A Path to Publication, part 11: Yeah, what IS your book about?

For the past week I have been frantically editing my manuscript, molding it word by sentence by paragraph into a shape that looks remotely like something the agent who requested it will like. Of course, that is an impossible task, because to what she will ultimately say yes or no, is as beyond my control as the weather. So, I just have to be happy with it. Ha.

One of the projects I set myself before I began editing, however, was to run my “story” through some tests: asking it questions and analyzing the answers, making sure we are on the same page.

The following questions to ask your story are from a presentation by author Jo Knowles at the most recent conference of the League of Vermont Writers.

1. What is the book about?

2. Beneath that, what is it really about?

3. What does your character want?

4. Beneath that, what does he/she want?

5. What is your character afraid of?

6. Beneath that, what is he/she really afraid of?

7. What’s your W.O.W? (with credit to author Holly Black)

Want: What does your character want?

Obstacle: What do they have to overcome to get it?

Win: How do they achieve their goal and change in the process?

And this question, which seems so obvious but stumped me, came from an agent during my pitch session:

8. What’s the take-away?

These questions came from agent Katherine Sands during her presentation:

9. Why would *you* buy your book?

10. What makes it intriguing? What’s the juicy premise?

So, put your story, your article, your essay, your memoir to the test. There are no wrong answers, just — hopefully — some clarity and focus.

To read snippets of my memoir, click here. I will be adding more as this journey progresses.

A Path to Publication, pt 10: Kicking open the creaking door

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

At this past Saturday’s conference of the League of Vermont Writers, keynoter David Dobbs encouraged us to kick open every door that creaks. This metaphor has been a repeating one in my life lately and I have been knocking on several.

What I didn’t expect was for some of these doors to not only creak, but, in one case,  swing wide open.

On the Friday before this conference I had a meeting at my favorite coffee shop with the editor of the paper for which I am a freelance columnist. I walked into the cafe with one column in full swing and one due to come off a summer sabbatical, and walked out with two brand new columns to add to my weekly roster which I hadn’t expected. My planning calendar just got busy.

Where would this leave my book, I wondered? I’m not great at multi-tasking (despite my claims to the contrary and the forced necessity as a mother at being so) and writing fourteen columns a month, plus the occasional cover story, while revising a book seems a scheduling nightmare. (And then there’s the up-my-alley, possible door-opening part-time job I applied for… but that’s another question mark for another day.)

Then came the conference where I pitched my book to three agents. At this point I will offer some advice. If you ever attend a “pitch fest,” one of these occasions where you are given the opportunity to pitch to your book in person to an agent, be prepared to:

1. Know your pitch inside out and upside down.

2. Throw the pitch out the window and be able to conversationally tell said agent about said idea without rambling or sounding staid.

I was prepared for only one of these scenarios (#1) and consequently didn’t come across as convincingly or elegantly as I had hoped when I was suddenly faced with the “Let’s just chat” scenario. However, I received good news and was asked by two of the three to send some follow-up material.

So, here I am on Monday morning facing one wide open door (with three deadlines right on the other side of it) and one slightly open one which for years has been nailed shut, and which I could put off for lack of time or–as is more probable–out of fear.

But that would be foolish. I don’t know what this creaking door will reveal, it could slam shut again, but I won’t know until I push at it a little further. I will push forward and get my follow-up materials ready to send off, even though the thought of doing so makes me feel slightly ill (you know that feeling of nakedness after you’ve sent off the resume/thesis/design/etc., that knowing you may have just set yourself up for rejection? That.)

Better to have knocked and found the wrong door, than never to have knocked at all.

(Next up: Some great questions to ask yourself when writing. What IS this book about?!)

A Path to Publication: part 9: When life gives you lemons and you have no sugar

Ah, the writing life. You hear it all the time: it’s damn hard. There are cartoons and quotes all over the place about problems with which writers are well acquainted: procrastination, self-doubt, imposter syndrome, the high of inspiration turning to the agony of reality, too little time, too much wine, doubting friends, know-it-all strangers, writer’s block, no money, the internet…

Last week my “problem” was procrastination — fear of something or other. But this week I was ready to go! Something had shifted mentally (or emotionally) and I was excited to start the next step. I turned on my computer and…

HARD DISK FAILING! BACK UP NOW! (There might even have been sirens going off. Might as well have.)

If you choose not to back up hard disk, you may LOSE EVERYTHING between now and your next start up!

