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.

The Antidote To Query Road Rage.
September 17, 2008

Is writing. No need to wax poetic or beat around the bush. I just wanted to mention how much I love the irony. It’s a humorous irony, at that.

Anything that turns life into the feeling of being a blessed child of a benevolent universe, singing happy songs at the top of your lungs and pounding out pages befitting a creative genius, or, just feeling like that for one amazing, glorious moment, is a lucky, lucky thing.

Happy down Query Road? Worth a King’s ransom. Two Kings’ ransoms. The whole point of it in the first place. Writing. Creating. Flow. Creating and changing worlds.  

So, I chugged the antidote yesterday, turning to writing as the cure for rejected writing, and when I realized what was happening, I was “saved”. From myself. I felt in tune, again, with that wonderful, hard-earned fact: I am a writer. I’m a writer, again. And I decide what that means, you know, and it has nothing to do with publishing.

It’s a calming, anchoring realization.

And it becomes an important question: if you were a writer who wanted to be published, would you continue to be a writer who wasn’t or couldn’t?

Going first, I’d have to say YES. Maybe throwing a few private tantrums from time to time, but the overall truth is that writing isn’t a choice, it just is; it just has to, is part of you, befalls you, chooses you. You can’t help it. That’s writing.

It’s wonderful, crazy and magical, just as it should be.

 

sometimes the best maps  

are the ones thrown out the window, 

throwing out the worry as well,

letting go and not asking why or where,

mindful to enjoy the ride,

buckled in and flying at the same time.

 

Might as well make the best of it, you lucky writer, you. And I’m grateful there are so many of us, to bolster each other’s spirits during the sometimes-bumpier ride of Query Road.      

Serendipity On Query Road.
August 25, 2008

“There is nothing either good or bad

but thinking makes it so.”

Shakespeare

 Hamlet, II, 2, 253. 

Who doesn’t like chocolate chip cookies? I highly recommend them, myself. Not only because they’re easy to eat while driving down Query Road, but because they’re a yummy example of serendipity.

Chocolate chip cookies, therefore, also remind me of the query process.

 As you chug down Query Road collecting tickets (Dear Author rejections), keep your eyes on the road and continue to follow the map — the map of your aspirations. As you pull out of the (insert your favorite writer here) Rest Stop, do bet on the fact that your oil tank will be full of serendipity.

Even better than oil, serendipity never runs low. It also works with your gas tank (full of hopes and dreams) quite exquisitely.    

Actually, chocolate chip cookies owe their very existence to serendipity: 

CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES

“When the Toll House Inn’s Ruth Wakefield ran out of baking chocolate one day in 1930, she smashed up a bar of semi-sweet chocolate and added the pieces to her dough. Upon their removal from the oven, the cookies weren’t uniformly infused with melted chocolate, but rather studded with little chunks throughout. The signature sweet put her Whitman, Massachusetts inn on the culinary map.”

(information courtesy of AOL)

Some more tips for navigating Query Road, and to avoid dinging your chances of agent representation? 

1) Don’t, don’t, DON’T gripe and complain about specific agents and their rejections on your blog.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t talk about the process and your experiences. By talking about it, you help other writers not as far along as you. It’s important that we keep helping each other.

I’m just saying that, just like us, (you know you do! : ), agents and people in the publishing industry google their names. The last thing you want to do is insult or anger agents (or their agent friends) who might have been considering representation until they read your blog.    

Just last week, through my own googling of agents as I prepared more queries, I came across many blogs (of irate, rejected writers) complaining about rejection letters, the type of rejection letters, how long it took to receive the rejection letter, the wording of the rejection letter, etc. and etc. 

Doing this (being a bad sport) is tantamount to racing down Query Road and aiming straight for a tree at one hundred miles an hour.

Talk about your experience, sure, but leave out the names. Plan on getting a mail bag full of rejections. The more realistic you are, the less the sting.

2) You’re not a serial killer (I hope not : ) but are you a serial comma user? Do you use too many adjectives? How about typos?

There is a wealth of information to be mined down Query Road. Learn something!

For example, before you query, check the agency’s website and their agents’ blogs — not just for submission guidelines, but for their personal preferences. Often you will come across a goldmine of information on grammar, how to prepare your query, how to improve your manuscript and other information that only works to make your work and your submission better.

3) For every rejection letter you receive, send out two more queries. Get filled with the excitement of new scenery instead of stalled out on Query Road, going nowhere.  

Using my past three rejection letters as an example, there are now six more query letters sailed off into the world. It only takes one yes — so keep those queries coming.

Writer As Hunter, Agent As Gatherer.
August 8, 2008

 “You don’t choose a story, it chooses you. You get together with that story, somehow; you’re stuck with it. There certainly is some reason it attracted you, and you’re writing it trying to find out that reason.”

Robert Penn Warren

On a daily basis, droplets of information, sounding much like the rain on our tin roof, make tiny taps against our brains, telling us things, and with their secret knocks, gaining entry. Books, television, internet, newspapers, radio …

The information is important, if not skewed or sensationalistic at times, and good to know; when you know, things change. YOU change. 

The same goes for the query process. With writer as hunter, and agent as gatherer, being cast into the hunter role has been a stretch that feels as good as it felt unsettling, at first. Sure, I’m a person who wants to stretch in order to grow, even if the process is painful from time to time, or riddled with uncertainty. I know that, in the end, when you secure that happy ending, it’s those very factors, coupled with courage, that make the outcome sweeter.  

