world.  So, I sat down and I wrote the first Chapter to what would become Magnetic, a Young Adult mystery/romance about a self-destructive teenage girl, struggling to come to terms with the aftermath of a violent crime — her mother’s unexplained and tragic death.

Maya Angelou once said, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.”

I realize now, that I had a story deep inside of me, and I could bear the burden of carrying it no longer. So I wrote, and I wrote, and I wrote. The words spilled forth in a cathartic release. I wrote to heal. I wrote to forgive. I couldn’t stop. I told no one what I was doing, not even my husband. I took my computer with me every day and I wrote in the school pickup line while I waited for my kids. I wrote while I was at my kid’s gymnastics practice and in the parking lot of soccer practices. I wrote at the coffee shop at 6:00 am and I said no to girl’s nights and went to Books a Million to be by myself, and write, instead. Two months and 150,000 words later, I pushed away from the computer, relieved and triumphant. I wrote a book. OMG I wrote a book. What in the heck do I do now? Well, I did what everyone does when they have a question — Googled it of course!  That’s when I found two terms I had never before heard in my life — literary agent and query letter.

I sat down and typed up a “query letter” — it’s literally laughable when I think about it now. My first query letter had no form and no thought to content. I probably had some words misspelled, knowing me. But I typed out that email and found twenty of the top literary agents in the US and hit send, with little thought to what in the heck I was doing, because that’s how I roll.

I wish I was embarrassed, truly I do. But I’m not. Knowing what I do now, I probably should be embarrassed. Writing a query letter, I have since learned, is in itself, a work of art. People hire editors to help them with a query letter. But not me. I just typed out an email and hit send with no plan. Typical CC right there. But you know what, I’m just in this point in my life where I’m unapologetically me. That’s me. I take the first step, and sometimes I make mistakes because I don’t think it all through. But then I learn from mistakes, and I grow. So I’m not embarrassed about my query letter, even if it wasn’t up to par. I’m proud of myself that I had the courage to send it and I see how it started a chain of events that has led me to where I am today. And somehow, even though I don’t have it all figured out, I have this inexplicable peace that I am exactly where I’m supposed to be on my journey.

After writing my first query letter — the God awful one that had absolutely no thought put into it — I heard back from several literary agents. I even had some full manuscript requests. But there was one agent in particular who stood out to me — a big time agent at a big time agency in NYC — whom, after reading my query letter wrote me this:

“Young Adult fiction needs to be under 120,000 words.  Cut it down to 120K or even under 100K then contact me again.”

My first thought: How in the world am I going to cut out 50,000 words. I can’t do that!

My second thought: I have no clue what I’m doing. This lady knows what the heck she’s talking about. Time to get to work.

Looking back, this is the part in my journey where I started seeing signs that I was in for far more than I bargained for. I was on mile six, feeling a little exhausted and starting to understand I had a lot of race left to run, but I was still hopeful. I thought I had like two miles left though. Boy was I completely clueless.

In the Spring of 2015, I sat back down with my book and I cut out chapters. Then I cut some more, then I cut some more, and I did so with ease, realizing quickly how much better it made my manuscript. I cut out over 40,000 words when it was all said and done. Then, I typed up another email to the big time agent, this time much more polished than the first. I had a friend who is a non-fiction editor help me with my query. I actually proofread the email this time and took time to think about it before hitting send. Finally, I sent the query.

I heard back a few weeks later. The agent said my novel wasn’t right for her list. Interestingly enough, I wasn’t discouraged. Not in the least. Fun fact for you — Did you know The Help was rejected over 100 times before an agent finally picked up that manuscript? And many other books you know and love, have also been rejected hundreds of times before going on to be great successes.  Think J.K. Rowling and the Harry Potter series here.  Just to be clear, I am in no way comparing my little first time book to these amazing literary masterpieces, but I am saying I’m not the only one who has been turned down by a literary agent. It’s just part of the process. And I am saying, what a crying shame if those authors would have given up when they got rejected. The truth is, each time I heard from a literary agent, I felt encouraged, not discouraged. I was thankful they at least thought it was worth checking out, and I was honored to receive the feedback that I did from each each of them. Each time, I took their words to heart, and I went back to my manuscript, and made it better.

One of the literary agents who requested my full manuscript wrote me back this: “I really enjoyed this story and think it has potential, but the writing isn’t where it needs to be.”

She was 100 percent right, and I knew it.

At this point in my marathon, we were moving into our new house that we designed and built ourselves. Life was intense. There was no time for writing. So I pushed my book to the side. I didn’t have the energy to finish the race. Again, I have no clue what a marathon runner must feel like, but I’m guessing this is what the halfway point is like. What? I’m only halfway through the race? But I’m dying. I can’t do this. That’s where I found myself — completely overwhelmed and exhausted. I had just moved. I just wanted to not deal. I wanted to forget about the book and not finish the race, because it was going to be too hard.

But God had other plans.

Right before we moved, my daughter was on my computer and found my book. I hadn’t looked at it in months. I’m talking six months.

Mom did you write a book?!

The second my kids found out, everything changed. They were so dang proud of me. I kept trying to downplay it. It made me uncomfortable. I didn’t want to talk about it. But they wouldn’t stop asking me about it. They wouldn’t let me forget. They wouldn’t let me drop out of the race. They wanted to know details. Who were the main characters? What’s it about? And most of all — What are you going to do with your book? They kept encouraging me. They believed in me. I could see the pride in their eyes, and eventually, it lit a fire inside of me — even though I looked at the path in front of me and wanted to quit so badly I could taste it. So, because of my kids, I got myself back up and started taking another step, even though finishing seemed daunting, if not impossible.