So, to cut short a long, boring story (the main character of which is my knight in shining… er, whatever IT guys wear… a shining polo shirt?: my dear friend who happens to be Mr. Tech Himself) I am without a computer, and to cut and paste large swaths of text on a tablet in some inferior word-processing system, seemed like an invitation for large clumps of my hair to jump right out of my scalp because I’d be pulling them out anyway.

The first day the patient (the laptop) was on doctor (knight)-ordered best-rest it turned out fine. I had a pitch to prepare and never needing an excuse to write at the coffee shop, off I went with my always loyal, and never-warning! warning!-self-destructive notebook and pen to summon the gods of hookery (a.k.a. the art of creating a concise and catchy “elevator pitch” with which to hook an unsuspecting agent or editor.) (More on this later. I got some great tips from an Ad-Man, writerly friend of mine. He was in the business of hooking people into buying stuff they didn’t want a full 20 years after Don Draper was liquoring up his clients, so I don’t feel slimy taking his advice.)

However, day two came of not being able to do what I was now chomping at the bit to do (exactly because I couldn’t do it), and I had to face the fact that I was going to have to take a break (a break from doing nothing to do some more nothing). Can you say frustration? I can.

I don’t know what this all means. Maybe I’m meant to read some more from the pile of memoirs sitting on the table. Maybe I’m supposed to let the ideas percolate some more. Maybe I should just go shopping. All I know is I can’t move forward, not in a way I understand at this point, anyway. I just have to trust this book will “get born” when it’s good and ready.

Sometimes you just gotta stop. Sometimes there will be no lemonade unless you like it reeeeaaaal sour. Creativity cannot be forced. Book edits, on the other hand, can, and often are, unless your IT Knight tells you the quest must wait for another day while a new hard drive is on order.

Meanwhile, I have been working on my platform. So — shameless request coming up — if you feel so inclined, I have a goal on my Facebook page to get to 500 ‘likes’ by the time I pitch to two agents next weekend at a “Meet the Agents” event and writing conference. You can find me here: facebook.com/wisdomwithinink or just click ‘like’ over there to the right somewhere —> (or scroll down if you’re on your phone). Thank you!

A Path to Publication, part 8: When the Censors come a-knocking

image

You can invite them in for a moment, but then shoo them out saying: Thank You. Don’t let the door hit ya on the way out.

Today is not a good day as far as my book goes. Last week I finished one step of the editing process (re-reading and making notes) and could not seem to motivate myself to start the next step. I couldn’t even see straight enough to know what the next step actually was. I feel I’ve lost many hours of valuable work time that I can’t get back due to this crisis (as well as being a fabulous procrastinator, I’ve also excellent at blowing thing waaaaay out of proportion).

So, here I am on a Saturday morning of a holiday weekend in full-blown panic mode. It’s gorgeous outside, I have nothing on my schedule, there’s the farmer’s market I could be walking to and around, there’s a library bookstore a few towns over, there’s the dog to be walked. But here I am yelling at myself (silently but quite obnoxiously and bullyingly) that I SHOULD be working!

And that’s not all. You should hear the things my inner Censor is saying to me.

It’s too hard!
It’s a dumb idea!
No one will ever want to publish it!
You won’t get it done before your break (from my weekly columns) is up, then you’ll be screwed!
You’ll never get that pitch ready and memorized before July 19th (that’s when I am pitching to two agents at a “Meet the Agents” event.)
What are you? Crazy?! There’s no way they’ll like it!
You’ll be so terrible at pitching – they’ll reject you in the first 30 seconds.
Just forget the whole effin’ thing!
Who the hell are YOU?!

Nice, eh?

Well, Mr./Miss/Ms. Censor, I have a message for you:

Shut the F**K up! You’ve had your say and I politely listened, but now it is time for you to go back into your dark, slimy hole of negativity and fear and leave me alone!

It is now time — after I have walked the dog to the river, grabbed some locally-produced lunch at the farmer’s market, and purchased a stack of .25 books — to sit down and make a plan for the next steps of this process. I will work through them. And I will believe that, DESPITE my terror, my doubts, my lack of motivation, my supposed foolishness and arrogance that makes me think that I should/could put a book out into the world, that I CAN do this and that I have EVERY RIGHT to do so.

