The Writer’s Road

So you want to be a writer, eh? What are your qualifications? Creative introvert with an active imagination and a flair for the dramatic who lives mostly in her head? Perfect. Wait, what’s that? You struggle with self-esteem? Stand by for crushing rejection. Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it. Plagued by jealous feelings? You should probably steer clear of social media. Hold on — you’ll need a platform, and thousands of followers. Have trouble making friends? There’s a hashtag for that.

You published a book! Great job. Try not to obsess over your reviews and sales ranks, and don’t go overboard with self-promotion — no one likes to hear about your book over and over. Make sure you attend plenty of author fairs and book signings — even though the only people who will buy your book are friends and relatives. It’s okay, JK Rowling lived inĀ  her car. Surely it can’t be that difficult to strike it rich in the publishing industry. You’ll be able to quit your job any day now and focus on your writing.

Oh yeah, writing. That thing you love to do because it keeps you sane. What are you working on these days? I hope your next book is good. No pressure. We loved the first one, so don’t disappoint your fans, okay? Writer’s block? That’s just an excuse for laziness. Didn’t you say you were a creative thinker? So go, think creatively! Come up with amazing plots and dynamic characters. There’s no room for self doubt here. No, ma’am. Lock yourself in your writing space, if you have a space with a door and a lock, or maybe just put some cardboard around you while you sit at the kitchen table and pretend you don’t have a family depending on you for survival. Bonus points if there’s a pet on your lap and/or keyboard.

Most importantly, remember: this is your hobby. You do it because it brings you joy. And when something brings you down (the pile of query rejections, yet another pass on your workshop proposals, other authors finding success where you failed) find something to bring you up. I highly recommend a praise journal, where you save positive and encouraging things other people have said about your work (emails, critiques, reviews, text messages from friends and family). Spread the joy by telling another author what you love about their work.

And visit authors when they are out trying to hock their wares. It will make them smile.

author fair

Happy to have customers at our local author fair

Hold on to the feeling

Pardon me while I dust off the blog cobwebs. April was a busy month. I successfully completed Camp NaNoWriMo with over 20k words added to my manuscript! YAY! But don’t pop the champagne cork just yet, I may end up scrapping most of it and submitting an earlier version of the book. BUT, it felt good to stay focused on a goal and see it through to the (almost) end. One motivational note remains unopened on my cork board — the one I can open when I complete the draft. Which I haven’t done. Yet.

May has also been busy. I recently got back from the PennWriters conference (more on that in a bit), I’m working on a new freelance project, and I had my first author visit. Life has been, well, life. Let’s just say there’s never a dull moment when your spouse works two jobs (both of which require travel), your children are in multiple activities, and your cats don’t like it if you try to sleep past 5 am.

As much as I wish I could veg out in the sun (SUN! WE HAVE SUN!) with a good book, I’m happy to have a bit of chaos in my life keeping me on my toes. I know the day will come when the birdies leave the nest and I’ll have to find strange children to drive around town in my van.

Wait. That did not sound right at all.

So, yeah, PennWriters. It was incredibly fun, as always, and I loved being able to spend time with my writing tribe. I traveled down with a group of friends; we met up with other friends and had a blast.

Writers make the best storytellers (duh), and I laughed so hard my belly hurt. I pitched my manuscript (and got requests!), attended my first ever group book signing, met new people, and learned more about writing.

signing

Also, after acting as a reader for Read & Critique, where writers can submit their work anonymously and have it critiqued by industry professionals, an agent said she’d “listen to me read the phone book”. Stay tuned for my YouTube channel featuring: The White Pages, a Dramatic Reading.

Every year I’ve attended the conference has been a different level of awesome and always leaves me feeling inspired. Unfortunately, this year when I returned to “real life” several problems hit me in the face before I even had a chance to unpack. I wanted desperately to get back to the feeling I had jumping on the bed with my friends, the feeling that I could accomplish anything I set my mind to. Conferences give you a sense that you are a part of something, you belong, you are capable of reaching your dreams.

Despite the exhaustion and tears, I decided to face the next day with a returned sense of hope and positive energy. On Monday morning I went to a nearby high school for my first author visit. The teacher and librarian were incredibly kind (I am so thankful to John who connected us!) and they raved about my book. Said the students loved it and were eager to finish it and share it with their families. My heart burst with joy when I heard that. For me, writing is not about the money (HA!) or the fame, it’s about reaching an audience, about getting my words into the world in hopes they will affect someone in a positive way.

After I left the school I thought about the writing world and how it can be full of rejection and heartache. One of the students asked if writing was hard. I told her, yes (HELL YES), it can be difficult and lonely and you will want to give up a thousand times. But you search for people to stack in your corner, and you keep pushing ahead, and you find ways to fill your creative bucket.

There are things in my life right now trying to pull me under. But I choose to focus on what keeps me afloat: friendships, laughter, kind words, a sense of accomplishment, determination. Opportunities for growth.

And when I need an excuse to smile I watch this:

take two

 

Accept the Mission

Monday after my favorite annual conference:
I AM EXTREMELY PUMPED TO DO ALL THE WRITERLY THINGS!!
Also: SO MUCH LAUNDRY!!

This year’s Pennwriters Conference theme was Mission Possible. I drove down with one of my writer friends and we had an amazing weekend. We hung out with other writer friends, made new connections, and learned about craft, the industry, and how to cope with rejection. We slept very little and laughed a lot.

