I am a writer. I have grand thoughts while grinding away on my upright bike. Admittedly, that’s because I’m listening to Les Brown, Arnold Schwarzenegger, or Sylvester Stallone yelling locker room halftime speeches on volume nine, accompanied by epic soundtracks.
I close my eyes, peddle faster at the crescendos. I apply football to writing, weightlifting to writing, boxing to writing, entrepreneurship to—you get it.
Here’s what happened. I decided I had to refresh my email. You know, in case that acceptance I’ve been waiting for is in there. Or the agent wanting to talk representation. More likely, it’s another online writing class advertisement (grrrrr).
If you were in my rec center, you’d see me take my hands off the handlebars, grab my phone, look at it, then sigh and peddle harder. Girl, can’t you even get through forty-six minutes of peddling without refreshing the inbox?!
I decided, before I’d check my inbox, I was going to force myself to do something outside my comfort zone. That’s what Les Brown said to do. I’m using my weakness in one area for good in another, yes?
I think yes.
As soon as I stepped off the upright, before the sweat even dried, before I could wimp out, I made a video. It’s short. It’s underwhelming. But it’s honest.
If you do something outside your comfort zone today, I’d love to hear about it in the comments!
I just saw O’Neill’s autobiographical play, so it’s on my mind. The way a piano can be on a mind. Or an elephant, digging in its toenails. I don’t know if I feel worse for O’Neill or the audience. It was four and a half hours. I walked out with PTSD. To be fair, the cast did a magnificent job portraying those dreadful people. Over and over. I’d be hitting the anti-depressants after a stint like that.
I feel about the play the way I feel about a certain piece of art that used to hang in the local museum. It was basically graph paper, enlarged. I couldn’t understand. I guess I’m not smart enough. Same with Long Day’s Journey Into Night. I don’t get it. It was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. Don’t get me wrong, I think it has value. POW camps could play it on a loop. The CIA could do away with waterboarding. Just strap the terrorists into chairs and hit play. Come back five hours later and threaten to show it again. Have I gone overboard? Well, so did O’Neill. By about two and a half hours.
This brings me to my book journey. August marks one year since I received my first rejection on my first novel. I’ve enjoyed reading the stories of others on the same journey. Most read like O’Neill’s play: pain…pain…pain…and the show is over. No happy ending, and you’re thinking it may have been a waste of time.
Since I began querying, FOUR of my writer-friends wrote and self-published their books (some published two!) and a student of mine self-published her novella. And in a little file sits my dusty book. Enthralling, my husband called it. My friend said I better not die (of a brain tumor) before I could write the sequel. I’ve had agents request it, but zero offers of representation.
I’m almost done writing my second book. I remember when I thought the hard part would be writing books. It’s a Long Day’s Journey Into Might.
As in, you MIGHT publish dat book, girl. You jes might. It’s a long journey.
…or a long day’s journey into MIGHT, as in power and strength.
Radio Silence. I’m learning to live there. In January (yes, January) I had several agents request full manuscripts, two of whom were veterans; one was building his list. I heard back from the list-building agent quickly. He didn’t like that a dog died in my story. I’ve since read other agent bios where they specify: no pets dying. Who knew? I still had three manuscripts out (another request in the interim), and I waited. And recovered from brain surgery. And sold our house and was homeless for a few weeks. And got settled in our new home. And puttered around in short stories and flash. And got started on a second book. Today I’m 50K into Bookworm.
In the beginning of a new novel, I’m pulling a wagon with square wheels. It’s not pretty. It hurts. I’m getting nowhere. And who are these characters? Most writers love that part, the show-up-to-the-blank-page part. Not me. I’m all about revising. In order to get anything down, I have to chant, SFD…SFD…SFD… till I get something I can revise.
Last week one of the veteran agents (gently and with many kind words of praise) passed on my manuscript. I actually read the email to my writer’s group. I’m not usually that public, but it arrived in my inbox just as we were starting, and oddly enough, I’d literally JUST been lamenting over not hearing back from him. He apologized for having it so long. He was so gracious, I didn’t even cry. Darn. I would have loved to work with someone that nice.
Two other agents are still considering it, and when I nudged them, they assured me I’m in the queue. I’ve learned agents have intern-readers. So an assistant may be the first to read my full manuscript. If it passes muster, then the agent will take a look. It makes sense, given how many manuscripts pass over their desks. When every query rejection reminds me of the subjectivity of the business (…not a fit for me, but another agent may feel differently…) I dust myself off and look for the next agent who, hopefully, will feel differently.
I’ve become a student of the publishing industry, which has given me a sense of just how long it takes to get something traditionally published, as well as how insanely collaborative it is. Great books are written by great authors, but I believe they were blessed by great editorial agents and finally polished by great editors. Not to mention all the greatness that goes into marketing.
Knowledge isn’t just power; it’s peace of mind. Yesterday while spinning and sweating and gasping on an upright bike, I listened to an agent panel interview. (I hear your applause at my multi-tasking.) In the interview, an agent mentioned passing on a book that went on to become a best-seller. Another agent said his list of clients is rivaled by the list of greats on which he passed. Great books are passed on every day. My book has been passed on many days. Therefore, my book must be great. (I hear your applause at my entirely sensible rhetoric.)
