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The Kids, The Parents, and The Campus

This essay was originally published on Medium.com.

backpackWhen parents of teens gather, the conversation offer turns to what’s going on with the kids, which schools they attend or have attended. I’m not bringing this up to bash parents for being “too involved” or pile on more evidence that an admissions-driven obsession is dragging our culture into cheating scandals and worse. Rather, I believe the majority of parental chatter is in the vein of seeking solace, a sympathetic ear, the relief of sharing war stories, maybe finding humor.

Because my husband and I have three adult children who survived the college process and attended three different high schools, we’re often asked for advice. We’ve been through it: from a child dealing with the disciplinary committee at boarding school to one who inadvertently filled out all the wrong bubbles on the SAT answer sheet. From athletic recruiting myths to failing driving tests, to searching for tutors, we commiserate over the roller coaster ride and the gray hairs it’s given us. We are asked how we handled a host of things, but most of the questions revolve around the schools. Which schools were we most impressed with and, if we had it to do over again, which schools would we be drawn to?

teen-boy-student-studying-aloneI’ve learned that many of the things we aspire to for our children, ourselves even, never quite live up to all the allure. Even with the “best” schools, it’s wise to approach them with a ‘roses and thorns” attitude. Over time, beautiful campuses lose their luster, weak links in the faculty are exposed, and the leadership proves less than perfect.

Campuses are, after all, microcosms, concentrates of society set apart from the real world. Unfortunately, the characters in charge have been guilty of covering up scandal over the years in an effort to keep up the mystique and prestige. The result has been damaged young lives. Although most of the sexual misconduct that’s recently been exposed happened decades ago, it’s naïve to assume such behavior has ceased altogether. What’s more, attention to these revelations has been blurred among the many discredited institutions in the news. Our nation is experiencing record disillusionment with regard to big business, the military, the federal government, the church, local police forces, health care. The question isn’t so much how we stomach the scandals at our nation’s illustrious schools, but how are we stomaching all of it?

teen-boys-skateboard-outside-schoolThe exposure and re-hashing of wrong-doing is painful but necessary. The Boston Globe’s Spotlight team shining a light on pedophiles and their victims at New England private schools was the beginning of a recovery, just as it was for the Catholic Church reeling from the crimes committed by priests. The #MeToo movement that is shaking business and government is disappointing to witness, but is the only way to usher in a new standard. We’ve been living through a void in leadership on many fronts, but I have confidence in the next generation. Upcoming leaders have been raised with intolerance for bad behavior and insistence on transparency and accountability. In the digital age there will be no more secrets and no more ivory towers. The reckoning has come and I’m optimistic that once the shake out is over, the schools, along with the rest of our integral institutions, will be better for it.

So, my advice to younger parents is to approach educational choices with a good dose of realism. A school and its reputation are not going to provide your child with the golden ticket to anything. That’s the marketing we’ve swallowed for many years. Hannah Webber, the mother and main character in my recently released novel, The Nine (She Writes Press, August 2019), gushes over her only son’s acceptance to a prestigious academy. The novel is a commentary on her parenting “tragedy”, her shattered dreams, her ivy-league plans dashed. Hannah puts so much faith in a brand name education being the answer, readers can’t help but sense the disappointment lurking on the horizon.

girl-student-studying-aloneWhen our eldest child was an adolescent, I may have resembled Hannah Webber (just a little). The advice I now give, however, the entire message behind the The Nine in fact, is tempered with perspective and a touch of heartache. It’s not the choices you make as a parent that are most important, but the reasons you make them. Practice acceptance, forgiveness, and love with your children (and yourself as well). Schools won’t be perfect and neither will our children. And as you must be aware if you’ve been at this a while, as parents, we are the most imperfect of all.

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Five Publishing Tips from a Sophomore Novelist

This post was originally published on diymfa.com as a part of the #5onFri series.

five-publishing-tips-sophomore-novelist-jeanne-blasberg-diy-mfaAs I home in on the publication date for my second novel (The Nine, She Writes Press, August 20), there is excitement whirring in my mind as well as the anxiety that comes with keeping track of a to-do list. I’d be lying if I didn’t admit to some underlying trepidation, as well. Having launched Eden (She Writes Press, May 2017), I am aware of the stamina and tough skin it requires to be a novelist. Regardless of whether you are publishing your first piece or your tenth, the following list includes five reminders intended to calm you down and boost you up in equal measure.

1) Remember, a life that includes creating art is a privilege

Expressing ideas with the written word is a noble pursuit. If you carry that mindset on this journey, all else will fall into perspective. Whenever doubt or fear creeps into the process, breathe deeply and come back to a place of gratitude. Really, what you are offering is a gift. I know this sounds very crunchy, but the vulnerability that comes with publication is an opportunity to attract  and connect with all sorts of good things.

Despite your attention being focused on your now published work, keep writing. It always feels good to have work-in-process to turn to, and even if you write a modest amount every day, your word count will still accumulate. Writing something fresh every day keeps a positive spirit alive. Go to bed each night secure in the knowledge that, if nothing else, you are making forward progress and that you are one of the creators.

2) Make the Ask

Now that you’ve accepted the fact what you are creating is your offering, your gift….  don’t be shy. The world is not going to know about the insight you’ve poured onto the page unless you share it, and share it proudly. Ask for feedback and ask for help. When your work is accepted for publication there will be much more asking in store: for blurbs, for pre-orders, for reviews. The asking never stops.