Some highlights: I was able to spend twenty minutes in a one on one session with agent Louise Fury. I pitched her last year and used her advice to rework my title and complete a round of revisions on my manuscript. She remembered me and agreed that my previous title was terrible. (She thought the new one sounded much better–phew!) She read through my query, synopsis, and first pages and gave me solid, helpful advice. I’ve been dipping my toe into querying this project and feel confident to jump in with both feet.

I also got great advice from other industry professionals about where my story fits in the world. This is somewhat of a mystery as it is historical fiction with teenage protagonists and have always thought it should be YA. But I’m reconsidering whether or not that is the best place. While I love writing for teens, this particular book may be best suited for a different audience.

I took a course on branding; we had to sign up in advance and the instructor googled us ahead of time to identify what she saw as our current brand. I use my “pen name” (which is just a shortened version of my last name) when I write, and she googled my full name, which leads to links of my life as a teacher and my old blog. No surprise, my brand label was “PROCRASTINATOR”. I had a good laugh over that one, and so did hubby. But times are changing (YES, YES THEY ARE), and I plan to launch a shiny new website in the next month or so. Once I figure out what I want my brand to be.

One of the best things about the conference is connecting with other people. I know, I know, that sounds strange coming from a self-proclaimed introvert. But the people of Pennwriters are a friendly, caring bunch. Two years ago I drove down to Lancaster alone and was terrified of making small talk with strangers. But I discovered that SO WERE A LOT OF OTHER PEOPLE. I’ve learned to recognize that particular fear on someone else’s face. That, HOLY CRAP I DON’T KNOW ANYONE HERE, NO ONE WILL WANT TO TALK TO ME/SIT WITH ME/BE MY FRIEND. The moment you realize you aren’t alone in your fear is a sort of freeing experience. One of the things I learned is that it’s okay to have those feelings, and if you keep pushing forward you will figure out how to work through them.

It’s true for a lot of things, really. I attended a session on rejection and the speaker talked about the physical and psychological effects of rejection and how we need to keep moving forward. The thing we want is in the distance–it may be right in front of us or far out of reach, but every step we take is a step closer to that goal. If we stop, if we let fear or hurt or self-doubt creep in and take over, then we’ll never get there. We have to accept the mission and know it is possible.

The board above my writing desk is decorated with things that inspire me. Pictures of my family. Pins I’ve collected. Encouraging words that lift my spirits. Here are a few of my favorite sayings, one from a bookmark, one from a fortune cookie, and one from my hairdresser:

It’s not being without fear, it’s having the determination to go on in spite of it.

It is better to attempt something great and fail than attempt to do nothing and succeed.

Success is available to everyone.

I am already counting down the days until next year’s conference. In the meantime, I have a lot to do. Apply the notes from Louise, send out my next batch of query letters, and work on launching my website. Stay tuned.

Cheerleader for a month

Back in December, I decided to help out an online writing community by volunteering to be the January hashtag leader. Let me back up. Sometime last year I discovered the monthly writing challenge on Twitter; each day you try to write at least 500 words or edit for an hour, then enter your stats on a shared spreadsheet. The next day, whoever is the monthly hashtag leader will shout out the handles of anyone who completed the challenge. The recognition is highly motivating, and it’s a pretty awesome feeling if you make it through the whole month. I’ve only done it once. But I pop in now and then, post my word count on the hashtag, and chat with other writers. It is a wonderful, supportive community.

So when I saw an open space for January’s leader, I jumped at the chance to give back. Every morning for 31 days I checked the spreadsheet and did a shout out on Twitter. It was fun looking for new and interesting GIFs, and read/see other’s responses. And my phone ping-pinged ALL DAY, which made me feel incredibly popular. I interacted with other writers on the hashtag by liking their post and/or giving them words of encouragement (often in the form of a GIF – I used to hate those things but have grown to love them). I made a bunch of new virtual friends. On the last day we began comparing the weather in our respective corners of the world and brainstormed how we could get together for a celebration.

It’s the third day of February, and my phone is freakishly silent. The challenge continues every month, but there is another writer at the helm, doing daily shout outs and offering kindness. But I want to keep the feeling going. I want to be the person who makes others feel good. That’s never really been my M.O. I’m more of a pessimist than a cheerleader, but that life tends to be awfully lonely. Most days I’m okay with that. Leave me alone to my book/laptop/cup of tea/snuggly cat, and I’m perfectly content. Writing is a solitary thing, and my mind needs that space to work creatively. But we also need each other. We need people to cheer us on, to talk us off a ledge when we freak out about querying or edits, to keep us moving forward when we feel like our wheels are stuck in the mud.

I saw a post the other day about how difficult it is to “jump into” the various writing groups online. One of the responses compared it to looking for a place to sit in the cafeteria and being afraid to approach a table full of strangers. I get that. When I first got on Twitter I didn’t quite get it; it felt like I was peering over someone’s shoulder at their string of text messages. Eventually I stumbled upon the write club hashtag, and started to build my online community. We sprinted every Friday and it was during one of those sprints that I finished my first book. There are a ton of great writing hashtags to follow, and there really is no secret to belonging. You jump in, either with your own stuff or an encouraging phrase or GIF directed at someone else, and go from there.

It’s a heck of a lot easier than talking to strangers at a party. In my opinion anyway.