Sunday, December 03, 2017

Balancing Act, Not!

“Balance is not always obtainable in every situation, however, we have the option to surrender our control over the desired outcome and live more easily in the present moment. This will result in greater peace of mind.” - Nanette Mathews

Last month, I intended to work on two projects. First, I wanted to complete last year's National Novel Writing Month project, a book of daily meditations about living in the moment called Eat Your Toast. I would be a NaNoWriMo "rebel" on two counts. First, by working on nonfiction and not a novel and second by completing an existing work instead of starting a novel from scratch. I would use the NaNoWriMo structure, attend the write-ins, and participate in the forums. My goal would be to write 50,000 words during the month of November or 1,667 per day.

Second, while doing NaNoWriMo, I'd hoped to continue submitting Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two to independent presses and contests. Although several editors have requested either the full manuscript or chapters, I wanted to keep marketing the manuscript while I waited on word from them.

But life throws curves. First, I got sick and wound up in bed for several days. Then we traveled for a weekend to a conference we had committed to months before. And just before we got home, our ancient dog died. Mr. Dawg, my running sidekick and co-star of Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, had been sick with heart problems for nearly two years and we knew he was near the end, but the reality of his death broke my heart. The house felt like a tomb and I fell into a depression.

Then, one afternoon while I was writing, Ed texted me a photo of a 14-week old yellow Labrador puppy, the same breed as Mr. Dawg. Ed was smitten. I knew how hard puppies can be, but Ed and I both needed the canine energy. "Scarlet" joined our family and chaos became the new norm!

Bottom line? I was able to complete 50,000 words of Eat Your Toast, but I did nothing with Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two all month.

From this experience I learned a few things. First, I'm not good at working on more than one project at a time. Once I'd gotten my head back into Eat your Toast, I couldn't switch back to Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two. I'm hyperfocused, but only on one thing at a time. Eat your Toast took all my energy.

Second, to meet my NaNoWriMo goal, I had to go with the flow and find time whenever I could. This meant writing in hotel rooms and, after Scarlet arrived, working around her sleep schedule so I could focus without a puppy chewing on my shoelaces or the furniture.

And third, I had to celebrate my victory without beating myself up for not meeting my overall goal. I could not change circumstances; I had to adapt to them.

Now that November is through, I will return to Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two with new energy. I'm very excited about this prospect.

Are you able to work on more than one project at a time? If so, how do you manage it?

Friday, November 03, 2017

My Critics, My Friends

"Criticism may not be agreeable, but it is necessary. It fulfills the same function as pain in the human body. It calls attention to an unhealthy state of things." - Winston Churchill

I've spent the past two years collecting rejection letters from agents and publishers. If I were to print them, I'd have a fistful.

The generic "this isn't right for our list" letters don't bother me. Even the ones that say "memoirs don't sell" don't get under my skin. But when a letter is more specific and there's some possibility the agent or editor could be on the right track, I get twitchy. And that's what I need to attend to. The more twitchy I get, the more likely they are on to something.

I choose to believe that the vast majority of people in the publishing industry work there because they love the written word. But they are also bombarded by so many submissions that they have to make a quick decision based on their gut and their experience in the market. Do they miss from time to time? Of course! Remember Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance? It received 121 rejections before going on to become a best-seller. But more often than not, since editors and agents work in the field, they know what they are talking about.

My job is to not let this feedback derail me. My biggest critic is myself. As a child, I may have internalized my perfectionist father or a teacher with biting words, but now that I'm an adult, it's my voice I have to deal with. My job is to listen, thank the voice for trying to help me, because that's what it thinks it is doing, and figure out if there's any truth it it.

It's very similar to what I do with an agent or editor's specific response. I thank the person for the feedback and for taking time to respond. Few editors and agents reply at all. When one takes the time to write something more than "it's not what we're looking for," I thank them. Then I let my emotions simmer and let the feedback sit.

While I'm waiting for my jets to cool, I do something else. I might read someone else's work and offer feedback. I might submit to other agents or publishers who only want a proposal, a query, or a few chapters. That way, if I decide to revise, I'm sending parts that won't be changed later. Or I enter contests that have upcoming deadlines so I won't miss an opportunity. I stay busy.

Once I'm calmer, I look again. Is there truth in the feedback? If so, how can I incorporate it? I try to see the critic as a friend. I'm not alone in this endeavor. There are helpers all along the way.

Tuesday, October 03, 2017

Why Bother? Redux

"I write because I can’t imagine not doing so. Because in writing, I become a little bit more of myself." - Jeff Goins

Yesterday on Facebook I wrote, "Some days the world is terrifying. We write anyway." I can't fathom what it was like in the crowd at Vegas just like I couldn't fathom the scene in the nightclub in Orlando or the hurricane in Puerto Rico or the floods in Houston and Florida. The world is crazy. Life is crazy and some days I just don't know how to go on. But, I do. Writing helps.

I keep writing even when nothing makes sense. Especially when nothing makes sense. For me, writing is about more than recording events or making up stories or journaling my feelings. It is for sanity. I unload what's in my mind or work on something I've created or rant and rave or make up a story from scratch or tell a story I've lived or write down the ways I manage to thrive and something inside clicks. Something feels alive in a way that it rarely does at any other time.

I mean, why do we write? Or, more importantly, why do we write in the face of horrendous violence, climate change that threatens people we love, and forces of nature that make us wonder if the world will ever feel safe again? Why bother? This is not the first time I've attempted to answer this question. I come up against it a lot. I come up against it monthly it seems and definitely during times of political turmoil, world troubles, the pain of other people, and my own pain. Why bother? Because it's what I do. I am a writer. I write. I had a good friend who used to say, "Writers write." He died of cancer but his words live on. I hold on to them in difficult times. I hold on to them when I am troubled. I hold onto them when I feel lost and alone. I hold on to them when I am just about as blue as I can be. Who am I? A writer. What do writers do? Writers write.

So whether I'm writing about a unicorn barista living in the woods along the Olentangy Trail in Columbus, Ohio or about a woman who is having the same dream as a truly insane man she met in a psych hospital or about running a marathon despite the voices in my head that tell me it's impossible or writing daily meditations about staying in the moment when fear and doubt want to drag me into the past and future, I keep writing. It may not save the world, but it may save me.

If you're asking why bother? I urge you to write. Scream and cry. Wail and flail. Then sit down at the page and write. Write in the face of it all. Just put it out there. Put it in the words that work for you. Don't worry. No one has to read it. But if you want them to, all the better. It's your story, your life, your ideas, your heart. Pour it out on the page. Then choose later what to do with it. Just do it. Just write.

