Fairy Dust or Hard Work?
May 27, 2011

Ernest Hemingway's desk in his house in Key West.

So the writer can only do his or her part to the best of his ability and place himself in the best position for the next steps. There are ways to get noticed, but still no guarantees.

Editor Beth Hill    Click here: Editor’s Blog  

Exactly.

I’m of the camp that believes a writer can make their own luck through hard, hard work. In a sense, the first part of an author’s career is an apprenticeship to Writing. To experiment, practice, (and above all), write. Again, dare to suck. The only way to write amazing, get-noticed material is through writing dull stuff, wrong stuff, first drafts, embarassing ideas, the grocery list, if necessary, as long as you keep the pen (or keyboard) moving.

When we write, we train our brains to write. To think. To create. It’s no different than anything else we do, from drawing, knitting, riding, *fill in the blank*. We don’t draw perfect people, knit perfect sweaters, gallop and sidestep right out of the gate. First, we learn. We practice, put in the hours. Study what those further ahead of us know. Be willing to fail. But, also be willing to get back up, get back to the page.

Neither magical thinking  nor daydreams of ones books on the shelves will make it happen over the long haul. The best tool a writer has is hard work — to keep writing — to persevere.

Every day is a new page.

A King’s Ransom.
April 23, 2009

It’s been a good, hard few months. These moments, below, are the defining ones:

1) I’ve toiled over my quirky YA novel, The Girl Next Door, seven days a week since November 2008. Time not spent on life’s basics (or tending to dogs and horses) was spent in a sort of mental pilates, making TGND tight and lean.

I’m tired, but happily so. I’m very pleased with the end results, too. It ‘s amazing how abilities and skills solidify from one novel to the next — it’s what a writer always hears about, but to experience the process as it’s happening is pure magic.

Writing skills can morph into writing gifts if a writer is willing to put in the work. And even if you already have a knack for writing, still, it takes work.

2) We lost a bunch of photographs a few years ago when an old computer crashed. We certainly learned the hard way. At the time, I was devastated. I’ve often thought wistfully about those photographs.

I lost photos of old friends, photos of a friend who passed too young, some wedding photos, pet photos (some of the pets having since crossed the Rainbow Bridge) and photos from the apartment where we used to live, including our first Christmas lights together and a 9/11 memorial I’d started on the apartment lawn in the dead of night. (Originally being an East Coast girl, 9/11 hit hard. I’d also worked on the 79th floor of the World Trade Center after college.) The memorial was against the apartment rules, but they bent the rules for a whole week.

Just a few weeks ago, I came in from flaking the horses to see my husband bent over some strange device on the kitchen counter with a hard drive laying next to it. I still don’t know what it was, but it was miraculous; it accessed ALL the photographs we thought were irretrievable.

Wow.

I’ve spent the last few weeks going through the pictures a little at a time, surprised by the emotions that shadow these images, on the verge of tears (both happy and sad) — to see old friends, former lives, former selves — and to see my animal babies, their likenesses captured so clearly it feels like, in a small way, they’ve come back to me.

The photos have even seeped into my dreams, and in my dreams, whether they be about horse, dog or cat, I remember scents, mannerisms, barks and meows I’ve been unable to hold onto in my waking life.

It’s both salty and sweet

how the heart remembers in dreams

what the waking mind can’t keep.

I kept a hank of Takoda’s tail (my first horse) who died of colic in July of 2007, although it broke my heart to cut it even after he was gone. I vacuum-sealed the hair in a plastic bag to keep his scent close, but even so, the scent disappeared.

Gone is really gone.

3) Querying is tough. Chasing the dream is tough. You toil and research and pray. You put in the work and hope for good results, but even then, you can’t be sure. For writers, that’s part of the journey; it builds character and characters. It’ll prove you to yourself in one way or another, holding up a mirror to both your writing and your fortitude (or lack thereof).

The query process is curiously endowed with more than its original, intended aim. I understand why it drives some writers crazy. I understand the intensity and the despair. Nothing of great importance comes easily, and perhaps it shouldn’t. But perspective and a bird’s eye view remain a querying writer’s best friends.

No doubt about it — staring your dreams in the face is heady stuff. You roar, you soar, you crash, but you still burn. You rise up from the ashes humbled but determined and even more sure that you’re the real deal: you’re a writer. You need no ones permission. You are who you are. Now, you REALLY know.

Sure, you could quit. Go ahead — quit. Seriously. Most likely you’ll find you can’t quit for long. You’re a writer, you know. Pens and paper, keyboards and fingers, words and thoughts, they go together like up and down, on and off, light and dark.

Rejection is tough, dream-chasing is tough, remaining steadfast is tough. And yet, there’s no other choice. We want to master our craft. We want to share new worlds. We want to be published, yet not sell our souls nor sell out.

