A Writer’s Birthday Wish List

Today is my birthday and I thought it’d be fun to make a writer’s wish list. We all have different quirks and desires when it comes to our writing, so we all tend to want different things. Some of us want a fancy writing program, some a new “How To” book, and others registration for a big writing conference.

Here’s are some things I’d like…

TIME! 

Above all else, I wish I had more time (don’t we all?). I started a new job just over a month ago, and it’s been a huge transition for me. Between learning a whole new skill set, meeting new people, and getting accustomed to a brand new routine, it’s been difficult to find time (and motivation) to write. So, I’m wishing for things to settle down so I can get back on track with my novel.

Peanut M&Ms

11127771_366454080213813_5284361540707845078_nMy number one favorite writing snack is Peanut M&M’s. Don’t ask me why, but they help me focus. Perhaps there’s something about the sugar that keeps me pumped up and moving along? I don’t know. But, I’m wishing (and always wishing) for a bag–or two–of those delicious candies to store in my cupboard for long writing days.

A New Laptop

I desperately need a new laptop. For the past two years, I’ve been borrowing my sister’s and I think she’s about had it with me (sorry, sis). I’ve actually been saving up to buy a new Mac, so hopefully I’ll be able to invest in one soon. Well, unless one miraculously shows up on my front doorstep today with a big pink bow (ha-ha).

A new mug

11182163_10102180090972203_6916619407502259585_nI love mugs. Whenever a friend goes out of town, I ask them to bring me back a mug from wherever they visited. The results range from amazing to laughable. But, I love them all! And I’m always wishing for more.

Starbucks Gift Cards

This is kind of a silly one, but I don’t tend to buy Starbucks unless I have a gift card. It’s just too expensive! But, I love Starbucks, so getting those is always exciting.

A Readable Draft of My Novel

13631659_500120940180459_3874970909998615130_nIf I had a magic wand, I’d point it at my messy manuscript and–poof! It’d be all written and ready to be sent to my beta readers. I’ve been working on this novel for over a year and I’m starting to grow sick of it. Novels definitely take patience and perseverance!

An Agent 

I’m not even close to the querying stage with my novel, but I’ll take an agent anyway. Please, please, please? Pretty please, with a cherry on top?

Chocolate Chip Cookie Dough Sundaes

13716059_10102906619438333_4603779641737206020_nDon’t laugh…Okay, laugh. But, every Saturday night, after I’ve spent an entire day laboring over my manuscript, all I want is a giant chocolate chip cookie dough sundae, complete with fresh chocolate chip cookies. But do I ever have these ingredients in my house? Nope! I always forget until the moment I close my laptop and emerge from my la-la fog. And then I always wish someone will magically arrive on my front doorstep with my sundae. I wish just once–just once–that would happen, hee hee.

More Time 

Seriously, I need more time!

Noise Canceling Headphones

13450319_493524594173427_2925694245634024988_nLike so many of you, I have loud neighbors. Really loud! The kids are always outside screaming and laughing, and the father is always doing some sort of home improvement project. Ack! On a normal day, I don’t really mind the noise. I come from a loud family, so I’m pretty used to the chaos. However, when I’m writing, it drives me nuts. I can’t really get into the zone unless I have absolute silence, and the only headphones I own don’t block out all the noise. So, I think it’s time to get some noise cancelling headphones.

So, that’s my list this year. Pretty random, but it’s what I’m wishing for most as a writer for my birthday.

How about you? What do you wish for on your birthday?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo Credits: giphy

Two Year Blogiversary – Remembering How My Blog Saved Me

Last week marked Jen’s Pen Den’s 2nd blogiversary!

I know. I’m surprised my blog has lasted this long too.

But since it has–and I have no intention of stopping anytime soon–I’ve decided now’s a good time to remind myself why I created Jen’s Pen Den, and to think about how far I’ve come since its inception.

You see, for those of you who don’t know, my blog wasn’t born out of boredom, curiosity, or a desire to build my author platform. It was created in a moment of desperation, right when I was on the verge of giving up on my writing dreams.

