Dear Diary (October 2013, Part Two)

octoberparttwoWhoa.  So October was kinda crazy.  (TOO crazy for this introvert!)

I taught four college classes all about OCD.  Two were biblical counseling classes and two were abnormal psychology classes.  I’m so grateful to the professors at my university for allowing me to share my story!  I also was a part of an OCD Awareness Week event in Minneapolis, where I was invited to read an excerpt from my first novel, Lights All Around.

I took part in a panel on mental illness for a breakout chapel at Northwestern.  OCD, ADHD, Bipolar, and GAD were all represented!  And then, that evening, I was able to get coffee with a very special family. Their sweet 11-year-old daughter developed a sudden onset of OCD a few months ago (PANDAS, you suck), and we’ve been communicating about Exposure and Response Prevention therapy, a journey this brave girl is tackling!  I am so, so impressed with them– with the parents’ drive to do the research to help them understand what their daughter is going through and with their daughter, for her maturity and courage and tenacity (and brio!).

My friend Addie Zierman’s new book came out, and Northwestern hosted a reading and Q&A with her.  (So proud!)  The next evening, Rainbow Rowell did a reading and Q&A in St. Paul.  Friday, I have tickets to see Billy Collins at the Pantages!  (I love how literary the Twin Cities are!)

I got my first rejection from an editor this month.  Truest is still in the hands of five other editors, and I am essentially heartsick with longing for a book deal.  It was so comforting to hear Rainbow Rowell discuss how difficult it was to sell Eleanor and Park, which is a masterpiece.  (A relief because, you know, then maybe that means my book is under-appreciated masterpiece, right?  Faulty logic?  I can’t hear you!)

I’ve been writing one thousand words a day of my new manuscript: mysterious boy, small island, need I say more?

I finished up my fall travel for off-campus recruitment, which included high school visits, college fairs, and presentations (presentations was essentially the theme of my October; I believe I gave ten, all told).  It feels good to have fall travel done so that I can be on campus and in my office for students.

I’m getting antsy to go somewhere: I’d really like to do some sort of writing retreat or conference.  Tossing around the idea of the SCBWI conference next summer, but that feels so far away!

One more thing: I’m working on a new project with Elyse Kallgren of the Inksplotch blog.  We will likely unveil it right around Christmas.

Best Books on Writing

Okay, today’s Top Ten Tuesday theme was “Scariest-Looking Book Covers,” and since I generally don’t purchase (or read) those, I thought I’d do my own thing today!

Therefore, I present to you some of my favorite books on writing:

writing books collage

Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott | The ultimate book about the writing life!

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard | So much yes.

Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg | Even if you don’t agree with her Zen teachings, you have much to learn from her methods: “Ten minutes.  Go.”  It’s gotten me through many writing slumps!

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller | How to not just write but live a great story.

Wild MindThunder and Lightning (and really anything writing-related) by Natalie Goldberg | More deliciousness.

Zen in the Art of Writing by Ray Bradbury

Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engel | Reflections on faith and art

For the Next Time I Start Writing a New Novel

Dear Jackie,

By the time you start writing your next novel, you will have forgotten a few things, and in those moments, I hope you’ll come back to this post and be reminded.

* Writing a novel is hard.  The beginning stages kind of suck.  You barely know your characters until you’ve written the whole first draft, and so for a couple months, you’re essentially writing blind.  You forget that.  In those difficult days of editing, you think longingly of the “carefree” days of freewriting, having forgotten that you felt completely lost and simultaneously terrified that you were wasting your time.

* This is just what it is like at the start of a new novel.  You feel lost and lonely, and every scene feels stilted and confused.  You haven’t yet figured out your character’s deep-seated desires, let alone their surface ones, and you certainly aren’t aware of their secrets and many of their motivations.  You will.  You just need to spend time with them.  That’s how you get to know any new friend.

* It all seems so touch-and-go at the start.  You feel sort of committed to your idea, kind of committed to the characters.  Everything seems masterful in your head, and then the moment you start to type it out, it feels thin and aimless.  That’s because it is thin and aimless– for now— but that is just what it’s like at the start of a new novel.  At least for you.

* One thousand words each day will get you one thousand words a day closer to a completed first draft.  And when you force yourself to show up and sit down, your characters will show up too, and that’s essentially the only way you’re going to get them to spill their guts to you.  So keep showing up.

* First drafts are meant to be terrible.

* You don’t see most writers’ first drafts, just like most people won’t see yours.  So calm down.

