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.

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

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.

A Request For Pages.
August 16, 2008

“An ice age here, a million years of mountain-building there, plates of bedrock grinding against each other over a span of millennia… Geology is the study of pressure and time. That’s all it takes, really. Pressure and time.”

The Shawshank Redemption

 It was just about the most exciting thing that’s happened to me yet — a few days ago I checked my email and found a response from an agent I queried, written like a regular email, devoid of stock industry phrases, requesting manuscript pages after reading my query letter and synopsis.

I’m just so excited.

It’s good to know an agent thinks my novel’s premise can hold up in the publishing world. She wanted to see if my writing style was a good fit. I’m still waiting to hear the verdict.

“Opinions vary widely in this business”, as you get used to reading in rejection letters, and it’s true; we’ll just have to wait and see if it’s my time to shine. If it is, great; I’m ready to go because I’ve done the hard, hard work, and I’ll continue to do it. If it’s not, it’s not, and my time will come. I believe that’s true for all of us.

The days have been getting kinder in the desert, a welcome break for humans and animals. The temperature during the day is still one hundred degrees or more, but the evenings are finally cooling off as the monsoon rains sneak in at night and work their magic.

Last night, sitting on the porch as the storm built up, my hot hair off my neck in a clip (and the breeze worth ticket money), I imagined the email with the next request: a partial.

In anticipation, I woke up early this morning and went back over the first one hundred pages.

Stumbling into the kitchen a few hours later and seeing me typing away, my husband groaned at my declaration that I would continue to go over the whole manuscript, all 387 pages, “just one more time”. He now laughs when he hears me say “the book is done!” or “I’m done editing”, because we both know the insidious, book-writing truth: it’s never really done. A writer will always reread, recheck and fiddle.

A writer friend, upon hearing of the request for pages, was happy I’d no longer have to fret over disinterest or form rejections.

However, just last night another impersonal, form rejection arrived in my inbox. It just goes to show how subjective the business really is — “Opinions vary widely in this business” — as you sail your book out into the world, say, tasting like pizza, when the agent had more of a hankering for wild cherries.

You just never know. It’s why rejection is never a good reason to pack it in — the pizza-loving agent may only be a query letter away, looking through her inbox, famished.

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