In the summer of 2013, I hit a low, low point.

The option contract on my YA manuscript had expired after two years of hard work, and my attempts to find new representation had failed (again and again and again). All I kept hearing from agents, producers, and publishers was, “I like your story, but I don’t love it.” In other words, “It’s meh.” In other words, “You suck, your writing sucks, and you’ll never be good enough to succeed in this business.”

I was devastated.

My writing came to a halt, and I spent the better part of six months debating what to do.

I could shelve my YA manuscript and write a new book. But, ugh, why bother? I was a meh writer who wrote meh stories. Nobody would ever want my work. So, then what? Throw in the towel and pursue a new career? That sounded worse than wasting a billion hours on a novel that would inevitably get rejected. I could hide under my bed and wait for my problems to vanish on their own–ha! Or wish upon a star and pray for a superhero agent to emerge from the gloom and save me from my deep, dark despair–haha! Or I could just curl into a ball and cry. Which I did…a lot.

I was beyond lost. More lost than I’ve ever been in my life.

In a last ditch effort to save myself and my dreams, I decided to start a blog.

I had no idea what blogging was, or how to run one, or if starting one would help me climb out of the black pit I’d fallen into. But I had to do something–anything–that might get me back on track.

Turned out to be one of the best decisions of my life.

Within a few days of publishing my first post, I clawed my way out of that horrible, black pit. And within a few months, I rose up and struck back at all the vicious doubts that had taunted me since my option contract expired.

Soon enough, the negative voice within me changed from, “You’re not good enough, and you’ll never be good enough!” to “Get the hell out of my way, I’m coming through!”

I can’t explain how grateful I am I started this blog. Jen’s Pen Den has given me everything I’ve needed to ditch the past and focus on the future. It has gifted me with a supportive community, countless learning opportunities, and a therapeutic outlet to voice my hopes and fears.

It has also helped me pave the way to my dreams.

During the past two years, I’ve written a dozen short stories, made it to the finals of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge twice, and came to terms with who I am as a writer and began working on a new novel. I’ve even started an editing service.

Looking back now, it frightens me to think how much I would’ve missed out on if I hadn’t started my blog: Newfound confidence and passion. Valuable writing lessons. New story ideas. A never-say-die attitude. Amazing, supportive, “I totally get it” friends.

Let’s face it. Without my blog, my life would be completely different. I wouldn’t have discovered what I’m capable of or met so many incredible people. And I definitely wouldn’t know, for a fact, that writing is what I love to do.

And I’ll never consider giving up on it again.

In honor of Jen’s Pen Den’s 2nd blogiversary, I wanted to share my top ten posts from the past year. Thank you to everyone who has made this blog what it is, and for allowing me to share my experiences, stories, and random ramblings with you. You guys rock!

Top Ten Posts

  1. The Ark – 1st Round Entry – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge
  2. Why You Should Enter the NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge 2015
  3. Inevitable – 1st Round Entry – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge Entry
  4. La Jolla – 1st Round – NYC Midnight Flash Fiction Challenge
  5. Jen’s Editing Tips: The Power of White Space
  6. The Accidental Fall – 3rd Round – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge
  7. Confession: Rejection Has Made Me Stronger
  8. Oh, The Horror – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge
  9. Jen’s Editing Tips: Kiss Your As’s Goodbye
  10. Confession: When It’s Time To Move On
  11. It’s Official – I’m A Freelance Editor

Here’s to another year of blogging and writing!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: giphy

Thank You, Mom

As many of you know, my mom is very important to me. Not only has she provided me with a lifetime of love, guidance, and laughter, but she’s also been my biggest cheerleader as I pursue my writing dreams.

10675569_10101945416237253_5209288535149780450_nIf it wasn’t for my mom, I might still be writing behind a locked door, quiet as a mouse, cautiously saving my stories under names like “Comparative Politics Study Guide 2” (no joke) to make sure nobody ever read them. I was terrified I’d be judged–teased–mocked.