Here are some of the ways I’m bettering myself as a writer. I’m thankful for the people who’ve shared these resources and am glad to pay it forward.
Self-editing for Fiction Writers by Renni Browne & Dave King
Each book imparts something different. King is…well, King. You get a bit of everything and a whole lot of swear words. Anne Lamott tells writers: Everything will be fine, darlin’. The last two are craft-specific but engaging and helpful beyond belief. And nothing helps more than a few friends who come alongside and believe in you, even before the editorial agent, before the editor. I have a group. We call ourselves The Little Red Writing Hoods. We are an eclectic mix of ages and genres. Knowing I have to submit something keeps me motivated. I love groups so much, I agreed to host one. It’s in the fledgling stages, but I am grateful for a right-hand man who is honest and smart and critical.
If you want some motivation, check out The First Line. Submissions are due August 1st. They pay. It’s free to submit. The first lines they provide are wonderful. One year a sixteen-year-old won the competition. How cool is that? I have some students I imagine could pull that off.
PS – The Pan-American Highway is the world’s longest road, linking almost all the nations in North and South America except for a stretch of 100 km called the Darien Gap, a forest and swampland.
I wish the coffee would stay hot, even down to those last few sips. When it’s first brewed I put my face in the mug and pull the aroma into my nose. Those gloriously warm first sips are the best. Then it gets mindless. I’m in the world of my manuscript, slugging down the caffeine for its properties and not for the flavor anymore. By the end and especially if I’ve forgotten the mug for a bit, those cold shots are all willpower. The will to not waste.
If we were having coffee, I’d tell you I’m still waiting to hear from agents who have my full manuscript. Have I ever mentioned what a patient person I am? No? Exactly. The customary wait time before it’s polite to nudge an agent is 90 days. 90! Jesus was in the desert for 40. Meanwhile, I’m all over the place as far as my manuscript goes. I believe in it. I love it. But I also wonder if I’m about to sustain another round of near-knockout punches from which I’ll have to rise. And I will. Rise. I’ve fed myself author stories about overcoming. One writer had over a hundred rejections a year for three years before landing an agent. Same book, mind you. I thought a hundred was high. Here’s where I’m at as of today:
55 queries sent since June, 2018
4 full requests; 1 rejection, 3 still out
43 rejections or no answer (which means the same thing)
8 recently sent and not yet rejected (my goal is to have 7 always in the hopeful queue)
I have to tell you, it felt like more than 43 rejections. At rejection 26 (November 2018) I revamped my query letter with the help of Query Shark, and I received my first requests for fulls. Ah…the validation. But what is validated? My ability to entice an agent. Check. My ability to write fifty good pages. Check. But do I have what it takes to write the full monty? I now believe the ability to finish doesn’t rest on my current level of talent but on my constant level of persistence. Unless a book is in such a shamble that it cannot be fixed (think flattened roadkill), there is hope. I will continue revising. Until I’m agented. Until I’m published.
That is what it means to be a writer. Grit. Rejection. Revising. Some would say that in order to have the audacity to create an entire world with words alone, one must possess a cyclopean ego, its one bulging eye fixed on fandom. And to temper the writer’s god complex is the querying process. Confession: I have never felt my ego was large enough for this industry. If anyone has ideas on how to bulk up the ego at any stage of a manuscript, please share. I do pray though. And I find that if I stop looking at myself (oh poor little me and my homeless manuscript…) I’m happier.
Meanwhile, I use every opportunity to better myself. I listen to podcasts on writing and follow people who are in the querying trenches. This month I applied for a mentor at Author Mentor Match. I should hear any day now. I also entered Trespass in the James Jones First Novel Fellowship. It was exciting for me to enter because last year at this time I was diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to have surgery. I was unable to focus on anything but loving my family and friends. I missed the deadline.
I hunt down beta readers and join writing groups. All these things I do to keep moving toward my goal, the most important being to put my butt in the chair and work on my 2nd manuscript, 19,233 words in, but who’s counting? Today I managed 588 words. A thousand is a good day, but I am a slow creator and a rabid revisor.
Thanks for sticking with my update! Hope the coffee didn’t get too cold for you. 🙂
Many thanks to Eclectic Ali for getting the coffee brewing and the conversation started. Ali describes her casual posting plan: Weekend Coffee Share is a time for us to take a break out of our lives and enjoy some time catching up with friends (old and new)! Grab a cup of coffee and share with us! What’s been going on in your life? What are your weekend plans? Is there a topic you’ve just been ruminating on that you want to talk about?
Each session of my 5000 Words class, we devote one week to flash fiction. The assignment is to enter a piece in Microcosms, which experiences a rather dramatic spike in entrants. 🙂 This morning when I opened my email, I found Microcosms is having technical difficulties this week, the week my students are to enter their contest. Is this fate, smiling on the Microcosms judge who would’ve had to read all those extra entries?
