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!

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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

The Path to Publication, part 6: What is Creative Non-fiction?

imageWriting is like building a spider’s web. Create a point of connection, attach it to another, and another, until a whole network — a piece of art; a story — has been built.

Each point of learning, each experience, each conversation, each sentence I write is slowly building a story, the overall design of which, although I am the one writing it, is as yet unclear.

Although this post isn’t specifically about publication, it is very much a part of my journey of learning; more points of connection in this web that is my story.

It’s now a week since I returned from the writing conference — and what a week it was! I somehow beat my own writing record (not something I was intending to do and won’t be in a hurry to try again) and researched and submitted three articles in less than 24 hours. By the time I hit send on that feature story at 5pm on Thursday, I was as tired as when I hiked up and back down Vermont’s highest mountain (another feat I’m not in any rush to repeat).

Today, it felt justifiable to take a day off from the freelancing frenzy to sit in the sun and do a little blogging. And to revisit these pages of notes from the conference. So let’s talk about the overall Creative Nonfiction, the fastest growing genre — and my genre — for a moment.

What is Creative Nonfiction?

Well, I’m glad you asked! Lee Gutkind, founder of the Creative Nonfiction magazine had some gems to share on this topic. Here is a mixture of his points (direct quotes are his) and my analysis:

Creative Nonfiction:

Knowledge through Narrative: “Telling stories that matter to the world.”

Stories with Substance: It is a balance of personal experience and a sharing of information (the emphasis being on the substance/information). You share your story in order to tell a larger story.

Like fiction, it must have characters, scenes, plot, climax, resolution. But above all, it must relay information — teach something (NOT preach something).

Why CNF?

“The brain is wired for story.” Humans naturally create stories about everything in our world.

It teaches us empathy through personal connection and resonance. When a story appeals to our feelings we will remember the information. When a writer shares their “obsessions” and the particular world they are immersed in — be that a medical situation, a home-building project, acts of activism, etc. — they will always find an unique twist on the subject even if it has been covered before, because it is through the author’s unique eyes/experience that it is now being seen.

And Memoir?

The private story + the public one with reflection on what it all means, i.e. WHY I am telling you my story.

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

The Path to Publication, part 5: Writing from “home”

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(Number 2 of 3 posts on the Creative Nonfiction conference in Pittsburgh, PA, May 23-25, 2014)

I’m pretty sure I’m not alone in needing time to recoup and process after downloading a bunch of information. After a conference, for example, I need time to transition back to regular life, as well as time to assimilate all that I’ve heard and learned. For me, this process of assimilating usually includes writing. I write in my journal and/or blog post. As was Anais Nin’s reason for writing, I write in order to “taste life twice,” and for me, the second time is when I truly savor all the juices and unique flavors.

I took copious notes on day two of the Creative Nonfiction conference, but I have yet to re-read and properly digest them (and I will share some things in an upcoming post). So, this post is my attempt at crystallizing how I feel, not what I learned.

How do I feel? One word: Validated.

I’ve made some decisions over the past couple of months that are both scary and freakin’ exciting. And as I have mentioned in previous posts, as soon as I made these decisions, the Universe opened up and seemed to say, “OK!” Learning about this conference and then actually being able to attend it were major components of this opening. New stones were laid down on my path towards this new life to which I appear to be headed. Then what I heard at the conference seemed to further stabilize the path.

As I listened, and spoke personally, to the various editors and author presenters over Friday and Saturday, these were my points of validation:

1.  Creative Nonfiction, and specifically Memoir, is a genre that is “hot” and growing all the time. While at one time personal essays/narratives were practically unknown, and memoir was hidden in works of fiction, the personal narrative is now everywhere. Writers in every field are “teaching”  — informing — through story.

2. The new wave of memoir — a genre that took off in the mid-90s — now has this added dimension: Research. Memoirs and personal stories are not just about telling a good story anymore, they need to have substance. They need to be about something. As I just said, they now teach and inform on a subject.

When I began writing, I had no name for the style I was producing. But I was just writing the only thing I knew: my experience.I was writing where I most felt at home — comfortable and most myself. Authentic.

Journaling didn’t seem like “real” writing at that time, but I have since come to recognize that day to day observations of life and feelings are the bedrock to understanding the world around me. How I feel about a subject, whether it is political, social, or intensely personal, has to be worked out in the journal first so I can then write to, and resonate with, a larger audience.

Now the style in which I write has a name and an audience. I write local interest and history stories for my town paper, writing-for-well-being posts for the Transformative Language Arts Network, and my own memoir pieces, all of which need my personal insight, feelings, and (human) experience in order for others to relate,  to learn, and to be informed by them — rather than them just being narcissistic pieces of “feel good” for me. What truly makes me feel good is when I hear that my writing has inspired someone else. Then I know it has fully served its purpose: helped me — as the act of putting words to experience and emotion does — and helped others.

