Not Ready to Quit

I’ve been at this writing thing for a while, working toward publication. There have been highs and lows throughout the journey, validation followed by rejection. It’s been tough, but I’ve always been tougher. Something inside wouldn’t let me quit. Something inside knew I did not want to give up.

Several weeks ago, I began to seriously consider quitting.

Seriously, as in, I actually said out loud, “I’m thinking about quitting.” And I spoke those words to a new non-writer acquaintance who’d asked about my writing. That was a huge moment, because during all the years of writing in the bleachers during Zebu’s basketball games and being asked by other parents if I was a teacher grading papers, I always said, “No, I’m a writer.” If they asked more questions, I’d let them know I was writing novels for kids and when the inevitable question came, I’d say, “No, I haven’t been published yet.” And it was okay. There was a core of steel in me that allowed me to have those conversations. I knew I’d keep writing until my stories were published. I knew I’d prevail.

Nothing specific happened in the past month or so to shake my convictions, but somehow I felt I’d reached my limit. As in, maybe it was time to quit putting my work out there to be judged because maybe, just maybe, it was unhealthy to continue making myself vulnerable to others’ opinions. Sending out a manuscript is like offering my heart on a plate so that it can be stabbed, sometimes repeatedly.

So I gave myself a little break. A break from writing and a break from decision-making about writing for publication. I kept reading, though. One of the books I read was a YA from an author who’d written one of the best books I’d read in 2013, an author who sells gazillions of books and seems to be an awesome person. The YA I read was a huge disappointment. Weak, weak, weak. I was flabbergasted. And slightly annoyed. I knew better than to write a protagonist who doesn’t change and secondary characters who serve as placeholders and plot lines that go nowhere, fizzling out into big nothings. Why do I know that? Because I know how to write.

And just like that I knew I wasn’t ready to quit writing for publication. Not because I have any delusions about knocking that author off the best-seller list. And not because I’m angry with the publishing world that has, thus far, excluded me from the club. I’ve gone back to work on my YA because I want to continue doing what I know how to do, and to continue learning how to do that even better.

I am a writer. And no, I haven’t yet been published. Whatever.

Image from by Alvimann

Image from by Alvimann

Making Courage a Habit

A great part of courage is the courage of having done the thing before.          ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Because I didn’t write much over the summer, it’s been difficult finding my groove again. That nasty little voice whispers in my ear, calling me delusional as I try to shake off the rust and gain some traction on my project.

I’ve had a few starts and stops, but for the past three days have written 1000 words per day. It’s starting to feel like a habit again although each day there’s a flutter in my chest as I prepare to sit down to work. “What if today I can’t do it?”

But as the wise Mr. Emerson pointed out, courage gets a bit easier each time you face down a particular fear. So right now I’m off to write my 1000 words for the day with the knowledge that I’ve done it before and can surely do it again.

Courage.Cowardly Lion receiving courage

The Agnes Toolbox


Agnes 6.10.12

I know I have talent, but I'm for sure also wielding my perseverance
(although I hope not in a bludgeon-esque manner).



Creative writing is a harrowing business, a terrifying commitment
to an absolute. This is it, the writer must say to himself, and I must
stand or fall upon what I have put down. The degree of self-exposure
is crucifying. And doubt is a constant companion. What if I am not as
good as I thought? is a question that always nags, and can cripple.

~ Walter Kerr

image from

Today I’m struggling to stand upon the words I’ve put down.
Begone, doubt!

I Can’t Let This Manuscript Die!

This second draft is giving me fits 
and I'm suddenly the Queen of Procrastination
as I look for something, anything to do besides revise.

But my project is like this shark:
if I don't keep moving foward
there is a good chance the book will die.

                                                                                        image from

Must. Give. It. Oxygen.


In Search of the Aha Moment


I'm working with a premise I think is timely and thought-provoking
but cannot seem to wrap my head around the story's tone.

I'm on the second draft and have written and rewritten
the first two chapters a whole bunch of times,
each version feeling incrementally closer to
what the story needs yet not close enough for that Aha moment.