Not to be deterred (cue the collective groan of my students), we’ll just take a little detour and hold the contest here, on my blog.
I ask my students to post their fabulous stories in the comments section of this post. Put your name, the title, and the exact word count at the top, then the story. Post by Saturday, midnight (that’s an extra day). I trust my readers will enjoy and perhaps comment on anything that moves you. Most of my students have private blogs, so this would be a rare opportunity to get outside feedback.
Next Tuesday, I’ll post the winning stories. As to judging, it will either be yours truly or a fellow author. (Any takers? Volunteer in the comments!) Hey, it’s 8:26 AM and I’m working with a curveball here.
But what about the prompt?? I’m not techy enough to build a spinning machine like the folks at Microcosms, so we’ll have to go stone age: I’ll give you a first sentence. I can’t wait to see what you come up with!
Craft a flash fiction story of no more than 300 words that begins:
If we were having coffee, I’d ask if you’d like to expand your caffeine horizons with some dark roast & coconut oil whirled at high speed. That’s what produced this cup of foamy, bitter love. I often put powdered collagen in as well, although only in my first cup of the day. How many cups are there in a day? I try to cut myself off at three and drink the last one before 3PM.
I’m slowly getting into my new WIP. I don’t know why I get so full of angst when I sit down to a white page and have to put something there. In the writing world, the first draft is called a crappy first draft (or another name for poo, but you get the drift). We’re supposed to throw words out there, get them down, don’t stifle the flow with grammar and eloquence and all that—which I try not to do, but it hurts my eyes, this crappy first draft. Oh, a sentence or turn of phrase here and there makes me smile, but argh!…if this isn’t a slog. I’m sharing my work as I go, something I said I wouldn’t do and that the great Stephen King advises against, but I have this lovely group of women who are kind enough to visit every two weeks, and I must have an offering. So I have to truck out the garbage and let them smell it. Keeps me humble.
Another thing that humbles/makes-me-insane: waiting on my manuscript. It’s never far from my mind that agents (or their interns) are reading Trespass. I stalk other bloggers who are in a similar position. I pray that the right agent (not just any agent) will love it and that I’ll have the grit to accept rejection. My husband calls me the trojan horse because I want to sneak inside people by way of a thrilling story and unleash my kool-aid on them. Isn’t that what Harriet Beecher Stowe did? And C.S. Lewis? And every great writer? What’s the point if we don’t have something deeper to communicate? And don’t say Marvel. Or DC Comics. Or millions of dollars. I’m still starry-eyed about writing. I hope to die that way. Just, not too soon.
My son had a swim meet Sunday, and he placed 1st in all his events, two of which were relays. Mountaintop moment! After that we spent the Superbowl with friends, which was a good thing since the game and commercials were meh. I’m slowly recovering from the flu. I thought it was a cold, but it unexpectedly turned and trampled me last week. I look forward to smelling again someday. Although I did read that you can lose your sense of smell permanently from the flu. You’re welcome.
Thanks to Eclectic Alli for getting the coffee and conversation brewing.
If we were having coffee I’d be smiling enormously. Two weeks ago today an agent requested my full manuscript. My reaction: eeeeeeeeck! Then another agent requested my manuscript. And…holy-too-good-to-be-true Batman! A THIRD AGENT REQUESTED MY FULL MANUSCRIPT. For my non-writer friends, this is like winning the lottery three times in a row. I’ve spilled my coffee all over myself with my Italian arm-waving at this point, I’m so dang excited.
I withdrew my query letter from Query Shark, the site that taught me how to craft a query. At first I was hesitant to withdraw it because I so wanted Janet’s perspective, but I know that the query itself is doing its job. At three requests I can’t in fairness ask her to critique it. If you have a completed manuscript and want to make sure agents actually read your first pages, read Janet’s entire site. That’s what I did. She says over and over that the key is reading the entire site, and it’s true. There is no substitute, no short cut or hack. It’s hours and hours and hours of work, I’m not going to lie. But it’s fun too. Janet’s witty as all get out.
Now I’m waiting. The idea that agents are looking at my story…chills, I tell you. So I’m doing the next right thing (besides checking my email a thousand times a day), which is beginning my second novel. It took about a week for me to not dread showing up at the blank screen. Now that the story’s rolling, I’m completely digging it.
Meanwhile, my husband and I have had some lovely walks, some nights by the fire, and lots of time to chat at Gabe’s swim meets. Love watching swim meets, even for six+ hours. When Gabe isn’t competing (99% of the time), I read or prepare for a class I teach. Or throw down a Starbucks and wiggle and squirm on the bleacher seats until the caffeine works its way through my bloodstream.
Today everything was closed because of the big storm. Abbott did not like how the snow ticked his belly when he went out to do his business. He whimpered and ran back to the door. I sternly told him to man up (a very unpopular directive in these Gillette times), but he can’t understand me anyway. He got my tone, got back in the drifts and did what he had to do…
Later, Luke and Anna played with him. He decided he very much likes the deep snow. Just like anything new, he just had to give it a chance. Thanks to Eclectic Ali for the Weekend Coffee Share. 🙂