Archives for category: Publishing

IMG_1616I’m aching to have a piece accepted into my favorite peer-reviewed journal.  But I had a bit of an ego knock today when my submission was returned.

Five years ago a rejection meant stomping feet, pulled hair, flying word bombs and falling tears.  In other words – a full-on hissy-fit tantrum.

But that was then, this is now.

I’ll admit there was a pity party and pout – but it was momentary.  Because instead of washing my hands of the entire idea I re-read the editor’s email and found a glimmer of hope. And so I refused to accept defeat. Reading in between the lines I sensed the editor was rooting for me. When I re-read my submission I realized her criticism was spot-on (of course it was – she’s the editor!). Yes, the story needed fleshing out. What I’d written was good, but anecdotal. I needed evidence to support my story.

But I had to ask myself: if I swallowed my pride and crawled back to the drawing board, would the second round of effort be worth it?

I didn’t ask myself twice. The answer was a no-brainer.

I contacted the editor, told her what my plans were to improve the article and asked if I could re-submit for the summer issue.

She said “yes.”

So I’ve learned what a writer does. She doesn’t feel sorry for herself when she’s rejected. She keeps an

open mind and takes an objective look at her work and the criticism it has received. And then she makes it right.

Re-submitting the work does not guarantee acceptance. But it demonstrates (to me at least) that I’m not one for giving up on the first try. Not anymore.

281 Word/20 minutes/a bit of fiddling

DSC_0025 (2)_2This time of year I have some spare hours on my hands. Moments that I usually squander. Minutes that I typically spend sitting in my fat green chair pondering what great works I can accomplish. And then, before I know it, the next year has begun and it’s back to work.

I agree. It’s nice to simply be still. Stillness has plenty going for it. But to be frank, I have plenty of stillness in my life. I mean – I’m a yoga teacher. I spend a good part of each and every day sitting in stillness. Practicing stillness. Encouraging others to find stillness.

I don’t need stillness. I need action.

So maybe this year I won’t squander these days between Thanksgiving and the New Year. The days when clients visit family and quarterly classes take a break. Starting now.

At the beginning of the year I stopped writing. The same way I stopped creating visual art. “It’s all right,” I told myself. “I don’t need to write for others – writing for myself is enough.” And, in truth, it should be enough. Spilled words falling from the heart with truth and courage should be all any one writer might hope for. It should satisfy.

Except I had plans. Ideas. Intentions.

And instead of allowing the words I needed to write fall from my heart, I allowed my intentions to fall by the wayside.

But it seems the universe has other plans.

I was resigned to the situation. Reasonably content. Who was I to think I had any talent? And at this time in my life isn’t ambition as tacky as me trying to pull off a leather mini-skirt?

But in the past month I’ve been approached twice by two different and disparate organizations and asked to write 1,000 words. Asked to spill.

Initially I didn’t believe I had it in me anymore. Until I sat down and tried.

Those moments that don’t just gently nudge a dozing spirit but smack it in the face with a wet trout are pretty powerful. I remembered what I had planned to do four years ago. I gave myself five years.

I have twelve months left.

But I need to get back into shape. I need to work a part of my brain that, quite frankly, I’ve allowed to atrophy.

So, in these spacious weeks the universe gifts me this time of year I’m going exercise. Twenty minutes or two hundred words – which ever comes first – each morning before anything else. It’s a Julia Cameron-esque attempt at waking up my writing muscle. Tuning in to that faint creative buzz that I know I have buried somewhere deep in my cerebral cortex.

Wish me luck.

 453 words written in fourteen minutes. I used the remaining six minutes for revision.

 

 

Is it possible that my writer’s block doesn’t actually exist?  After all, at this very moment am I not sitting at this desk, listening to the rain, engaged in the very task of putting words in order?  Am I not writing?  Maybe what I want to call ‘writer’s block’ is simply generic malaise.  An unease or a longing that I can’t quite define.   If that’s true, then I’m lucky, because I love December.

December, sandwiched between my birthday and the New Year, is a gift. My teaching schedule is reduced and many of my private clients take days off to travel.  In other words, I’ve got time on my hands.

For this reason, I always look forward to the month.  I know everyone else is going to be preoccupied with shopping and skiing and partying.  Everyone else will be running faster than normal.  And I, more than any other time during the year, am given days of stillness.

Yes, I love December. Unfortunately, I seem to have lost my ability to unwind.  Instead of sitting back with a good book, I’m pacing and twiddling my thumbs.  I’m racked with guilt and the tape in my head is playing “I should do this, I should do that” on a continuous loop.