Part of the problem is I'm used to writing funny 
and this premise doesn't easily lend itself to humor
although it could probably be done; I'm just not sure I want that tone.

Another issue is maybe this story would be better told
as a young adult novel rather than middle-grade.

I've already switched from first-person to third
and now I'm thinking maybe go full-blown creepy dystoptian YA
rather than slightly funny middle-grade.

I need to focus, dammit.

                                                             image from

Because I spent MANY hours in pool halls, I'm channeling my inner shark 
in hopes of zeroing in in on what needs to be done.

However, if anyone has sage advice on how to successfully wrangle a story idea,
I'm happy to put down the cue and listen.


Power Salute


I'm having one of those days.
Perhaps you know the kind,
the sort of day filled with blue thoughts and questions of worth.

But I'm fighting back
and taking a cue from Batman.

                                             © Tracy Abell 2011

I've put on my Big Girl pants and am pushing on through.


On Running and Writing


Zebu and Wildebeest are distance runners on the track team.

They have a teammate who started the season training with the sprinters.
One evening Zebu told me this kid (I’ll call him Whiz), accidentally missed the turnoff
for the sprinters during that day’s practice and instead ran the distance practice (4-5 miles).
With awe in his voice, Zebu said, "He kept up the whole way."

A couple weeks ago, the coach needed to fill some slots because of injuries and
put Whiz into an 800 meter race (two laps around the track which equals one half-mile).
Whiz won his heat.


A few days later, Whiz was on the 4 X 800 relay (each runner does two laps and

then passes a baton to the next runner on team).
The boy passing the baton to Whiz accidentally stepped on the back of Whiz’s shoe and 
Whiz spent valuable seconds trying to get the shoe back on his foot before kicking it off
and running his two laps with one shoe on and one shoe off.
Whiz’s time in that race beat Zebu’s best time.
This past weekend, Whiz ran his first 1600 meter race (four laps which equals one mile).
He ran it in 5:11, beating Zebu and Wildebeest’s best times.
Zebu is proud of Whiz, a fellow freshman and super nice kid, 
but is also flabbergasted by his ability to run so fast without all the miles
Zebu and Wildebeest have logged in their training.
I can relate.
Not just in my own running, but in my writing life, too.
I told Zebu that there are Naturals and there are Work Horses
(and, of course, Naturals who work very, very hard to get even better). 
I told him about the hardworking top-runner on my high school cross country team
who was knocked from her number-one spot by a freshman girl who just showed up
and blew everyone else away.
Then I said, "It’s a lot like the journey to publication. There are some people who write 
the perfect book at the perfect time, and their careers take off. Then there are those
who have to work hard for a long, long time to get there. I’m one of those work horses."
His silence told me maybe I shouldn’t have put it in those terms. 
Zebu’s had an up-close and sometimes painful window into my quest for publication,
and my unpublished status probably makes me a not-so-good poster child for Work Horses.
It’s true.
I’ve worked long and I’ve worked hard, and publication still hasn’t happened for me.
But whenever I wonder whether it’s time to let go of the dream, 
I think about my kids witnessing my efforts over the years.
And while I know hard work is no guarantee of success, 
I also know I don’t want them to think of me as The Work Horse Who Never Reached Her Goal.
So I guess that means, at least for the time being, I’ll keep doing what it takes.
I’ll be the Work Horse with one shoe on and one shoe off,
running hard for that finish line.

The LiveJournal Band

Sometimes I wish I was in a band
so I’d have someone right there with me,
sharing the sweat and inspiration.

                                                                                                                                               image from

The ups and downs.
Complete with power chords and jarring chords,
and finally, that elusive record deal.

But I guess this community comes pretty close.

So, who’s got tambourine?


Revising. Again


Courage and perseverance have a magical talisman,
before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish into air.
 ~ John Quincy Adams 

I had the great good fortune of receiving a free manuscript evaluation and critique 
from Sacha Whalen via the Blue Boards.

It was fast and comprehensive.

Sacha had much good to say about BIRD BRAIN,
but pointed out (among many other things), that
the opening chapters could be stronger.
She even gave me an excellent suggestion on how to do that,
a way to raise the stakes throughout the story.