Yup, this isn’t so comfortable, living with a bully in your head that causes your stomach muscles to contract into tight, hard balls that continuously punch you in the gut from the inside, but I will go on knowing it is just FEAR with a bee in its bonnet. It can knock, maybe even come in for a visit, and just like with those door-to-door missionaries, you can listen politely to their tripe, then ask them to leave knowing you’ve got your own thing going on and that their beliefs have NOTHING TO DO WITH YOU.

Onward…

The Path to Publication, part 7: Brewing questions

What is it ABOUT?

It’s been almost exactly a year since my graduate thesis and creative project was approved by my advisors. It has had time to mellow. Or ferment?

Was I afraid it had fermented so much that it would explode when I took it from its box buried in the closet? What on earth had me so afraid that I would rather do anything — I mean, anything; I even went out and scooped up the dog’s piles of do-do — than sit down and start on this project? You know, the one I am so ready to do? “That’s what I want to do!” I said.

Well, I know, really: FEAR OF FAILURE (perfectionism) and/or SUCCESS (imposter syndrome or “What if that’s all I had in me? What then?”) But that’s a topic for another day… (although I have written a lot about fear before as well as little about the fear of success.)

But finally after a lot of procrastination in the form of house-cleaning, binge Orange is the New Black watching, and justified-as-research memoir reading, and yes, dog-poop-clearing, I finally picked up my manuscript. (And then I wrote this blog post as an additional justifiable procrastination method.)

So far I have only read the memoir section. I have to admit I’m pretty happy with what I read. That is, in Part I. It’s more complete than I remembered and I don’t think it will need a whole lot of editing. Part II, however, is a different story. Literally.

In that section I am telling a very different story than I was in the first part, which is the telling of certain childhood memories. Part II is an existential exploration into the ineffable. It has no structure as it was a recording of what I was experiencing while I was writing my memoir and doing research into the worlds of myth, women’s development and spirituality, and psychology. It is as fragmented as I felt at that time as I was attempting to connect of the dots of ME.

So, in order to gain some focus for my next steps I have challenged myself to answer some questions about my book.

1. What is my story about? What is the question I am asking?

2. In my story, what do I (the author, main character) want/need?

3. What is the obstacle to what I want/need?

4. How do I get over this obstacle?

5. How do I change in the process? What do I learn?

6. What am I teaching others through my story? What information do I hope to relay? What personal learning speaks to the universal? WHY am I telling this story?

I am hoping that as I answer these questions, I will gain insight into the true reason for my story; what it needs to say, not what I think I want it to say.

 

To read snippets of my memoir, “Leaving Fundamentalism in Search of  Voice,” click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Clickage: When it all comes together

I’ve been a tad hard-of-seeing, for probably, oh, let’s see. Ever.

I don’t mean with my physical eyes (although when I finally got glasses for long-distance in college I was amazed to find that objects in my surroundings actually have edges). No, what I am referring to a general lack of focus when it came to What I Do.

That question: So, what do you do? Ack. That one’s been hard to explain ever since I started down this road of teaching others to journal. Hmmm, what? Yeah, I help others start journaling. I facilitate workshops to explain and demonstrate the benefits of introspective writing.

The response is usually one of three: 1. Oh. Hmmm… How ’bout ‘em Yankees (at which point I say, Oh. Hmmm). 2. I tried journaling once. I don’t have time for it. 3. Why would I need to be taught how to journal?

For those who get it, the response is usually, Wow, that’s really cool. And then: Who do you work with (meaning what at-risk population)? Yes, journaling/expressive writing is excellent for many groups of people who are otherwise voiceless, disenfranished, hurting, and/or direction-less. But my path has led me to help those one wouldn’t generally think of as voiceless: anyone who has ever had the urge to put pen to paper and/or is looking for that something deeper which – intutively – they know they have inside.

However, one of my struggles, with this population, and with the journaling-thing, in general, is the multi-facted nature. “Seekers” are, by definition, seeking that ineffable Something which will be different than their neighbor’s, their husband’s, their best friend’s, because they are individuals with different experiences, different complexes, different longings.

And journaling cannot be pigeon-holed. Its benefits and uses are so diverse that if I’d have to choose in which category it belonged, I’d have to check off Wellness, Creativity, Spirituality, Self-Development, Therapy, and even Business Tools.

This has been the cause of my lack of focus. I can facilitate workshops, give presentations, and coach private clients in any of these areas, so coming up with a title for myself — and my branding — was so hard. In general, I’ve gone with “Writing for Well-being,” but that is vague and doesn’t touch on the other aspects. I needed a niche and a way of marketing myself which wouldn’t scare people off with the touchy-feely, woo-woo, spirituality aspects with are inherent in any kind of deeply creative work.

