*Originally written for and posted in the ANWA Quarterly Newsletter*
Being a writer means baring your soul. For some, it’s their entire soul, and for others, it means revealing a tiny piece of a larger puzzle. This can make you feel vulnerable and raw.
Ernest Hemingway said, “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” It feels like that sometimes, doesn’t it? We let ourselves bleed because we have a truth to share and explore. We bleed to better understand ourselves, our experiences, and the world around us. We bleed because we write. Or maybe we write because we bleed.
The simple act of sharing your writing is opening yourself up to judgement, criticism, praise, or to simply be ignored. It can be painful. It can be soul-crushing. But you know what else it is? Worth it.
Opening yourself up to failure and ridicule is a lovely and painful way to become a better writer. Don’t let your fears or insecurities hold you back from doing what you’re meant to do.
I attended a query letter webinar recently, and I decided to submit mine for a live critique. I knew it needed help, but I didn’t know how to move forward. I needed it to be ripped apart so I could put it back together. There’s always that hope that they’ll tell you it’s perfect. But let’s get real; that didn’t happen.
The presenter pointed out the things that didn’t work, and the attendees all chimed in about what they didn’t like. My face burned, my cheeks reddened, and I had a hard time breathing, but I was taking vigorous notes. It was embarrassing. It was a little humiliating, but it was exactly what I needed to take my query letter to the next level. If I didn’t open myself up to this experience and opportunity, I would be running on that hamster wheel, not knowing what to do next.
But the one experience that has forever changed me was the agent/editor live panel at the 2017 ANWA Conference. Weeks before, I decided on a whim to submit my first page to be read aloud and critiqued. Normally, I would never do something like that. In that moment, I decided that if I ever wanted to achieve my writing goals, I had to start putting myself out there. I had to be willing to be hurt and bleed a little.
When the live panel began, I completely forgot that I submitted my first page. I was sitting blissfully in the audience until the lady next to me mentioned that the presenter was nervous she wouldn’t read the pieces correctly. She explained that ten writers submitted their work, and then it hit me. I was one of those writers.
I thought about flagging down the presenter and snatching my paper. I wondered how I could’ve ever let myself be so foolish. What had I been thinking?
It was too late. I hoped they would run out of time before she got to mine. That didn’t happen. As she read my first page, my insides felt like they would spontaneously combust. I wanted to leave the country, change my identity, and never come back.
Then as soon as it began, it was over. The panel members gave me some constructive feedback, and the comments were glowing. So was I. After that class, a member of the panel requested that the writer of that piece come get his card and requested the full manuscript. Cloud nine had never felt so delightful.
I sent my manuscript, and I waited months and months and months (Did I mentioned months?). They recently declined. It did not end in a contract. It didn’t even end in feedback other than the no. But because I put myself out there, it made me stronger, no matter how weak I felt in the beginning and when I received the rejection. The entire experience reminded me that I am a writer, that I have ideas and stories to share. It reminded me that I am capable.
Kurt Vonnegut said, “We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.”
That is the writer’s journey. Don’t be afraid to propel yourself off a writing cliff. How else will you know what you’re made of?
A writer's life is one full of rejection and disappointment. I've never felt it more strongly than I have the last few weeks or so. The writing life is painful. It is good, too, and fulfilling and joyous, but it hurts.
I've been working on one of my novels for three days a week since the beginning of the year. I have many weeks under my belt. Then I think of how far I've gotten. Not far at all. I keep circling back to the first chapter still. All this time and all this work, and what do I have to show for it? A whole lot of nothing.
I'll be honest. I thought I'd be much further in nine weeks than a solid first chapter and mediocre second, third, fourth, and fifth chapters.
My goal this year is to query three agents per month. I've kept up with it, but that also means I'm receiving regular agent rejections. I've had many agent rejections in the past, but there's something about these that feel so painful. Each rejection makes me feel further away from my ultimate goal. Each rejection makes me question the path I've chosen and makes me wonder if I'm good enough.
Remembering My Progress
Sometimes in the face of disappointment, it can be hard to remember progression and achievement. My brain tends to focus on the things I'm not getting done rather than the things I've completed. I need to change that. Although, it's one thing that keeps me productive. I may not be hitting these main goals like I wanted, but that doesn't mean that other cool stuff isn't happening all around me.
I may not have made huge progress getting through page numbers with my revision so far this year, but that doesn't mean I've failed.
I took my first chapter to my critique group twice, two months in a row, after working on it in between. I needed a solid beginning to help me frame the rest of the revision, so it makes sense that I kept circling back to it. It wasn't ready for me to move on to the rest of the story. I may have a lot of work left to do on the novel, but I have a strong first chapter, and there's something beautiful about that.
As for the agents, I used to never even get a response from agents. I may not be getting positive news, but they're actually responding. That shows progress.
I also had an article pitch approved for a book on writing put together by ANWA (the writing association I'm a part of). I'm ecstatic about that. Now I just need to buckle down and write it. No big deal, right?
I'm making progress on my writing, but just in different ways that I originally imagined.
How are your 2018 writing goals coming along?
In order to keep myself accountable this year and to also give you some thoughts on goals you could make, here are my 2018 writing-related New Year's resolutions.