It may not bring you fame or fortune. It may not keep your job our your family safe. It may not save the world, but if you're like me, if you're someone who is a writer in your heart of hearts, then write. Good times and bad. Happy or sad. No matter the weather, write. Write because it's what you know how to do or write because it's what you're learning how to do or write because you just can't not write. Just write. It may save you too.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

Reading Another's Work

“To write is human, to edit is divine.” - Stephen King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

This month I had the honor of critiquing someone's novel. I read carefully and with gusto. I read for pace and plot and character. I read to find holes and places where it lagged. The author had done a lot of work so my job was easy. This isn't always the case.

What do you look for when you read another writer's work? Even if I know the person well, I try to distance myself and forget what I know about her. I tell the truth and don't sugar coat my responses. But it's helpful to be kind. If something's not working, I just point that out. And, I don't necessarily try to fix it. People who have read my work often make suggestions as to how to fix a problem. They want to help. More often than not, however, the thing they suggest is flat out wrong. It won't work for the story or it won't work for me as the author. I listen and note that there is something wrong in that place or near that place, but I try to find my own fix.

So how can you be more helpful to people who want you to read their work? I always find out how far along they are in the book. Is this a first draft? Is this their thirtieth draft? How long have they been working on the book? Is this the first year or the fifteenth? This makes a difference both in what I look for and how I handle the comments. I am unlikely to agree to read a first draft unless someone is just so stuck they need help figuring out if they have a book at all. And in that case, I read with such a gentle touch that most of my comments will be about what is working. I will apply lots of praise and, instead of criticism, ask questions. "What did you mean by this?" or "What are you trying to say?"

No matter what stage a writer is at, I always ask what they want. Do they want a line edit, fixing all the punctuation, or do they just want an overview of the big picture. I have a hard time not marking spelling mistakes, but I'll do my best to focus on the big picture if that's what they want. If a person is in later drafts, I'll dig deeper. By later drafts, the author has gone deeper into the work and really needs a heads up about what a reader thinks. Hopefully by then they have also developed a spine around the book. I won't be mean, of course. That helps no one. But I'll really focus on the honest truth.

It's so touchy. We writers have such fragile egos. We want help, but we mostly want you to tell us our words are lovely and that we should go have a cookie then send our work to anyone who publishes. It's hard not to take any feedback, positive or negative, personally. This is our work. Our baby. But we need to learn that feedback is not personal. It's about the work. That's a good rule. Take nothing personally. If only I could make that stick.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

Word Carver Interview


"Technology gives us the facilities that lessen the barriers of time and distance - the telegraph and cable, the telephone, radio, and the rest." - Emily Greene Balch

Sometimes life hands you a gift. My most recent present came in the form of an email from Cynthia Rosi, host of the podcast Word Carver which airs on WGRN 94.1 FM asking if I'd like to be on the show. What an honor!

She interviewed me about my monthly email publication Write Now Newsletter, my time assisting Natalie Goldberg, my teaching of Natalie's techniques, the memoir I'm currently working on (Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two), and the changes I've noticed in the Columbus writing scene over the past fourteen years I've been publishing the newsletter.

Cynthia is easy to talk to. She's smart and asks good questions. I love that she asked whether I have a "tip jar" - which I do - making it sound as if I'm a barista in a coffee shop brewing a special drink for each of you every month. I hope you enjoy this month's selection.

You can listen to the interview here.

Monday, July 03, 2017

Gratitude

“Thankfulness is the beginning of gratitude. Gratitude is the completion of thankfulness. Thankfulness may consist merely of words. Gratitude is shown in acts.” ― Henri Frederic Amiel

Thank you to each and every person who chose to support Write Now Newsletter during the hacking mess. The site is up and running and hopefully we're moving past this hard time.

If you haven't had a chance to support the newsletter, there's no time limit! The donation link on this page takes you to Paypal where you can pay with a credit card, bank account, or Paypal balance. If you prefer to send a check, just email me and I'll be happy to send you my snail mail address. Checks still work!

Thanks again for your generosity. We've received around $1,000 which puts a nice dent in the huge bill we've had for repairing and securing the website.

You folks are the best!

Friday, June 02, 2017

Please Support "Write Now Newsletter"

"We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give." - Winston Churchill

I hate to ask for money. I cannot remember a time in the fourteen year history of Write Now Newsletter when I directly asked. The newsletter has been my community service, a gift to central Ohio writers since January 2003.

There have always been expenses. I pay for faster internet, jangomail email distribution at $25 a month, site hosting (about $100 a year) and the domain name ($11.99 a year). These costs add up, but I was always able to pay them.

Then my site got hacked.

Fixing it has been astronomically expensive and time-consuming. Here's a short list of the least costly items we implemented: website firewall and security monitoring system for $199 a year, new web host for an additional $100 this year, moving four related web domains for $50 a year, plus a virtual private network for $39.95 a year.

But I'm not tech savvy. So when I say "we," I mean my web person. As a consequence, the biggest expense was the incredible amount of time this very well-trained, extremely professional, uber-responsive woman spent investigating what happened, removing all sorts of malware and malicious coding, recovering my data, and getting the site back on its feet.

How much time you ask? SEVENTY-EIGHT HOURS! And I know she did this because we communicated while she worked. The bill was $7,800 including a discounted hourly rate and hours she didn't bill at all.

It was an awful hack.

If you enjoy receiving the newsletter, please support it by clicking this link. This unusual situation demanded drastic measures which resulted in huge, one-time expenses. I won't hold out a hat again any time soon. But I am now. A virtual hat.

The link takes you to paypal which allows you to use a credit card or pay from your checking account. You don't need a paypal account to use it. If you would rather mail a check, email me at nita@nitasweeney.com and I will happily send you my snail mail address. I'm too paranoid to post my address anywhere on-line. It had been on my site, but we took it down.

I value each and every one of you whether you support the newsletter or not. But if you can, I would truly appreciate it.

Wednesday, May 03, 2017

How Not to Get Hacked

“Good advice is usually given by someone who was once a bad example.” ― Ljupka Cvetanova

As I explained in last month's blog post, my website was hacked. Someone accessed my Wordpress dashboard, began running some kind of storefront out of a secret page they had created on my site, sent fraudulent emails (a Nigerian Prince announcing your lottery winnings perhaps), and nearly crashed my site.

Since this happened, I've learned more about internet security than I ever wanted. Posts and articles about computer security had been warning me to take note for years. My computer guru had warned me. I failed to heed. Here's a list of things to help you learn from my mistakes.

