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When Other People Get Good News

The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.

As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.

I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.

My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.

Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.

The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on Match.com and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.

I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding12wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.

My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print.  My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.

I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.

 

 

 

It’s All a Dress Rehearsal

“…we soothe ourselves during these waiting times with assurances about what we’re going to get at the end of it all. We are going to get exactly what we want, right? That’s the part that makes the waiting bearable, isn’t it? Otherwise Lent and Advent are just a big waste of time. Why do all this waiting and practicing and yearning if there’s no prize at the end? We like results in everything from our exercise programs to our business plans to our religious practices.”

–Marcia Mount Shoop, “Waiting”

So my novel is in the hands of agents, some of whom have requested partials and fulls, and it’s slimmed down to 86,000 words. So my short stories sit in various literary magazine inboxes, and my novel sits in the hands of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and James Jones First Novel Fellowship judges. I tell myself I’m waiting for their results.

Image found at Oilcrash.com

Then yesterday I reminded myself I wasn’t waiting. I’m living. And on that note, this morning I began the sequel to ST. MICHAEL, PRAY FOR US. HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT.

Yes, I did the typically American thing: got myself back to work. Got busy creating again. My husband and I often discuss the healthiness of this approach, my tendency to fabricate brand-new deadlines for myself. I tell him artists fight for creating time, and then agree with him that sometimes life feels like nothing but an endless round of work for different masters, never mind the cleaning that’s not getting done while I write. (The tumbleweeds of cat hair are declared victorious.) And how do catch ourselves before that workaholicism devolves into a gross pursuit of the Rusty Old American Dream?

This is how I deal with waiting. I get on with the next project, and I dream more words till something new emerges. I guess you could say I don’t like waiting, so I make new work for myself.

Is it because I obsess and grasp after the perfect result–contract, book deal, movie deal? We are at our skinniest, loveliest, most charming when courting a new love, which is why so many people get tangled up in illicit affairs, escapist hobbies, endless deadlines, and any other pastime promising perfect happiness at the end of the road. As if the road has an end.

Of course there’s death, but I mean this life road: there is no full stop at which heaven will embrace us and we get that perfect balance of ready cash, loyal friends, svelte body, and riotous fun–or whatever we authors want when we achieve celebrity status.

I loved writing the first pages of the sequel. They’d been in my head a while, and what was wonderful about today’s writing was there was no pressure for them to be perfect. I understand from the long road ST. MICHAEL has taken and other novels before that how a manuscript morphs many times till it’s shaped just so. Today I saw the excesses, tangents, and questions in my new story right as I wrote them and thought, “No problem; I’ll deal with this later on down the road.”

That’s because I love the journey and for today, for a hour, nothing’s mattered but that. I cast not one thought the direction of the prize at the end of the road. Because there is no prize. There’s no amount of money, beauty, and fame that can replace the health and wealth of this unsullied moment of creativity.

Wow, I sound like a highly-evolved creature. Who’s that talking? That would be Lyn in a costume somewhat askew, not-quite-right stage face, who occasionally forgets key lines this last night of rehearsal. Because it’s all a last night before the show, all a dress rehearsal, since we don’t know what day the fullest stop of all may come and the show must go on into the spirit realm.

Writing Prompts

— Are you a process or a product person? A journey or a boon person? What do you most want to be, and why?
— What frustrates you most about the waiting?
— Writing needs audience, and if our writing stays underground, authors can suffer. How do you find ways to get an audience now while you’re waiting for bigger projects to ferment?
— How do you balance students’ need for audience and their need to learn about the writing process with its many stages? Do teens in particular need more prizes and gratification than long experiences of process? How can we give them enough boons along the road to keep them engaged while teaching them to commit, to delay gratification, and to revise again?
— How much process has your manuscript experienced? Do you feel in your gut you’ve shopped it out to agents too early?
— Read about a few of your favorite authors and find out about their process to getting published. What’s the average amount of years? Revisions? What obstacles did these writers use to fuel the next stage of the journey? How did they overcome disappointment, keep eyes on the prize, and not care about the prize too much, all at the same time?

It’s All a Dress Rehearsal

“…we soothe ourselves during these waiting times with assurances about what we’re going to get at the end of it all. We are going to get exactly what we want, right? That’s the part that makes the waiting bearable, isn’t it? Otherwise Lent and Advent are just a big waste of time. Why do all this waiting and practicing and yearning if there’s no prize at the end? We like results in everything from our exercise programs to our business plans to our religious practices.”