My publisher, Brooke Warner of She Writes Press, always says the creative world operates on a currency of generosity. So ask with humility and be the type of artist who looks forward to being generous when it is her turn. When Eden was published, I worried a lot about asking. But once I swallowed my fear and did it, a deep well of support was there for me. I have to say, stepping into it was life-changing and one of the greatest byproducts of this writing endeavor. Sometimes I even think it is the reason I was meant to take this on.

3) Be a Good Literary Citizen

That’s right, the writing community is waiting to embrace you, but first you must become a good literary citizen. Go to readings and review recent publications. Cultivate relationships with fellow authors and attend their events. Support local bookstores, listen to and share podcasts, and attend book festivals.

Again, humility is important. When people sense sincerity, they are more apt to help.  This can mean blurbing your book or inviting you to participate in a festival. This can mean inviting you to book clubs and library readings. I tried to say yes to everything humanly possible. For the introvert writer in me, this was a newfound skill, and again it was life changing because there is a lot that can be done from home, behind the safety of your lap-top screen….  but there really isn’t anything that equals the connections you will make with real life human beings. So, do as much as possible in person, and when that is not an option use social media….

4) Embrace Social Media

When I published my debut, I didn’t quite understand the role social media and blogging would play in my writing career. Twitter? What are you talking about? Now I stay in touch with readers through my blog and I find myself buoyed by robust communities on Instagram and Facebook. As an indie author, the digital world has opened up a world of readers to me, and specifically a niche of readers who like the type of books I write. So figure out how this works and if you become overwhelmed or if this gets in the way of your writing practice, ask for help!

jeanne-blasberg-writing-publishing-tips5) Celebrate every small victory along the way

Know there will be ups and downs, and not everyone will like your work. But just one door-opening opportunity, one great publicity hit, one influencer’s endorsement can make all the difference. And if you dare, celebrate the defeats too because it all adds up to experience and the learning curve is steep. You aren’t really a writer unless you’ve experienced rejection and bad reviews! Just embrace the fact that you are climbing. There is something blissful about not knowing much during that first go round at getting published, but subsequent times be grateful for your expanded vantage point. You’ve earned an amazing view and can see what truly matters: how far you’ve come.

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Writing Rituals: Staying Grounded During Busy Times

This post originally appeared on BooksByWomen.org as “Five Weeks To Book Launch And How My Writing Practice Keeps Me Grounded.”

I am a woman with many morning practices, from skin care to yoga and meditation to blending a perfected breakfast smoothie, from walking my dog to writing long hand in my journal.  Needless to say, I need to rise and shine pretty early in order to squeeze in these beloved rituals. Very often, I laugh at myself, sleep still in my eyes, clinging to this crazy booting up process, but it’s a proven source of comfort and a very peaceful way to start the day.  

In addition, I endeavor to maintain a habitual writing practice, ideally beginning not long after the journal writing.  Oh, but there’s coffee to be made, and the email inbox, and social media posting to be done. Five weeks away from the launch of my second novel, The Nine,  I am more apt than ever to be consumed with checking reviews, scheduling appearances, and crafting newsletters for my mailing list. Many people tell me they don’t even attempt working on a new project during this intense phase of pre-publication book promotion. For me, however, it’s become a safe haven. 

This summer, in an effort to focus just as much on the generative side of my nature as I knew I would on the promotional side (remembering my experience with my debut novel, Eden)  I did three things: 1) I resuscitated my writing group, 2) I registered for a 6 week online course through GrubStreet called plotting your novel and 3) I joined a cabin in Camp Nanowrimo with seven other writers who are constantly checking in!  All of this is in the name of accountability – sort of like setting three alarm clocks when you have an early morning flight… but given my propensity to be the good student, this strategy has worked! I’m not checking preorder trends on AuthorCentral twenty times a day or obsessing with how I might use social media better. This plan has kept me from bugging my publicist as well which I’m sure makes her happy. Basically it’s ensured I keep the part of the writer’s life I love most– the writing.

Promoting a new book (and yourself really) engages the ego and sets the mind whirring.  Writing or revising early drafts of a work-in-process, however, comes from a place of humility.  I find that spending a part of the day in each place makes for a healthy internal balance. In addition, working on something new reduces the stakes around the book launch.  When that pesky internal critic starts worrying about The Nine’s reception, I fend it off in the knowledge that my writing career is just beginning and based on my daily, accumulating word count, there will be more books in my future.

Jeanne-Blasberg-morning-writing-practice-ritualI’m sure many authors read the above like it’s obvious – of course you keep up a writing practice come hell or high water.  That’s what you do. But I bet there are others reading this who like the reminder, indie authors like me who manage much of their own promotion, schedule their own book appearances, and do a ton of footwork – authors like me who are relatively new to this and might lose sleep wondering if there is something else that should be done to give a book the best chance at being noticed.   I don’t want to live the next several months with that chatter in my head and the consequential lack of focus. 

This summer I’ve promised to keep my phone at bay and to stay offline for that first hour or so at my desk.  Even if emails from Oprah or Reese are waiting to be answered. My goal is to bang out 500-1000 new words first thing and report to my cabin-mates. It might be a modest amount, but the fact that new characters with a story to tell are coming alive for me provides a more authentic excitement.  As these characters are developing in their own right, they are also reminding me, “You are a writer! You have more in you! It’s all going to be okay!”