1. Don't think you're too small: I thought since I was just a little writer in central Ohio, no big deal, I was immune. But hackers aren't looking for the next big deal. They don't necessarily want to take down the New York Times website. They may just want your internet real estate. Or they may just want to brag to their friends that they hacked a site. It's unlikely the hackers targeted my site specifically. Rather, they found a site (that just happened to be mine) with vulnerabilities they could exploit. That's what they were looking for.

2. Don't forget to change your password: While we can't be certain, this was most likely the point of entry. I'd had the same password since 2005. Yes. The same password "protecting" my website files for twelve years. This was a thing my guru mentioned, but which I ignored. Falling victim to my faulty thinking of number one above, I thought I was too small to be worried. My website hid nothing top secret or financially interesting. No one wanted my website, right? Wrong.

3. Don't choose a crappy password: Not only was my password old, it was lame. It included sequential numbers and was an abbreviation so easy to guess I'm ashamed to tell you what it was. And I'd used it on many different sites. Again, I just thought I was a nobody over here in the Midwest. Now my passwords are long and complex.

4. Get https: The next thing my computer guru did after we changed my passwords was to obtain an "SSL certificate" to make my site Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS). This provides encrypted communication with and secure identification of a web server. In layman's terms, it makes my site more secure.

5. Get Google Authenticator: Because of the extent of the hack and the number of attempts to access my site, we added a third layer of security. Google Authenticator is an app that links to your website. Once you install it, you will need not only a username and password to log into your site, but also a numeric code generated on your phone. It was relatively simple to install and as soon as we did that, bam! The attacks stopped.

6. Keep tabs on your website host: I'd used the same hosting company for many years, but was unaware this small company been sold recently to a much larger company. I cannot be certain, but I have reason to believe their servers were hacked. When asked about it, the web host said any hacks were my fault. Okay. I admit my mistakes for my site, but not for their servers. That's on them. So my computer guru and I quickly changed hosts. Not fun at all, but that too made an immediate difference in the number of successful hacks.

7. Don't access your site on public wifi: I love to write in different locations. It turns out that hackers love these locations as well. They have tools that can pluck your passwords right out of thin air! While I can still hang out at the local coffee shop, even if the coffeeshop wifi is password protected, I won't use it to access my site. Instead, I'll get my own wifi "hotspot" from my cell phone company.

8. Check your home router: Wordfence, a security installation for Wordpress sites like mine, recently published a post showing how tens of thousands of hacked home routers are attacking WordPress websites. They also provided a tool to let you check your home router.

After my website guru spent days and days doing the equivalent of hosing down my site and tidying the mess, we took the above steps to lock down security. I'm not a security expert so I'm sure there are many more layers of which I'm unaware, but I hope this list will help you avoid being hacked in the first place.

NITA SWEENEY is a writer, creative writing teacher, and editor of Write Now Newsletter. She lives in central Ohio. Follow her on Facebook! Subscribe here to the monthly newsletter!

Wednesday, April 05, 2017

The Things We Cannot Change

"Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change/Courage to change the things I can/And wisdom to know the difference." - Reinhold Niebuhr

Write Now Newsletter, the email monthly listing of central Ohio writing events I publish, is late this month. I'm very sorry. It usually goes out on the third and takes appropriately three days to prepare. I spent most of those three days plus two more in bed with an "unspecified viral infection" aka a really really really bad cold resulting in a hacking cough, sore throat, chills, nasty nasal congestion, a screaming headache, and a fever that made my eyes blurry. (The urgent care doctor ruled out influenza types A and B as well as strep throat even though I thought I was dying.) After four days in bed, tonight I finally took a shower and thought I was ready to finish the newsletter.

That's when I discovered my website had been hacked.

I'd had a hint something was amiss last Friday when my page went blank for a few hours, but the company that hosts my site said the server had been down and the site came back up looking fine so I wrote it off. But tonight when I tried to log in and post the updated listing of writing events, the dashboard was not functional. Someone (not me and not anyone authorized by me) had been very busy behind the scenes.

Thankfully my trusty web person (and lovely individual) was awake and at her phone. She spent several hours undoing the hacks, setting up more security measures, and translating logs to help me understand what happened. She believes it was random, nothing personal, but it was complicated to undo.

So again, my apologies to my newsletter subscribers (over 1,800 of you!) for the delay. Thankfully I don't house any email information on that site so none of you are at risk. I hope you find things working properly when you visit.

And with that, I shall go back to bed.

NITA SWEENEY is a writer, creative writing teacher, and editor of Write Now Newsletter. She lives in central Ohio. Follow her on Facebook! Subscribe here to the monthly newsletter!

Friday, March 03, 2017

More on Revision

“That’s the magic of revisions – every cut is necessary, and every cut hurts, but something new always grows.” - Kelly Barnhill

As I drove home from a recent evening run I'd done with my training partners, I noticed the body sensations I associate with a "good" run. My mood had lifted. My arms and legs tingled. My throat felt open and a warmth radiated across my whole body. Since I'm always writing even when I'm not writing, it dawned on me that I'm eleven (or more) drafts into a book about running (Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two) and hadn't described how this post-run glow feels physically. The next morning, adding this became my first task.

While I searched (and found) a spot to best place this experience, I discovered I had overused "feel" and "felt," words which don't capture the sensations I tried to convey. So I searched for "feel" or "felt" and when appropriate, dove deeper for more detail. As a result, "I felt sad" became "I couldn't swallow. My throat closed. The sun shone but everything still looked gloomy." It goes back to the old adage "Show, don't tell." Natalie Goldberg instructed us to "be specific."

When I posted about this revision process on my Facebook author page, a writer commented that she searched for "could" and replaced it with more active language. Back to the book I went and did the same. "I could see" became "I saw." "I could hear" became "I heard." Simple, but profound changes.

As I revised for "could," I noticed "very" and "really" were often unnecessary. So I searched for those as well and made more easy changes. With each edit, the writing grew more vivid and once I finished, the book had shrunk by hundreds of words.

I share this to show my revision process: messy, nonlinear, and often dependent on cues from others. I used to think I was flawed because my drafts require these kinds of changes. I also chided myself for being unable to revise from point A to point B to point C. Now I know that's just not how my brain works. The more I talk to other writers, the more I learn I'm not alone. We each must find our own way. I'm always eager to hear how others approach their work and often try to implement other artists' strategies as a way to ease my path, but I no longer judge myself for being unable to do it the way someone else does. Accepting my quirky ways, I continue my circuitous process.

How would you describe your revision methods? I'd love to hear what works for you.