So here I go again.
I’m mostly excited, but also a little bit scared.

Courage is saying, "Maybe what I’m doing isn’t working;
maybe I should try something else."

Girding My Loins


I’m ready to wade back in there
and begin reshaping BIRD BRAIN’s opening chapters.

And then complete another (final?) round of revisions.

I’m equal parts anticipation and dread.

                                                                                                                                                          Image from

Cue whatever music it is I need to hear right now . . .

Friday Five: The Where-I’m-At Edition


1)  I’m loving my whiteboard as I sort out characterization and plot for BIRD BRAIN.

2)  But for the sake of my brain cells, I need to make the big investment and buy non-toxic, no-odor markers.

3)  I’m now enjoying all the little revelations that come with revision, and am no longer beating myself up 
for not being an omniscient author.

4)  I’m writing every single day, making progress every single day, and feeling better about myself
every single day.

5)  This week I received a 14+ month response to a query for FRAMED, and all I could do was laugh.

Wishing everyone a grand weekend filled with whatever brand of happiness your hearts desire!

Voice: I’ve got it!


I’ve struggled off and on with BIRD BRAIN,
sometimes feeling good about how it was shaping up,
but other times feeling it lacked a certain oomph.

I don’t want to invite the wrath of the  universe by getting too confident,
but would like to document here that I believe I’ve finally cracked the code.
Now that I’ve let go of my preconceptions about length and format,
the story is flowing quite nicely.

And even better?
I’ve finally, finally found the narrator’s true voice.

I’m so very happy.
(Which does NOT translate to over-confident.  You hear, Universe?)

And just because it’s cute, here’s a squirrel from Westcliffe:           

                                                                                     © 2010 Zippy



I was hearing that nasty voice in my head today
as I worked on a project long dormant.

It tied me up in knots.
Filled me with self-loathing and doubt.

I pushed past it and met the small goal I’d set.

Then I watched one of my favorite movies about writers and writing:

I’m feeling much better.



Thank you so much for having my back.
The comments and emails have made a huge difference to my emotional state.

In the midst of all that angst, I realized I was missing something:
my PREVAIL bracelet.
The cord had worn out and I’d gone without the bracelet for several weeks.
On Friday night, Zippy and I found new cord and he put PREVAIL back on my wrist,
alongside another Laura Hamor creation:


Now I wear them together and the lovely clinking sound they make
reminds me of the beautiful, powerful Laura, and the many other friends who have my back.

Thank you, thank you.
This community is truly a life-saver.



Yesterday I suffered a massive blow to my quest for publication.
I’m still reeling from it all and trying to process
what it means for me in the long-term.

More than once the thought has entered my mind that I should give up,
cry "Uncle!"
Take up something new.

But as I sat on my patio this morning,
in a stunned kind of mourning,
I saw an ant dragging an equally large ant across the paver stones.

WARNING:  Avert your gaze if you do not like ants!

                                                                          © 2010 Tracy Abell

Then the ant started up the vertical wall of my step,
and my first thought was, "Wow.  That’s some strength."
My second thought was, "Hey, if a tiny ant can summon all that inner fortitude, so can I."

So, while I’m still feeling shaky and unsure,
I’m also feeling that glimmer of resolve that’s carried me this far.
I’m counting on The Mighty Ant to remind me of my capabilities.

I will prevail.

Of Ants and Writers


I’m working on my final chapter, and feel good about most all of it
except for the last few lines.

I know I’ll get there but it’s a bit maddening to have come this far
only to be flummoxed.

I’m not quite sure why, but this photo from last summer feels right for this post:

                                                                                                                                                             © 2010 Tracy Abell

Maybe because I found out via this link, that younger ants usually take care of the queen and brood,
while the older ants typically have the more dangerous tasks of foraging and defense.

I’m definitely an older ant,
and writing towards The End can sometimes feel a bit dangerous.  Scary.
But I have to keep crawling around my final page, foraging for those just-right words to end my story.

