Birthdays, The Hamiltome and The Creative Well

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Hamilton. It’s hard not to, considering I regularly burst into verse when something someone says reminds me of a line to one of the songs. For anyone who doesn’t know me, Hamilton is a broadway musical about the American Founding Father Alexander Hamilton. There’s dramaand rapping and a rebellion. Basically all of my favourite things.

That’s why, when my friend Serena bought me the Hamiltome Screen Shot 2016-08-06 at 21.00.01for my 17th birthday, I just about lost my mind.

See, the Hamiltome is basically a giant tome of wonderful nerdy details about the musical, from the beginning of the concept all the way to its completion, plus all of the lyrics, with footnotes.

From the very first time I listened to Hamilton, I felt inspired. And I don’t use that word lightly. Hamilton might be a musical, but it’s still a story. A story told with such ingenuity and skill it’s hard not to be inspired by it.Creativity is an infinite resource, sure, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t need to be cared for. Sometimes you need to feed the well, and Hamilton is the everything burrito of the creative well.

Some part of my mind will always be tempted to imagine some kind of wizardry when faced with things like Hamilton. It’s easier to pretend that it’s magic then to face then that it was built out hard work and passion and time. Lots and lots of time.

That’s where the Hamiltome comes in. It forces you to face up to the fact that Hamilton took dozens of people and thousands of hours and gruelling hard work to create.

Good things don’t come easy, and art seems to be hell bent on proving that to anyone brave enough to try.

I’m in the middle of editing TOWED right now, and I really needed to the reminder. I’ve taken to rewarding every chapter I edit with a chapter of the Hamiltome. It’s the best kind of vicious circle, because every chapter of the Hamiltome I read inspires me to edit another chapter of TOWED, and so on and so forth. It’s the kind of hungry work that made me start writing in the first place. Where every second away from my current project feels a weird kind of painful.

So now I’ll leave you, with a quote from Alexander Hamilton himself, and a hope that you’ll all find a hunger for your work this week.

quote-people-sometimes-attribute-my-success-to-my-genius-all-the-genius-i-know-anything-about-alexander-hamilton-64-83-10-1

June: Blue Hair and Still Being Scared

It’s been a while. A way too long while, considering this post is at least twenty days late, but I hope you’ll bare with me. Since my last post here, I feel like a lot and very little has happened, but I have been on a long break, and that accidentally became a blog break as well. But I’m back! And as promised, my head is extremely blue.

Well folks, it haScreen Shot 2016-06-28 at 11.23.05ppened (apologies for the flower, it was too cute not to wear)

My head is well and truly blued.
I’ve all but forgotten about it at this stage, which is strange when people I haven’t seen in a while see my hair for the first time and I have no idea what they’re staring at.

Having blue hair, as it turns out, is just as magical as you would imagine.  Besides the odd weird look I get from strangers, most people love it, especially little kids, who are convinced I am a mermaid or a fairy or some other kind of weird mythical creature that grows blue hair.
In non-blue news, I did in fact turn TOWED in on time, otherwise known as The One Where Everyone Dies, otherwise known as Oasis Book Two. Once it got turned in, I had some free time. Quite a bit of it, in fact. It’s been almost a month, and I’ve had a chance to stretch and relax and work on other projects and just breathe for a bit. But the deadline-less jitters are beginning in earnest, and I’m more than ready to dive back into work.

But here’s the thing. I’m still nervous. Much less so, definitely, than the first time around, when publishing was brand new, and I didn’t know what I was doing, and I was terrified that meant that I was doing everything wrong. But here’s the thing about being an author: Doubt is just a part of being vulnerable enough to write. Once you’re published, that doubt becomes both easier and harder to cope with. New worries arrive, on top of old ones, even as some of the old ones ease. Will this book be as good as the last one? Will I disappoint my readers? What happens if it isn’t as good? What then?

The answer to that question is the exact same as it was the very first day I started writing — it doesn’t matter. If writing started with readers’ opinions, books wouldn’t exist. Writing starts when a story stirs to life and demands to be released. Quincy’s story isn’t done yet, and until it is everything else comes second. My job is to tell Quincy’s story as best as I can. My job is not to fret and worry and doubt. My job is to write, so I will. And I’ll keep doing that, as long as stories keep stirring to life inside me.

Five Steps To A Perfect First Draft

Step One: Be keenly aware that there’s no way in hell you’re ever going write a perfect first draft, but try anyway. 