Thursday, February 02, 2017

Why Bother?

"The competitor to be feared is one who never bothers about you at all, but goes on making his own business better all the time." - Henry Ford

Some days if I watch the news (which I rarely do) or read the paper (which I also rarely do) or hear from friends on either end of the political spectrum and all points in between, about the things happening in the world, I sink into depression about my own writing. As you know, I write mostly memoir. Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, the memoir I'm currently shopping to independent publishers, recounts my journey from mentally unstable couch potato to somewhat less mentally unstable marathoner.

Before that book, I spent a decade writing a memoir (still unpublished) about the last year of my father's life. I've also written about my relationship with my mother and about an unusual situation in which a man lived on our sofa for two years when I was a child. My drawer of unpublished manuscripts also includes three novels, all romance-ish, but none involving topics of great importance. So when I learn of things happening in the "real" world, I sit at my desk and wonder why I bother. With chronic depression and extreme anxiety, becoming too involved does not suit my mental health. I'm not going to take up political writing or letters to the editor. Is my writing a waste of time?

But it dawned on me that, if nothing else, writing helps me heal my own world. I'm transformed when I connect with another person through words on a page. In writing all those books, the reading I've done and the writing itself, has made me a better person. It has given me a sense of purpose when I felt I had none. It's given me a voice, forced me to think carefully about how I feel about certain subjects, and introduced me to worlds I would otherwise not know.

Hopefully, when the running book comes to fruition, it will also help others. As my friend, author Pat Snyder put it when I asked her why a publisher might want to publish my book, "You so believe in the healing power of running that you will bring to book promotion the same perseverance you showed in running those marathons." That's my intention.

But more importantly, this same theme is true of writing. I so believe in the healing power of writing that I will bring to my teaching and my publishing the same perseverance I have showed in continuing to write for twenty years with only limited success. It's not always about the product.

So if you're out there wondering if anything you are doing on the page will make a difference, ask yourself if it makes a difference to you. Yes, perhaps, like me, you hope to influence some people or to make a change in the world or at least entertain people and distract them for a bit. But more importantly, is writing saving your life the way it has saved mine? I'm pretty sure I know the answer.

Tuesday, January 03, 2017

The Divine Detail

“Caress the detail, the divine detail.” - Vladimir Nabokov

I'm not much for New Year's resolutions, but I do take a personal inventory when the calendar flips to the next year. This year when reviewing my writing skills, I looked back over the rules of writing practice as set forth in Writing Down the Bones. Specifically (pun intended) Natalie Goldberg's admonition to "be specific."

A few of the beta readers who reviewed Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two noticed that my entries about running were full of sensory detail while other parts of the book lacked it. So my revision process has included finding those places where I drifted into vagueness. "Be specific" grounds us in the here and now. While we may be writing about something that has already happened, we should not record just what we think about it, but features and particulars to help the reader experience it as we have.

Yet I don't want it bogged down in description. Like everything, this requires balance. Narration helps move the story forward. But it must be grounded in the here and now, the place where we want the reader to be. Nineteenth century England? We need to feel the china teacup in our hands and taste the first sip of hot tea. Running along the Olentangy Trail? We need to smell the musty woods and hear the Olentangy River sloshing along beside us as we move through damp air.

As the author, I need to feel this myself. If I don't, I can't communicate it to the reader. And that requires me to slow down and remember the details myself. Only then can I put them on the page.

Saturday, December 03, 2016

Troubles, Great and Small

"Of all your troubles, great and small, the greatest are the ones that don't happen at all." - Thomas Carlyle

What if agents don't want my book? What if small publishers don't want it either? And if I self-publish, what if no one wants to read it?

If I had worried about these things before I began writing Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, my memoir about running and mental illness, I would not have started writing at all. And now, even after I'm far into the process, I still can't think too far ahead. Rather, I must focus on the small tasks that make up each activity. Write the email. Double check the requirements on the agent or publisher's website. Check the email again. And again. Hit send. Then wait. Small steps. None of them overwhelming. None of them all that complex.

Depression and bipolar disorder render me easily overwhelmed. I have to chunk things down and keep it very simple. Perhaps other writers are more skilled at doing these things naturally. Perhaps their minds don't spin negative scenarios the way mine does. Perhaps. Or maybe we all struggle with this in our own ways. I'm thankful I have meditation to help me stay centered. I find my breath. I feel my feet. I look around and ground myself in my surroundings. I think of one small task I can do right now. And then I do that. And then I think of the next small task I can do. And I do that. These small tasks make up my days as a writer. It's not the big stretches of time. It's the minute by minute things.

In November, I took a break from submitting and picked up a project I'd set aside many years ago, a book tentatively titled, Eat Your Toast. Ironically, it's a book of daily practices geared toward helping people, myself included, live in the moment. I struggle with this more than anyone I know. I needed the reminders. I needed to read quotes about it. I needed to research teachers who focus on this. And I needed to write out exercises I could do all month while I was writing the book. I wrote 50,860 additional words on that book as a rebel project for National Novel Writing Month.

And now, in December, I'll pick up Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two again and continue my journey toward publication. I still don't know how this will play out. But if my project in November taught me anything, it's that I don't need to know the outcome. All I need to know is the next step.

Thursday, November 03, 2016

Why Books?

"I'm not interested in writing short stories. Anything that doesn't take years of your life and drive you to suicide hardly seems worth doing." - Cormac McCarthy

I complain a lot about writing books, about how difficult it is, how I'm not very good at it, and how whatever book-length work I'm currently tackling is going nowhere. More than once, experienced writer friends have suggested I work on shorter pieces. "Why not essays, magazine articles, or blog posts?" my well-meaning friends say. I've published all of those and they aren't enough.

I love the enormous puzzle of writing a book. I love the structural problems, the all-consuming nature, and the possibility that one day, I might have my name on the spine. I love the heft of a book and the heft of the book journal I carry with me when I go to a coffee house to write. The book journal for Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two is over three hundred hand-written pages. It details my efforts, step by step, and has come in handy several times when I've done silly things like saved two different versions of the book in two different documents with the same name.

And what's more compelling than pushing myself to the edge of madness? I mean, I'd prefer not to go back to the psych ward, but it doesn't feel like meaningful work if I'm not dashing myself against the rocks. I hammer out first drafts (often in November) and spend years thereafter polishing and refining, content even as I'm driven nearly insane. My poor husband. Let's all take a moment to light a candle for him, shall we?

I'm not saying I'm good at writing books. I honestly am probably more suited to shorter projects given my low energy level, short attention span, and the fact that I'm easily confused. That's why I use yWriter software to keep track of things.

