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 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.

 

 

 

 

 

A Path to Publication, part 1: It isn’t about publication

everestYou know what scares me?

Publishing my book.

No, let me rephrase that. You know what DID scare me?

Yup, until a week ago, the idea of going through the process of getting my book published gave me chills. It seemed a Mount Everest of Unknowns, with only the guarantee of the frost-bite of Rejection Letters.

But, I now know the fear was because I wasn’t ready. I am now.

I am ready to take this journey that I know will challenge my stamina and self-confidence. I don’t know what lies ahead, what crevices, cliffs, and peaks I will face, or even how long it will take. This is probably going to be a loooong, slooooow hike.

And I invite you to come along with me. It is my hope that by sharing the journey, it won’t seem so lonely or so cold. And for those who are also wishing to publish, I hope it might serve as a Sherpa, a guide: learn from my mistakes and find encouragement in my successes.

So, here’s where The Story of My Story is now. I won’t start at the very beginning, that was the day I was born, and who’s got time for all that? I won’t even tell you how I became a writer or how I came to write the particular book I wrote (although finishing it will become the part of this story which I am very much looking forward to reading myself…).

OK, let’s start here:

Once upon a time — oh, about eight, 15, 22 years ago — I thought the apex of my life would be to get published. I thought it would be as a novelist, but then I realized I like writing about my own problems too much to make up problems for non-existent people.

Fast forward a few years. I started blogging and then I got my first by-line in a tiny magazine. Fast forward again to now. I have two weekly columns in my local paper and I see my name on the cover at least once a month. Publication is no longer a big deal.

Now, wait a minute, you say. Having a by-line in a small town’s paper isn’t exactly The Big Time. No, I know. But what it has done is taken the OMG!-ness out of it. I’ve gotten used to knowing my words are being read over coffee and commented on in cyberspace.

What I’m trying to say is, I’m no longer wanting to be published for the sake of being published (I just yesterday heard about someone who is writing soft porn, not because they are called to write it, but because, as they said, “I just want to be published.”).

Oh, don’t get me wrong, when (I believe in positive thinking) I first see my book in a bookstore window I will be doing Pharrell’s “Happy” dance on the inside (or maybe just for fun, I’ll do it for real while telling all the staring passers-by, “That’s my book. See that? I wrote that. That’s me. See?”).

No, I now want to be published because I believe that what I have to say, what I have learned – My Story – is important and can be of help to others. I know — because it already has with some with whom I have shared it — that my story resonates. Therefore, I believe I have an obligation to share it with the world.

But wait, I still haven’t said where I am right now along this path to publication. Well, I’ve babbled enough for now. I will start with my latest story of Serendipity in the next post.

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

The W.O.R.D.S. Project: Calling (Or, how do I know my bliss?)

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

Can you hear the calling of your soul?

And are you really listening?

Listen, listen with your heart,

Listen with your breathing

In, and your breathing out.

Notice how your body feels when

Guiding words vibrate within.

“It was his calling to be a doctor.” “Midwifery is my calling.” “I was called to be a writer.”

Our calling. What does this really mean? And who’s calling?

Some would say it is God who is calling us to our destined path. Well, maybe so – if you believe God is happy to let you do whatever it is that sets your soul free and your spirit soaring. Unfortunately, some believe that those things that make a person happy and fulfilled are contrary to God’s will and so they stunt their own potential in pursuit of unclear message of what it is to be acceptable to God.

That’s not my idea of a divine, higher source of wisdom. For me, divinity IS the journey towards, the search for,  as well as that itself which brings us FLOW (when we lose time doing something we love and have a talent for – our gift). It is the quest for, and the experiences of, transcending the monkey-mind of ego; that place where we are challenged, yet loving it (even during the difficult spots).

