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22 December 2012 @ 04:01 pm
I'll be giving each of my parents a copy of this letter at Christmas, but since I am the patron saint of impatience, I'm posting it here early. Shh, don't tell.

Not many people can pinpoint the exact moment when the course of their life shifted, but mine can be narrowed down to a single question asked of a seven-year-old girl:

What instrument do you want to play?

That one question you asked me all those years ago charted the path that every single thing I have done from that point out. It determined the friends I’ve made, the experiences I had, who my mentors and colleagues are, where I went to college, where I’ve lived, who I married, what I do.

I met my best friend in orchestra. I’m a music teacher because I play the violin, because of the amazing experiences I had in lessons and orchestras through the years.

I’m thankful for all of this all the time, but there are moments when it really strikes me just how much everything changed because my parents loved me enough to ask me that one question. To pay for instrument rentals and purchases and lessons. To drive me to Saturday morning rehearsals and attend countless recitals and concerts. To always support and encourage me. To not blink an eye when I told you my desire to become a music teacher, not the most lucrative of careers monetarily, because you knew I wanted it so badly I could taste it.

It’s the moments when kids leave my classroom still singing the songs we were just learning, when a student finally masters a difficult piece, when I’m sitting in the symphony swallowed up in some of the most beautiful music ever written that I’m so overcome with thankfulness I can hardly breathe.

Thank you so much for asking me that one question all those years ago. Without it, without you, I wouldn’t be where I am today. And I am so happy to be here.
22 October 2012 @ 10:35 pm
I've struggled with depression for years now. The first time I was actually aware of what was happening to me was my sophomore year of college when a whole lot of things were going spectacularly UNspectacularly but I was constantly making it worse than it really was. When I finally realized what a deep hole I was living in, I saw a counselor on campus and started to dig myself out.

It worked.

For awhile.

I didn't really feel that way again until the summer after graduation, especially when I was treading on the precipice of REAL LIFE, waiting to get a "real job" when so many of my friends already had and hoping beyond hope that my life wasn't destined to take a path other than, frankly, the only one I was really prepared for.

Now, my life is good. I have a couple of good part-time jobs and a wonderful husband and two pets who make me laugh and smile on a daily basis, but through a couple of strange "lightbulb moments" as we called them back in our Ed classes, I realized that yes, I was in fact depressed. Again.


My depression manifests itself in interesting ways, mainly extreme loneliness and isolation. I feel lonely and then I, without realizing that I'm doing so, pull away from everyone in my life. I also tend to get incredibly obsessed with being online, something I've realized serves as a sort of false companionship, one that during those dark times seems preferable because HEY THERE ARE PEOPLE OUT THERE WHO LIKE THE THINGS THAT I LIKE AND WE CAN DORK OUT OVER THESE THINGS but in reality it's not real because I don't really WANT it to be. I want the people in my real life to be around, but my isolation makes it difficult for that to happen. It's a really stupid double-edged sword and it's incredibly unfair of my depressed subconscious to expect things it refuses to accept.

To put it bluntly: It fucking sucks.

Last winter was a particularly bad time for me. I pulled away from everyone, including my husband to an extent (though he was wonderful and accommodating and understanding and again, wonderful), and it wasn't until a completely random sunny spring day in March that I finally realized what was happening to me again.

It hasn't been so easy to pull myself out this time. Partly, this is because it was really bad, and partly because I feel really awful re-approaching people after so much time spent avoiding/pulling away from them because of my depression. It feels incredibly unfair to me to expect people to just let me back in when I was such a terrible, terrible friend to them. So, I've been trying to baby step it. As we're always told, things just take time.

I'm not participating in NaNo this year because I can't start another novel until I'm happy with Empty Houses and I haven't been able to get it there because my brain just hasn't let me. I'm still planning to come to write-ins, but I'll be editing and rewriting. I do feel bad that I won't be contributing to the region's word count, but this is what I need to do for myself. I need something that I can feel really proud of. Hopefully, by the end of November, I'll have that.