The truth is, in the grand scheme of things, the impossible and the difficult make the ride more exciting. In their simplest terms, obstacles are just another opportunity to repledge the cause, and to (hopefully) solidify your convictions.

I do have my work cut out for me; I may only say it loud enough to hear when I’m alone, but I write to improve the world — as I believe words have that much power. Touching or reaching just one person changes their world, and in consequence, their contribution to the world at large. It really is that simple, sometimes.

We read others’ words for a myriad of reasons, and carry with us those sentiments that wake us from our apathy. We turn to those words as a source of wisdom, validation, comfort, sweetness, mind-expansion, understanding, and for every other reason we need them.

As I continue to navigate the query process, laughing and screaming from the front row of the rollercoaster, I’m learning not to take rejection personally, not to give up the fight, not to surrender to self-doubt, and how much room there is to grow in the process.

Overall, I’m a better person for it; in the worst case scenario, even if I never published, the novel I wrote changed my world, and my contribution to the world at large.

And it continues to do so. It has its own reasons for being, bigger than me, and separate from my personal vision. It has already worked its magic on me, and whether that magic is contagious remains to be seen, but the courage to hope and to believe may very well be the best magic of all.

Novel Query Update.
August 3, 2008

“Be there. Go there now and never leave. Imagine that your dreams have already come true. Live your life from that mindset; predicate your behavior on that reality, not the illusions that now surround you. Filter every thought, question, and answer from there. Let your focus shift, and be born again.

Because dwelling from, not upon, the space you want to inherit, is the fastest way to change absolutely everything.

See the difference?”

(I’m presently searching down the author of the above quote. It’s very lovely.)

 

First, let me just say what a beautiful day it is here.

 

the heat is waving, the sun enlightening,

the photo-perfect storm has a date with dusk,

the poisonous toads puddle the porch by evening,

soaking in the run-off from the misters,

attracted to the moths that buck the system

with an immunity to bug lights.

 

I am grateful, today, for everything. For the new mattress we bought last night, delivered early this morning, upon which I just had to take a nap, (I never take naps — I’m usually a blur, by day, and impossible to make sit still; when I’m writing, it may appear that I’m sitting still, but my mind isn’t –), and which was like sleeping on a cloud.

I’m grateful that my legs, organs and body work. I’m grateful for running water, both hot and cold, and a prolific ice cube maker popping out generous bowls of ice cubes for the rescue dogs’ water buckets. I’m grateful for the new load of bermuda hay, life-green and fluffy and promising lots of sneezes. I’m appreciative that, even if I don’t always get what I want, I do get what I need. Just to be born a woman in America makes me lucky. The list could go on and on.

On Friday afternoon, I finished query letter version ten and began querying Friday night. It’s been a month and a half since I’ve had any queries out in the world, and I was surprised to realize how much I missed the process. It has its inherent thrills, no doubt — and it’s easy to forget this, as you make that uncomfortable stretch.    

Putting yourself out there is quite the rollercoaster ride. Partly thrilling, partly frightening, it’s that very mix that makes the process so exhilarating, magnetic, and invigorating, if you have the guts — if you have the wonderful, necessary guts!

I’ve received one response already, and I’m appreciative of the speediness. It’s a rejection letter, but a personalized rejection letter. Rubbing off some of its magic dust, it has me loving that rollercoaster ride.

During the query process, as many writers know, the mental storms can move in so quickly and unexpectedly. However, I don’t feel disappointment over this new rejection. I feel quite the opposite, actually. It’s time to dance with the terriers in the hallway, again, laughing all the way. It’s time to summon up my inner wise elder, (scrunching your eyes tight and clicking the heels of your cowboy boots together three times helps), and lean into that pat on the back.

I tell myself what I would sincerely tell any other writer in the same position: be proud. Acknowledge the progress, no matter how small. Publication is a journey, not a destination — so, don’t give up, or allow yourself to surrender to self-doubt; there’s so much to learn from the process, and especially about yourself.

Be forewarned: the happy or sorry state of your courage will make itself known, and you may not like what you see. That’s okay. In addition, your missing parts will be made obvious, as will your soft parts, your scared parts, your wish parts and your stamina, or lack thereof. This is a good thing. This is where your work lies. Writing is oftentimes hard work in ways that have nothing to do with words. 

Published or not, rejected or not, the steps you take to follow your dreams will enhance your life in the present and brighten your experience on this crazy, beautiful planet. I know this is true, but all too human, at times, I don’t always feel it. Today I do, so, carpe diem, and I will.

 

guaranteed no tomorrow,

with no real control,

life is for the living; 

the hardest part is letting go.

 

And that’s my novel query update, and it’s an update with wings. I see the bigger picture, and I’m at peace with it. (It always brings on the poems.) I’m content to let go and let the chips fall where they may. 

 

The year ‘s at the spring,

And day ‘s at the morn;

Morning ‘s at seven;

The hill-side ‘s dew-pearl’d;

The lark ‘s on the wing;

The snail ‘s on the thorn;

God ‘s in His heaven—

All ‘s right with the world!

 

Robert Browning (1812-1889)

Pippa’s Song