We know what these experiences are, what activities can bring us to that place, but we don’t always know it. Contradiction? Not really. Deep, deep inside, in that place that resonates when we hear and recognize some innate truth — when we catch our breath, or our eyes suddenly smart with tears — that is the place of true, gnosis: Knowing

But, as humans in a head-mind “body,” we’re not very good at accessing that spot on a regular basis. It’s deep down there in the body. In our cells, not our thinking mind. We have to listen very carefully to connect to that place. And many times we’re doing everything except that which resonates, that which causes us to flow  beyond, below, and above our critical, fearful, rational ego that tells us we SHOULD be doing this, that, and anything else that will make us respectful, scripted members of society – perfectly.

But that place is calling. That place which knows what your Purpose — our Bliss — here on earth is calling out. And if you listen carefully, very carefully — and it might take some practice, a lot of “walking” around down there — you will hear your Higher Wisdom speaking to you, reminding you what you probably knew intuitively as a child: Your Calling.

So, who’s calling? You. Divine You.

I write this as a reminder to myself because my “calling” has become a little hoarse lately. I thought I knew — and I know I’m on the right path — but the exact destination (or journey, because life is a journey, not a destination) seems to have shifted. But that’s how this thing works: Listen, take a step, listen again, take another, sometimes in the opposite direction than you thought. And that is exactly perfect. Whatever step you take it is enough and right for today for tomorrow you can take another.

~~~

*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.)

W.O.R.D.S.: Belief (or What is the definition of love?)

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

Belief in a life lived is all I need, because

Every day is a leap of faith.

Living in unity with the All,

Invites me to believe in Trust.

Envisioning the path on which I walk

Forwards my Wholy Self.

Am I a Believer? Yes. I believe in lots of things.

The smell of freshly cut grass in the summer. My children’s downy-soft earlobes. The full moon rising majestically over the Vermont mountains. The melancholy crooning of the mourning doves. The taste of dark, rich chocolate melting on my tongue.

I also believe in writing with groups of supportive, heart-honest people.

I believe in making decisions based on compassion (including for yourself), not rules. And acting from a place of confidence and happiness and love, not reacting from a place of fear.

I believe in equity, not equality. In cooperation and collaboration, not competition and conquering; power-with, not -over. In giving a hand-back to give a hand-up.

I believe in a Universe that is unfathomable, a mystery. A Universe – within and without – that yearns, and endlessly realigns, for balance and wholeness. A Universe that is a web of All That Is: all connected and all valuable to the Whole.  believe when one part is weakened, so is the All.

I believe this is a great and simple definition of love: “Wishing for the happiness of the Beloved.” (Buddhist). And God is Love. Lotus is Flower. Love is God. Flower is Lotus. Love – wishing for others’ happiness – is the definition of divinity.

Yes, I am a Believer: In the divine in myself that is the divine in you that is the divine in all that is the Divine.

But that doesn’t mean I completely understand or know all the answers… and that’s okay.

Prompt: “I believe…”

~~~

*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.)

Envision your Future and Fear Not

In March 1997 (I was 25), I wrote in my journal:

When I peer into an undated future (maybe 10 years)… I see myself in my own home, married… I never think of myself working [outside the home], no I’m writing… in a sunny room with birds singing outside the window…

In a blog post from January 2009, I wrote this:

Well, here I am twelve years later writing at a big desk in a sunny room… And next to me pinned to my cork board is a little magazine opened to an article with my name printed right below it.

I truly believe in manifesting your dreams, especially in writing. So many things have fallen into place for me because I had visualized and wrote about them first.

I have put in writing many times before my hope of becoming a freelance writer (and I am kind of partial to those paying types of jobs, please) but I am visualizing it here and now for you all to share (bear with me, s’il vous plait). I also have a new dream brewing.

OK, it’s 2014. It is actually sunny in my sunny writing room. My children are at school (because in this dream they are never sick and preventing me from working) and I have a deadline for an essay I’m submitting to Brain, Child (my 5th one for them). This evening I will be walking over to the studio I have created in our converted garage to teach a journal workshop.

