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.