Currently, I'm fighting a bit of depression about Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two having queried more than one hundred agents and received either rejections or no response. I've also queried two niche publishers and received no response from either of those. I'm not ready to self-publish, but it's time to take stock, figure out the next right steps, and continue to nudge agents.

Over the past twenty years, I've worked on nine books, none of them yet published. I refuse to give up. Twenty years. Some days I fear I've accomplished nothing, but that's not true. I've learned how to write books and trained myself not to quit, both admirable skills. And I have the scars to show for it.

Monday, October 03, 2016

What October Means to Me

“The world is a lot more fun when you approach it with an exuberant imperfection.” ― Chris Baty, founder of National Novel Writing Month

Here in central Ohio, the weather has cooled and a few trees have begun to turn. To many folks this means pumpkin spice, football, marathons, and ghosts. To me, it means I'd better start planning what I'm going to write in November!

November is National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), the annual challenge in which writers from all over the world attempt to write 50,000 words in thirty days. The original challenge was for fiction, but NaNoWriMo welcomes rebels who write nonfiction and poetry as well.

I love both the structure and camaraderie of NaNoWriMo. Broken down, it requires 1,667 words per day. That's manageable. Depending on how fast a person types, it usually takes about two hours. And I love attending write-ins and hanging out on the on-line forums. It's bliss knowing other Wrimos (that's what participants call each other) are also hammering at keyboards.

I'm often asked how to plan for NaNoWriMo. Although participants aren't allowed to write even so much as a single word of the actual project before 12:01AM on November 1st, preparation is encouraged. I usually prepare by procrastinating and daydreaming.

More pantser than plotter, I write first drafts by the seat of my pants. I'll start out with an idea (what if a unicorn barista is enlisted by some homeless tree huggers to save a giant sycamore from destruction in the I-270/315/23 construction project?) and an ending (the unicorn wins!) and when November rolls around, I'll start typing. So far, I've been able to "win" every year I've entered. Did I wind up with a publishable manuscript? Of course not! But I did complete a ton more writing than if I hadn't started at all.

In October, I also stock up on supplies. For me that means plenty of decaf coffee and healthy snacks. One year I needed a giant dry erase board. Another year required colored markers and gel pens. And I'm never without my fingerless gloves for when the warm days of early November give way to the frigid final weeks.

Are you ready to take the challenge? I hope you'll join us. Check out the website and be sure to join the region for whatever area you live. And friend me. I'm willwrite4chocolate. I'll watch for you!

Saturday, September 03, 2016

As Far As You Can See

"Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see further." - Thomas Carlyle

I've queried one hundred and five agents. From the results (forty-one rejections and sixty-three no responses with one request for pages still out), I've learned my book as currently written might be too narrowly focused to interest a mainstream publisher.

I knew from the outset this might be a possibility. Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two: The Memoirs of an Emotionally Unstable, Middle-Aged Marathoner is primarily about running. It's also about mental illness, Natalie Goldberg, moving to Taos, meditation, writing, and let's not forget the supporting characters, Morgan the yellow Labrador and Ed, my husband. But mostly, it's about running. That topic might not interest enough readers for an agent to take a chance. But I had to try.

And now that I've gone this far, I'm going to revise and query more. Might it have been wiser to have made those changes before I began querying in the first place? Of course. But I didn't know. I wrote the best book I could at the time. Now I will try to improve it and send it out again. Depending on the results of that second round, I will find the next step. I will also continue submitting to contests (the book was semi-finalist in one) and research small presses to see if that might be a better fit.

Sometimes I feel very overwhelmed by the amount of work. But all I need to do is the one thing in front of me. I do the next thing and then the thing after that. And when I'm done with those, I will have more information about what to do after that. More will be revealed, but only by working.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Naked

"Writing is a socially acceptable form of getting naked in public." - Paulo Coelho

That's exactly how I feel sending queries to agents. Naked. Even if I weren't an off-the-scale introvert, submitting my memoir, Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, to agents would be terrifying.

But guess what? I'm doing it. I met my goal of querying one hundred, carefully selected agents before the end of July. And guess what else? While thirty-three percent of the agents I queried have said "No," some of those rejections were accompanied by compliments.

One agent said, "You write well." Another referred to my book as "original and engaging." And my favorite rejecting agent wrote, "[W]e found much to admire here in this inspiring story, not least of which is your spunky and very relatable voice." Although they weren't taking on my work, their comments affirmed I had written something worthwhile.

Most of the responses have been one line answers. "It's not right for our list." Or, "I'm not the right agent to represent this material." Those are easy to take. They remind me this is a business. A very subjective business. An agent may like my writing and even my voice, but if she doesn't believe she can make a profit by spending the many hours it takes to sell and herd my book through the publishing process, she simply can't take it on.

I've only had one difficult rejection. In it the agent was more specific about what she didn't like. At first I felt defensive, but I consulted the developmental editor who helped me with the current draft of the book. She reminded me that the book this agent wanted simply wasn't the book I had written. That was all. It didn't mean I had written a bad book. It didn't mean another agent might not want it. But for now, my job was just to stand behind the book I had written.

Since August is typically a slow time in publishing, I don't anticipate hearing from too many more agents until September. In the meantime I'm researching contests and small publishers, and taking slow walks with our aging dog. If I hear anything else, I'll keep you informed. I've been posting more often on my Facebook author page. Please feel free to follow along there. I'd love to hear your thoughts there and in the comments.

Sunday, July 03, 2016

Do The Math!

"Go down deep enough into anything and you will find mathematics." ~Dean Schlicter

I was surprised recently during a conversation with my left-brained friend, Maureen. I was complaining about the daunting task of sending query letters.

"It's overwhelming," I said. "I get freaked out. And the rejections are so depressing."

"Do you have a goal?" she asked.

Although the word "goal" set my teeth on edge, I admitted that I wanted to send one hundred query letters by the end of July.

"How's it coming?" she asked.

I explained that I'd sent out twenty. "Some days I can't send any," I said. "Other days I send three or four."

In response, she asked something that seemed so contradictory, so absurd, I laughed.

"Have you done the math?"

"The math?" I asked, certain she didn't understand me, or the creative process. Right-brained people like me don't do math. Besides, what did math have to do with asking agents if they would represent my book?

Exasperated I said, "What's math got to do with it?" Then, only joking a little, I added, "I'm a lawyer. We pay accountants to do math for us."

She chuckled, "Well, if you figured out how many query letters per day you needed to send in order to meet your goal, it might take some of the drama out of the process."

Drama? Yes. Drama.