* Remember that E.L. Doctorow quote?  “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”  Those are someone else’s words explaining your experience, because, really, it’s quite universal.  Remember that.

* Sometimes you’ll go down rabbit holes that lead nowhere.  Even if there aren’t novels down there, there are still lessons.

* Pumps need to be primed.

* Quit complaining to everyone and go write one thousand more words.


Jackie Lea, who is fumbling in the darkness of the beginnings of a first draft and wanted to remind future Jackie Lea of what it is like


Follow Me on Facebook!

In an effort to develop some sort of boundaries, I’ve created a writer page for myself on Facebook.  I’ll now be limiting my personal Facebook page primarily to friends I know in real life.  (To my readers who are already my Facebook friends, I want us to remain friends … you’ve, in a sense, become “real life” friends to me.)

Internet friends, blogging friends, and real life friends, you’re all invited to like my writer page at (or just click the image below) to keep up with my writing and blogging life!

LAA square

Narnia and Uncertainty

In my lowest OCD years, uncertainty appeared to be my enemy, and I attempted to avoid it at all costs.

It was a losing fight since we cannot. avoid. uncertainty.

Now that I’ve switched teams and am an official cheerleader for uncertainty, I notice it in the positive sense now.  No longer the terrifying stranger, creeping around the corners, I now see it as the exciting flash of risk stealing a smile my way.

“I know what it is,” said Peter; “it’s a beaver.  I saw the tail.”

“It wants us to go to it,” said Susan, “and it is warning us not to make a noise.”

“I know,” said Peter.  “The question is, are we to go to it or not?  What do you think, Lu?”

“I think it’s a nice beaver,” said Lucy.

“Yes, but how do we know?” said Edmund.

“Shan’t we have to risk it?” said Susan.  “I mean, it’s no good just standing here and I feel I want some dinner.”

For twenty years, I feared uncertainty.  And Susan was right: it was no good just standing there.

P.S. The risk was worth it, and dinner was great.


Review: How to Love by Katie Cotugno

how to loveOh my gosh, loved this.  I tore through Katie Cotugno’s debut novel in only a couple days!

This is a young adult contemporary novel, and it’s told in alternating chapters of “before” and “after”– that is, before Reena’s boyfriend/baby daddy vanished for two years and after he came back in her and their daughter’s life.  Interestingly, my novel Truest also does this back-and-forth thing, but it felt different than mine.  How to Love was equal parts before and after, whereas the bulk of my novel is the before– the after is just tiny glimpses.  Anyway, it was fascinating to watch how another novelist made this work for her so well.  The hard thing about it though was switching back and forth.  Just when I’d really get into either the before or after, we’d switch.  Still, it drove the novel forward.

How to Love is really the story of Reena and Sawyer– but also a story about family and about failed friendships and secrets and drugs and ohmygosh really enjoyed this.  If you like contemporary, go! Read!  Enjoy!

P.S. If you do read this one, let me know.  I have a couple things I want to discuss with someone!

I repeat: writing a book is hard.

I know I just recently blogged about this, but I just wanted to emphasize it again.  Not to toot my own horn (ummm, I don’t even have a book deal yet!), but to wave some sort of banner over those who are DOING IT.

Writing a book means this: days that turn into months that turn into years of writing and revising, hours upon hours invested into researching minute details, the sacrifice (and also joy) of building a platform from the ground up, giving up evenings with friends to stay home and research literary agents, headaches, crafting the perfect query or proposal, taking a permanent seat on an emotional rollercoaster.

Kristin Cashore is a YA author I admire.  She wrote GracelingFire, and Bitterblue.  Click here to read about the journey it was to get Bitterblue to where it needed to be (hint: after three years on a first draft, her editor suggested she start over from scratch).  There are even pictures.  Read this, and you’ll better understand the agony of writing.



Guest Blogger: I Walk with a Limp (aka What I Wish I’d Known in Christian College)

Hi friends, Jackie here.  I’d like to introduce you to my friend Cindy, a truly brilliant woman whom I’ve referenced before.  She is so, so good for me and has challenged my thinking time and again.  Sometimes I want to just post her emails on my blog (and if you’re smart enough to find it, you’ll realize I *have* done this before).  Over the last, oh, two years, Cindy and I have had an amazing ongoing conversation about how much we’ve learned since undergrad, how much we’ve grown.  I asked her to write something to share with my blog readers.  Here it is.

I Walk with a Limp

I walk with a limp recently due to a running injury.  This injury knocked me out, slowed me down, yet I stubbornly ignored it for two months before finally going to the doctor and getting it put into an air cast.  The cast is huge and noticeable.  It causes me to limp.

