I love it when the first page of a book (after the title page and all that) is a quote, sitting very importantly all by itself in the middle of a blank page.  It’s especially nice when it’s short and poignant and when it gives an instant feel for what you can look forward to thematically.

With my current WIP, spun off from the mythology of Peter Pan, I’m thinking of using this quote from the play. Again, picture it sitting importantly in the center of an otherwise blank page, before you’ve entered the chapters or met a single character:

“Say quick that you believe!”

~J. M. Barrie’s Peter Pan

Don’t you love it? Okay, maybe it’s just me getting all hopeful about the potential of my WIP, but I have absolutely fallen in love with this theme of the exigency of belief.

(Exigency, p.s., is one of those words I didn’t know I knew until this phrase popped into my head one day and I looked it up in the dictionary and I thought, “Yeah! That’s exactly how to describe it.” Because exigency is what’s required in a particular situation, it’s an urgent demand, and my novel is about believing before it’s too late. And the nerd in me is geeking out about the coolness of that word.)

But what’s extra cool is how much else it applies to. Maggie Stiefvater has a recent post about the exigency of New Year’s resolutions, which also has to do with believing. You have to set goals and believe you can achieve them and then work toward them in order to, you know, actually make something of your life.

I’ve thought about that a lot. After all, when it comes to doing something like this, spending months and years writing novels, you have to believe in yourself. A lot. You have to believe that with enough study and hard work, you can write a book good enough to be published, and then with additional research and hard work and luck, you can find a publisher for it.

The belief is essential for the doing.

For me, role models have made a huge difference. I know people around me who have started their own successful businesses, who have gotten grants for amazing projects in the public school system, who have become artists with work displayed in real galleries, who have written books and become New York Times bestsellers, who have gone through PhD programs despite having to relocate with a husband and kids. It’s one of those if-they-can-do-it-I-can-do-it sort of things.

I also think a lot of the trick to believing in your own success is picturing it. For example, here I am blogging before I’ve published. It seemed silly to me at first; I always thought I’d start blogging once I landed a publisher. But one of the biggest bonuses about it is that it helps me feel legit. I feel like a writer.

Similarly, I picture my query letter even though the manuscript’s not quite ready to shop yet. Little phrases with great query-letter voice will pop into my head, and I’ll write them down to save for later.

Today, I wrote a potential author bio for the back flap of my book jacket. Yep, definitely getting ahead of myself, but again, it helps me picture the success, which helps me believe in it. Tell me what you think. It ties into obvious themes from Peter Pan as well:

Nikki Mantyla found, freaked out about, and plucked her first gray hair at age 23, which is when it hit her that youth sneaks away too, too fast. Writing novels was her childhood dream, so making good on it seemed appropriate retaliation for being forced to age.

However, growing up does have its perks: playing house with the cutest, funniest, sweetest hubby and two adorably silly little boys; getting a masters degree, which was so fun she wants a PhD now; and teaching writing at the community college, where she has yet to encounter a concept that can’t be portrayed with a movie clip.

She’s currently nearing 30 but cool with it.

(The nearing-30 part happens in two years, so I’m picturing a 2011/12 debut.) 😉

And so, appropriately, here are my goals for 2010. I’ve had them in mind for a while now, but New Year’s is a good time to make goals official:

  1. Finish next draft by February 15 to exchange with other writers for March 15 critique.
  2. Revise again and start querying agents by summer. Work on another manuscript while I wait.
  3. Read at least 50 novels. (I would up this number, but goals should be realistic.)
  4. Read Image Grammar and Schuster’s Breaking the Rules (grammar textbooks) and revamp grammar website to be more effective and more student friendly.
  5. Study for and retake the GRE, prefaced by pep talks that sound like this: “If you don’t get a better score than you did before your master’s degree, I’m going to be very disappointed in you, self. It’s nice that you know what exigency means, but there are a few thousand more vocab words you need to brush up on to look like a good doctoral candidate. Get cracking!”

(By the way, last year’s goal was to finish the rough draft of my WIP by May or June, which I did, and to read 50 novels by the end of the year, which I got very close to doing. I’ve read about 45 as of today, but I’m in the middle of four more, so maybe . . .)

What are your goals and ambitions, for 2010 and beyond? What do you think about the exigency of belief? Any great vocab words you’ve run across lately?

Leave a comment!