She added, "It would quantify things. Make them more mechanical. Less emotional."

"Quantify," I repeated. Then it dawned one me that quantifying a project was exactly what I did each November during National Novel Writing Month. We each have the goal of writing 50,000 words in thirty days, but none of us can think about that. Instead we each focus on the daily goal of 1,667 words. Every day we meet that goal and by the end of the month we've each written 50,000 words.

This is why it's helpful to have left-brained friends. Maureen's solution had never occurred to me. She is creative as well, but her first instinct was to apply structure to what seemed to me to be a very messy problem. Structure made it manageable.

Our conversation happened in the middle of June. I had 80 more letters to send and there were 32 week days left until the end of July. (80 ÷ 32 = 2.5 per day) Therefore, if I sent three query letters each week day, I'd finish before the end of July.

I've followed Maureen's advice and I'm well on my way to my goal. As an added bonus, focusing on the mechanics of sending letters and on the number of letters sent instead of the emotional prospect of receiving a rejection, has toned down the drama.

Keep those left-brained people around. We need them!

Friday, June 03, 2016

Platform, Platform, Platform

“I'm a hustler, baby; I sell water to a well!” ― Jay-Z

In real estate, it's "location, location, location." These days, in writing, it's "platform, platform, platform." Before the sales pitch must come a well-written book of course. But if an agent has to decide between two well-written books, she'll choose the one written by an author with a platform. At least that's what I'm learning in my research to find an agent for my memoir, Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two.

I'm fortunate to have had the chance to create Write Now Newsletter from a mailing list gifted to me by Shannon Jackson Arnold thirteen years ago. With it and my blog, Bum Glue, I've built a small, but growing group of readers and subscribers, aka, a platform.

These days, however, Facebook and Twitter are the go to outlets for information. We writers need to have a presence on at least a few of those social media outlets. I've been on Twitter for several years. You can follow me there.

Recently, I created a Facebook author page. I'd love for you to follow that page as well. My author page will include updates about my writing process, more general writing information, and central Ohio writing events that were sent too late for the once-a-month newsletter. I hope you'll join the conversation and invite your friends too.

Are you doing anything to create a platform? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Thick Hide

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.” - Harper Lee

It's been twenty hours and nineteen days since I sent out my first query for Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two: The Memoirs of an Emotionally Unstable, Middle-Aged Marathoner. Considering I've been working on this book since 2012, that doesn't seem very long. But it's killing me. I'm not sure I have what it takes to do the dance of finding an agent and publisher. While friends urge me to self-publish, I really want to give this agent thing a try. This is by far the best book of the many I've written.

While I wait, I'm researching other agents using my favorite tool querytracker.net. I sort agents by genre then genre within genre and even genre within genre within genre. I narrowed the 1,400 agents in the data base down to those accepting queries, limited that to those interested in memoir, then narrowed that list by those who are interested in pets. (Morgan, our yellow Labrador, is featured prominently in the book.) And finally, just for fun I limited it again to agents who are interested in sports. That only left me with twelve agents, two of whom work for the same agency, so I decided to just use the 300 some folks interested in memoirs as my working base.

Querytracker also lets me see, according to the data its users provide, which agents are more likely to request pages. This is a limited sampling of course since not all writers use this data base, but it's a way to sift through the agent pool in a manner other than just throwing darts at their names pasted on a wall.

Another useful bit of information it provides is all known clients of an agent. With the links to amazon.com, I can skim the books each agent has represented and see if any are like mine. I'm not always certain what to do with this information. If a book is similar, does that mean the agent is more likely to take on my book or does it mean her stable is full of memoirs by middle-aged, bipolar, marathoners who love dogs. The process is complicated.

An additional quandary is what to do when several agents who seem to be good matches all work for the same agency. It's bad form to query more than one agent at the same place. The other day I found five agents who all like pets and sports and who represent memoirs and are open to queries. Five! Do I pick the most senior agent on the theory that he or she is more experienced and therefore "better?" Or do I go with the newbie who has no clients listed and who might be more eager to take a chance on a new author? I'll probably take the goldilocks method: not too hot, not too cold. I'll take the middle way and query one of the mid-range agents.

Thankfully this process gives me something to do while I await a response from agent number one. In the future, I'll submit to more than one agent at a time. But I wanted to give this one agent who seemed like an excellent fit a chance before sending simultaneous submissions. I've been told by people who know that I should wait three weeks before sending a "nudge" email to the agent. I'm not a patient person so it's been interminable.

When I'm not researching agents, surfing Facebook, or playing computer solitaire, I've filled the remaining hours researching contests. I submitted to one contest after being terribly confused by seemingly inconsistent deadlines and instructions. But I received a kind email saying they had received my submission and would let me know in August (August!) if I'd won anything.

Time. This process takes time. If you can think of anything else for me to do while I wait, let me know. I already run nearly twenty miles a week. Maybe I should take up crochet or needlepoint. Maybe not.

Sunday, April 03, 2016

Head, heart, or gut?

"Don't you dare underestimate the power of your own instinct." - Barbara Corcoran

I believe there are three ways to figure things out: with your head, with your heart, or with your gut. I'm a gut person. Whatever I'm trying to figure out, I have to get a feeling deep in my stomach about it. I suppose we're all a mix of these three things, but I think each person has a preference or maybe a skill at one of the three. It's kind of like being left or right handed. You're either a head person, a heart person, or a gut person.

I have friends who say they turn problems over and over in their minds until finally an answer comes. When I do this, I simply find myself in knots with a headache. Other folks claim they must trust their hearts. My heart has led me wrong many times, thankfully not recently, but I don't get the same warmth in my chest they do when making a decision. The right answer comes from my belly. It's a deep feeling around my navel.

Recently, when I hired a developmental editor to provide feedback on the latest version of Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, she wisely told me to sit with her comments for a bit before deciding what to do. She didn't tell me to think about them or ask my heart for an answer. She said something like, "What does your gut say about this?" At least that's what I heard. So when it was time to make the revisions, I listened to my gut.

As it turned out, I made nearly all the changes she suggested. Not because my head told me to (although it agreed) and not because my heart felt for them (it feels so much it's like a flood in there), but because I got a strong feeling in my belly that what she was asking of me would improve the book.