So, if I've been absent lately, this is why. It's not you. Really, it's not. It's me. And even though this was an 'it's not you, it's me,' this isn't a break-up, it's a reintroduction.

My name is Sydney and this is my life. Welcome.
26 August 2011 @ 10:23 pm
1. I have writer's block.
2. I'm tired.
3. I can see it all in my head, I'm just having a hard time putting it on paper.
4. I'm letting it ferment.
5. I keep getting ideas for my other story.
6. I have housework to do.
7. I'm hungry.
8. What was that noise?
9. I need to do more outlining.
10. Ooo shiny!
11. I need to catch up on my e-mail.
12. I need to catch up on my Twitter.
13. I need to feed the cat.
14. I should probably exercise.
15. That shelf looks dusty.
16. My throat hurts, I should probably look it up on WebMD
17. Isn't there a rerun of Law & Order: Criminal Intent on? Ooo. A marathon. Even better.
18. It's too nice out to sit inside and write.
19. It's crappy out. I'm too depressed to write.
20. The internet is distracting me.
21. The TV is distracting me.
22. This is frustrating.
23. This is boring.
24. It's too cold in here.
25. It's too hot in here.

Get the picture?

Moral of the story: Stop making excuses and write.
I don't remember ever being friends with Becky. I know that we were at one time, but the point is that it was so fast and fleeting and such a small part of the time that we've known each other that I flat out just don't remember. There's evidence of this time and the even briefer time before that when we were just acquaintances. In sixth grade, Becky signed my yearbook.... with her name. Just her name. Yikes. That's the same way you sign the yearbook of the weird kid who smells bad. Not that we had one of those at our middle school or anything...

And then seventh grade happened. Over the course of the year, we got closer. The summer between seventh and eighth grade was what really solidified things. But the point of the matter is simple: Becky and I weren't friends for long because we were never meant to be friends. We were meant to be best friends, and there's plenty of evidence to support my claim.

Becky and I, ever since our friendship started, have had a weird connection. I get her and she gets me in ways that no one else does. Our friendship is easy. Whether we’re going to a concert or just sitting on the couch watching movies and eating off of an entire cake with a fork, it’s effortless. We've never had to try hard at our friendship. Not once. Not even with the unusual circumstances that have been thrown our way.

A mere two years into our friendship, we were already being separated. Becky went to North High School and I went to West. I'm sure that our parents probably assumed that our friendship would wane once we weren't seeing each other every day. But, they were wrong. We remained as close as ever, making new friends, having other strong friendships, but maintaining our best friendship because, well, it was just supposed to be that way.

Then came the end of ninth grade. Becky's family was moving. Not across town. To Taylorville. I was devastated. I'd had a lot of trouble with friends in the past. They always seemed to be slipping away, and even at the tender age of fourteen, I'd already learned how fast and fleeting most friendships truly are. So, when Becky told me that she was moving three hours away, even I was skeptical. Not because I didn't have faith in our relationship, but because it was three hours away, and since I couldn’t drive yet, it seemed impossibly, terrifyingly far.

But, we did make it work. We begged our parents for phone cards, chatted on Instant Messenger every day, and started to get used to seeing each other only a few times a year. And that's how our friendship has been ever since. This would not work for most people. Most, when faced with a sudden distance between themself and a close friend, acknowledge that the connection between the two of them will dissolve with time, but Becky and I weren't willing to let that happen.
When you find an easy friendship with someone, the kind where you're old friends right from the start, it's something that you hold onto. Even back when we were young and stupid junior high students, I think we both realized that what we had was something special. It's something that most people go their entire lives without, something that so many people never get to experience.

I have a best friend who has been at my side through literally every single life-changing moment I've had, good and bad. She knew me when I was precocious and had absolutely no idea what an epic breed of dork I really was. She knew me when my strength was being severely tested. She knew me when I moved four more hours away for my very first job, drunk on the excitement of adulthood and terrified of being terrible at something I loved so much. She knew me when I met the man of my dreams, and she stood at my side when I married him two years ago, just like how I stood beside her when she married the man of her dreams today.