This is the naive phase. Sure, you’ve written first drafts before, and they’ve all turned out abominably, but this time will be different. No book idea has ever been as shiny and wonderful as the idea in your head right now. All those other awful first drafts were a fluke, and besides, those ideas were nothing like this one.

Step Two: Lay out a neat little plan of how you’re going to get this done.

You’ll carefully outline every detail of your novel beforehand so nothing could possible go wrong. You’re going to wake up every morning at 6am and write outside as the dawn spreads glorious light over you and your wonderful novel — which, by the way, is written without stress or worry in a matter of days, and is, as you suspected all along, a masterpiece.

Step Three: Scrap the plan half way through. 

You’re a week into writing this book and you’ve only gotten up at 6am once. You realised it was horrific idea and swore never again after you almost water damaged your laptop because it started raining after half an hour of sitting out in the freezing cold. Who thought that that was a good idea in the first place? Definitely not you. Suddenly that outline that was supposed to make everything easy … doesn’t. It’s sapping your creativity and making you think blargh every time you sit down to write, so one day you take a quick detour. And then maybe another one. And another and another one until you’re not quite sure where your novel is going anymore, but where it is going is probably fantastic.

Step Four: Regret everything. 

Okay, you take it back. This novel idea isn’t the most shiny wonderful snowflake of all eternity — actually, you’re pretty sure it’s the devil. Every time you want to write, something goes horribly wrong and stops you from writing. Every time you do write something, everything you write is complete garbage. Why did you think writing a book was a good idea? Surely it wasn’t like this the last time, right?

Step Five: Realise that it is in fact perfect.

You push through. You sit down and you write, maybe not every day, and maybe not very well, but you write your damn book, and you feel pretty proud. It’s certainly not perfect, but perfect first drafts don’t exist, right? And anyway, first drafts are supposed to suck. And if first drafts are supposed to suck, then you’re draft is doing exactly what it’s supposed to be doing. That sounds like perfect to you. You’ll come back to it in a few weeks and realise how horrible it really is, but for now you’re just proud of yourself for surviving. You eat a whole jar of Nutella, and maybe even relief-cry for a bit.

You did the thing. You rock.

May: Deadlines, Early Mornings and Cold Tea

So the last few months have been kind of crazy. Oasis was released in March, and ever since then my life has been a whirlwind of media interviews, stress, and that indescribable feeling of knowing that people are actually reading your book.

The feedback for Oasis has been amazing. I’ve received so many lovely messages on all my social medias from people saying that they loved Oasis, or that my story inspired them. The idea that my little baby book is out in the wild, and that people are reading it, and understanding it and loving it is an amazing feeling. But almost more so, the idea that I could inspire someone to start writing, or to keep writing, or to try to get published is just incredible.

But finally things are beginning to calm down a little. With all my interviews done and Oasis doing its own little thing, I’ve had the time to turn to book two. During April my writing group and I participated in Camp NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month’s chill younger sibling. We ramped our meetings up from once a month to once a week, and it’s pretty awesome to be perfectly honest. I wrote 25,000 words in that month, but this month is gonna be a little different…

May 31st is my deadline for the first draft of Book Two, or The One Where Everyone Dies (TOWED) as I affectionately refer to it. It’s going as well as first drafts ever go, which is to say I swing wildly between thinking it’s fantastic and I have everything in the bag, and that it’s awful and I am officially a Failure with a capital F.

First drafts are hard for me. They always have. I started NaNoWriMo in 2013 because I knew I needed something to push me through this first gruelling phase of the writing process, where I’m acutely aware that what I’m writing is wrong, but at a complete loss as to how to make it right. I try to remind myself during these times what we were taught in NaNoWriMo: First drafts are not supposed to be wonderful. You’re shovelling sand into a sand box so you can build sandcastles later. And if I tried to build this sandcastle perfectly one grain at a time, it would never actually happen.

45,000 words is my goal for this month, another little (or not so little) NaNoWriMo. It might end up less than that, because my first drafts tend to be very light, and get built up over edits. It might be more than that — I’ve never written a sequel before. There are a lot of things to wrap up, and I’m not quite sure how long that’s gonna take.

May is going to be a hectic month, but the best kind of hectic. It’s hacking away at TOWED a day at a time, and going to writing groups every week where my fears are consoled and my coffee cup is refilled. It’s full of early mornings and walks with the pupperfloof, hot tea when I remember, and cold tea when I forget. It’s for working hard, but being kind to myself — pushing my limits when I can, and treating myself to anime and warm baths when I can’t. It’s for old music that reminds me where I’ve come from, and good friends that remind me where I want to go. May is for everything I love: hard work and warm days with strong breezes, good books and falling into bed at night the best kind of exhausted.

