The MTV Books Blog will close on October 31. Follow us to our new home at YA Outside the Lines on November 1!

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Letting Go

I’m the worst at letting things go. I’m possibly the biggest packrat ever. Seriously, I have two closets and two dressers because I can’t part with any of my old band t-shirts or dresses. Well, maybe that’s a bad example, those are more of collections. Especially the dresses, I’ve been buying vintage dresses since I was thirteen. But that’s another blog. I also have several boxes full of crap in those closets. I’ve got notes from junior high and high school (like the notes my friends passed to me, not the notes I took in class), old magazines with articles on my fave bands, and then items that were important to me for some reason or other. I was forced to part with a lot of these things when my mom moved out of my childhood home into a condo and I could no longer use my old bedroom as storage. I whittled my grade school and high school mementos down to one box. Well, and my mom graciously allowed me to keep a bunch of stuffed animals in her storage space and she also has a “memory box” of a lot of my old clothes. I can’t help it, I’m a Cancer and we’re really nostalgic!

I do have to say it was fun when I got the cover of I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE to be able to dig out my old combat boots that totally match the pair on the cover. My boots are pictured above along with the army jacket I wore daily and Hello Kitty lunchbox I carried around junior and senior year of high school during the big punk rock grrrl phase (and note that the photo is taken in front of my cassette collection. I don’t listen to cassettes anymore but I still have all of them, there are those and then two cases in a closet).

My inability to let things go translates directly into my writing, too. And I’m not just talking about the file cabinet full of journals, drafts and now that I write and revise almost entirely on the computer, the file folders on my flash drive filled with numbered drafts. I have a very hard time being able to say I’m done with a project and handing it off to my agent or editor. I had to do it last night with my second book. You would think this would be easier because I’ve already gone through it once, but it seems that everything has been harder this time around (though maybe that is selective memory). I’ve been comparing the experience to my aunt’s childbirth experience. Her first son was a moose, but out he came, no problem. Second son was two pounds smaller, but she had to get a C section.

I think the main thing is that it is a different kind of pressure. My agent shopped IWBYJR for over a year before it finally landed with MTV Books. I was on the verge of going back to school for a library science degree and giving up on my dream of writing. I kept telling myself if I could just get this one book published I’d be satisfied. Yeah right. Now I’ve tasted the thrill of the (soon to be) published author world and I want to stay in it. But my contract was a one book deal with an option clause, so MTV gets the first look at Book 2. This seemed like a good idea at the time because if I didn’t work well with them, it would be easy to walk away. But my editor is my dream editor and I absolutely adore being a part of this MTV Books community. So, yes, *huge* pressure. My editor *must love* this book. And it’s a different book than IWBYJR, it’s darker, it doesn’t have the same kind of hook, and it’s a very big story that I’ve had a hard time reining in and getting to fit together seamlessly.

I missed 3 deadlines with this book. All of them were personal deadlines, but still. The first was the beginning of January, so I could begin the new year with new projects. Well, I got sick over Christmas break, had a total nervous breakdown about the direction of the book and hadn’t even started the revisions by Jan 1. So I told my agent Feb 1. Probably a bad idea because I had copyedits for IWBYJR that took up the first week of January. Then came page proofs, I knew I had to send those Feb 18, so I told my agent I’d send her Book 2 then as well. Then I’d be done with everything IWBYJR and Book 2 (and by the way Book 2 does have a title and you can read about it on my website, but I don’t want to go into it too in depth here because I’m in such a paranoid state now that I fear I will jinx things). Well, it was all looking good, I just had one part I wanted to fix on Feb 17 and then lo and behold my basement floods. Sigh. My dear boyfriend took care of the basement while I wrote, but because of the stress I still couldn’t nail it. I asked darling agent for a two day extension. I told her that today (Feb 20) is Kurt Cobain’s birthday and I felt that if she sent it out then, it would bring me good luck. I apologized for the dorky nature of my request, but she wrote back to tell me she didn’t think it dorky at all. This is why she is my agent.

So I after three hours of angsting over a 10 page section, I sent it off last night. I still wasn’t entirely happy with that pesky section, but the point is to find out if my editor likes the concept enough to buy it and if she does, I know she gives damn good revision notes that will help me smooth the rough patches. Right? (Assurances/advice from more experienced authors would be very appreciated.)

To make myself feel better about letting go (because my dorky choice of a “lucky” final date was not enough), I’ve created a list of things that getting Book 2 off my plate makes room for.