The term 'soulmate' is one that gets tossed around a lot in trashy romance novels and rom-coms, usually referring to that one person who makes your knees perpetually weak, who you're meant to be married to and love for the rest of your life. That's all well and good, but I believe that there is more than one kind of soulmate in this world. There's the kind for love, the kind we're most familiar with. But then there's another, one that is just as special, but not talked about as much.

I believe that there are friend soulmates, too, and I didn't know they existed until I met Becky. I really do believe that we are meant to be best friends. There has to be some reason why our friendship has survived the insane tests of distance it's been put through. How we managed to remain best friends when we were idiot fickle teenagers with three hours between us.
That's not just rare, it's unheard of. There has to be a reason why we're even closer now than we ever were before, why we were so dedicated to making this friendship work even back when we'd honestly only known each other for a few years.

Now, we've been best friends for over half of our lives. It's crazy to think about that way, but it's true. And I know that if we've made it through all these years and we're still the people that we want to be standing next to us when we marry our other soulmates, then I don't see any reason why we won't be best friends until we're little old ladies in nursing homes, probably still talking about how hot Brian and AJ from the Backstreet Boys were way back when.

Becky, you're my best friend, my friend soulmate, my sister before I had sisters, and I know without a doubt in my mind that you always will be.
11 February 2011 @ 07:51 am
I'm going to take a break from posting about writing/editing/etc. to write a quick entry about the dream I had last night.

Now, as you might remember, my Pa passed away last May. In my entire life of believing in the supernatural, I've never had a personal experience save a lost (and important) family video tape randomly showing back up in its rightful place soon after my Nana passed.

I've been thinking about Pa a lot lately. Now, I think about my grandparents who have passed on all the time, but the frequency of thoughts and feelings of sadness I've been having about Pa have increased greatly in the last month or so. I wasn't exactly sure why, other than that I miss him, but now I think I know the reason.

I was having a dream as random as ever. I was talking with college friends about how one of us was going to be studying abroad (whatever, not really important), and then all of a sudden, Pa was there. He looked like he did in pictures from when I was really little, meaning that he was in his late 40s. I asked him what he thought about this friend going to study in Italy for the trimester (again, what the hell ever), and Pa said that he thought it was a really good opportunity for him.

Then, he grabbed my hand. He was wearing a ring that until the moment I saw it in the dream, I didn't remember. He hadn't worn it since I was little, but there it was, on a finger of the hand that was holding mine.

"I just wanted to tell you to do a really good job at your job." That was exactly what he said to me, and I immediately started to cry. Pa passed away before I got my current job. I never got to tell him how much I'm loving it, or share with him the compliments I've received from parents and the staff.

"I miss you so much," I managed to get out through my tears.

"I miss you, too," he told me.

And then the alarm went off. I was crying when I woke up, and no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't stop. It isn't the first time I've woken up crying, but I can always calm myself down right away because it was just a dream. This time, I couldn't. And as soon as I realized why, I literally leaped out of bed and called my mom.

I couldn't stop crying because it wasn't just a dream. It was real. I know it was. Pa came to visit me in my dream last night. I think he's been trying to reach me for awhile, and that's why I've been feeling the way that I have. We got cut off, though, because of the stupid alarm. I have every confidence that Pa will visit me again. I just hope that next time we get to talk for a little longer, because I really do miss him. So much.
06 February 2011 @ 09:21 am
As November came to a close and I had a completed first draft of Empty Houses, I made the decision to submit it to the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award competition. I started in on edits, gave it to people to read, and remained optimistic that I'd make it in time.

But, I didn't. Not even close.

Sure, I could have fired it off after that first round of edits. A year ago, I probably would have. The experiences I've had in the last year, however, kept me from submitting before the story was ready. Right now, it isn't ready to be submitted, and I'll be damned if I send anything out to be read by agents or judges or publishing houses that isn't a primo example of my work. If they're going to reject me, it's going to be for the best effort I can possibly put out. End of story.