–Marcia Mount Shoop, “Waiting”

So my novel is in the hands of agents, some of whom have requested partials and fulls, and it’s slimmed down to 86,000 words. So my short stories sit in various literary magazine inboxes, and my novel sits in the hands of Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award and James Jones First Novel Fellowship judges. I tell myself I’m waiting for their results.

Then yesterday I reminded myself I wasn’t waiting. I’m living. And on that note, this morning I began the sequel to ST. MICHAEL, PRAY FOR US. HOW WENDY REDBIRD DANCING SURVIVED THE DARK AGES OF NOUGHT.

Yes, I did the typically American thing: got myself back to work. Got busy creating again. My husband and I often discuss the healthiness of this approach, my tendency to fabricate brand-new deadlines for myself. I tell him artists fight for creating time, and then agree with him that sometimes life feels like nothing but an endless round of work for different masters, never mind the cleaning that’s not getting done while I write. (The tumbleweeds of cat hair are declared victorious.) And how do catch ourselves before that workaholicism devolves into a gross pursuit of the Rusty Old American Dream?

This is how I deal with waiting. I get on with the next project, and I dream more words till something new emerges. I guess you could say I don’t like waiting, so I make new work for myself.

Is it because I obsess and grasp after the perfect result–contract, book deal, movie deal? We are at our skinniest, loveliest, most charming when courting a new love, which is why so many people get tangled up in illicit affairs, escapist hobbies, endless deadlines, and any other pastime promising perfect happiness at the end of the road. As if the road has an end.

Of course there’s death, but I mean this life road: there is no full stop at which heaven will embrace us and we get that perfect balance of ready cash, loyal friends, svelte body, and riotous fun–or whatever we authors want when we achieve celebrity status.

I loved writing the first pages of the sequel. They’d been in my head a while, and what was wonderful about today’s writing was there was no pressure for them to be perfect. I understand from the long road ST. MICHAEL has taken and other novels before that how a manuscript morphs many times till it’s shaped just so. Today I saw the excesses, tangents, and questions in my new story right as I wrote them and thought, “No problem; I’ll deal with this later on down the road.”

That’s because I love the journey and for today, for a hour, nothing’s mattered but that. I cast not one thought the direction of the prize at the end of the road. Because there is no prize. There’s no amount of money, beauty, and fame that can replace the health and wealth of this unsullied moment of creativity.

Wow, I sound like a highly-evolved creature. Who’s that talking? That would be Lyn in a costume somewhat askew, not-quite-right stage face, who occasionally forgets key lines this last night of rehearsal. Because it’s all a last night before the show, all a dress rehearsal, since we don’t know what day the fullest stop of all may come and the show must go on into the spirit realm.

Writing Prompts

— Are you a process or a product person? A journey or a boon person? What do you most want to be, and why?
— What frustrates you most about the waiting?
— Writing needs audience, and if our writing stays underground, authors can suffer. How do you find ways to get an audience now while you’re waiting for bigger projects to ferment?
— How do you balance students’ need for audience and their need to learn about the writing process with its many stages? Do teens in particular need more prizes and gratification than long experiences of process? How can we give them enough boons along the road to keep them engaged while teaching them to commit, to delay gratification, and to revise again?
— How much process has your manuscript experienced? Do you feel in your gut you’ve shopped it out to agents too early?
— Read about a few of your favorite authors and find out about their process to getting published. What’s the average amount of years? Revisions? What obstacles did these writers use to fuel the next stage of the journey? How did they overcome disappointment, keep eyes on the prize, and not care about the prize too much, all at the same time?

How Do You Do It?

“I don’t know how you keep track of it all.” — from a colleague in reference to my workload

I like being a chef with multiple burners heating multiple pots, simmering full of somethin’ good.

I’m a concrete and a random worker, moving easily off one project onto another then to another, then back to the original. I’m also good at hanging in for the long haul. A writing workshop leader once told me I was an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Inventory, which is a good profile for finishing a novel. Today’s writer can’t just be the lone warrior in the garret if she wants to be published. And while I’m not an extrovert who gains energy from others as much as I gain energy from being alone, I have just enough “I” to labor late over my writing tasks and starting early every morning.

Here are the six sections of my to-do list:

NEW NOVEL IN PROGRESS (REALLY, THE OLD ONE, PREQUEL TO ST. MICHAEL)
NOVEL CONTESTS, ST. MICHAEL (2ND NOVEL)
SHORT STORIES
NOVEL QUERIES
GRANTS
MARKETING

Each has at least two if not four bullets of tasks.

