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) Carina Silfverduk 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.

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


"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 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, 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 Writers have

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. 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, 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, let me know what you think.

Sunday, January 03, 2016


"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


"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!

Wednesday, June 03, 2015


“Every exceptional writer holds a Master of Arts in Daydreaming.” ― Richelle E. Goodrich

Daydreaming gets a bad rap. In our culture, if your mind wanders, you are labeled lazy and unproductive, two of the worst things you can be called.

In her Tedx Talk Rosanne Bane, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Solve Writer's Resistance, explains the importance of daydreaming.

Bane confirms that writers and other creative types need to daydream. Daydreaming is a different mind process from focusing on tasks. Daydreaming allows parts of the brain to connect that don't normally talk to each other during a task-oriented focus.

Bane suggests allowing yourself to daydream while you're standing in line at a store or other times when you might normally stare at your smartphone. I'd add meditation and writing practice to the mix.

In meditation, while sitting quietly attempting to focus on your breath, the mind is bound to wander because that's what minds do. They generate thoughts. Meditation is inherently creative. Ideas pop into the mind and solutions arise that can't be force by trying to focus on the problem.

Writing practice produces similar results. If you keep the hand moving and write down whatever thoughts arise, that too feels like daydreaming except the hand is recording it as it flows. Many conclusions come during writing practice.

Do you allow yourself to daydream? As writers, we owe ourselves what some might call this "guilty pleasure." If someone says you're dawdling, direct him to Rosanne Bane's Tedx Talk. Explain how deep daydreaming leads to realizations. Daydreaming is part of the writer's job!

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Embrace the Suck

Yesterday at the Capital City Half Marathon, my pace coach Lynne brought signs for those of us who were cheering. Her sign read, "Embrace the suck." We stood at the twelfth mile of this thirteen point one mile race greeting the runners and walkers who had just climbed a hill. "One more mile!" we shouted. Their sweat-stained faces were filled with exhaustion. When they read Lynne's sign, most laughed. When they saw the twelve mile marker behind us, all of their faces lit up. They were so close to finishing.

I sometimes feel this exhaustion when I'm writing. I've revised and revised and received positive feedback, but there's still so far to go. Some days writing is difficult. Unlike the runners, I don't know how far I am from the finish, but I know it's out there. There's nothing to do, but face the difficulties and push onward.

At a recent writing retreat some friends and I were discussing how many hours we spend trying to make writing less difficult. We concluded that perhaps ninety-five percent of the time we're supposed to feel lost and worried that we don't know what we're doing. Maybe we've been mistaken trying to make it easier. Maybe expecting it to be hard might make it easier to embrace it when it is.

I don't have an answer to this question. Writing isn't always tough. Often it brings such joy I feel like the luckiest person alive. But on the more frustrating days I worry I've chosen a path of torture. That's when there's nothing left to do but embrace the suck and run up that hill toward the finish.

Friday, April 03, 2015

Learning to Sparkle

"Success rests in having the courage and endurance and, above all, the will to become the person you are, however peculiar that may be." - George Sheehan

I recently discovered sparkle running skirts. Today as the dog and I ran through our neighborhood I wore a multi-colored skirt with attached shorts and a matching tech shirt. I felt like a middle-aged woman parading as a little girl, but I'm practicing being the person I am. I need to practice this with writing as well.

Deep into the revision process of Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, my memoir about running, I realized I'd need to show more of myself than I'm comfortable with. The book is subtitled, "The Memoirs of an Emotionally Unstable, Middle-aged Marathoner." The current draft has plenty of middle-age stuff and the beginning shows my mental health challenges, but a beta reader confirmed my fear that I'd lost the mental health thread halfway through. It was there in the first draft. I found it embarrassing and took it out. Now I need the courage to put some of it back.

The "emotionally unstable" part makes the book special. The mental health angle, I hope, will catch the eye of an agent and editor and differentiate my book from the other health and fitness memoirs on the bookstore shelves. For the book to do this, I'll need to show how peculiar I am and reveal some secrets I've kept hidden. It's terrifying and necessary. I'm afraid people will turn away. But I owe it to the book and to myself. And I owe it to the reader. The subtitle makes a promise. And nothing pisses off a reader more than a promise unfulfilled.

How do you keep your promises to your readers even when it's terrifying? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

A Contact Sport

"Writing is like a contact sport, like football. You can get hurt, but you enjoy it." - Irwin Shaw

I'm incredibly fortunate. In MFA school where critiques can be brutal, professors Aimee Liu, Diana Gould, and Victoria Nelson were gentle in their criticism of my graduate school work. Their words were sometimes difficult to hear, but they weren't mean or bitter and I knew they wanted nothing but the best for me.

Recently a former MFA advisor from the college I attended, thankfully he never advised me, wrote an essay criticizing his students after he had resigned. In reading his essay, I'm not sure why anyone wanted to study with him anyway. He had little respect for his students except for a handful he referred to as the "real deal." If I'd been assigned to him I would have asked for a different advisor as others did. And no, I'm not going to dignify him by linking his article or giving his name. If you must, sniff the interwebs for a recent essay by a jaded former MFA professor.

So be careful choosing who reads your work. Back in 2002, a close friend who had just begun to write made the mistake of giving her work to a former English teacher she met at yoga. There's nothing inherently wrong with former English teachers or yoga, but my friend realized too late that this woman was angry and blocked. There's little more effective than a blocked writer armed with the rules of grammar to kill a fledgling writer's mojo. The teacher's comments were petty and stung enough that my friend has written hardly a word since. Stories like this are endless. Some might say my friend wasn't meant to write if she couldn't withstand the criticism. I disagree. I think she subjected herself to criticism too early and trusted her work to the wrong kind of person before she'd built some resilience.