Empty Houses is getting there, but it needs more time. I need more time. My critique group has been helping me immensely. It needs to go through betas. I want this more than I've wanted most things in my life. I want to be published, and I want to do it right. Submitting the thing before it was ready would have been wrong on so many levels, like putting out a bowl of raw dough at a party instead of baked cookies.

And so, I'm still working hard. I'm going to get it into the best shape I can whip it into, write synopses, get my query into tip-top condition, and I'm going to go the traditional route this year. If I don't have any leads come next January, then I'll submit to ABNA. The novel will be ready by then.

I'm ready for this to happen. The novel's getting there, but I'm not serving raw cookie dough to my guests. And that's what it is right now. Raw, delicious cookie dough.

EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that cookie dough is delicious and might not be unwelcome at a party. While I agree, the analogy I was going for is best described this way: Cookie dough is awesome, and most of us can't help but eat some in the privacy of our own homes when we're baking cookies (or "make cookies" with the sole purpose of having dough to eat... not that I've ever done that...). It's more of a private or home kind of thing, much like those initial drafts of a novel are. They're awesome and you have to have them in order to actually bake the cookies (or final draft), but it's just not the kind of thing that you usually want to put out for the company. :)
02 February 2011 @ 07:42 am
I'm in the process of editing Empty Houses, as I have been for the last few months. I've been getting some wonderful feedback, and am still really enthused about this story and truly believe in its potential. That being said, I've found myself having some thoughts. I'm not the only writer who thinks these things, but I wanted to take a moment to expound on what they mean to me as a writer.

My writing sucks.
We all go through this. You're working hard, proud of your progress, and then all of a sudden, you loathe every single sentence that you see. Every verb choice feels sophomoric, every phrase is contrived, nothing is worth a single damn, and you're the worst writer to ever write anything in the history of literature. You might as well just delete the entire thing and do the world a favor.

But, your writing doesn't suck. It really doesn't. I honestly believe that you can find something redeeming about anything you write. It could be the characters (or even just one brilliant character who sparkles and comes alive on the page), or your plot twist, or even just a single sentence. I don't mean this to be discouraging. Quite the opposite. What I'm trying to articulate is that nothing is worth throwing away. Find the beauty within your own writing. It's there, and even in your darkest moments of self-loathing, you can find that one little thing that will reinvigorate you and your enthusiasm for the project. I promise. I do it all the time.

The best part of all? It's never just one thing, but finding the first can often send you soaring down a path of kick-ass paragraphs, awesome dialogue, rainbows, sunshine, and unicorns wearing party hats.

The moral of this story: Kick your inner Negative Nancy in the ass and send her packing. She's not a good friend, and if you keep her around, neither of you are going to get anywhere.

The people who say they like ::insert project name here:: are just being nice.
No, they aren't. Really, they aren't.

Have you ever had a friend or family member be so excited to show you something that they're so freaking proud of they're practically skipping, and you have to force a smile on your face with every ounce of energy and good will in your entire body? You know what I'm talking about. It could be the painting of their dog that looks more like a sack of sprouting potatoes, or the birthday cake that seems to be channeling the Leaning Tower of Pisa. They can't wait to show it off, and have no idea that it's hideous. But, you know that it's hideous and can't bring yourself to squash all of their hard work and excitement. So what do you do? You find the good in what they're showing you.

"I love what you did with the shading there around the ears... Oh yeah, the nose. I meant nose..."

"It smells delicious!"

You don't say, "OMG! That is the best painting I've ever seen! Send it to the Met. It'll be hanging on the wall next to a Picasso the next time we visit!" or "I'm taking a picture of this and sending it to the Food Network. They'll put you on their next cake challenge show for sure!"

So if someone tells you that they like your story, listen carefully to what they say. Just like you are always able to find the good in those hideous but well-intentioned efforts, they're doing the same for you. Or maybe they really do just love it, love it, love it. If your mom tells you that she loves the story, then she loves the story. It doesn't mean that the writing is perfect and it's ready to get picked up for publication. It means that you have a great story. If someone tells you that Chapter 3 was freaking amazing, then Chapter 3 is freaking amazing. Chapters 1, 2, 4, 100, and 206 might be crap ready for a machete red pen, but Chapter 3 is great stuff.

