Just Sheep In Wolves’ Clothing.
May 9, 2009

 “Obstacles are those frightening things we see when we take our eyes off our goals.”

Henry Ford

Being human, it’s all too easy to talk ourselves into and out of things; especially when venturing outside of our comfort zones — you know, those times we’re sure we’re delusional in lieu of inspired, scribblers instead of writers, fooling ourselves instead of honoring our proclivities as we measure success and worth in ways that turn perfectly good dreams into the playthings of children.

When we’re staring into the eyes of our dearest dreams, it’s easy to convince ourselves to give up or to run like hell in the opposite direction, a.k.a., in the direction of the safe and familiar (and adult), whether or not it makes us happy to do so. It’s safer not to put ourselves out there, not to risk failure, not to expose our soul and its multi-colored dreams, not to let ourselves believe we may have what it takes to reach our goals — because falling short could be quite a painful wake-up call, indeed.

What if we don’t make it to our chosen destination? What if Fate and Destiny conjoin in a conspiracy against us with a different outcome in mind?

At least it won’t be because we turned tail and ran. It doesn’t mean we’ll stop writing. And, as long as we keep writing, we make new hope, new possible outcomes, new destinies.

The truth is, there are many, many aspiring writers and only so many books published in a year — approximately 172,000 — and only 1000 of those books sell over 50,000 copies. (Yikes.) Looking at it that way, it sounds sort of bleak …

And yet, it sounds possible. Compared to many other things, such as a singing career (when your singing voice shatters glass), winning 186 million in the state lottery, or owning an elephant AND a zebra, it’s possible. With hard work, sacrifice, doubting moments, inspired moments; with seeing obstacles, if you have to see them, as no more than a shirt and a pair of jeans tossed over a chair; it’s just a shirt and a pair of jeans throwing a respectable shadow, not a midnight marauder waiting to pounce.

Fear is like that; it throws a shadow much larger than the concern, itself. It’s just sheep in wolves’ clothing, life’s well-meaning tests to see if we really, really want something and if we really, really mean it.

It’s the only way to weed out some writers from others as we circle 172,000 musical chairs, poised to spring when the music stops, our sparkly manuscripts hugged to our hearts.

There’s an easy way to lose that chair, and to give up your chances: by seeing those obstacles as wolves in sheep’s clothing, instead. To question yourself endlessly, doubt yourself completely, to turn perfectly good dreams into nightmares. All you’ll do is waste precious time you could be investing in writing, reading and learning craft.

All you’ll do is become your own dream-killer, before fate and destiny have a chance to take over the reins. Thinking about it that way, being an unrequited writer has much more appeal. And, riding the wild dream no matter how it turns out, whether or not it leads to publication, will result in the greatest gift of all: being true to yourself and your dreams, because, as we always hear, it’s the journey, not the destination that counts. It’s also the journey that makes for the BEST writing.

“What comes from the heart, goes to the heart.”

Beethoven

Lucky for us, we can write all about it; we can weave our fear and hope into a poignant pattern that resurrects the dreams of both writers and readers. Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily, life is but a dream, you know. Who would want it any other way?

” … To feel the width and amusement of human life: not to strain to make a pattern just yet: to be made supple, and to let the juice of usual things, talk, character, seep through me, quietly, involuntarily, before I say Stop and take out my pen.”

 Virginia Woolf

A Writer’s Diary

And so I whisper comforts to myself, as my partial in hard-copy makes its excited way to the big city, New York City, along with my hopes and dreams: at least you continue on the wild ride. At least the journey is exciting and inspired. Don’t forget; don’t forget to value that.

I won’t.

I promise.

The joy of fresh office supplies!

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Query Road Rage.
September 15, 2008

“Yet hold it more humane,

more heavenly, first,

By winning words to conquer willing

hearts,

And make persuasion do the work of

fear.”

Milton

Paradise Regained.

As you chug down Query Road, no different than any other road, it’s very likely you will encounter road rage, with one major difference: instead of the rage being other-oriented and aimed at you, it’s more likely to be your own rage aimed at yourself.

As you diligently contort and twist your vision into the proper query and synopsis key-shape that opens the door to publication, shake off the highway-hypnotism and keep the bigger picture in mind. Remember that every query and synopsis can be rewritten and refined for better chances, that a lack of skill or knowledge can be fixed by buying and reading books on the subject, and that there are things you can do to help yourself — you aren’t a helpless “victim” in the process. Just keep doing your homework.

(A friend in the know who is willing to help never hurts, either.) 