June will start with a bang and blue hair, but that’s a post for a different day.

Swords and Shields and Unimportant Things

Something a lot of writers struggle with, myself included, is the dreaded Comparison. I like to imagine Comparison as an ugly, slimy, black blob of gnashing teeth and rotten breath, because that is precisely what it feels like when it slips up behind you and starts trying to drown you in a sea of self-doubt, writing related insecurity and horrible if-onlys.

Everyone knows about what-ifs, but if-onlys are what-if’s nasty cousin. We imagine ourselves into a hole, acting like a different set of circumstances would change our entire lives. But what you have to ask yourself when Comparison starts sneaking up behind you with its rotten breath and slimy black blob self, is what exactly do you want from this? So what am I looking for when it comes to my writing? To be published, yes. To make a living off of writing, so I can keep doing it, yes. But that’s not the most important thing. Not even close.

Reading has been the safest thing in my life for as long as I can remember. Kids read books in a different way to adults, in my opinion. They use them in a different way. I’m sure you’ve all heard of an adult brush YA off as “escapism”. And escapism it is, sometimes, for some people, in some situations. Escape from a bad situation, from fear, from loneliness. The word “escapism” boils a book down to a cure for boredom, when it’s so much more than that.

Books weren’t just a cure for boredom for me, when I was 8 and 9 and 10. Stories of rebellion, of fighting back, of survival against all odds, of hope against all odds — for some they may just be stories, but for 8 year old Eilís they were the air in my lungs, the things that kept me breathing when just that felt impossible. Books are swords. They were ideas, ideas I learned to fight for. Ideas I learned to fight with. And sometimes I wasn’t able to fight. Sometimes all I could do was try to hold on, and then, then. Then books were shields. They were blankets to hide under and walls to hide behind. They were defence against every bad thing in the world. They were the flashlights that kept the darkness back. They were a promise that things would get better. That things always got better.

It’s very easy to see YA or MG or children’s books as nothing more than a younger, more digestible version of adult literature. It’s a very different thing to watch a kid with no hope find it between the pages of a book. It’s a harder thing. It’s a better thing.

So it’s not a question of what do I write for — it’s who do I write for. And I write for that kid. I write for 8 year old Eilís who had absolutely nothing, and absolutely everything at the same time. I write for the girl who no one believes in, but finds the ability to believe in herself inside the world an author built for them. I write to build a place for the boy who has no place but this one. For the boy who needs the shield. For the girl needs the sword. For the kid who doesn’t read for escapism, but so that they can find warriors inside themselves. I wrote for that kid, and that kid will never have enough books. That kid will never have enough stories to tell them that they have a voice.

When Comparison rears its ugly head, I look at that kid. And I ask myself will they care if I’m a bestseller, or how many copies I sold, or what my reviews are like? I know that 8 year old Eilis wouldn’t have. All she wanted was her sword and her shield and her flashlight, not all this unimportant stuff. And if I’m writing for her, for others like her, then I need stop worrying about the unimportant stuff, and get back to making swords.

How I Landed A Two Book Deal At 16 (and didn’t faint in the process)

I’m a big believer in the fact that most of the time, when life changing things happen to you, you’re completely unaware of them. So, two years ago, (I was fourteen at the time), when I shared a chapter of my manuscript with a family friend, I was, proving my own theory, completely unaware that it meant anything at all. But it turns out the split second decision to push a couple of pages towards her across the table would be the catalyst to a pretty awesome story.

See, it turns out she really liked the chapter. And having worked in PR on a book the year before, she ended up writing an email to the publishing house, and a few weeks later, we had set up a meeting to visit the offices up in Dublin.

And then I got sick. The night before the meeting.

I was heartbroken, convinced I had let an already unlikely opportunity slip through my fingers. But we ended up setting up another meeting a few weeks later, thanks to a very patient editor at the house, who insisted it wasn’t a problem.

The publishing house was Gill Books. At the time they were strictly a non-fiction publisher, so I knew there was no chance of anything more than a really cool tour, but I was psyched for the really cool tour, let me tell you. (And nervous, but we don’t talk about that).

So the day rolled around, and my mom and I packed up and drove two hours to Dublin to meet the editor we had talked to on the phone. The day was awesome — one of those life-affirming, I’m-not-wasting-my-time-writing-or-completely-botching-my-attempts-to-eventually-get-published kind of day. You’ve all had that kind of day, right? Right? That cant just be me.