A chronic optimist, December is the month when I eagerly plan for the next year. This is the month I count on to recharge my batteries.  To fill me with hope.   This year, however, I find myself incapable of thinking beyond my next meal (speaking of which, it’s almost time for lunch). I often advise my students to not become overwhelmed by thoughts about the past or the future. To remain in the present.  But I feel stuck here, in the present – in a bad way.  I’m spinning my wheels and there’s no traction.

Maybe 2010 was too big a year for me.  Maybe I’m going to need more than a reduced schedule to recover.

Here are the Top Ten Moments, listed chronologically:

  1. In January I completed my first novel and prepared two non-fiction proposals for yoga books I’ve been noodling around with for a couple years. Anyone who has attempted this will understand the work involved.  I’m proud of the accomplishment.
  2. In February I attended the San Francisco Writer’s Conference and pitched my novel to six agents.  I am not a natural sales person, yet the agents I met all requested that I send them pages. Speaking to those agents and being asked for more was a huge victory – even if, after sending them my work, the answer was still ‘it’s not for us’.
  3. In March I flew to Washington DC and witnessed a friend receive the Congressional Gold Medal for flying military aircraft during World War II.  She was a part of the civilian Women Airforce Service Pilots.  I wish I had even half her bravery.
  4. In April I polished and submitted Practically Twisted (one of the yoga book proposals) to a local publisher for review.  It was ultimately rejected, but still a worthwhile experience.
  5. In May I also began working with a mentor.  Our weekly meetings, which continued for several months, lifted my writing but demonstrated how much more I needed to learn.
  6. In July I had my first colonoscopy.  Stop giggling.  It counts.
  7. In August I attended my two-week Yin Yoga Teacher Training. I promised myself I would continue the thirty-minute meditation practice we began each day with when I returned home.  Right.
  8. In September, days after my return from Yin training, I boarded a plane bound for Pennsylvania and reunited with my mom.  We had not spoken to one another in over two decades.  I had not seen her since 1984.  I’m still processing.
  9. I also reunited with my high school friends Beckie, Patty and Donna.  Everyone looked exactly as they did in 1976.  Seriously.  We did.  Especially Beckie.
  10. In October I drove to Reno, Nevada.  My first solo road trip (I’m a road wimp.  This counts more than the colonoscopy). I had another reunion, this time with my friend Mike.  During college, he and I were good friends.  We lost contact, as friends do, but found one another again on – where else – Facebook.  Of all the moments this year, sitting in his music room, picking up the guitar again and singing brought me the closest to home.

Meanwhile, I continued to teach yoga classes and saw individual clients for private yoga sessions and body therapy. Of the three hundred and sixty-five days of 2010, I housesat for two hundred and thirteen.

And I continued to write.  I entered dozens of writing competitions and submitted essays and poems to several literary magazines.  Not only did I not set the literary world on fire, I don’t even think I threw a spark.

But there’s always next year.

And as this year winds down, I know that I am lucky.  Other lives had tragic losses.  I had warm reunions. Other lives had breathless gains.  I moved forward, sometimes patiently, one single step at a time. It was a good year.  A big year.

But I’m worn out.  And hungry.  It’s time for lunch followed by a nice, long nap.

Most folks who talk about wanting to write never do.  They just keep talking about it.  So I would imagine there’s a ton of good writing that never gets written.

Then there are the folks who stop talking about writing.  They sit their asses down in front of their computer every day and hit the keys.  They aren’t the most imaginative storytellers or the best grammarians; their talents may lie in self-promotion and marketing – but they do it.  They pound it out and they make their daily word count. They send their work out into the world.  They smile at rejection and try again until someone says “yes”. They stick to it.  They improve.  They succeed.

Three years ago I stopped talking about it.  I showed up every morning and hit the keys.  I wrote a few essays, a couple of bad short stories (seriously bad) and several poems – one even found its way into an on-line anthology.  I attempted to maintain two blogs and wrote a guest post for Jane Friedman.  In case you missed it, it’s here.  Oh yeah – almost forgot – I also wrote my first novel.  And the moment I typed “the end” I began my second.

Meanwhile, I bought the “how to” books and subscribed to the magazines that made me feel like I was part of the club. I attended the Stanford Publishing Conference and then the San Francisco Writer’s Conference intent on learning the business of writing.  And, at the end of the day, writing is a business.  I continue to attend a critique group every week without fail and even, for a time, had a mentor.

And then, about three weeks ago, I stopped.  I hit the Mother of All Blocks, equivalent in size to the Great Wall of China with a Berlin chaser. Except for an essay I’ve been noodling around with, this confessional blog post is the only work I’ve done.

I’ve simply run out of steam.

