A little closer every day

When we started a year of submission back in January 2016, I had many projects at many stages of near-completion. My goal, back then, was to stop sitting on things and start sending them out.

I did send a few things out. And while I was waiting for responses, I started a novel that had been kicking around in my head for more than a year. I wrote 90 percent of that novel in just one month and read a couple of chapters from my first draft at the Big Sur writing workshop back in December. I got the same response from every person: Finish the last 10 percent of that sucker, don’t overthink it, and start sending it out.

Wow. That’s how I felt about all of it.

One, the whole story had come out of me quickly, hung together from start to finish, and it read like a finished manuscript. Yes, it needed a little editing. But it just came out that way. Maybe all the years of struggle and toil were finally translating into ability.

Two, who doesn’t dream of going to a workshop with agents and editors and getting that kind of encouragement? I was a little bit in shock.

Three, I have gone from the person working on many projects at once to the person who is obsessed with this one project. I never saw myself doing that. (I’m not even sure that I like this person, btw.)

Four, I had no idea it would take me until now….NOW….to get that last 10 percent written and make the revisions I wanted to make before I could get to what?

That’s right, submitting. The whole point of this almost-two-year experiment Caroline and I have embraced.

I have some people reading my latest draft and am waiting for their feedback. I still have a few minor changes I want to make. My goal is to begin submitting after Labor Day. I was so sure I’d have started sending it out back in February. But here we are.

After Labor Day, I promise to embrace “Don’t overthink it. Just send it out.” And also to get back to my old so-many-projects-it-makes-Caroline’s-head-spin ways.

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Progress not seen by the naked eye?

A photo Jenny took while walking around downtown Dallas, where she was attending the NCAA women’s basketball Final Four instead of writing. (Research!)

Well, you won’t see my original blog post because that just evaporated into thin air. Do other writers feel this way? Nothing annoys me more than losing something I’ve written and having to write it again. Which makes you wonder why I’m not more careful about hitting the save button, wherever they’ve managed to hide that on this updated version of WordPress.

Caroline and I have neglected this blog, though we’ve been successful at getting work on our books done. Still, that progress seems to come in surges, and we both worry that we’re not as far along as we should be. (I’m not sure who determines “should.”)

So we met last week for a check-in. Caroline points out that we’re more focused on our projects and getting close to the finish. It’s true, and a clear benefit of our Year of Submission. Now, to get to that submitting part. It’s only weeks away. I swear.

Meanwhile, WordPress–why’d you have to go changing? I guess this is what happens when you don’t post for a few weeks. Okay, months. Dang. Cross your fingers that this one sticks!

First Week, New Year

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Getting started over this coffee at Drip, one year ago

Just before Christmas, Caroline and I got together at our usual spot (thank you, Drip Coffee in Five Points for existing!).

How did we think our year of submission had gone?
Great.

Did we want to keep going?
Heck yeah.

Caroline and I have met for years to write together. But when we decided to push each other along, to ask what we could submit and why we weren’t submitting it, we changed the way we worked. We took more chances. We became bolder, braver, tougher. We looked for help from new places. Things started to happen.

A lot more still needs to happen–one of the best reasons to keep this going. And of course, committing to another year of submission means there’s also hope we’ll get a few more notifications like the one you see below. img_7528

Posting updates here is one way we’ve pushed ourselves to do what needs to be done. This blog is an odd little way we hold ourselves accountable. So if you’re reading this, we appreciate your help in that department. And when we get a comment, that keep us accountable, too–so thanks for those!

Big Sur Writing Workshop Notes

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Trudging up the path to the conference center at Big Sur Lodge

It’s been ten days since I walked (okay, drove) out of the woods at the Big Sur Writing Workshop, and I’ve had a lot to think about–and work on. I got good feedback on two projects and left with a clear idea of which one to work on first and what to do with it.

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Andrea Brown organizes these workshops. Here she’s introducing writer Eric Adams, who gave a great talk on theme, plot, and character.

That, I believe, is called progress!

Here’s what I liked about this workshop:

  1. Critique groups were small and you got specific feedback on your work that you could use for an immediate rewrite.
  2. Because one of my group leaders was an agent (with good, sharp insights, btw), I also got to see how an agent thinks about submissions–what seems marketable and what is off-putting.
  3. Because my other group leader was an author and screenwriter, I got another kind of feedback that was every bit as helpful in a different way.
  4. I heard other works in progress that I really liked, and that made me value the writer-to-writer feedback I got even more.
  5. The faculty was smart and accessible, eager to talk to you even when you might have felt a little shy about imposing on them.
  6. Everyone attending was friendly–and I didn’t meet a single person who felt the need to show off.
  7. I left challenged to improve my novels and encouraged that they have a future.
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Nice people attending, including Nadine (front, right) who wound up sitting with me maybe more than she might have liked.