  1. The much neglected boyfriend
  2. The much neglected friends (saw BFF for the first time in a month tonight and will start making the rounds of long-owed phone calls tomorrow)
  3. Fulfill that New Year’s Resolution to blog daily. Because I’ve come to love blogspot so much, I’ve got a new blog at http://stephaniekuehnert.blogspot.com. I will continue to mirror it on my myspace, but myspace has been irritating me lately so I don’t want it to be my primary blog. Come visit me at my new home. It’s still under construction, but it’s lonely.
  4. Read more. I’m on a vampire kick. Reading an advance copy of Wicked Game, which rocks and then I *finally* jump on the Twilight band wagon.
  5. Catch up on all the entries to the latest contest I am running and actually create a spreadsheet to organize them.
  6. Do my taxes. First year I’ve made money off writing, so it’s going to be complicated. I’m dreading it.
  7. Dive into the next two book ideas that I’ve been journaling on and mentally composing for the past three months!

Now if only I could come up with a list to motivate me to clean out those closets… What about you? Are there things that you can’t let go of or could you pack up all your belongings in hours and go world traveling? (That would be the only thing to motivate me, but even still I don’t think I could do it…)


laura wiess said...

Hey Stephanie,

Yay, another packrat! I know exactly how you feel, only you have more discipline than me when it comes to whittling down nostalgia. I've got it all, too -- journals, giant mutiple memory boxes, crates of photos, favorite old clothes and on and on -- and consider them landmarks on the journey. No reason to let them go, ever. (P.S. If you ever need to borrow an 8th grade gym suit, let me know!)

Anonymous said...

Dont get me started on being a packrat.

Great blog.

it's weird to hear you say you almost gave up on being a writer. I've read the excerpts of your novels & they are very good. Glad you stuck with it.

I went through Oak Park on a walking tour of Wright houses once.
Seems like a good proxy for about any American midwestern town. Which means any American suburb period.

I'd like to see you get out from under the MTV brand just because I have bad connotations associated with the company. But if they treat you right I guess you can't fault them for that.

Stephanie Kuehnert said...

Ah Laura, I think I only have more discipline because my mother moving forced me too. But I also have memory books and such and the only reason I don’t have an 8th grade gym uniform is because 8th grade gym is a part of my life I’d rather forget, lol!

Anonymous- (oh how I wish I had a name to address you by!) Thanks for the compliments! And yes it was a very dark period right before I sold IWBYJR where I just didn’t feel like I had what it took to make it. I think all writers go through that at some point. Honestly, I really doubt I could have given up writing; it’s been in me since I was a little girl and any periods when I tried to do something else have just been bad.

And yes, I think Oak Park is the quintessential American suburb in a lot of ways, which is why I did choose it as the setting for Book 2 and also because I know and love the landscape of the near west Chicago ‘burbs.

As for MTV Books, I think it does get a bad rap because people have certain associations with MTV cable station. My punk friends jokingly call me a sell out. But I tell them, read the books! They ain’t no cheesy reality show. There is such a variety of books and so many perspectives you can discover through them, it reminds me of watching MTV back in my youth in the late eighties/early nineties when it actually was one of the ways I discovered cool new bands (remember 120 Minutes? Alternative Nation?). MTV Books embodies everything that I once loved about MTV so that makes me very happy to be a part of it. And yeah, they treat me very good. As I will say over and over, my editor is my dream editor.

jenny said...

I'm not a pack rat but I do have very intense personal connections with things that are stupid. I still have a pair of Levi's in my closet from my first month at college. I remember where I bought them, where I was when the knees ripped, know exactly how the blue Magic Marker got on the thigh (scribbling on my jeans during class). They are now 22 years old and I can't throw them out. And not just because they still fit, although the day I can't get them on I will realize I really am old. I don't wear them of course, they just hang in my closet.

I still have a box in the basement with an old boyfriend's letters. Every once in a while I'll be in the basement looking for something and there it is and so I sit down and read four year's worth of cards and notes and letters. And I think, "Damn, that guy loved me a lot," and then I wonder at what point it went all wrong. Not because I'd trade in my husband, but it's just one of life's mysteries how you can go from thinking your life is so entwined with someone you can't imagine being without and then 20 years later he's in your basement next to the artificial Christmas tree. I guess that's why I write teen books.

Kelly Parra said...

I wish I was more organized, and that I could pack everything up super fast. But...I have boxes of memories that I swear I'll go through one day.

One day... haha.

Brooke Taylor said...

I have tons of cassette tapes--bad mixes from junior high--that I refuse to get rid of!

I've noticed that MTV books has gotten much broader in its choice of stories--sell out my ass...