The problem is, I believed that after thirty-six months I’d have more to show for my dedication.  Yes, I’m smiling as I type, because I know with absolute certainty that, in a writer’s life, thirty-six months is nothing.  But in these days of immediacy and constant contact we’re conditioned to believe it all happens overnight.  It doesn’t.

And so I find myself standing on the ledge asking myself this question:  what is it that I want, and how badly do I want it?  Is it more important to be a good writer or a popular one?  And is the sacrifice worth it?

I’ll cut to the chase.

I don’t need any more touchy-feely books about writing littering my bookshelf.  I don’t need deep and meaningful prose compelling me to look within my ragged soul for answers to my mangled words. Give me a break.

I won’t name names – you know the type of book I’m talking about.  They offer sympathy and stir our hearts into action.  They help us ‘resolve to write’.  Big deal.  I already have resolved to write.

And then what?

Oh.  I guess we go to the next category of books that are really beginning to bug me:  the books that promise a finished first draft in the time it takes to walk the dog, or a publishing deal just by following three simple rules.  You know the type.  They promise things that simply aren’t humanly possible if you:

a.  Work full-time and write when you can – like when you’re waiting for a light to turn green

b.  Have children

c.  Have a life  (at this point I’ve happily handed a good potion of my life to writing – but I’m simply not willing to give up So You Think You Can Dance and Top Chef. Does that make me a bad person?)

I’m willing to guess that a majority of writers are like me.  We went to college but our major was far removed from creative writing (in my case, Studio Art and Secondary Education).  We always wrote but didn’t consider it as an option.  We listened to the advice of our elders “Be practical.  Make sure you have something to fall back on.” Yeah, right.  As if choosing art was practical.  My first choice, history, was already taken by every pre-law man on campus (it was 1970’s Nebraska – I was a little intimidated by pre-law men).

My point is this:  I didn’t learn how to write.  But I always wrote.  I wrote long, melodramatic, doom laden stories when I was a child.  I always kept a journal.  My essays in high school won awards. I even wrote a newspaper column for four years.  Yes, I wrote.  And wrote and wrote and wrote.  But I didn’t know how.  No one corrected my bad habits.  Like my over-reliance on sentence fragments and ellipses…

So the books I need are the books that will teach me about plot, structure, characterization.  They’ll correct my passive voice.  They’ll teach me – once and for all – what the hell a dangling participle is.  And dare I say ‘gerund’?  Seriously. Who knows what a gerund is?  Buehler?  Buehler??

Here are the books recommended to me by my mentor:

Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft by Janet Burroway.  I’ve mentioned this book in earlier posts.  Can’t get enough of it.  The chapter on characterization is worth the price of admission.

On Becoming a Novelist by John Gardner.  Need inspiration?  Just a wee drop of ‘touchy-feely’?  The forward alone – written by Raymond Carver – made me feel it was possible.

Structuring Your Novel:  From Basic Idea to Finished Manuscript by Robert C. Meredith.  Remember Dragnet?  And Friday’s request for ‘just the facts, ma’am’?  Well, that’s what this book is.  Clear, succinct, facts on structure, plot and character.

Listen, we all know a book can’t really teach you how to write.  Learning how to write – being a writer – runs deeper than that.  There is no magic formula for writing the break out novel.  Cobbling a first draft together in thirty days means nothing if there’s no point or logic to it.

I write stories (and blog posts) for others to read.  It’s as simple as that.  I don’t need someone to tell me what I already know – that I love what I do.  And I don’t want to measure my success by how quickly I can crank out a first draft.

I just want to write – and I want to write well.

That’s me.  The little engine that could.    I chose a freelance life, or maybe I wandered into it.  Whatever happened, here I am, halfway through my life.  I’ve been a yoga teacher for almost twenty years, a massage therapist for ten, and brave enough to call myself a writer for one.

I tend to take too many projects on at once, say ‘yes’ when I mean to say ‘no’.  I’m working on it.  Who isn’t?  We all tend to push ourselves too hard, don’t we?

I’m social-media curious and believe it’s changing the way we define publishing forever.

And so, here I am.  Beginning again.  Boiling things down.  I’m learning new skills and trying to maintain my focus.

I’m wrapping up the first draft to my debut novel When We Come Home.  It’s the story about three friends who meet a few months before America enters World War II.  One joins the Army and flies B-17’s, one is interned with his parents at the Heart Mountain Camp in Wyoming and my main protagonist, dear Maggie, joins the Women’s Airforce Service Pilots (WASP).

I’m also working on two non-fiction book proposals – but more about them later.

My goal is to have all three projects ready to bring with me to the San Francisco Writer’s Conference in February.  This blog will be what all blogs are, a diary of sorts.  The story of a woman in mid-life navigating unchartered territory.

I’m working hard, and feel so fortunate to be working hard.