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?!)

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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.