10 thoughts on “The Exigency of Belief

  1. I love quotes in books! But only if they’re short (if they’re paragraphs, then I tend to skip them so I can get on with the story) and actually have something to do with the book. I love your quote and think it deserves it’s own page.

    One of my all time favorite words is defenestrate. My brother actually used two words I didn’t know in his Christmas letter (he’s in law school at Yale and getting a Ph.D in history at the same time—he does that sort of thing a lot): plenipotentiary and gallimaufry. I like the word gallimaufry—it rolls quite nicely off the tongue.


    1. I completely agree: short, sweet, and to the point on the opening quote. Glad you like mine!

      And I had to look up all three of those words. I know I’ve heard plenipotentiary before, but had no clue what it meant. Love gallimaufry: a hodgepodge. Thanks for the vocab!


  2. I love your bio. I expect to see that soon. But no pressure 😉
    Goals for 2010? Finish all of my classes so that I can begin student teaching as soon as 2011 hits. I actually hadn’t realized that was my goal until you asked, so thanks!


  3. My goal for 2010 is to have your Christmas card actually get to your house. Post Office returned this year’s card although I sent it to the same address I used last year. As you can see I believe in attainable goals.


  4. NIKKI! I believe that you and I are best friends who just aren’t best friends yet.

    Almost everything you have said in this post consists of thoughts I have had or things I have also felt and done (like writing my jacket bio – I feel immense relief that this is not as weird as I thought!). Exigency is one of my favorite words too. My whole ward thinks I am a genius because it was in a quote and I was the only one who knew what it meant! I am unremarkable in so many ways, therefore I feel confident in my decision to brag about my vocabulary.

    I have had similar experiences with finding a perfect word. Only another writer can appreciate it. Everyone else just smiles and nods but they don’t really get it. My perfect word of the moment is betwixt. I was toying with the idea of calling my novel Elodie and Elyse, the names of two of the central characters (at least in the first book) but it just didn’t sit right because their names aren’t revealed until later in the story. I liked the title In Between Places, becauses it’s a shifty little play on words, but I couldn’t imagine coming up with similar and meaningful titles for the stories to follow. Also, it is actually the title for a short story I wrote about a girl growing up in Spanish Harlem in the 80’s who is raped by a stranger in a stairwell and becomes stuck in her home, since she refuses to leaev, and stuck in that moment since she lets it rule her life…. I can’t pilfer a title from an already existing story. I thought of narrowing it down to call it Between but that sounded generic and unispired. Then the word Betwixt popped into my head. I thought it sounded cool and also fit on all the levels necessary. Steph said I should stick with the names. I wasn’t sure. It didn’t seem like a relevant issue since I was jobless and friendless in a new town.

    Still, I was reading the scriptures one night and it was the part where the Nephites are asking the Prophet to ask the Lord to explain what happens to the souls that die before Christ’s atonement. And it literally says, point blank, … their spirits are betwixt.

    I know it sounds dorky but I felt such a gentle wave of the spirit settle over me. I knew that was the name of my story and I loved it even more because of it’s additional meaning.

    The second book will be called Vexed and I found an awesome scripture while I was reading Numbers the other night that I think I will put in the front… ala your Peter Pan quote.

    I am excited to hear more about your expansion on the Peter Pan mythology and whatnot. I am quite obsessed with that book. I find it toweringly joyful and dismally disheartening all at once.

    Don’t judge if I spelled something wrong. I was typing fast because I am excited to have someone to talk to about all of this! Steph tries to listen and is genuinely excited about my story but she isn’t too thrilled about the details that go into writing and developing a story.


    1. Jen, thanks for the epistle! Ashlee told me you’d “written a novel” on my blog before I even saw it, and we laughed when we scrolled down and saw it was true! But you are welcome to come leave comments anytime. That’s what this blog is for! I wanted to create a place where I can share thoughts about writing with other people who have thoughts about writing. Wander over any time. You can be my BBF — best blog friend. 😉

      And I completely understand what you mean about that feeling of “rightness.” Laini Taylor describes it as the “snick” sound of a puzzle piece locking into place. It’s when you’ve been stumbling around trying to figure out a piece of your story, and suddenly the right piece aligns perfectly. I love those moments! I had one today with a scene that I knew I had to write but didn’t want to because I didn’t have any good ideas for it, but then finally the good ideas showed up (after some freewriting) and now I love the scene and it feels perfect.

      Yep, those are the best writing days. 🙂


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