The meeting only last about two hours, but I got to ask any questions I hadn’t already answered for myself about the publishing process, and got to talk about my ideas to someone who was actually qualified to tell me if they were of any value. Basically, I went home excited, happy, and ready to get back to work.

Fast forward a year — I’ve taken part in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month, an international event in which writers are challenged to write a 50,000 word novel in the 30 days of November: http://nanowrimo.org) twice, and completed two full length novel and written various short stories. I have everything planned out: I’ll continue to write and work on my novels (especially my first novel, Oasis, which I was determined to get published), get a boring job until I land a book deal at no older than 29, and write for the rest of my life.

Which is all fine and dandy, until randomly, one day I got a phone call from that same editor I met a year earlier, asking if I’d be interested in setting up a meeting. Apparently they were interested in getting back into fiction, and they were considering me as a potential author.

Needless to say, I was kind of . . . rocked. And confused. And excited. And freaking out. For hours I kinda just walked around numbly, prone to walking into walls and not having a clue what anyone was saying to me, even when I was staring right at them. This was not the plan (anyone who knows me knows that things that are not the plan tend to make me extremely uncomfortable). I was 15, not 20. 20 was the plan. WHY DID NO ONE ELSE SEEM TO CARE ABOUT THE PLAN.

But at the end of the day I’m not a complete idiot (this is possibly a controversial statement, but whatever), and I did set up a meeting. And I did go. Now, if nervous was how I felt the first time, the second time I was nothing short of utterly petrified.

I remember the day so distinctly. We got there early (partly because my mother is extremely punctual to all things always, partly because I was an ANXIOUS BALL OF ANXIETY and anything less then extremely early was going to register in my head as HORRIFICALLY LATE). So with an hour to blow between getting there and the meeting, we decided to go for coffee in the little restaurant beside the office building. I could not drink coffee. I could not drink anything, actually. I also couldn’t hold a conversation, make eye contact or stop tapping my foot, but that’s beside the point.

Then suddenly we were walking towards the building. And I remember there was this moment, where I got so nervous, I was completely convinced I was gonna throw up. Also, I could feel the world tilting, so it’s quite possible I was going to faint. And I couldn’t see anything. Or hear anything. Basically I got so nervous I began to lose the ability to effectively be a human and do human things.

But then this thing happened. It’s kind of a thing that I do a lot, and it’s kind of annoying but also extremely useful, where I become extremely harsh and logical all of a sudden, and leave myself room for exactly 0 excuses. My internal dialogue went something like this:

Eilis: Eilis, do you want to be published, or do you want to be comfortable?

Eilis: Duh, I want to be published.

Eilis: Well then stop complaining that you’re not comfortable, and suck it up.

Eilis: Uuuggghhhh okaaaay.
And so I did. I forced myself not to throw up, and not to faint, and to keep walking, all the way into the office, and then into the meeting room, and then through a two hour meeting, in which I had to answer a whole heck of a lot of questions about me, and my book, and all the things publishing related, all the while pretending that my hands weren’t shaking under the table.

But I got through. Go slowly, but keep going. That’s what I said to myself the whole time. Go slowly, but keep going.

Three weeks later, I got a call. It was from that same editor that I met that first day, the one who was patient and didn’t mind that I got sick the day before our meeting and did the whole life-affirming you’re-not-wasting-your-life-thing. He offered me a book deal, for Oasis, the book I was so convinced was The One, and the sequel to it, which I had briefly mentioned in the interview. The Two, I guess?

All because I happened to slip a few pages of my book to a woman I wasn’t even sure would enjoy it. Or maybe that’s oversimplifying it. Maybe it happened because I sat down at 12 and told myself the extremely harsh/bossy tone only 12 year old Eilis could pull off, that if I wasn’t a published author by the time I was 30 that I had failed. With a capital F. Failed. Maybe it was because of the hours I chose to funnel into this one obsessive dream. Maybe it was because I’m a creative being, and I’d find this path no matter what happened. Maybe it was a mix of all of them. Either way, I’m pretty pleased with the results.

Eilís Barrett sees ‘Oasis’ for the first time!

We surprise Eilís Barrett with an advance copy ‘Oasis’ and capture her lovely reaction as she sees her book for the very first time!

10 Things about Eilís

Who is your hero?
My mom. My mom is not only the strongest person I’ve ever met, but also the happiest. She’s always worked so hard to make our lives full and happy, and taught us to work for the things we want. She’s basically Super Mom.