(And for a little off-topic Ha-ha, here’s a snippet from the above link:  "Ant colonies are grossly divided into queens, males, and workers. The job of the queen is to lay eggs. The males generally do nothing for the colony. They wander around accepting food from the workers until the time comes for mating. They die almost immediately after mating."  Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t this the ultimate fantasy?)

Thoughts on a St. Patrick’s Day



Shallow men believe in luck.  Strong men believe in cause and effect. 
~Ralph Waldo Emerson


Smart women believe in hard work with a dash of good fortune.

~ Me

Wishing everyone a happy, fortune-filled St. Patrick’s Day!

Mentor Monday: De-Blurring a Story/Picture






/* Style Definitions */
{mso-style-name:”Table Normal”;
mso-padding-alt:0in 5.4pt 0in 5.4pt;
mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”;

So I’m at about the halfway mark in my revisions
and am very pleased with the changes I’ve made.
I met with Claudia the day before I left for Florida
and went over the chapters I’d revised plus
mapped out a strategy for the next chapters.

Claudia said many nice things about my work
and pumped up my enthusiasm for pushing ahead.

I took my trusty notebook and pages on the plane the next day,
and worked and worked from those notes
(plus had a delicious margarita with my pb & j sandwich).

And I realized something:
I wasn’t wrong to love CLOSE TO HOME as it was written before;
it’s a great story with complex characters.
I really had created a good picture.
The problem was, the picture was slightly off.
Blurry and confusing in places.
But with Claudia’s help, I’m bringing the picture/story into focus.

So my big epiphany is that we should never say our manuscripts suck
(I’ve said that and other awful things, and am going to try hard to never say such things again).
The truth is, when you write a book, you’ve created a unique word picture.
A picture that no one else in the whole wide world could paint.
And while it is possibly true that you could have employed better word choice,
or maybe used those same words in a different order,
or given more thought to how and when your characters speak their words,
that stuff is all fixable.

Writing novels isn’t like photography.
If part of our stories seem out of focus,
we can go back in there to bring clarity.

I’m really, really glad I didn’t give up on CLOSE TO HOME.

Aren’t you supposed to be writing?


Wasn’t on task as much as I would’ve liked yesterday.
Today will be different.

The Grackle will make sure of that.

                                                                                   © 2010 Tracy Abell

If you get stuck, feel free to stop by again for your own dose of Grackle Motivation . . .

Of Balls and Pens


Zebu found out he didn’t make the "gold" team in basketball
and is quite disappointed.
I ache for him because I know what that feels like to work hard
but still not reach a goal.

Yesterday we went out and shot 100 free throws each,
alternating sets of ten.
He made 74 out of one hundred.
I made 56.

I said, "Hey, at least I’m better than Shaq."
Zebu said, "I think he shoots 57%."
(I just looked it up and his career average is only 53%.  Take that!)

This morning I went out to shoot another 100,
positive I’d do better than yesterday.
Because, you know, practice always makes you better.

I made 44 out of 100.
I felt pretty cruddy as I missed shot after shot. 
In fact, I wanted to quit early on when in one set I only made 3 of 10.
But I kept pushing through to the end.
And eventually attempted the hundredth shot.

Did I then proclaim "Free at last!"
and head inside for the couch?


Something inside me wouldn’t quit, and I kept on shooting.
And this time I made 56 out of 100.
Same as yesterday.

So does this mean that this morning’s first 100 free throws were a waste of time?
Does it mean I didn’t improve at all?
I don’t know.
On paper, I didn’t do any better than yesterday.

In basketball as in writing, there are no guarantees.
The only thing I know for sure is that if I don’t keep writing,
I will not improve my craft.
And the same is probably true for my free throw percentage.

Either way, just like with those free throws and me,
something inside won’t let me quit writing.
So I might as well get better while I’m at it.



 A while back I wrote about my new motto.
And last week I finally did something about it.

I contacted at Silver Freckles
and asked her to make my very own bracelet.

Last night I came home to find a package waiting.

Not only did it include my gorgeous bracelet

It also included these notes

I love my bracelet, Laura.
Every time I look at it, I think of you
and remember you believe in me.

And I start believing in myself all over again.
Thank you so much.