Goal #1 - Find an Agent
It's time to get down to business. I NEED to find an agent this year, and the only way to do that is to put the work in. And I don't mean the same type of "work" I've been doing over the years. I mean consistent, researched work.
With this in mind, I have committed to querying at least three agents per month. Sure, I could do more. I could send queries to every agent out there. But this isn't about finding any agent. This is about finding the right one for me and my work.
Goal #2 - Rework "The Highest Apple"
"The Highest Apple" is the first novel I ever wrote, and it holds a special place in my heart. I had been trying to figure out that story for almost a decade. I tried it as a picture book and a short story. Didn't work. I knew it needed to be a novel, but I was afraid to write something that long.
I've revisited a few times since I wrote it, but this year I'm devoting major time to making it ready to be pitched.
I want to work on this novel at least three times each week.
Goal #3 - Get Five Articles Published
Even though my main focus for this year isn't on building my freelance career too much, I still want to make forward progress. I just got on article accepted for publication this week, so that's great! I have two more slotted for March, but I don't know if I should count those toward this goal because they were accepted for publication last year, but I've just been playing the waiting game.
And those are it! Should keep me busy enough, right?
What are some of your writing goals for 2018?
I know it's been a while since I've written a post. No worries; I'm still alive! I've just have some personal life changes that have been rocking my world. But this time of year is all about looking back and then looking forward. A new year is the perfect time to refocus on what you're supposed to be doing. For me, that's writing.
I finally returned to my monthly writing group last month, and one of the members announced her upcoming book release party. How exciting! Not too long ago, we were in the same boat, trying to figure out if independent or traditional publishing was best.
She decided to independently publish, and it was all due to her 5-year plan. That got me thinking about my own non-existent plan. I'm a planner by nature, but I've never had a writing plan, not one, at least, that has been well thought out.
While I still don't have an exact plan in mind, here are a few things I need to consider and work out in my head:
1. I need to finish revising one of my books.
It's been written since 2014, and I still have not gone through it all. I can't progress at all in getting published or self-publishing until that manuscript is revised. Once it is, I can enlist the help of beta readers to make sure everything is how it should be.
2. I need to figure out which method of publishing I'll wholeheartedly pursue.
I've been going back and forth on this one for a while. But after hearing about my fellow writer's 5-year plan, it really has me thinking more about independent publishing. There is so much more research I need to do.
3. I need to start publishing. Simple as that.
I think I hold myself back sometimes because of my fear of failure. It's been a dream of mine to publish for so long. What if I fail? What if it's all a waste? What if I turn into a joke? I need to abolish those ideas and just go for it. I'll never get anywhere if I don't try.
4. I need to seek out more freelance writing opportunities.
I need to get back to my roots. I need to start sending out freelance articles again. I took a long break, but I think it's time. I need to redefine myself as a writer, and that may start with returning to freelance writing.
Have you thought about your writing goals for 2017? What are they?
With some people in my life, I've spoken at length about my writing dreams. But what many people don't know is that I'm haunted by them. I think it's actually quite common, to be haunted by your unachieved dreams. However, that's not all I'm haunted by. I'm haunted by story ideas, characters who beg to be written, and feelings that need to be given a home on paper. These ghosts are incessant. They are always behind me, tapping me on the shoulder. When I turn around, they're waiting for me. Silently waiting. Watching me. Making me remember that they're there and they will not be ignored.
But as friend and fellow blogger, Amanda Creasey from Mind the Dog Writing Blog, told me earlier this week, "There are worse things to be haunted by."
And she's right.
I'm not bothered one bit by the hauntings. I'm only bothered that I haven't figured out to make it come to life, how to bring my dreams to reality. So, this weekend, Amanda and I both agreed to write a post about our writing dreams. So, make sure to check her blog and read her post.
My Writing Dreams
Writing is Painful
Just because I enjoy writing doesn't mean it's easy. And many times, it's not even enjoyable. In fact, it can be downright painful. But you know what's more painful? Not writing.
I participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) every year. Those 30 days are difficult. Beyond difficult, actually. I still work my two jobs and then somehow find time to write a novel. And when I'm ripping my hair out to meet word counts and to fit everything in or even if I'm trying to figure out what my character wants to do next, my husband has asked why I keep writing if I hate it, if it's hard.
I don't hate writing, but it is hard. I write because it's my soul's calling, if you will. My soul needs it. The only way I can explain it is that I feel I'm meant to write, and only then can I find peace...until the hauntings start again.
But you know what? I wouldn't have it any other way. Writing on my own terms brings me fulfillment, peace, and joy. It gives me a place that I feel I belong. It gives me some of the missing puzzle pieces inside me. It helps me better understand myself, my experiences, and the world and people around me. It makes me more human.
But the only way for me to achieve those writing goals and bring my writing dreams to life is to just go for it. I have to make sure I make progress and push myself. Otherwise, I'm just going to get stuck where I am, being haunted forever by the what-ifs and what-might-have-beens.
What are your writing goals? Have unachieved dreams or characters haunted you?
I'm an adjunct creative writing professor and freelance writer, but I dream of being a published novelist. This is my journey.