If you find yourself veering off the road and writing email subject lines such as, “Shoot me with a query, strangle me with a query, smash my brains out with a query”, it’s time to pull over into the next rest stop, (named after your favorite author), roll up the windows and scream at the top of your lungs, just to get the negativity and frustration out of your system. Negativity and frustration will ferment into poison until all perspective is lost.

Remaining balanced, level-headed and emotionally restrained is great, but being human, the query process does get discouraging, frustrating and overwhelming at times for the best of us, especially when continuously receiving “Dear Author” rejections. So, let the frustration out, before it turns into sugar in your gas tank. Do what you need to do — say screw it (temporarily), walk away for a week, take a break; attach your rejection letters to the nearest tree and get out your bow and arrow and have at it until you feel better.

Just whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP. No one has ever reached their goals or dreams by giving up. There are plenty of querying writers out there who won’t give up. Be one of them. Use the query process to make yourself a better writer, a more experienced writer, a more determined writer. 

If you find yourself living out of your car at the rest stop, temporarily adopting the address as your own and emailing other writer friends things such as, “Today I lost it for a second and decided my next novel should be about a frustrated writer who hops a plane to NYC, and, office building by office building, beats agents to death with his/her brilliant but rejected manuscript”, then forget the soft pretzel and slurpee consolations, and go straight for the double scoop, gooey chocolate milkshake.

Last week, on a writing group I frequent, I read a thread by a writer (a good writer, too) whose frustration and discouragement was so viral it was contagious; I came down with it, myself. It took me a week’s leave from querying, along with a dose of “Annie” and a few rewinds of “The sun will come out, tomorrow”, to finally put me back behind the wheel.

I know I’m a hard worker. I’m an excellent driver, too. So are you. Identifying the obstacles on Query Road, including the ones we create for ourselves as writers, is the only way to keep chugging along. (It also doesn’t hurt to stop at the next scenic overlook, preferably with canyons, and yell “I am a writer, I’ll never give up!” and hear your strong, beautiful voice echoing back exactly what you need to hear.)

Query Road.
August 21, 2008

They say that I won’t last too long on Broadway

I’ll catch a Greyhound bus for home, they all say

But they’re dead wrong, I know they are

‘Cause I can play this here guitar

And I won’t quit till I’m a star on Broadway.

“On Broadway”

 Interestingly enough, I’ve been thinking lately about how the query process is much like a cross-country road trip. You start out all excited for new adventures and new scenery, with a “gas tank” overflowing with hopes and dreams, and a vehicle called the internet.

Like any other road trip, there will be stops (self-doubt) and starts (new agencies to query), wrong turns (form rejections), and wonderful sights (personalized rejections, requests for pages, partials and fulls).

Continuing on-course, the final destination (agent representation, your book sold, publication) is just around the bend. You may not see it from where you sit, pounding on the keys and obsessively checking email, but it’s out there waiting for your arrival, with cake and champagne and helium balloons and maybe, if you’re lucky, a small, grinning monkey that does cartwheels and handstands.

Of course, as you’re querying, there are things you can do to make the process more enjoyable.

1) Wear diamonds. Yes, I’m not kidding. As you watch your fingers readying the next email query, it’s a lot prettier when you’re wearing diamonds that catch the light and throw rainbows onto the walls. In this case, more IS better, with diamond anniversary bands throwing the most light to guide you down Query Road.

2) Query in your pajamas — heck, do it in a t-shirt and undies while sitting in bed. Thumb your nose at authority and professional protocol, but in a way that won’t impact your query letters or your chances.

3) Each time you hit send on a query letter, get up on your bed and jump up and down, like you did as a kid. Memorize how it feels to be launched into the air, and imagine your book doing the same. But a word of caution: remove all purring cats and snoring dogs, first.   

Of course, even on Query Road, your vehicle can overheat. Sometimes it’s one mile forward and two miles doubling back. At times the road will be closed, or you’ll encounter a dead end. That’s okay. It’ll make for great stories, later.

I keep all this wisdom in mind today, especially after the request for pages I wrote about last week turned into a form rejection this week, along with two more form rejections — one yesterday, and one this morning. 

I’m still standing tall, or, um, sitting. I’ve got my diamonds on, the gas tank remains full of dreams, and it’s full speed ahead.

If you find yourself rejected and dejected as you make your way down Query Road, pull over into the nearest Rest Stop (named after your favorite writer, of course) and give yourself permission to feel it; set a time limit, get a slurpee and a soft pretzel, kick the tire a few times, and then settle yourself back behind the wheel. 

Take a deep breath, and repeat after me: There are amazing and exciting things just around the bend. There are amazing and exciting things just around the bend. There are amazing and exciting things just around the bend … 

Because that’s what the published authors tell themselves.