The Journey

In two words: it sucks.

You want an agent.

You want to be published.

Here’s a secret for you: WE ALL DO.

This isn’t like sending wind mills to Mars.

No one wants to write just for the sake of writing. Oh, writers may say they do (ahem) but the cold, hard truth is, we’re not writing for posterity or just for the sake of storing stuff on our hard drive.

Get real.

When I’ve been rejected and passed over like a week old monkfish, I’ll rant and say I don’t care, as long as I like it, who gives a motherclucker.

But when I calm down, and I always do, I realize it’s just me blowing off steam.

My computer hard drive is slow enough. I don’t need to add more stuff to it that no one will ever read.

We all get anxious, frustrated, antsy, depressed, down in the mouth, about our writing, our progress, or our lack of it. And a writer who says they never have a moment of doubt, isn’t being honest.

I freely admit that I’m my own worst enemy. But I’ve been through the wringer and lived to tell the tale, so that’s something. I’m still standing, warts and all.

Which leads me to my next rant, uh, musings.

Lately on various writer blogs, a hot topic has been when to accept an agent’s or publishing offer. No, I don’t mean you, or you. Just general observations on my part. Unfortunately, some of these posts have the whiff of desperation, and it clings like cheap after shave. And since I’ve been stuck in that valley of low self-esteem, I can sympathize.

But I can’t emphasize enough: a bad agent is worse than no agent. And re publishing, money goes to the writer, it’s not the other way around.

This isn’t rocket science, but it bears repeating every millennium.

If a publisher asks you to pay for publication, RUN.

If a publisher says you need to pay an illustration fee, SKEDADDLE.

If a publisher looks sketchy, their online presence is minimal, they have no track record, their website looks like something a toddler threw together at nap time while their caregivers were busy on their cell phones, SCOOT.

And as for agents…please, I implore you, my fellow writers, don’t sell yourselves short.

Take this from the voice of experience. Don’t accept the first agent offer that comes along out of fear you’ll never get another or some misguided sense of well, this was a huge fluke so I should say yes before they find out I’m a big, fat fake.

And don’t accept onerous terms because you’re a lowly nobody and agent person is a big somebody.

We all have our demons. Mine is being thought “mediocre”, as I was told early on. Even now, as a mature writer, I still have to slap myself upside the head fighting against feeling like I’m a fraud and a failure.

And if you’re a baby writer, it’s just as crucial to take a step back and do your research.

This is your career. Your life. But it’s business, plain and simple. Don’t make it personal—well, it is, but you have to conduct yourself in a professional manner. But you’re not being a nerd or a nudge not to hop on the first streetcar that swings by.

Some writers seem afraid to ask questions, like it’s offensive. It’s just the opposite. Beware the agent, agency or publisher who doesn’t welcome questions and lots of them.

If you were advised that you needed brain surgery, wouldn’t you ask for a second opinion and find out as much as you could about the surgeons, hospital, your condition, etc.? Or would you pounce on the first car mechanic who came around the corner to perform the operation simply because they were handy with tools?

DUH!!

And listen, take it from me, if you get liked at pitch contests, as exciting as it is, you must do your due diligence to avoid disaster.

I’ve turned down publishing offers from pitch contests. It was a new outfit that made a big splash on social media and was liking everything under the Tuscan sun. I was suspicious, and when they offered me contracts on two picture books in a matter of days, it didn’t take me all of two minutes to decline and withdraw. My gut told me that this was fishy as all get out, for many reasons, and I wasn’t surprised to hear a few months later that it all blew up. Whew. I’d dodged a bullet on that one.

Same thing with agents. You think they hold all the cards, the power? In fact, it’s just the opposite. They need YOU. They need your stories, your vision, your voice, your passion. They need fresh meat, I mean, new clients.

I get that it’s scary and overwhelming and sometimes you make mistakes. And that’s okay. Because on this journey it’s going to happen. No one’s perfect, not even me. And you learn from those missteps, and sometimes you cry and take solace in a big bowl of vanilla ice cream.

You fasten your seatbelt and put on your big pants.

The saddest book is the one that is never written.

Don’t let your book be a sad book.

In The Zone

Writing can be a long, rough, exasperating, never-ending, demanding, heartbreaking slog. Anyone who claims that they were an “overnight” success, ahem, I’d take that with a grain of Himalayan pink salt.

Writing is lonely. The only people speaking to you are the voices in your head. And if you don’t listen to them, man, do they get cross.

Writing is physically demanding. If you wait for inspiration to strike, you may end up as old as Methuselah. I have written through flu, sinus attacks, kidney stones, the kids throwing up in pots beside me, and other untold miseries and tragedies…you name it, I’ve done it, survived and even thrived. I’m not saying I’ve done it well or that it’s easy. That’s a story for another day.

But when you’re in the zone…ahhh, it’s bliss, it’s orgasmic, it’s floating on air, it’s that wonderful, heady, intoxicating zone, and there is no better feeling in the entire world, besides, maybe, a bowl of cookies and cream ice cream or snuggling up to your loved one on a cold winter night or rocking out to John Fogerty. And I’m saying that’s a big freaking maybe.