Well, it’s 2013 and my deadline isn’t for Brain, Child (that one is still on my to-do list) but I am a freelance writer (and getting paid!) working from home and I am facing three deadlines for my two columns and a cover story. Now, that I could never have imagined!

And I am writing this from my “sunny” office with warm pumpkin orange walls. Tomorrow morning I will commute all the way across my yard to teach in that garage that has indeed been converted (into the Writers’ Room) as per my dream.

Recently I posted to Facebook my gratitude for actually living this life I had envisioned. In response a friend wrote:

That is SO great Joanna because I think most of us don’t have the courage to really follow our dreams. We aren’t risk-takers and so get stuck in lives where we work for someone else and aren’t truly happy. Bravo to you…..if you can give people one piece of advice for following our dreams – what would it be?

Here was my response:

Trust that if it is your authentic path/dream, it will happen. Walk in trust, not fear.

Although I seem to need to remind myself of this everyday, it is important to remember that if we never faced something we fear we would never change, never grow, never move forward.

Fear is a message; it is an invitation to participate in your authentic life.

I have written many times on this blog about facing fear. Here are a list: https://wisdomwithinink.com/?s=trust+fear

PROMPTS:

I am afraid of… but if I wasn’t I would…

In 5 years time, I …

Wise Women Speak: 1.22.13

Above all, don’t fear difficult moments, the best comes from them.

Rita, who passed away at 103

Are you a Wise Woman? Inspired by a recent gathering of Wise Elders where a 75 year-old great-grandmother shared this life wisdom with us younguns: “Remember to Laugh!,” for my 2013 blog project I plan to share the gems of wisdom of older women. Please send me your wisdom (or words you have heard from the older, wiser women in your life).

Tolerating Fear

This is a recycled post from a couple of years ago. With summer in full , hot swing, the kids are home most days of the week leaving me very little chance to write (the beach and my laptop aren’t great friends). I am yearning to write but when I do have a moment I find myself wading through the ever-deeper seas of social media promoting upcoming workshops instead. 

I have chosen this post because of some particular events this week. One: I truly wrote through some fear in my journal – and came out not only unscathed on the other side but feeling much better; and Two, Three and Four: Some amazing things have landed in my lap this week that I wasn’t even looking for after I stopped worrying about, well,  EVERYTHING! Fear is a crazy, life-blocking thing and it’s time to stomp it on the head. I have written many posts about Fear and over the next little while I will re-post them (Recycling is Good!).

Oh, and P.S. Two years later my daughter is a fabulous belly-dancer (I can boast about my own child, right?) and the only one in her class who can balance a sword on her head while standing on one foot! Fear conquered!

“First recognize that you’re afraid and slowly build your tolerance for fear…

… You may still feel it, but you become willing to bear it as you write. You keep your hand moving, you stay there, you move closer and closer to the edge of what scares you.” – Natalie Goldberg, Thunder and Lightning

I have been working on an article for the past couple of months. It’s a biggie for me – the first one for one of the “Glossys” – and I am petrified. First I had to write the query and that scared the bejeezus outta me. But I wrote it and it was accepted. Toe in water. But now I have to swim, and swim damn well. The fear of writing something mediocre and having it rejected has me swearing never to call myself a writer again. I admit I am afraid that I’m not really a writer.

My daughter starts a belly dancing class tonight but she’s scared. What if they don’t like me? What if they laugh at me? It hurts my belly when I hula-hoop – won’t this hurt too? What if I can’t do it right? I try to convince her that everyone has to start somewhere (and sometimes hurt somewhere, like those en pointe ballet dancers who suffer through bloody toes for the love of their craft). I ask her, do you really want to not try this just in case you will have a bad experience? Why are you scared about something you don’t even know about yet?

Um, Mom? Do you hear the words coming out of your mouth? Maybe you need to be having this pep talk with yourself!

