An exciting year ahead and five lessons from the year past

After a challenging (to say the least) 2015, I’m making changes to my writing life! Between writing and the publishing world, writers face and must learn many things––perseverance, patience, courage, and blind belief that your work doesn’t stink on a fundamental level. I guess you could say I’m taking charge, although that sounds as if I know what I’m doing––ha! I do not. I’m finding a new way forward. In January, I made some very hard decisions. Hard decisions, professionally, that are translating to better conditions, creatively.

Five things I learned over the past year:
1. The people in your life are more important than anything that happens professionally. Or anything else, really. So be nice to them.
2. It’s okay to mope around a while then things don’t go your way, so don’t be an ass to yourself––you’ll just extend the moping.
3. In order to get where you want to be, sometimes you have to take an unexpected path to get there.
4. Risks are unavoidable on any path you take. So get over yourself and take them.
5. Making loads of money writing books doesn’t make you any more or less of a writer than one who makes no money writing books. Writing books makes you a writer.

This year will be full of announcements. Yes, I’m afraid. No, I’m terrified! But if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t be going anywhere. I’m going to keep moving forward. Thank you to all of you who have cheered me on this past year! I’m grateful to each and every one of you.

Thoughts on resilience

desertgrassI’ve been thinking a lot about resilience lately. After this Ask Polly post and an interesting exchange on Twitter between an agent and an aspiring writer. The agent had put up a link to an article of hers about the low odds of signing with an agent (the number of queries vs. spots on the client list) and the writer replied with something about how publishing folk should be doing more nurturing and mentoring of writers so there’s not so much fear in writing. The agent replied simply, saying that anyone who is easily discouraged has no business being a writer, an artist. Basically, if I’m interpreting correctly, the difficulty of publishing thins out the weak.

And I thought about my path, which hasn’t been easy. It’s been much harder than it appeared it would be on the outset. I got an agent fairly easily, but the book-in-my-hand has proven elusive. Four manuscripts. One sale, but the publisher closed. A number of very close calls. A maddening cacophony of crickets from editors. Yet, I’m still writing, still working, still dreaming, and somewhere in there, factors resilience. I’m not sure where the line between resilience and stubborn stupidity lies. I’m not sure there is a line, or if it’s a some mushy gray space that shifts around depending on how insane the writer is.

Sometimes, I think the near misses and fatal errors that have marked my publishing career is the universe trying to tell me to give up. “You’re a talentless hack who will NEVER be published,” whisper the stars. “You’ll never be more than what you are. Your words will never touch anyone.” But then my imagination conjures a scene of me telling the tale of this long, difficult journey I took before being published. Of the many nights I went to bed contemplating my failure. Of the countless times I imagined quitting writing to do something else. Something easier. But no, I kept going, kept writing stories that pushed me, challenged me, made me doubt my ability to execute them properly. I kept going, and I published. I made it to that’s-my-book-on-a-shelf and succeeded at the hardest job I’ve had aside from parenting (which is harder). It’s a great story and one I will never be able to tell if I don’t keep at it. So I guess my resilience comes from a story I yearn to tell. One I cannot tell, until it becomes the truth.

An Island Adventure

For a long time now, I’ve been itching to visit Seguin Island (pronounced Sae-gin), a rocky blip off the coast of Bath, Maine, about 3 miles out to sea. Last week, we finally went. A thirty-minute ferry ride from Fort Baldwin will take you to this tiny island. There’s really nothing to the place. It has a lighthouse on it. It’s a nice lighthouse. We didn’t visit it. We walked the trails, which is a quick thing to do, but when you stand on the southern end of this little island, the only thing you see is the Atlantic and the curve of the Earth. You feel like you’re on the edge of the world.
Seguin1
Seguin hasn’t changed since colonists arrived. And those folks didn’t do much to it for the brief time they were there, so when you walk the rocky shoreline, you walk someplace not messed up by people. An overlooked place. An isolated place. Writing is an isolating endeavor. The longer I live this writers life, the more I seek out the overlooked, lost things in this world. They make me feel things out of the everyday set. They make me just a little bit better at what I do when I sit down to write. I looked at the other people on our tiny ferry and couldn’t help but wonder what brought them there. I know what brought me.
Seguin2

A post I would rather not write.

I don’t want to write this. I’ve put it off for over a month, though, and it’s been hanging over my head like a piano on a rope.

So. My publisher closed it’s doors. I could end the post right there, because that’s the end of it. No book. No book to hold and smell and dance around the house with. I am heartbroken. The road to this contract was a long one and to have it taken away is, well, heartbreaking. There’s no other way of putting it.

What’s next? Well, I’m on submission with a new book. The canceled one is being set aside for now, and that’s fine. I love the new book with its unusual hero, Reilly. I took a risk with him, but he turned out amazing and beautiful and wonderfully imperfect. It’s possibly the best thing I’ve written and I’ve never been so anxious about a manuscript being out there. This book is being considered by editors of the best YA books published in recent years and I’m sitting here in Maine with a space heater and safety pins holding on the zipper of my sweatshirt, typing this while my toddler naps in the next room. It all feels impossible. Like trying to break through a wall. I may scratch at the mortar for the rest of my days and never dislodge a single brick.