But moreover, I needed to understand my personal mission — where the heart, the root of my passion, lies. I knew that being able to visualize and name what one envisions is how it becomes real and do-able.

I have been saying for a long time that I believe the reason we are here on earth is to work towards our potential. I LOVE watching a student/client have an a-ha! moment which clarifies in their own mind what it is they WANT/NEED to do. The tag-line on this blog is “Reflection + Re(dis)covery = Self-Confidence,” and I have seen workshop members grew in confidence before my eyes.

I was told last week by an interviewer that he reads between the lines of each of my weekly columns and blog posts the message to not be afraid, to be brave, and to do the things you yearn to. That was so good to hear, because, Yes! I want everyone to do that!

At the conference I attended a couple of weeks ago, it was reinforced/clarified that what I do, and what I love to do, is tell stories in order to teach and inspire, and that this is such an important job, because, as one presenter said, “the brain is wired for story.” I started to brainstorm around the idea of “the power of story” as a focus for my work.

I have an eleven-year old daughter in whom I am trying to instill the confidence and umph (the “fuck you,” Mary Karr calls it in her memoir, Cherry) that it was taught (implied) to me that girls shouldn’t have. I want to empower my daughter. I want to empower every little girl (and boy) who lives inside a frightened adult today. And I know writing/creativity – story – has the power to do this.

Having a voice is having a sense of self. Voicing our stories is what gives us validation and clarity. And connection. We hear our story, the one unique to us, on the page, and then when we are given a chance to share it, and someone exhales and says, “me too!” we learn we are not as alone (or weird, or awful, or wrong…) as we thought we were.

Today, all these thoughts, ideas, and knowings clicked together — I experienced that great gut feeling of what I call Clickage. And so, I can now name What I Do is:

Empower others through the power of story. I help give Voice through Writing.

Yup, I can see clearly now.

 

W.O.R.D.S.: Hell (or Unpeeling the Onion of your Psyche)

The W.O.R.D.S. Project (Words Open Resonating Depths of the Sacred): An alphabetical search for questions.*

Hell? There is no fire, no devil, no death that holds me in its hot grasp of fear,
Even heaven holds no charm to trick me when it is so clear, that, yes,
Life can be hell if it is fueled by fears of shoulds and musts, but this
Life is my heaven, a pearl ground by the rough sands of creativity and trust.

 

You know what is my own personal hell, my own personal devil? Me.

Me, with the rules I learned as a child; rules that aren’t real, that are meaningless, but yet still hold sway over my unconscious like a tightly corseted and hair-bunned school marm with a ruler slapping in her palm.

And most of these rules weren’t even specifically given, they were implied, and many, in my still squooshy and muddy child-brain, were misunderstood. But the connections I made, incorrectly fused as they may have been, were built into, and sheetrocked over in, the foundation of my being.

And so now, as an adult who is beginning to understand that not all my actions, thoughts, feelings make sense, and that sometimes I respond/react in a certain way despite any logical explanation, I am attempting to peer deeper into the depths of my unconscious for reasons. I have to be curious. Ask questions. “Why did I just feel a stab of pain when she said that?” “What was that discomfort I felt talking to him?” “Why did I just get SO angry about that tiny thing?” “Why am I feeling so sad right now?”

Or not even questions, just noticing. Without judgment. “Huh, I felt that in my chest.” ” Interesting, I just got really upset about that…”

Dismantling the walls and floors, or — to switch metaphors — unpeeling the onion of our psyche is not easy nor particularly fun. It takes time and courage and a lot of trust — trust that if you are willing to look into “hell” you will eventually find the “heaven” of a life less hindered by old messages and rules and fears which no longer apply.

And creativity is vital. To write, draw, paint, dance, sing, cook… anything that brings you deeper than Monkey Mind, which tends to gibber-gabber a bunch of bull-hickey most of the time. It’s all old tapes stuck on a loop. Turn it off. Write a new story.

——
*This project is an off-shoot of the work I did for my graduate degree where I used Words to help heal from my negative indoctrination from “The Word.” Words are powerful agents for transformation! (Thesis/Final Project: Calling Little Gypsy Home: Reclaiming Voice Through Expressive Writing and the Sacred Feminine; Memoir: Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search in Voice.)