This was the point in my journey where I got real with myself that I had no clue how to write. Yes, there was a story there and I vomited 150,000  words onto a computer, but it was not yet a book. I told the story almost as a narrator, telling every single detail through long wordy explanations rather than showing it through discourse and conversations. I repeated myself over and over and said the same phrases ad naseum. It was annoying. I needed to work on my writing, just like the literary agent told me. So, I read articles about writing dialogue. I got out all my favorite Young Adult books — Twilight, Hunger Games, and Jamie McGuire’s Beautiful Disaster, another favorite — and I read them all again. But I read them from an entirely different perspective than ever before.  I read them from an author’s point of view. I made notes in my head about how each author wrote dialogue. I noticed how they used interaction between characters to move the story along and make it intriguing. I studied my favorite authors.

Then I sat back down, a year and a half after I “finished” writing my book, and I rewrote the entire thing.

This was the hardest part of my journey — I’m guessing what a marathon runner calls “hitting the wall.” I wasn’t sure that I could go on. I felt defeated. All the sudden I felt like I had worked so hard, but still had so far to go, and I wasn’t sure I could do it.

It took me months and months. I had to ask my husband to go to Starbucks late at night. I would work for a week, then life would get in the way and I couldn’t touch it for a week. It was frustrating and hard. But I kept pushing. I kept putting one foot in front of the other. Finally, 6 months later, I had rewritten my manuscript. I pushed away from the computer. Now what?

I researched, and decided I had done all I could do, and it was time to hire a developmental editor. It took me months to find the right person. I ended up hiring The Artful Editor and they paired me with Katie McCoach as my developmental editor. I sent her my first three chapters and she sent me back a Microsoft word document I had never before seen in my life. It had all these markings and lines and to be quite honest, it felt like a foreign language. I was so overwhelmed. I didn’t want to tackle the developmental edit. I was too exhausted. The negative thoughts consumed me. You can’t do this.

I thought I had hit a wall previously but when I got this developmental edit, I hit the true wall.  I thought I felt defeated before, nope. This was way worse. I convinced myself my editor hated my Main Character and my book. I was convinced the entire thing was crap. I sat down with her notes and would just freeze. I had total writer’s block. I had nothing left to give.

I remember sitting in the bathtub one night after I got my editor’s first round of developmental edits — candle lit, large glass of wine poured — and I just cried. I sunk down into the tub and let my head go under the water. I let myself feel the weight of my exhaustion. I’m never going to finish this. I can’t do this. No one’s ever going to read it. I’m wasting my time and money on paying for this editor.

I cried and I let myself feel the weight of my exhaustion, but  somehow I found the will to keep pushing. I just put one foot in front of the other. I remembered my girlfriends who read my book. I focused on their encouragement. I pushed my thoughts toward positivity — them reading my book in under three days, some asking for the sequel. I forced myself to turn my thoughts from quitting, to finishing. It was slow going. I didn’t have the same energy I did at the beginning of my race but something new set in — the will to finish. Finally, I pushed past the exhaustion and the defeat and I made a decision. I will finish this book. 

I will finish my marathon.

Last week, I finished my developmental edits. I’m guessing the relief and joy I felt, could be likened to a marathon runner turning a bend and seeing mile marker twenty-six.

My friend Bethany, who runs marathons, sent me pictures taken during her last marathon and they are forever ingrained in my mind. There was the picture at the start line, nothing but smiles and excitement. Then there was one on the last mile. It was of her rounding a bend and seeing her husband’s face before she made it to the finish line. It brings tears to my eyes every time I see that picture — the pain, the agony, paired with the love, the determination, the fight, the will to finish. That’s where I am right now. I’m looking at my husband, and my kids, and I’m pushing through the pain, to finish — for them, but even more so, for me.

Oh how I long to see the finish line. I long to hold that book in my hand, and know that yes, I had the courage to start, but more importantly — I fought to finish.

If you made it all the way to the end of this blog post, WOW. Thank you so much for taking the time to read about my Journey To Becoming a Young Adult Author. I don’t know how this all works. I’m still trying to figure it out. But soon, my book will be available, and if you want to read it, I would be absolutely thrilled. If you would like to subscribe to my blog, go to the home page – CC and Mike and look on the right side for the subscribe box, then enter your email. I will be sending private updates about the book to my email list and maybe even some Chapters.

Thank you for going on this journey with me. I need all the support I can get as I finish this last mile.

Much love to you all,

CC

Also, if you’d like to read the Letter of Forgiveness I wrote the man who tried to murder my mom, and the Prologue to my book, you can do that here.

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Magnetic is now available in ebook and print. Click on the book to buy!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

5 Comments
  • Bria Hammel
    Posted at 14:53h, 15 May Reply

    THIS is so beautifully written, I can only imagine what your book will be <3

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 21:12h, 15 May Reply

      Thank you Bria! Means the world to me that you read it 🙂

  • Lia
    Posted at 15:44h, 12 June Reply

    Thank you for sharing your journey. It’s very comforting to know that I am not the only one who has doubts and fears but that you CAN dig deep and keep pushing and succeed.

    • Carissa Miller
      Posted at 14:10h, 16 June Reply

      Thank you so much for reading and taking the time to comment Lia. It means the world to me and best of luck on your journey!

  • Ashley Allen
    Posted at 15:25h, 14 June Reply

    I absolutely cannot wait to read your book!!!! Congratulations on finishing and having the courage to do it in the first place, it is going to be great! 🙂

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