Normal? Sorry, wrong number.

Blake commentary

Yeah, so did I, Blake. So. Did. I.

But no, the psychosis simply shifts from: No one is ever going to buy my book. I should quit. Clearly, I’m not a good enough writer. I saw Taco Bell is hiring. I’m probably not good enough for them, either. To: Holy sh*t, my book sold. It’s going to be OUT. THERE. What if no one buys it? What if everybody hates it? Oh no, this means I have to do Twitter. And WORSE, Facebook. I don’t know any NYT bestsellers to get a blurb from. And I’ll have to blog in a timely manner. How do I do marketing? My publisher is going to think I’m not savvy enough for this. I’m NOT savvy enough

It goes on and on. And on. Then again, maybe it’s just me. I am good friends with Anxiety. We go way back. But, as days go by, and it sinks in that my book isn’t coming out for like a year-and-a-half, I’m a little less worried about those things. I DO worry, but I mean, this book’s release  is like a full-term pregnancy AND the months of nursing-through-the-night away, and those periods in my life felt like an eternity. I have time––time to stress and time to enjoy this next stretch in my publishing journey.

Five words…

I was a graphic designer for nine years, and while I was decent at it, no one would ever call me brilliant. I wasn’t on the right path and I knew it, but without knowing where to go, I stayed the course. Then, the newspaper industry took a hit and the paper hubby and I worked at offered “voluntary separation packages” as a prequel to layoffs. We took them. We left our jobs and lifelong home in NJ and move to Maine, for more space, less traffic, and maybe because we needed to do something bold for once. We moved into a lovely log home in a hillside development. It was our first spring up here, and we’d walk up the street to the top of the hill in the evenings, to watch the sun set over the mountains, turning the sky gold and setting the lakes on fire.

One particular evening, the couple living at the top of the hill were having a little barbeque. They stopped us as we walked by, offering a beer and a burger and a warm smile. We accepted.

“Where are you from?” The wife, Renee asked me.

“New Jersey,” I replied, and accepted the skeptical look that everyone who is not from NJ, always gives those of us who are.

She took a swig of beer. “You’re home during the day. Whenever I drive by, your car is always in the driveway.” Then, she said the words that changed my life. She leaned in close and lowered her voice to a reverent whisper. “Are you a writer?”

I’ll never forget that moment. My breathing stopped. Time stopped. There was nothing, nothing I wanted more, than to answer her, “yes.”

As much as I hated to do it, I had to say, no, I was an out-of-work graphic designer who took a buyout from a newspaper, and blah, blah. It tasted like vomit, saying those words.

The next week, I started my first book. It was about vampires and it was truly awful.

I joined RWA, got involved in my local chapter and joined a critique group. A few years later, a couple more books, writers’ conferences and online classes, I signed with a literary agent.

Renee will never know the effect of her words. I’ll never tell her that one whispered question she’s long forgotten, showed me who I needed to be. Maybe the universe sends messages that way––through random comments from random people––and it’s up to us to tune in and then do something about it. Five words did it for me. I’m happy to say that now if someone were ever to ask me if I am a writer, I can say, “yes.”

 

My meat computer is a Mac

The Meat ComputerNot too long ago, I wondered if maybe it was time to give this stupid dream of being a writer and go back to a snug, secure cubicle. I understand cubicles, having spent nine years in one. Rejection letters were coming every day, hot and heavy: “While your writing shows promise, your project isn’t a good fit…”, “Thank you for querying me, but your concept just didn’t grab me…”, etc. Rejection hurts. It just does. Anyone who tells you otherwise isn’t a human being.

It was during this time of self doubt that I ran across this article on the existence of free will. Neuroscientists claim that our brains are essentially “meat computers,” and any decision we make is simply the result of the wiring of our brains. We can’t make choices. We simply execute commands issued by the synapses in our brains. I have to say, the science guys made a compelling argument. Compelling enough to make me really upset.

By this reasoning, every stupid, cowardly and just plain bad decision I’ve ever made was the output of my meat computer. I stayed in that cubicle for nine years, in a state of static self-loathing, until electrical impulses in my brain lit up and said “now, we go.” That’s just depressing. Nine years of knowing I was doing the absolute wrong thing with my life but too afraid to change anything.

I figured, if I gave up and quit writing for publication, my meat computer truly was defective. I’d come so far. I’d written a book I was very proud of, revised it until I couldn’t stand looking at it and really, the rejections weren’t killing me. When it came down to it, I simply wasn’t going to stand for a substandard brain that said it was okay to quit when things got difficult––I’d done this before. It never got me anywhere.

So, I kept going. I recorded my rejections in my querytracker.com account, tweaked my query letter––again––and sent out another five. And one day, when I least expected it, an agent who I thought was miles and miles out of my league, emailed me. She loved my book. She stayed up ALL NIGHT reading it. She couldn’t stop thinking about it and wanted the chance to convince me that she was the best agent for me. Yes, that was in the email. I nearly peed myself.

So maybe there isn’t free will. And maybe there is. it certainly felt like a choice to push on, slog through all the “no’s” to get to the “yes.” Either way, I have new respect for my meat computer. I wouldn’t be here without it.