Natalie Goldberg was of course referring to writing in the above quote, but isn’t there a message for us all, for our life?  Get close to fear and experience it, feel it. Splash around in it. Like the ocean, its chill eventually becomes tolerable, even enjoyable. Run into a cold sea enough times and you get to know it will get better. Fear turns to “Frust” (faith + trust). And once you have faith there can be no fear.

Recently I experienced some Serendipity that slapped Fear right out the door and allowed Faith back in.

Anxiety and exhaustion over self-promotion, high-achievement, perfectionism, and self-doubt found me standing at the sink blubbering what-ifs over the dirty dishes. The lack of response from one particular cold contact and my insatiable need to save the world ten workshops at a time had triggered the melt-down. I was overwhelmed by all the possibilities and by my own potential to make a difference. What if I was missing opportunities to help people by not following up on every collaboration suggestion? Was I failing at my work by not contacting all the non-profits in town? It was suddenly all too much.

The networking and marketing was taking too much time and producing far too much stress. My name and work was getting known. So, I decided to let it go. To let people come to me.

And they did.

Four days later two lovely ladies walked in to the coffee shop where I was running an informal writing circle. They were from the very non-profit that had unintentionally instigated my fears. And the most amazing thing is that they weren’t there because they had received my email but just because they had seen my brochure somewhere and thought my work would be a good fit for one of their projects.

As I write my article for the “Glossy” I am thoroughly submerging myself in the Fear of it not being good enough. As I slowly let go and just write for the pure joy of writing and spreading my message, the Fear becomes more tolerable and starts to feel a little more like “Frust.” I have to trust that I do have talent and something important to say, and the faith to know that even if the article is rejected it is not a personal failure – rather a lesson for the next time.

Prompt: What are you afraid of? What are you willing to tolerate in order to move to a place of acceptance and growth?

 


When opportunity knocks… and hands you a gift

credit: Joanna Tebbs Young

Yesterday I received a card through the mail. Inside was a magnet that read: “When opportunity knocks don’t be the one who says, ‘Can somebody get that?'”

This gift was from Kay Adams, founder and director of the Center for Journal Therapy, and it represents a bigger gift which she gave me when she called out of the blue two weeks ago. And, ultimately, it turned out to be a far greater gift than I could have imagined.

Gift #1: Honor and Validation

Three days before the workshop was scheduled to begin, Kay called me to ask if I could substitute for her and teach “Writing Inner Wisdom: Spiritual Growth through Journal Writing” at Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge, MA. Due to a family emergency she could not attend and wondered if I could take her place. What an honor! To be asked to teach in place of this brilliant woman, an inspirational and informative teacher, successful author, and compassionate counselor and facilitator was beyond any dream I had for myself. (However, I had dreamed of teaching at Kripalu, but as a possibility many years down the road…).  What validation of my own path!

Gift #2: A visit to Kripalu

I won’t go into the wonders of Kripalu here, that deserves a post all of its own (stay tuned). But suffice it to say: What a place! If the showers were hotter I might just go live there.

Gift #3: Connection

My weekend spent with 12 beautiful women, sitting in a circle, writing, listening, sharing, crying, laughing… connecting, was the gift I did not anticipate, but by far the most precious.  The serendipities and synchronicities that bought the 13 of us together in themselves were amazing (again, you’ll have to wait for that post) and I have no doubt that this weekend was given to me as part of my own journey of healing.

Gift #4: Belief

When Kay first called me, I couldn’t breathe as I choked on the deluge of inner critics screaming, “YOU CAN’T DO THAT! YOU’RE NOT CAPABLE!” But my Authentic Self knew I could. And Intuition knew this was the opportunity I had been (unknowingly) waiting for. I do believe that the passion and underlying self-belief in the work I do and the powerful benefits of this field has opened doors I didn’t know where there. So I answered the knock. Yes, I was afraid! Afraid of so many possible unknowns. But I didn’t say, “Can somebody get that?” And that was the gift I gave to myself.

Thank you, Kay, thank you, All. For a greater gift.

Prompt: It was a gift within a gift when…

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