Despite years of attending work events and mingling with people, I still find that activity exhausting. One of the nice things about the Big Sur group is that lots of other people seemed to feel the same way, so people were sociable but not too. There was enough down time to write and regroup. Maybe not enough time to sleep. But I caught up on that later.

I emailed Caroline after it was over, letting her know it had been good for me to attend. Here’s what she wrote back: “That is so exciting about the coach’s feedback. Think of how far we’ve come since you got us started last January!”

That really made me smile. With just a couple of weeks left in this year, I can see we are getting somewhere, both of us, because we’re making a focused effort to do it, helping each other keep going, and being just a little more aggressive.

The workshop, in case you want to know more, is organized by the Andrea Brown Literary Agency and The Henry Miller Library. It lasts for one weekend. The focus is children’s literature. You can find more details here.

Blogging When I Should Be Packing

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My well-used Kami Kinard handouts, in their special orange file folder

In a few hours, I’ll be dashing off to the airport, so that I can attend the Big Sur Writing Workshop this weekend. Writing a blog post is the last thing I should be doing right now, but I had a couple of thoughts to jot out before I go.

First of all, wow, the impact that one 90-minute workshop can have on your writing life. Back in May of 2014, I registered for a little session led by writer Kami Kinard at the S.C. Book Festival. I still have the simple handouts, and they’ve made so many things possible. Because of Kami, I applied to and was accepted for the Rutgers One-on-One Conference, a great experience that gave me a huge boost in confidence. I also joined SCWBI and went to one of their conferences.

I’m going to the Big Sur workshop because of Kami’s class, as well. If it provides even half the help that Kami delivered, it will be fantastic. And it’s in Big Sur, so how can it not be, really?

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Caroline at The Gourmet Shop, where the table is much less cluttered than mine

Also on my mind is the help Caroline gave me as I stood at my dining room table this afternoon, wired on espresso, trying to settle on what pages to pack for my two critique sessions. I had ideas, but it helps so much to have her thoughtful take on things. As I’ve said so many times, the deliberate approach she takes to work is such a great counter to my many-things-at-once style. (BTW, she’s working on finalizing her novel, chapter by chapter, but I’ll let her write the update on that.)

So, here I go, hoping to move two middle grade novels a little closer to published status. One is a story I’ve been working on for a long time. The other is a draft I’ve just finished. And of course, there are others. But it looks as if they’ll have to stay at home this time and wait their turn.

When Writing Gets In the Way of Submitting

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Jenny reflecting on this strange state of things, with a little selfie taken at Chicago’s bean.

Well, I didn’t see this coming.

Here I am, so eager to write new chapters for a new book that I don’t want to stop and make time to submit. No forcing myself to put butt in seat. No beating myself up because I skipped out on my commitment to write for a couple of hours. I’m doing it.  Just plugging away, cheerfully, eager to see what the next 2,000 words may hold.

Am I on a creative roll? Have I finally grown up as a writer?

Or have I taken submission procrastination to a whole new level? Am I so desperate to avoid submitting that–shock–I’ll even write to get out of doing it.

Maybe it’s both. Even with more confidence, the ease of using Submittable, and my improved ability to shrug off rejection, I find submitting to be hard hard work.

I’ve let weeks go by without submitting a thing. Not part of the Year of Submission plan! I’m determined to send something, anything, out this week. Of course, I was determined to do that last week, too.

Meanwhile, I can honestly report that I #amwriting. (I believe that calls for a rousing “believe me.”) How about that?

Getting the Work Done

“When I feel difficulty coming on, I switch to another book I’m writing. When I get back to the problem, my unconscious has solved it.”

IMG_6375 (2)If you asked Caroline, she’d tell you that’s the sort of harebrained approach she’d expect me to take. And when you look at my projects spread across a table, it’s hard to deny.

But it just so happens that those words belong to Isaac Asimov, not me.

It’s one of many quotes you’ll find in the book The Write Type. I can’t remember what inspired me to request it from the library.

The premise is this: There’s no one correct way to get your writing done, despite what people tell you. The best thing you can do, this book says, is figure out your natural inclinations and make the most of them.

Perhaps the Universe does send you gifts when you’re ready to receive them–or possibly when you don’t need them quite so much as you used to–or maybe those two are the same thing. Caroline and I spent the first six months of this year looking for better ways to get our work done. Now, it feels like we’re finding our way.