You have to find the joy in each demand. You have to love starting a new project like revising my old novel as a prequel or taking on a brand-new novella for NaNoWriMo. You have to love binding up a manuscript with huge rubber bands for the Bakeless Prize or Dana Awards, and you have to love scouring Poets & Writers for the latest information on literary magazines. Give your all to every bit of the process.

In “Why We Write: The Pressure of Young Promise” (latest issue of Poets and Writers) Laura Maylene Walter shares her long, arduous journey as writer without reward. If you slog and struggle daily toward your writer’s brass ring, you must read this meditation and then see the inspirational Editor’s Note.

Just this week, my former student and current friend, Teresa Smith Porter, felt her spirits flag. She’s a successful photographer (My Friend Teresa Photography) who labors to get the best shot and make her clients shine. But it was one of those days when she was tapped out and struggling to see the horizon. Then she got the call. She had won 1st Place in the Wedding Photographic Society Competition, Photojournalism category. Then she got another call: to do a spread for a magazine. Now it was one of those weeks you dream of. She’d had weeks like this before, but in between for every artist is the labor, the unglamorous, exhausting, driving toil. Bleary-eyed and dehydrated, she has posted at 3:00 AM on Facebook out of the sheer joy of loving her work. Now that’s my kind of crazy.

Do you love it? Writing. Do you? If you do, then make your list and keep your head down. Your spirits will lift, I swear by it.

A Declaration of Dependence

“Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.”
— Chuck Palahniuk, Choke

After doing some July 4th musing about my goals, I proudly declare a hopeless addiction and utter dependence on writing. I’d do it even if I weren’t paid.

As a person who earns royalties for three books, payment for articles, and fees for editing, I get that writing deserves lucre and have no trouble calling myself writer. What I need to do is get to a place where I accept, sans guilt, that I am utterly dependent on writing.

There’s a picture on my web site of me at age eight, hand poised over a notebook, interrupted in the act of writing. No doubt I was busy crafting an imaginary world where runaway kids sought justice, where mouthy girls confronted vampires, where elves built little houses on their elvish prairies. I read voraciously and wrote constantly. I didn’t finish much at that age, but I started many a frabjous tale. I intuited then the unreal is pretty powerful for me and worth pursuing. I never questioned that need nor how much time to spend in the pursuit.

Then the Little Girl becomes a Big Girl and every day must walk the adult tightrope of balance, balance, balance, not sacrificing too much for the art but giving just enough and some days, her all.

There’s that tension and another that Society whispers around every corner to just about every artist.

We’re all wired for something. I am wired to write, and yet the Big Girl + Society tend to question the daily sacrifices for the craft. Others will place that call to a friend, knit that rug, water that garden, and they don’t ask why do these things. But to the writer in the corner, both self and Society say, “You sure you need to be doing that right now?”

Why do adult concerns of bills, relationships, and tumbleweeds of cat hair quash the wisdom the child already knew? Perhaps because there’s something the world deems selfish and showy about writing. Writers’ acts are unadulterated communication. A carpenter or a gardener creates and their works may speak to us, but not in the same obvious, billboard way.

When the Lascaux mystery guys and gals scrawled on the cave walls, they scrawled to be seen. I have to believe they saw their work less like a personal journal and more like history’s scroll or maybe even a bible. These humans hoped to record, to remember, to reach, and to teach. They hoped to uplift their lives and others’ with their art.

I don’t write to tuck it away. I write for my words to be seen. I write for what’s seen to create change and touch lives.

There is nothing wrong with total dependence on writing. There is no wrong in daily following the lead of my hardwired DNA.

Say it ten times, and say it like you mean it.

That belief is a must-have if you wish to make your art known. That belief is a must-have if you’re going to query again and again. One glance at author Victoria Laurie’s stats is enough to help a hopelessly dependent one as myself keep the faith. She received 100 rejections, and it wasn’t the first novel, either. These stats come courtesy of the agent who asked her for revisions and who has partnered with her through 22 novels.

I like the goal setting questions at Shrinking Violet Promotions. The process has helped me shape passion into logical plans.

Yes, Virginia, methinks there will always be doubt some days haunting my art. Yet I have found money and a room of my own. All that’s left is to silence certain voices.

Do you declare dependence on writing as the work you’re born to do?