Thankfully, my mom put a kibosh on those fears a couple of years after I graduated college. As I complained to her about my job and explained how unhappy it made me, she asked, “Well, what do you want to do? What will make you happy?”

After a lot of hemming and hawing, I confessed, “I want to be a writer.”

“Then do it!”

Her enthusiastic response gave me the strength I needed to tiptoe out of the “writer’s closet” and embark upon a career I love.

So thank you, Mom, for helping me overcome my fears. And for convincing me my dreams weren’t stupid and I should go after them with all of my might.

10245309_10101552065949383_449044523913113086_nMy mom has done more than kickstart my writing journey. She’s also stuck by my side throughout it, holding on tight as I’ve hopped, skipped, and crashed down the industry’s rocky path.

In 2008, she celebrated my first completed manuscript…And then comforted me as I received rejection letter after rejection letter for it.

In 2009, she supported my decision to set aside my first novel and begin writing a new one…And then freaked out with me a year later when a Hollywood producer optioned it.

In 2011 and 2012, she helped me rewrite, revise, and edit my optioned work (again and again and again)…And then picked me up and dusted me off in 2013 when my contract expired and I was sent back to square one.

In 2014, she urged me to be brave and take on new challenges, learn and grow, and become a better writer…And then cheered for me when my hard work paid off.

Now, in 2015, she has convinced me it’s okay to let go of the past, embrace new ideas, and begin working on a new project.

So thank you, Mom, for sticking with me through the good, the bad, and the ugly. And for helping me realize nothing is ever over until I give up and quit.

10629715_10101749910292733_7705700716641345905_nSeriously, my mom is amazing! More than amazing. Special. It takes someone like her–calm, firm, and understanding–to deal with a writer like me–perfectionist, borderline manic, and neurotic.

I mean it. Most people would run out the door if they ever encountered me on a writing day. They wouldn’t know how to deal with my roller coaster temperament, detached demeanor, or crazy hair.

10982080_369275416598346_3868432891056136335_nAHHHHHH! Run for your lives!

But my mom has never run away. She has always been willing to brave the Writing Beast I become when I hit the zone, and deal with my wacky behavior: the short fuse, the lack of focus during real-life conversations, the self-deprecation, the fatigue, the obsession…

So thank you, Mom, for remaining patient, compassionate, and calm whenever I go into my crazy writing mode. And for also grounding me when I need it most.

1012127_10101036544767963_470107348_nEvery writer needs someone who can push them without breaking them. Someone who can read their work and give them 100% honest feedback. Someone who makes them a better writer.

For me, that’s my mom. I can rely on her to read my stories and tell me exactly what she thinks.

“You have a good start, but I think it needs (blank).”

“I like the premise, but I didn’t feel enough (blank).”  

“I loved (blank), but I didn’t love (blank).”

As you can see, my mom’s a master at the sandwich technique (good-bad-good). But what makes her advice so valuable is that I trust it. If she thinks a plot is dull, then I won’t use it. If she believes a character is cliche, then I’ll add depth or spin them in a different direction. If she wants more suspense–more drama–more horror–more more, then I’ll give more.

So thank you, Mom, for pushing me to be a better writer. And for always demanding I take my stories to the next level.

10653421_10101749910377563_8640838046765233212_nI might have a lot of people in my life who support me and my writing ambitions, but it’s my mom who’s there for me the most.

She’s the one who’s always willing to sit and listen to me brainstorm for hours about plots and characters. She’s the one who will read draft one, two, three, four, five, six, seven…She’s the one who will shake sense into me, dust me off, and push me to keep going. She’s the one who believes in me–completely.

And because of that–because of her–I know I’ll reach my dreams someday.

So thank you, Mom. For everything.

Love you!

10173680_10101505439873413_6929469929429599948_nHappy Mother’s Day to all the mothers out there!

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: 

1, 2, 3, 4

Confession: Rejection Has Made Me Stronger

So, 2015 hasn’t gotten off to the best start for me. Since January 1st, life has punched me in the gut more than a few times. I won’t go into details, but things have been rough lately–emotionally and financially. And it seems every time I regain my balance, something else happens and I’m knocked down again.