The moral of this story: The people who read your stories have valid opinions, even if they know nothing about the craft of writing. Listen carefully to the feedback they give you, because they're being as honest as they can be.

Every time I read through it, I find more things to fix.
Yup. You do, and from what I hear from other writers, so does everyone else. Published best-selling authors go through this. That doesn't comfort you? Well, it should.

We're human beings. We're flawed, we're picky, and we're very rarely satisfied. I'm on my second round of edits right now. After the first round, I was feeling great about the story. Note my careful use of the word story. This second round is devoted to tightening up and enhancing the writing. The third round will serve another purpose, not that I have any idea what it is yet. But if you think that means that on the third round, I'll remain stalwart and will refuse to fix a janky sentence or two, you're wrong.

We're never done because there's always something that can be better. We can always improve our craft. This is something that excites me. I love to learn (Yes, I'm a nerd), and the thought that with my hard work and further education I can continue to become a better writer gives me dork tingles all over. If you're writing right now and think there's no way that you could possibly get any better at this crazy thing we all do, then I feel sorry for you. You're setting yourself up for a lot of frustration, pain, and disappointment.

If you do happen to get published some day, someone you meet along the way is going to have suggestions for improvement. It might be line edits, it might be a title change, it might be an addition of a new plot arc to flush out the story. The point is, there's going to be something. But if you already think that you're the best, and that your work is infallible, then you're going to find yourself with a problem. A big one.

Be adaptive. Be accepting of the fact that no matter what, your writing can always be better. If you get published and are lucky enough to be able to go into a bookstore and pluck your novel from the shelf, without doubt you're going to flip open to a page and go "Damn it. I really wish I would've changed that."

The moral of this story: You're always going to want to change things, so all you do is the very best you can every day and work to constantly improve.
29 December 2010 @ 09:49 pm
I take my writing very seriously. It's pretty much the only thing in my life that I can talk about, rip apart, and not mind when other people make critical comments. Do the same with my violin playing and I'll burst into tears. For whatever reason, it doesn't bother me to turn an critic's eye to my writing. I want to be better. I want to get published. In order to do this, I have to take off the Writer Hat and put on the Editor Hat. It's not as flashy and kind of gives me a headache, but it's necessary.

That being said, I've made no efforts to hide my disdain for the act of editing itself. It's dirty work. It gets messy. It can make you hate things you once loved, and the wall starts to look like a really great place to beat your face upon. But, I'm taking this seriously. If I want this novel to be a contender, I need to put on my big girl panties and get through this.

Here's the problem. Every time I look at a page, I find something to fix. This is all well and good, but incredibly distracting. I tried just reading through the whole thing without making any changes. That lasted approximately a page and a half, and then I just couldn't take it any more. It's not that I'm forgetful, but if I don't just go ahead and change that awkward-as-hell sentence, it's just going to annoy me even more the second time I read it. It's better for everyone if I just make the changes, so I do.

My process thus far has gone as follows: Read through when I can make changes. Spend time actually focused on editing. Read through when I can't make changes (like in bed). Try to remember things to edit. Fail. Read through when I can make changes and get annoyed at things I had found in bed all over again.

Get the picture?

I need a plan. I can do this, but I need a structure of sorts. I've bought some great books on editing. I know exactly the sentences that suck don't work so well and the inconsistencies or plot issues that any agent or publisher would rightfully give a snarky look to. But books and good intentions will only get you so far. This plan is something that I need to come up with all on my own. This novel will never get published if it never gets sent to a publisher or agent. It'll never get sent to a publisher or agent if I never edit it. I'll never edit it if I don't, you know, edit it.

I have a goal in mind, which gives me about a month to whip this baby into shape. Since NaNoWriMo ended, I've done quite a lot of editing and have made some good progress, but it's not where I want it to be yet. I can do it, but the excuses and procrastinating and "Oooo shiny" moments have to stop. Excuses seem to be my frenemy, and I'm kicking their ass to the curb. I'm serious.
12 December 2010 @ 03:33 pm
I've been loquacious since birth. I started talking early. There's video of me around ten months in age where I'm communicating freely with my parents, them asking me questions and me answering. Sure, I sound like a baby, but the point is, I was talking. My dad likes to tell people that I started talking early and haven't shut up since. It's a pretty accurate statement, actually.