All these things and more rear their subterranean heads; important things withheld in the past and those who withheld them. Feelings of not being good enough. Voices from long ago, critical or incredulous or condescending. Self-doubt, heavy as an avalanche, along with the dizzying flight of believing in yourself and your abilities during those crystal-clear, this-is-why-I’m-here moments.

The query process is literally haunted by one thousand ghosts.

If you’re a querying writer, validation can be hard to come by. Please feel free to plug yourself into the letter below:

Dear My Querying Self,

You ROCK for hanging your lily-white a** in the wind and sailing your work out there. Sure, it can feel like TORTURE at times, but you have to keep putting your work out there — it’s the only way to get to HERE.

I admire your courage and cajones, by the way. They’re just what’s needed to make magic happen, on or off the page.

The world can always use more magic, more understanding, more connection, more alternate worlds that teach us what’s important in this one. Do what you need to do, amigo, but whatever you do, don’t give up.

I know it can look bleak down there in the query trenches, but we got where we are now because of those rejections — they paved the way to that one YES that changed everything — EVERYTHING. The process made you tougher. It made the writing better. It was sooooooo worth it.

You want proof? See this book I’m holding in my hands? That’s YOUR first novel! So keep querying, keep dreaming, keep hoping and keep working — but most importantly, KEEP WRITING.

With gratitude and admiration,

Your Published Self From The Future — I owe it all to you!

P.S. I’m really sorry about the a** in the wind thing, though.

Postcards From Query Road.
March 18, 2009

I think and think for months and years. Ninety-nine times, the conclusion is false. The hundredth time I am right.” 

Albert Einstein

As a struggling (but still-hopeful) writer on Query Road, there’s nothing to stop you from taking your car at one hundred miles an hour and plowing it into the next tree, as you gather rejection letter after rejection letter. Symbolically and deep down, where those crises of confidence and self-esteemless moments lurk, it stings to have The Gatekeepers of Hopes and Dreams not even slam the door in your face, but refuse to open it in the first place. 

While we as writers try hard not to take it personally, it can take an uber-steady will to separate rejection from our hopes and dreams. As we hope agents will make at least a little fuss over our polished offerings, and dream of one day holding our book in our hands all fresh and pink and full of promise, there remains a fine, sketchy line between heart and publication.

So, put it on cruise-control, worthy writers, and take in the scenery. It’s really true what they say about it not being the destination but the journey. As you bravely collect rejection letters yet remain steadfast in your quest, you are learning, growing, marinating, maturing and earning your “masters degree” in self-confidence, hard work, persistence and patience — all things that will not only make you a better writer, but a better person who writes. 

And a better driver as you cruise down Query Road, bopping to the tunes and spying the perfect turn-off for a picnic — a writer has to eat, after all — where, on the grassy slope, the light bulb goes off, as you’ve just thought of an idea for your next novel.

What a lucky writer you are, indeed.

 “It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.”

Albert Einstein

Bless The Querying Writer.
March 9, 2009

1000 words.

 

the deed is done

the gauntlet thrown

the friend of yes

the foe of no

and while their fate

in limbo goes,

bless the querying writers

in between

a rock and a hard dream,

wearing their stories

on their sleeves

and just returned

from imaginary lands

still warm to the touch

of their trusty pens.

 

On the middle saguaro -- see the woodpecker making a hole for its nest?

 

Poem and photos by Emily Murdoch.

Writing: Playing With Matches.
December 14, 2008

I fell in love — that is the only expression I can think of — at once, and am still at the mercy of words, though sometimes now, knowing a little of their behavior very well, I think I can influence them slightly and have learned to beat them now and then, which they appear to enjoy.

Dylan Thomas

I talk a lot about writing and magic — that magical writing that takes hard-won quality of craft and which forges an instant connection with the reader.

Yesterday, as I was cleaning shrimp, removing the tiniest, most fragile vein, it reminded me of the magic in writing. The best writing finds that vein in the mind and heart and plugs in effortlessly.

Magical writing is an easy communication, a writing that appears effortless. Magical writing is a form of validation that inside these minds and bodies (and especially hearts) we’re not alone — someone else recognizes that inner landscape and describes it with a sense of communion or wonder.

That’s what I strive for in my writing, and it’s only when I’m querying my work that the doubtful fog creeps in. While I want my writing to be perfect, I know perfection isn’t possible. I don’t find the magic, there. 

Perhaps the magic is like a candle on the kitchen counter, flickering as you pound away at the computer, lighting the way as you work your craft. Go to the light! You may be tempted to sanitize your writing, edit it into cardboard or endlessly doubt or berate your grasp of the English language, especially when you know an agent may not read past the first paragraph. 

Go to the light.

That’s where the magic lives. I write my way there with all my might. 

Sure, it’s a candle in the wind — a writer’s efforts at publication versus being true to ones writing self. But in being true, therein lies the magic — and perhaps the magic will work its magic, being magic, after all.

If magical writing is a deep breath that inhales the world, then self-doubt is the exhale that blows it out.

Go to the light.