Last week, during a conversation with my family, I threw my hands up in the air and declared, “That’s it! The only way I can handle the negative is by being positive.”

Right after I said that, it hit me: My writing and alllll the rejection that has come with it has made me a stronger person.

Yes, as strange as it sounds, rejection has strengthened me. Years and years of “No!” from agents, publishers, and readers has made me more determined, more resilient, and more optimistic.

How, you ask? Well, let me explain.

Big dreams take a lot of work, a lot of patience, and a lot of perseverance. Every day, you’re forced to find “the light at the end of the tunnel,” even when there isn’t one. When your tank runs out of gas, you have to keep trucking along. When you get knocked down, the only thing you can do is pick yourself back up and fight ten times harder.

And it’s that “never say die” attitude that has gradually seeped into the rest of my life: Family. Work. Relationships. Finances. Health. When the going gets tough, I get tougher. When things around me fall apart, I pull them back together. When every possible solution fails, I find another–or make one up and pray to God it works.

Honestly, if I hadn’t heard “No!” again and again during my long writing journey, I wouldn’t be who I am today, I’d crumble easier, I’d lose hope faster, and I’d constantly get bogged down in the past and refuse to look to the future.

So, let me reassure all of you who are feeling down and out because you’ve received yet another “Thanks, but no thanks” response to a query letter, or a bad review, or some other form of “No!”

It’s okay.

Really.

I know rejection hurts–a lot. But, I promise, it will make you stronger in the long run. Whether you’re aware of it or not, every “No!” will thicken your skin, fuel your determination, and teach you the fine art of optimism.

And, before you know it, those valuable traits will carry over into all aspects of your life.

…Especially those “punch in the gut” moments that drop you to your knees and try to keep you down. Thanks to rejection, you’ll have the strength to get back up and keep moving. Keep fighting. Keep hoping.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5

Oh, The Horror – Round 1 – NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge

Well, everyone, I’ve survived yet another round of an NYC Midnight writing challenge…barely.

Let me rewind a little bit…

A few weeks before round one of the NYC Midnight Short Story Challenge 2015, I made a promise to myself: I wouldn’t start the competition until I finished the third draft of my novel. Period. No ifs, ands, or buts. I had to finish it. I had to!

I didn’t.

Despite my best efforts, I still had two more chapters to write when the first round kicked off on January 16th.

Yeah, I was a little stressed.

Thankfully, the first round of the Short Story Challenge was eight days long, so I had the ability to sacrifice a day to get those last two chapters of my novel finished.

Which I did!

Okay, there was no time to celebrate the fact I’d finished the third draft of my novel. I’d lost one of my eight precious days with the Short Story Challenge and needed to dive right into it. So–after a mini “I don’t wanna!” meltdown–I put aside my fatigue and desire to do nothing, and pulled up my assignment:

Screen Shot 2015-01-26 at 1.28.57 PM

First thought? WOO-HOO! I’d been praying to get drama, suspense, or horror since those are the genres I’m most comfortable with. Plus, with my low motivation and energy levels, I needed a genre I’d be enthusiastic about. And horror was just the ticket.

Second thought? What the hell is “medical (or health) tourism”? Seriously, I’d never heard of such a thing. Thank God for Google. After a quick search, I figured out medical tourism is when someone visits another country for a health treatment (mainly because it’s cheaper, or because it’s a treatment they can’t get in their home country). I wasn’t thrilled with this prompt. Medical stuff freaks me out and I’m not all that inspired by it.

Third thought? “Oh crap! Hugh from Hugh’s Views & News is in my group!”

Let me explain: A couple of months ago, I encouraged my friend Hugh from the blog Hugh’s Views & News to enter the Short Story Challenge. I assured him we wouldn’t be put in the same group. I mean, come on!  There are 1,400 people in the competition, broken down into 48 groups of 30. What were the chances we’d end up pitted against each other? Huh?