Jacob of the Bible walked with a limp also.  He wrestled with God all night until God won the match by simply touching his hip.  For the rest of his life, Jacob walked with a limp to remind him of his humility before God.
* * *
I was at youth group in high school when I made the comment that the Bible is our weapon.  I meant that the Bible is our spiritual weapon and that we use it to combat the forces of evil in our world.  I meant it in the way that Paul describes – putting on the whole armor of God.  But over the years, I didn’t use the Bible as a weapon against evil.  I used it as a weapon against others.  Those who didn’t believe as I did, think as I did, act as I did, vote as I did, interpret the Bible as I did.  My Bible was my gun and I looked at its texts as if I was staring down the scope of a shotgun.  I lined up the perfect text against whatever or whomever I found lacking, and I fired.
* * *
Paul writes in Galatians that Jesus breaks down divisions.  That there isn’t Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female, because Christ made us one.  We Christians recite this passage from memory, and then we turn around and start creating divisions.  Categories of people.  Those who are saved and those who are lost.  Those who read the Bible the right way and those who read it the wrong way.  Those who say they believe in Jesus and those who actually do.  Those who vote the right way and those who don’t.
We look at the ways people screw up and we use their sins to put them into the “other” category.  Separate from us — those who got it right.
When I arrived at Christian college, I arrived ready to perfect my faith.  I sought more shells to load into my spiritual weapon.  I wanted someone to teach me the Biblical texts I needed to create divisions between faiths that called themselves “Christian.”  I wanted proof that those churches weren’t doing it right, because they didn’t really believe in Jesus.  Because they didn’t believe in Jesus the right way.  Because they didn’t believe in Jesus my way.
Never mind that Paul says we’re all one in Christ.  I read his words as, “All who believe in Christ the way I believe in Christ are one, and everyone else is out.”
* * *
I got the idea, at some point, that the Christian faith wasn’t worth it if it wasn’t really hard.  Uncomfortable.  Outside the grain.  Counter-cultural.  What I failed to recognize was that Jesus dug right into culture.  He made the poor and meek and thirsty feel comfortable, welcome, loved.  He said, “My yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
My Christianity believed that Jesus gave me His burden, believed that I should want to be like Jesus, but it never considered my role in relieving the burdens of others.  Those whose burdens were heavy.  Those who needed love.  Those whom I’d placed into the “other” category.  It never considered that instead of sitting back and judging culture that Jesus dove right in to it.  That maybe I too should be diving in with arms full of love and grace and healing.
* * *
A pastor at my church preached on the story of Jesus crossing the Sea of Galilee with His apostles.  Jesus said, “Let’s go across to the other side of the lake,” so into the boat they all went.  The ship undoubtedly rocked gently, sweetly, like rocking a baby in a cradle, and Jesus succumbed to the lull of the seas and fell asleep.  Yet as the ship continued across the sea, the gentle waves grew stronger as the wind began to blow wildly.  With the boat rocking furiously, the disciples shook Jesus awake, panicked, terrified that they were going to capsize.  Jesus got up, rebuked the seas, and then asked His apostles, seemingly incredulously, “Where is your faith?!”
The pastor discussed that across the Sea of Galilee was Syria — a country of others.  Non-Jews.  Yet Jesus said, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake,” and His disciples got in the boat.
In the Christian church today, the pastor explained, Jesus is asking us to do the same thing.  He is saying, “Let’s go to the other side of the lake,” and on the other side of the lake are “others,” those who have been ostracized and excluded and broken down.  We get into the boat, but the seas get rough, and we cry out to God, demand to know why He isn’t saving His church, insist that it’s too hard to bridge this gap between us and the others, that we will never make it to the other side.
“Where is your faith?!” I can almost imagine Him saying.
* * *
In my Christian walk, I walk with a limp.  The limp won’t allow me to forget all the pain I’ve caused others by seeing the world as “us” and “them,” by using my Bible as a weapon against the others instead of using it to combat the evil that plagues us all.  It’s a limp that reminds me of how many times I’ve looked out at a rocky sea, a small boat, and told Jesus, “No thanks.  I’m not getting into that boat.”
I still screw up, judge, categorize, ridicule, doubt.  But I pray and I seek grace and I do my best to see people as Jesus did, to break down divisions, to see everyone as one in Him.  And when Jesus says, “Get in the boat.  Let’s go to the other side of the lake together,” I seek the strength to take His hand and climb on in.