How do you figure things out? Head, heart, or gut? I'd love to hear your perspective.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

Continue Under All Circumstances

"Continue under all circumstances. Don't be tossed away. Make positive effort for the good." - Katagiri Roshi, Zen Master

I'm just back from ten days in New Mexico. I had the honor of speaking in Taos at the thirtieth anniversary celebration of Writing Down the Bones, the best-selling book by my teacher, Natalie Goldberg. Friday February 19, the Mayor Pro Tem of Taos declared it Natalie Goldberg Day. Saturday, eight of us, Natalie's long-time students, spoke in the classroom of the new building at Mabel Dodge Luhan House with New Mexico sunlight streaming through stained glass windows. After, we went to lunch at the home of two of the speakers, Tania Casselle and Sean Murphy.

On the plane to New Mexico, as I had skimmed "Bones," I rediscovered a chapter entitled, "Doubt is Torture." In it, Natalie describes a conversation between Katagiri Roshi and a young man who was moving to California to become a musician. Katagiri asks the man how he would approach his goal. The man told Katagiri he would try his best and if it didn't work out he'd just accept it. Natalie writes:

Roshi responded, "That's the wrong attitude. If they knock you down, you get up. If they knock you down again, get up. No matter how many times they knock you down, get up again. That is how you should go."

When it was my turn to speak, I cited this chapter. I may have previously forgotten the details, but not the sentiment. "That's been my journey," I told the group. Sometimes it wasn't an external "them" who knocked me down. Just as often it was mental illness, distorted thinking, or bad habits. But I was knocked down just the same. "Having studied writing practice with Natalie for so many years I knew what to do," I said. "I got back up."

Today I'm ready to throw myself into further revisions of my current project, Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two. It's entirely possible I'll be knocked down again by forces both without and within. That's the process. But, again, thanks to my training, I know what to do. Get back up. Period.

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

Dating for Writers

"Whenever I want a really nice meal, I start dating again." - Susan Healy

Thankfully I don't have to date to get a great meal. Ed, my husband, is a fantastic chef. I'm not looking to replace him, but I am looking for an agent and the process feels so similar to dating that I'm having flashbacks to my twenties. This time instead of hanging out in bars, I'm going on-line. Folks looking for potential partners have match.com. Writers have querytracker.net.

Since I've been happily married since before the Internet became a thing, I've never used a dating website. But I've heard stories. You put in that you're a dog-loving runner who writes and you wind up with an animal-hating couch potato who hasn't opened a book since high school.

Querytracker.net has many useful features that will help me narrow my choices. There's a list of "who represents whom" you can use to find the agent for a particular author. Annie LaMott's not in there, but there is a long list of authors who are.

You can also filter agent results. You can find agents who are currently accepting manuscripts or agents with offices in the United States or agents who accept both memoirs and books about sports. Seriously, it filters that specifically.

And you can see what other authors think of particular agents. It's not quite as helpful as Yelp, but it's a similar idea.

Once you've found some agents to query, querytracker.net has an extensive tracking system to help you keep tabs on where you are in the process. And if you upgrade to the paid version, you can track more than one manuscript at a time.

Although I have some trepidation, I'm eager to get Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two into the world. I'm going to work hard to find a good match. I'll keep you posted. And if you try querytracker.net, let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 03, 2016

Practice

"Give someone a book, they'll read for a day. Teach someone how to write a book, they'll experience a lifetime of paralyzing self-doubt." - Lauren DeStefano

People ask me for advice. I don't give it. Instead, I share my experience. And my experience is that paralyzing self-doubt comes with the territory. The more I learn about the craft of writing, the more difficult it seems and the more I doubt my process. But I don't stop learning. I continue reading, taking classes, attending workshops, visiting writing groups, and practicing. This final thing, practice, is key.

But what counts as practice? Do the whiny writing practices I send via email to a small group of fellow Natalie Goldberg workshop attendees count? Do the completely disorganized, more of an outline than a manuscript, first-drafts of several novels count? Does the polishing and re-polishing and polishing again of the book about my father that may never be published count?

I'm going to count it all. Every. Last. Word.

I suggest you do as well.

Why? Because any other answer means we've been wasting our time and I don't believe that. I had to write every word I've ever written to get me to the state of mind to work on my current project, Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two: The Memoirs of an Emotionally Unstable, Middle-Aged Marathoner. For the first time in my life I have confidence in my work. Yes, paralyzing self-doubt creeps in from time to time, but beneath that lies the knowledge that with this book,I've created something worth sending out into the world.

So if you ask me about paralyzing self-doubt, I'll tell you not to give up. Look up the many resources available on my website. Find methods that work for you. And when the doubt creeps in, think of me sending whiny emails. Let that image make you strive for something greater! I'll be here continuing to practice beside you as well.

Thursday, December 03, 2015

Homework for the Rest of Your Life

"Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life." - Lawrence Kasdan

At first blush the thought of having homework for the rest of my life sounds depressing. After journalism school, law school, and an M.F.A. program, I thought I was done with homework. But after giving it some thought, I realized having homework for the rest of my life might be a good thing.

First, it gives me a purpose. Chronic depression sometimes makes me question my reason for being. And I'm not talking about the state of the nation. My mind with its terrifying mental twists need not look beyond the four walls of my office to find a way to bring me down. Writing gives me a reason to exist. Writing gives me the motivation to carry on. That book won't write itself. It's waiting for me to show up.

Some days, writing gives me a reason to get up in the morning. Especially if I've made plans to meet another writer to work on my project while she works on hers, I'm more likely to make it out of bed and into the shower.

Writing is also an antidote to boredom. With writing, I have no reason to be bored. I have a book to edit, another to write, query letters, revisions, and on and on. There's not enough time to be bored.

It's also a multi-faceted cure for loneliness. My characters, real or imaged, keep me company. I'm rarely lonely when writing. Plus, when I immerse myself in the writing community, I have a host of like-minded friends who understand the trials and tribulations of attempting to put words on the page.

When I mentioned the idea of eternal homework to my husband, Ed, he extolled the benefits of "the eternal quest for knowledge!" I don't get that. He's an intellectual. I'm a gut person. But for him and others, writing as a quest for knowledge is a boon. Some people love seeking information and learning things they didn't know.

Of course, I could easily turn this homework business into a weapon and bludgeon myself with the work I haven't done or the lack of quality I perceive in the work I have done. That's why it's important to have good readers who want me to succeed. If I have chosen carefully who sees not only my early drafts, but even my more polished work, I have cheerleaders along the way.

So no. Having homework for the rest of my life is not a bad thing. Remind me of that the next time I complain. Okay?

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

The Only You

"Start telling the stories that only you can tell, because there'll always be better writers than you and there'll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or that - but you are the only you." - Neil Gaiman

When I was a little girl, I wrote about horses. As I got older, I wrote about the people I loved. Older still, I wrote about myself. My writing professors said, "Write what you know." I tried to oblige them.