After I screamed, “NOOO!, I laughed and emailed Hugh, because, really, it was hilarious. And also kind of cool. Even though it stinks to have to compete directly against a friend, it’s nice to know someone in your group. It gives you someone other than yourself to cheer for. (“Goooo Hugh!”)

So, anyway. Once I stopped shaking my head over that, and I figured out what the heck “medical tourism” was, and I drank a lot of coffee, I got to work.

Luckily, my story’s concept came to me almost instantly…Don’t worry, it wasn’t about a Frankenstein surgery gone wrong.

As fun as that idea might’ve been, I had a feeling a lot of my competitors would take that kind of approach, so I went in a different direction…Hopefully it’s a direction others didn’t think of. *fingers crossed*

On Sunday, I started and finished a butt ugly first draft and sent it to my favorite and most critical beta reader: my Mom. As expected, she didn’t love it and she had a lot of issues with it–just as I did. So, we had a long brainstorming session to iron out the kinks and come up with some much needed solutions.

After that, I felt better about the general plot and my two main characters. I sat back down at my computer and started over. And I worked allllll week long writing, rewriting, revising, editing, tweaking…

To be honest, it was a downright painful process. Even though I love horror and I liked my idea, I had smashed into a wall and fallen beyond my breaking point.

Having worked non-stop on my novel for over a month, my willpower was close to zero. And everything hurt: my head, my eyes, my wrists/forearms. Every time I sat down in front of my computer, I’d make it a few words and then want to quit and go to bed.

To make matters worse, I decided to take on a subject I wasn’t prepared to. And it’s a subject I have deep personal convictions about, so…yeah. I was in a constant battle between me and my characters. I had to figure out how to word things that would  satisfy all of us.

By Wednesday night, I had a decent enough draft to send back to my Mom. I also sent it to my sister since she–after helping with a few of the kinks I struggled with most–wanted to give some input.

My sister’s feedback: “I LOVED the last line. Loved, loved.” I almost cried when I read that because I had no idea how to end the story. I’d written that last line on a whim. But after her enthusiasm for it, I knew I’d keep it and use it as my guide while trudging through the end’s fuzzy murk. Yippee for clarity!

And then I read my Mom’s feedback: “It doesn’t feel urgent enough. And I think you should change this and this and this…” I did cry then…Okay, not really. But her critique pushed me to the brink of an epic meltdown.

But, once again, I gave myself a mental slap and went back to work. And by Friday morning I felt confident enough to send my story to three more beta readers (all writing pals this time). Each one gave me incredible feedback and helped me chop down my 2,700 worded story to the word count limit of 2,500.

I’ll admit, a couple of my betas made some suggestions that would’ve required rewriting large portions of the story, and I ignored them. Because I just didn’t care.

Yep! Talk about a horrible attitude. And I’ll likely pay for it when I start getting my feedback from other readers. Oh well. I just didn’t have any fuel left in the tank to deal with those big changes.

On Saturday, I edited my story once more and then submitted it.

And CRASHED!

I spent the rest of the weekend napping on the couch and watching episodes of “The Good Wife”. It was pure bliss.

Now, as you might imagine, I’m not all that confident with my story and I don’t know if it’ll be good enough to advance me to the second round in March. But, whatever! I’m just proud of myself for not giving up, fighting through my exhaustion, and submitting something.

As usual, I’ll be posting my story here once we get the thumbs up from NYC Midnight (which should be today or tomorrow). For now, here is my title and synopsis!

The Ark

Brief Synopsis: When Becca picks her mom up at JFK Airport, she discovers she was diagnosed and treated for cancer while overseas. Their train ride home is fraught with bickering, accusations, and death.

Dun, dun, dun…

Yeah, okay. I know my synopsis is vague. But I’m stickler for spoilers and I didn’t want to spoil anything with this one 🙂

Did you participate in the Short Story Challenge 2015? If so, how’d you do?

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Photo credits: 

1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16

You Know You’re a Writer When…Awkward Introductions

YKYAWW Introductions

You Know You’re A Writer When…Favorite Mug

YKYAWW Favorite Mug