I love to talk. I love to write, which is really an extension of talking if you think about it (or at least the way I think about it). But there have been a few times in my life when I could honestly say that I was at a loss for words.

Today, I experienced one of these times.

Several years ago, after some strange symptoms, one of my best friend's dad was diagnosed with ALS, commonly referred to as Lou Gehrig's Disease. A once robust and active man slowly lost control of his voluntary muscle movements. Essentially, his body was shutting down around him and he was trapped inside. He was not just a wonderful man and great father, but also a person I consider to be part of my own extended family. My friend has been my friend for so long, that I've referred to her parents as Mom and Dad when I'm around them for a long time now. Watching this wonderful family go through this tragedy for the last few years has been heartbreaking, but they were so strong and so brave. I don't know that I could be the same if I was in their situation. I really don't.

On Friday, he was finally ready to let go. Holding on, keeping up his own spirits for so long had to be absolutely exhausting. Even though he has now passed from his struggles, it's not easy to just let him go. He was just that kind of person, the kind that you can't imagine not being around any more. It hasn't sunk in for me, yet. Even though we've known for years that this would happen eventually (sadly, it's an inevitability with ALS), it's still not real. I can't imagine how unreal it must be for the family.

So, when I called my friend today to talk to her, I wanted so desperately to know the right thing to say to her. But, what do you say to someone you love when they've just lost one of the most important people in their entire lives? Everything I thought about saying sounded so small, so pathetic and unworthy. How can you comfort someone who's entire life has just changed from two hundred miles away? All I want to do is hug her. A hug can say more than any words can. But sadly, I can't do that until next weekend, and I sure wasn't going to go that long without saying anything.

I tried. But all I could think about the whole time was how I really wanted to be doing better for her. She's always been an amazing friend to me, and in this moment of need, I really wanted to be a great friend back to her. All their family is hearing right now are the same kinds of things that I was saying to her. I wanted to do better, but all I could do was my best.

As glad as I am that he's not suffering any longer, I'm so sad that he's gone. I was trying to think of a way to describe how I'm feeling, and one thing came to mind. I honestly believe that the episode "The Body" of Buffy the Vampire Slayer sums up the shock and helplessness associated with grief better than anything else I've ever seen or read in my life. The whole scene in Willow and Buffy's dorm room where Willow keeps changing clothes, Xander punches the wall, and Anya (immaculately played by Emma Caufield) cries, unable to comprehend the hugeness of death, is just so heartbreakingly perfect and true. I think that we all feel a little bit of all three when we lose someone.

That's pretty much how I feel today. Unbelievably sad. Terribly small. Unable to fit into my head that one of my best friends lost their dad. Hopefully by Sunday I'll be able to find the right words. If not, a hug will hopefully say all the words I can't summon.
30 November 2010 @ 09:49 pm
Not hitting 50K. I was never worried about that. What I did was kick it into gear today. 9,281 words later and I finished. I wrote 'The End' after 86,529 other words, and it felt amazing.

I love this story. It needs work. It needs to TLC and some pets and friendly nudges in the right direction, but its heart is in the right place. My alpha readers have loved it, going so far as to saying that they want to give it to their friends to read (Don't worry, I've squelched that until it's been edited properly. But their hearts are in the right place).

Now, I can let it ferment for a bit, and then get started on edits. I'm actually excited to edit this just because I already know that it isn't the ginormous hot mess that The Man was when I'd finished. Or at least I hope it's not and I'm just in denial about it.

Oh well, that'll be another post if that's the case.

For now, I'm happy and am drinking wine because I did it again. Two Novembers in a row of finished first drafts. Right now I feel like Draco in A Very Potter Musical, and I'll leave you with a GIF to show the true state of my mental exhaustion.