My memoir is the story of a girl who lost her voice/self as a result of religious indoctrination and leaving her home country, and the woman who found it again. It’s a pretty good story in itself, but I had recently decided to incorporate my research into a feminine-centered spirituality and women’s psychological development. This decision has been validated. A new genre of which I knew nothing other than through reading Sue Monk Kidd’s “Dance of the Dissident Daughter” and Candace Pert’s “Molecules of Emotion,” is apparently ready and waiting for the book I am writing.

To read snippets of my memoir, “Sing from the Womb: Leaving Fundamentalism in Search of Voice,” click here.

The Path to Publication, part 4: Putting it out there

image(Number 1 of 3 posts in response to attending the Creative Nonfiction writing conference in Pittsburgh, PA, May 23-25, 2014)

Well, here I am in a hotel room in Pittsburgh trying to process all the information I received today at the Creative Nonfiction Conference. After a 9-hour drive yesterday and 5 hours of informational input today, my brain was ready for a nap!

Questions arose, but being the introvert I am, I needed time to think through it all. During a break two editors/presenters were standing right next to me and I couldn’t even think of what it was I needed to know. Duh.

But, after some processing time (and some scrummy Indian curry), I can share my main take-aways from today (some of which is surmised and not necessarily exactly what was said), and again, I will only discuss traditional publishing (but I will say that the info I heard today has confirmed my intuition that I should go the traditional route):

1. Submit to literary journals and magazines (print and online) to:
a) practice your craft
b) gain readership and develop a writing resume
c) develop relationships with editors (especially those of small presses who will, in general, work closely with you and offer encouragement, guidance, and “membership” in a community of writers.

Note: Essays/short stories can be published first and still possibly be included in a full-length work at a later date. Inclusion in an anthology is also an option.

2. “Creative Nonfiction is where it’s at!” — Lee Gutkind. BUT the subject of the nonfiction is most important.
What is it ABOUT? It can’t be just about you. No matter the brilliance of the writing, if the subject isn’t going to appeal/resonate with an audience (or editor/agent first), it will not get published.

3. Having an agent or not depends on your goals
It is imperative to have an agent if trying for a big press (and always have them negotiate the finances), not necessary if choosing a small/independent press. (But maoke sure you interview the editor to determine that the relationship and amount of promotion they will do will work for you.)

5. Develop your platform and brand through:
a) your own blog or submitting to other blogging sites (Huffpost, etc.)
b) Twitter — tweet other (good) writers’ work, there is a reciprocity that occurs online
c) online writing communities, and other outlets such as Goodreads, Buzzfeed, Medium, etc.
Editors notice this visibility.

But — and I’m pretty sure I mentioned this before — above all: YOUR PASSION IS YOUR BRAND AND PLATFORM!

The Path to Publication, part 3: Pitching for a date

As I mentioned in the first installment of this series, the whole pitch-query-agent-proposal-publisher thing has filled me with fear and dread for a long time. It took finally reaching out to some friends and acquaintances in the know and attending a very helpful (and focused) workshop to make it feel almost do-able.

And as promised, I am sharing here some of the advice I received (some of which will conflict). Please note, that this information is a summary and cannot reflect every helpful tidbit. In other words, get thee to a workshop for the most thorough insight on how to start the publication process. (As an aside, one author highly recommended going the self-publication route. At this point, I do not feel this is the right way for me, so I will focus here only on traditional publication.)

On agents and publishers, the first step:

    1. Don’t contact publishers directly.
    2. If you are close to finishing the book, do that.  Then start looking for an agent.
    3. If you want to sell on proposal, put together a brief proposal (think movie trailer) for an agent.
    4. Contacting a few publishers while researching agents is an option.
    5. Possibly request a casual conversation — no query yet since the books aren’t done — with a local publisher for insight on “final” draft.
    6. You do not need to have the book finished to begin the process. But prepare two “perfect” (your strongest) chapters ready to use as sample material.

On Pitches (a summary of information shared by David Corey at the League of Vermont Writers conference, April 26, 2014):

  1. Pitch is like the pick-up line to get you the date (the query letter is the first date)
  2. Pitch is a very short story (100-150 words)
  3. Use 3rd person, present tense
  4. Specific and concrete: talk action and character, not theme or intangibles (i.e. “the meaning of life”)
  5. Use nouns and verbs, not adjectives and adverbs
  6. Use your own voice and make sure it reflects the tone of the book
  7. Paint a picture: show, don’t tell
  8. Make the reader care… in ONE SENTENCE!

On Query Letters (a summary of information shared by Joni Cole at the League of Vermont Writers conference, April 26, 2014):

  1. Use your own voice (don’t be all formal and “professional”)
  2. Make it memorable (“give it a heartbeat.”)
  3. Be specific: give “nugget” of the story without going into plot: a) The “grounding spot”: what started the story, why is there a story? b) What does character want to do? c) What’s in the way?
  4. Include genre and word count
  5. Personalized opening to agent (make you sure this is not a complete “cold call” so you have something to reference to make it personal)
  6. Show you did your homework (know the market: help them sell the book): a) who’s your competition? b) why is your book different? c) what’s your niche market?
  7. Platform: Who are you? a) credentials b) networks and mailing lists c) blogs, followers, etc.
  8. But above all: “YOUR PASSION IS YOUR PLATFORM!”

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