I think Gaiman explains this concept more accurately. It's not that I have to write about horses, the people I love, or even myself, but I have to tell whatever story I'm telling from my perspective. I see the world through a particular lens. Any story I tell will have that frame of reference. Even in fiction, my personality will come through.

Let's say I choose an unreliable narrator. Even then, the story is mine because I choose how the narrator will hoodwink the reader. I select every detail. And my unconscious will have a lot to say about what decisions I make.

This, I believe, is a gift. If each of us is unique as a snowflake, then no two stories told by two different authors will be alike. There may be similarities, common themes, and familiar characters, but underneath, if we are true to ourselves, a special something will lie. The foundation will be our personality. And this is what makes our story marketable.

At least I hope this is true. I've written what I believe is my unique experience running a marathon. I'm a middle aged woman who was overweight when I began running. That's not unique by any means. I also suffer from several mental health challenges. That doesn't separate my story from those of others either. I run with my dog. I know plenty of folks who do that as well. But no one else has had the specific experience of living with my brain and body during this experience. No one else has had my precise thoughts and feelings as I walked (or ran) through this adventure. And that, I hope, is what will sell the book.

We'll see. I've done my final edits . . . for now. My next step is to begin querying agents. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

A Horrible, Exhausting Struggle . . . that I Love!

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.” ― George Orwell

Writing a book isn't quite that bad or I wouldn't do it. And I make it more of a struggle than it has to be. I stall, him and haw, second guess myself, delude myself into thinking it will be a best-seller, then beat myself up for writing such drivel. Still, I have the affliction for which there is only one cure: writing. I have the bug. The illness. The fever. The plague. I've given up writing more times than I've brushed my teeth and I have good dental hygiene.

I'm at that "horrible, exhausting struggle" stage in the current draft of the book about running. The first draft was more like a fever. What I've got right now is the tail end of a nagging cold with a lingering cough and exhaustion. The worst is behind me, but it's still rough going.

I'm doing what our 4-H adviser used to call, "turning down the screws." It was the detail work we did before taking our animals or exhibits to the state fair. The pieces are in place, the screws are in, and you grit your teeth and tighten. It's tedious, precision work. The book must be in top shape before the next step. So I drag myself to the page and complain a lot, but I do it.

There's a saying in running, "Forward is a pace." That's my pace: forward. And for today, that's enough. I can see the end of this stage of the project. There may be a jagged cliff beyond my line of vision, but I'll deal with that when I get there. In the meantime, I'll tend to my symptoms and continue working on the book.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Habit

"First forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you're inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won't. Habit is persistence in practice." - Octavia E. Butler

Several writing habits keep me involved in the practice. The first is an on-line writing group I joined back in 1999 after attending several writing workshops with Natalie Goldberg. A group of us formed an email list. We agreed to send eight ten-minute writing practices to each other. Eventually the list grew and now it is a listserv, but there are still a handful of us writing and sending these writes to each other.

This newsletter is another set of habits. Throughout the month I gather events that I see in the paper or other sources and individuals email events to me. On the first of the month I scan fifty to sixty websites for more events. On the third of the month, the day the newsletter is due, often at the last minute, I write an essay to include.

I rarely know what I will write about ahead of time. Sometimes I use a quotation to feed my thoughts. Other times I take the dog for a long, slow walk and an idea will form. And sometimes I do sitting meditation and allow an essay to arise that way. It's as if my body and mind know that it's the third of month, time for the essay, because only a few times when I've been in extreme emotional distress have I been at a loss for words. These habits have served me well.

What habits do you use to get the writing done? I'd love to hear about them.

Monday, August 03, 2015

How Deep Are You Willing to Go?

"Either you decide to stay in the shallow end of the pool or you go out in the ocean." — Christopher Reeve

Saturday I taught my semi-annual class, Writing From the Inside Out. Teaching reminds me of all the things I forget between classes. I have to review the materials, especially the rules of writing practice I learned from Natalie Goldberg, and be awake enough to explain them to other people.

We had an splendid mix of novelists, poets, lyricists, memoirists, and children's book authors. They asked interesting questions and each contributed to the conversation. One woman lamented that the in-class writing practice was taking her places she didn't want to go. This gave me the opportunity to talk about Natalie's suggestion to "go for the jugular" meaning to dive into the dark scary places that come up.

The reason for this "rule" is simple. Those unwanted memories lie below the surface whether we write about them or not. You wind up writing around them. Either they crowd out the more important things you want to say or, more often, they are the important things you need to say. That's where the heat is, the juice of the writing. If we don't at least acknowledge these dark places, they fester and interrupt the writing flow. Better to get them out in the open and shred or burn the writing practice later if you must, than let these unspoken truths suppress our writing dreams.

My writing is no different. In my current book project, Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, I had to face some dark places in my mental health journey in order to show how much running has done for me. There was no hiding. To do so would have cheated both the reader and myself.

Are you willing to go out in the ocean with your writing? How deep are you willing to dive to pursue your dreams?

Wednesday, July 01, 2015

When is it done?

"Finish your novel, because you learn more that way than any other." - James Scott Bell

When do you know a project is finished? I'm not done with the book about running. I continue to layer the mental health thread through it. And I'm not sure even after I finish that if I'll be ready to let my baby fly.

When can you let it go? When is it ready to see more than just the eyes of the few folks you've entrusted to give you feedback. The essays and magazine articles I've written were only completed with a deadline. There could have been another round of edits, another writing practice to find the perfect description, another review by someone else. But I had to let each piece go. An editor was waiting.

I haven't sold any of my books before I've written them so it's different. I'm the one creating the deadline and it hasn't worked that well. I'm a critical critic, an evil critic even. The product is never good enough. Now honestly, the previous book-length projects haven't been finished, not even the one about my father that I worked on for a decade. The shape is still not there. It might be good enough for someone else, but it's not enough for me.

That's the dilemma. How do I get it to a place where it's ready for me to let it go? Perhaps it would be easier if I did have an agent or an editor. Perhaps then I would accept that person's judgment and say, "They say it's done, so it must be done." But I'm not sure if even that will soothe my perfectionistic heart. There is so much space between the idea that's in the mind and the black and white squiggles on the page. A vast distance, that.

What's a writer to do? For today, I will continue to work. And when it feels right inside of me, I'll start sending it off to agents. I might have to ask for help letting go. We'll do some ritual. We'll chant or do an incantation. Then we'll burn a symbolic copy of the manuscript and toast it with decaf lattes.

How do you let a manuscript go -- other than by abandoning it? This is an area where I really need to grow!