Write Out Loud

This past fall, as I was digging into my copyedits, my son was beginning first grade. He loves books. If he had it his way, he'd be listening to the Harry Potter audiobooks on repeat forever. And he loves when we read to him. But reading on his own was something he was just learning. He was getting better, though. More confident. Then one afternoon he said to me: "Sometimes when we have reading time at school I just don't do anything." "Why?" I asked. "Because I don't know how to read in my head." This got me thinking. About the difference between reading to ourselves, and reading out loud. About the difference between writing to and for ourselves, and writing out loud.

You see, at the exact time my son said this, I was actually in the process of reading my entire manuscript out loud. I'd gone through all the copyedits, but I wanted to make sure everything still flowed. My very smart CP Paula Stokes suggested I get a cup of tea, a glass of water, and ready my voice, because reading out loud was the surest way to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be. I followed her advice (as I do most of the time). But I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Yes, it completely uncovered some typos, problems, and weird phrasings that I never would have caught if I'd been reading it in my head. But it also took so much longer than I thought it would, and it was SO revealing. Somehow, even though I'd done all the hard work of stripping my thoughts and feelings down to the bone and putting them into words on the page, voicing them--putting them out there in the room with me--was something completely different.

So my son's words hit me particularly hard. As I began to go through the mechanics of learning to read to yourself--say the word out loud, then say it in a whisper, then say it in your brain--I couldn't help starting to explain to him how magical it was, reading to yourself. How you could take a story and it could live inside you, and you could add things to it that no one else could, and how it could be just for you--a special, private thing. Most of this probably went over his head (he may be six, but he already knows what "hooking the reader is" and all about character arc), the funny thing is that he started reading to himself the next day.

And I immediately felt a little loss. There's a sharing that's done when we read out loud. There's a bravery, too. In raising your voice. And letting other people hear it.

I'm working on something new now. In order to dig into myself and unearth the truest bits--the things I try to hide, even from myself--about my characters and their motivations, I'm usually writing in my head. Most of the time with my headphones on. And it's just as private and magical as reading to myself. But what if...what if I wrote out loud?

What would that mean? What would it be? I'll get back to you in a few weeks and let you know, if you promise to do the same.




A Very Good Place to Start

For my Very First Post Ever, I thought I'd start with an announcement. This happened a few months ago, but the shine hasn't faded (at least, not for me). Check it out: Sara Sargent at Balzer + Bray has acquired world English rights to Underneath Everything, a YA debut by Marcy Beller Paul. It's a contemporary psychological thriller about two girls bound by an obsessive friendship. When Mattie decides to take back the boyfriend, friends, and life she thinks Jolene stole from her years ago, she's drawn into an intoxicating – and toxic – relationship that blurs the boundary between friendship and love. Publication is scheduled for fall 2015; Michael Bourret at Dystel & Goderich Literary Management did the deal.

So, yeah. That little piece of info was published in PW on August 15th, 2013. That day lots of people found out something I had kept quiet for a long time. When I first started writing the book that became Underneath Everything in January 2011, my daughter was barely a year old, my son was very much two years old, and I was barely getting any sleep. I talked to people about sleep schedules and juggling two kids and movies and books and what it was like to stay home. But I didn't talk to anyone about my writing. It was an experiment. Something I would try. Maybe it wasn't the right time. Maybe I should wait until I was getting more sleep, and the kids were older, and we had a house, and I was--I don't know--better. But I didn't want to wait anymore. I'd always told myself (in a small voice, in my head--for as long as I've been talking to myself, anyway) that when I had kids I'd stay home and write books. I never said it out loud. I never told anyone else. But I never stopped telling myself, either. It was a refrain--a song I sang myself under my breath. A dream. But it didn't feel real, like it could ever actually happen. Because I'd worked in publishing. I'd seen how many talented writers got book deals, and how many didn't. Who was I to think I had something to add? That I was good enough? Even when I started writing every day--working during naptimes and nights--even when I started treating it like a job, I didn't tell many people. I didn't feel like I was allowed. But slowly, over the year it took me to finish the first draft, and the additional year it took me to rip it apart and revise it, I did start saying things. At parties. During playdates. I'm working on something. I'm writing. A book. For teens.

The first time I said it out loud, I went home and asked my husband if I sounded silly and stupid. He said no, not at all. But I felt like a fraud. I was afraid to tell people, because that meant I'd be accountable. If nothing came of it, I'd be a failure.

But every day I went back to the writing. I wanted to see it through. I wanted to know I could finish. Most of all, I kept going back because I love writing. I love books and words and turns of phrase, and the way they take my feelings and tie them up and toss them around and wring them out.

So I kept at it. I finished my revisions. I revised some more (and then some more). And then, eventually, I sent my words out into the world all by themselves. My finger shook when I hit send. I told my family and close friends. And we waited.

Then I got an agent (my DREAM agent). Then I got a book deal. Then everyone found out.

I'm not going to say it changed my life, because I still wipe noses and make lunches and try to figure out what we're having for dinner and write whenever I can in between. I still love writing and crush on cool word combinations. The big difference is that now you get to read my words. I get to give them to you. And I can only hope they tie you up and toss you around and wring you out too.