Still, this books has plenty of positive reinforcement and some ideas for taking what I’m doing and making even more of it. The author, Karen Peterson, is perhaps the perfect combo–a psychologist and a writing instructor.

Three things that stuck with me:

  1. Most of us have a conflict going between our adult side and our child side. When we try to strong arm our child side into doing something, the child rebels. That makes it  even harder to find the will to get work done. Better to appease your child and trick/coax/bribe it into doing the adult thing.
  2. There are plenty of ways to work on your writing that don’t require sitting down to a blank page and inventing scenes. Peterson provides a list of six categories of work that you can keep on your desk to remind yourself of ways to keep going.
  3. It can help to challenge some of your beliefs. Of course, if you’re going to challenge them you also have to realize you have them.  Peterson gives you a structure for doing all of that.

Now true, a lot of this I already know and practice. But as I’ve said before, even when I know how to solve problems, it helps to be reminded that I do.

Some of the things this book might help you figure out include what is your best time of day for writing, whether you’re a schedule or deadline writer,  whether you prefer one project at a time or thrive on the chaos of multiple projects, and how much solitude you need to get your work done.

When it was time to return this book to the library, I realized I’d like to keep it around. So it received my ultimate endorsement: I bought it.

Who would listen to this guy?

IMG_6072Seems like everywhere I’ve turned in recent days, I’ve not only encountered Donald Trump but also essays and articles about how we should stop listening to the mean-spirited negative voices in our heads, the ones that tell us we can’t.

One example, this Brain Pickings post that showed up on my Twitter feed. Here are a few of the opening lines:

I found myself contemplating anew this fine but firm line between critical thinking and cynical complaint. To cross it is to exile ourselves from the land of active reason and enter a limbo of resigned inaction. 

But cross it we do, perhaps nowhere more readily than in our capacity for merciless self-criticism. We tend to go far beyond the self-corrective lucidity necessary for improving our shortcomings, instead berating and belittling ourselves for our foibles with a special kind of masochism.

Writers on this topic often ask how you’d respond if your friends spoke as harshly to you as you speak to yourself. In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron suggests you give the inner critic a face.

After getting a generic rejection email this week, it first occurred to me that there was something hugely, irreparably wrong with me and my work. Yes, I recognize the silliness of my reaction, but I also felt the sting. (Maybe I hadn’t had enough coffee. Or maybe I’m just a typical human being.)

Then it occurred to me that the political season has presented the perfect orange “face” for my inner critic. Because, really, he’s great at saying nasty things. And would I give anything he said a moment’s credit?  More likely, I’d be inclined to respond with a Southern “bless your heart.” We’ll see how it works!

Greetings from Panem!

It’s been a tough week for Jenny the writer, mostly because it’s been a big week for Jenny the public speaking coach. I’ve led four days of presentation skills training in Monterrey, Mexico this week. I left for the job early on Sunday morning. I’ll be getting home Friday night. I’ve been working long days. I have a cold. And I’m tired.

Wah, wah, wah.

I’m not as tired, of course, as J-Law‘s character in The Hunger Games. And the Panem I’m visiting happens to be a charming upscale panaderia in one of the nicest parts of Monterrey. I’ve loved working here this week. And I’m earning a nice paycheck for my efforts.

But I’m feeling haggard, nonetheless. And discouraged. When will I get this writing life thing right?

I was reading one of those encouraging self-helpy emails I get, scanning it with half-closed eyes last night before I fell asleep. The email’s writers suggested that we need rituals to get the important things done, their more soulful way of saying that we need habits or a schedule or structure. (So, like my mother always told me, just not quite as annoying.)

After this totally exhausting week, I’m not even sure what to say about that.

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Really, I did not indulge in drinks at “The Embassy.” Though I did have some crispy fish tacos. Hey, a writer’s got to eat.

Without a doubt, I intended to get work done. I intended to wake up early and do some writing. I intended to come back to my hotel room and research submission opportunities.

That hasn’t happened.  And it’s not because I’ve been slacking off, lying by the pool and sipping margaritas.

This has been one of the main challenges of my adult life, one I’m sure other writers do a better job of managing. My paying work has a way of upending my writing work. So I wonder, is a “ritual” of writing every day possible? Or is it akin to dieting–setting yourself up to become a disappointment and to feel like a failure?

But, optimist that I am, I still hope to salvage the week–on the long plane ride home tomorrow. Maybe writing on planes can be my ritual.