For my previous books, I hired two different editors after researching and getting references. I found their feedback genuine and helpful even though it sometimes hurt. Through the years, I've also carefully gathered a supportive net of what the youngsters like to call "beta readers." I've met these writers through classes, groups, and happy coincidences. For the manuscript of Twenty-Six Point Freaking Two, I chose both runners and non-runners. But all were writers in some stage of an active writing process. None of them were blocked and none of them struck me as angry, bitter people. I respect each of them and will gladly read each of their work in return. Much of the feedback I've received is positive and the recommended changes honest and respectful. This is the kind of criticism I can hear.

How do you find critique partners for your work? How have you built a spine to help you hear criticism? I'd love to hear about it.

Tuesday, February 03, 2015

Ten Minutes at a Time

"Your toughness is made up of equal parts persistence and experience. You don't so much outrun your opponents as outlast and outsmart them, and the toughest opponent of all is the one inside your head." - Joe Henderson

When faced with a task, if I spend too much time in my head, I'll convince myself I can't do it and won't even try. In the mid-1980s when I read Natalie Goldberg's best-selling book Writing Down the Bones, I learned to use a timer to combat this problem. She set one for ten minutes, said "Go!" and wrote without stopping. This practice still works three decades later. Whether it's keeping my hand moving in writing practice, editing a manuscript, or tackling a cluttered shelf in my office, the timer produces results.

First, I choose a task. It must be specific. Once the task is defined, I set the timer and Go! It might be reading part of a manuscript until the ten minute timer goes off. If ideas for changes come, which they often do, I'll start the timer again and begin revising. Sometimes it means reading page edits someone has given me. It's daunting to see what another person thinks of my work. So I set the timer and read until it goes off. I don't give myself time to think, just read. Once I've gotten started it's easier to make notes as I go. The key is to get into motion and stay out of the negative place in my head. With the finite period set by the timer, I can do nearly anything.

I keep kitchen timers all over the house, one in every room, to help me with all manner of tasks. It creates a pressure cooker effect that expands time and helps me focus on the task instead of worrying about how many minutes I have to go.

Other programs use this technique. Pomodoro has an app. HIIT exercise (short for "high intensity interval training") is all the rage. For me, it began with Natalie's simple suggestion of ten minute intervals. I can do anything for ten minutes. The timer is the "gym boss" at my desk turning difficult tasks into manageable ten-minute interval workouts.

Do you use a timer or some other similar technique? I'd love to hear about it.

Sunday, January 04, 2015

The Best Remedy

"Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness." - James Thurber

I have a vivid imagination. Unfortunately it lists toward the negative. If my mind drifts too far into the future, it projects tons of excruciating work followed by showers of rejection letters not to mention the death of all my family members, friends, and the dog. Some people can project a future filled with success. My mind won't play that game.

The past is no better. There I relive regret for work I've failed to complete, anger at imagined slights, and pain over the actual deaths of family members, friends, and our former dogs. Days gone by offer no solace.

Meditation helps me stay in the moment. Each breath brings relief from the relentless barrage of thoughts pushing to and fro. And after sitting there is nothing to do, but open the notebook and get to work. Work is the best remedy.

Only the present is safe. In the actual work I find peace. I relax into writing, taking tiny steps one after another. There my mind hums.

Wednesday, December 03, 2014

Quantifiable Goals

“If you don't know where you are going, you'll end up someplace else.” ― Yogi Berra

National Novel Writing Month 2014 has come and gone and I'm happy. The ginormous manuscript about running my first marathon which was 114,400 words on October 31, 2014 now stands at 83,228 words approximately the length of many published memoirs. The secret? A quantifiable goal.

You've heard me talk about National Novel Writing Month again and again. Why does it work for me? There are many reasons, but this month it was the ability to turn something that seemed like an overwhelming challenge into bite size pieces I could work on every day.

I made two complete passes through the document. During the first half of the month and the first read-through in November I found words, sentences, paragraphs, and whole scenes that didn't belong. I removed approximately 1667 words per day. During the second half of the month and the second pass I gave myself credit for the amount of time I spent clarifying unclear passages, remedying inconsistencies, and turning the thing from a bunch of scenes into a book. I was ruthless. At the end of the month I had the equivalent of the golden 50,000 words needed to "win" NaNoWriMo in my own rebel way. Having a tangible method of tracking my progress gave me the motivation to get the work done.

The book still needs more polishing. It's a long way from being ready to send to an agent, but I nearly have a draft for Ed, my husband and first reader, to review.

Do you create quantifiable goals? How? I'd love to hear your methods.

Saturday, November 01, 2014

It's Still Too Long

"All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences." - Somerset Maugham

Shortly before Ed and I moved to New Mexico, a friend gave me a going away present. It was a tiny dictionary. In the front she wrote, "So you'll never be at a loss for words."

Right now I have the opposite problem. After I completed another pass through the ginormous manuscript about running my first marathon, the word count stands at 114,400. This is down from 190,000 words, but still.

Last night when I couldn't sleep I pulled up memoir after memoir on and looked at the page count. Multiplying by the approximately 250 words per page confirmed my fears. The word count of book after book totaled something close to 80,000 words, 34,000 fewer than my current manuscript.

I have options. I could turn the story into two books. I could ignore editorial wisdom and let the book stand at nearly one and a half times the conventional word count of most memoirs. I could pay someone else to figure out what to do. I could put it in a drawer and start something new. Or I could do the thing I most dread: cut more words.

You know what I'll choose. Wish me luck! And if you have any tips for whacking still more of my precious prose from this document, please send them my way.