But the zone, that elusive zone…I never know when I’m going to be in the zone. The muse is fickle and fleeting. But when the zone comes knocking, I damn well know it and I must heed the call. I take full advantage of it because who knows how long it’s going to last.

For I have learned the hard way that the zone has a mind of its own and I ignore it at my own peril. My hard drive is littered with half-completed books, barely begun scripts, and aborted first pages. I allowed myself to be distracted by other shiny new objects. Now I’m older and wiser. I let the zone do the driving. I’m merely the passenger.

So what does being in the zone mean, exactly?

Well, I can only speak for myself, but it’s when I’m seized with an idea to the point of obsession and exclusion of all other ideas. Oh, to the outside world, you seem completely ordinary. You do the routine, mundane chores like laundry and going to the market. Nothing to see here, move on.

But inside…that’s a different story entirely. I breathe it like a forbidden romance. I literally cannot think of anything else, no matter what I do or where I go. It’s branded into my brain. It courses through my veins like a rolling river. I close my eyes and voila, it’s all there, unfolding like a movie: the plot, the characters, the voices, the surroundings, complications, drama, everything and anything. I may not have the entire story fully fleshed out from beginning to end, but I have a general sense of how it goes. I find that writing it down in an outline is NOT helpful and even hinders me. I’ll usually write a paragraph or so, sometimes even just chapter headings as a guide post, but that’s it.

And also with the zone, and maybe this is the most crucial part, it waits patiently, well, maybe not so patiently, for me to write it all down before it disappears like cotton candy in a five-year old’s sticky hands.

When I’m fully enmeshed in the zone, it’s like being on auto-pilot. The words pour out of me, all coming from a higher power, and I dream up with things that later, even I wonder where the hell did THAT come from. The best way to describe it is like jumping out of a plane without a parachute. I know I’m going to hit land eventually, and I hope that when I do, I’ll be okay, gulp.

Over time, I’ve learned to trust my zone. Now that isn’t to say that when I’m in it that there aren’t ebbs and flows. There are, plenty of them. It might steer me in the wrong direction and I have to make a course correction. Sometimes I’ll write something not knowing how it’s going to play out and then, boom, subconsciously the answer will come to me when I least expect it or when I’m doing something else. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come up with a brilliant scene washing my hair or taking the dog out for a walk.

And when I do hit a low point, as all writers do, I just keep writing, even when it seems it’s hopeless, it’s treacle, it’s horrible, I don’t know what I’m doing (add your own reason). I know that eventually, the zone is going to come through if I just keep plugging away to finish the first draft. Once I finish that, the revising, the re-writing, all that is doable. The zone, the passion, carries me until I can type THE END which we all know, really isn’t.

Many people call it different things, for me it’s the zone. But whatever you call it, when it comes, grab it by the tail and don’t let go. And now, if you’ll excuse me, the zone, my BFF, is calling.

The Best Laid Plans…

As I sit here, coughing, hacking, and sneezing, with my nose a continual fountain of snot and mucus, I had started off January with such high hopes. I always do…until reality bites me in the butt.

2018 ended with a bang. In late November, my husband had major surgery. It was quite unexpected, and the surgeon was candid in what could go wrong. Maybe too candid, which only added to our fear, worry, and confusion. Thankfully, husband sailed through it, and is now pretty much back to normal.

What is not back to normal is my writing routine.

I’m the type who has always blustered through. I’ve written though anything: hurricane, stomach flu, sinus, moving, kids puking, and various other travails. I always prided myself on my strength and stamina. I wrote 365 days of the year, come hell or high water.

But I have to be honest….November was pretty much a washout…and having my sinus/cold flare up just as I picked up hubby from the hospital meant another week or so of feeling lousy. Yes, I was writing, but it was a real slog. I was far from from the “zone”, where I write on auto-pilot.

Then, December, well, that was pretty much a wash, what with the holidays and hubby still recovering, and kiddies being sick here and there. I don’t think there was one week where one of the older grandkids wasn’t home with something (or one of the grandbabies was running snot like lava).

But January, which also happens to be my birth month. I always start out with high hopes and good intentions. This was going to be the year!

Until the grandbabies came down with an awful cold/grippe…then my husband…and then me, and of course, I had it worst of all. No appetite, no sense of smell or taste, and no energy. In one week I went through six tissue boxes.

The last couple of January’s have been like that. Awful flu, stomach virus, sinus, cold, grippe…the germs find me and don’t let go. I don’t know if it’s because of the change of season or that as I get older I’m more susceptible to disease and infection, but man, I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.

And as sick and as miserable as I was, I still wrote. Sure, not as much as I’d like to ideally, but even when I wasn’t physically writing, mentally, I never stopped.

I got off queries.

I wrote down ideas.

I sent off requested material.

In my head, I continued to plot out the three novels I’m currently writing.

I gave notes.

And I still wrote, even if it didn’t seem like I was making progress.

So yeah, even though there were days I felt like going to bed and pulling the blanket over my head, I still trudged on.

Which leads me to my next train of thought…

Rejection.

It sucks.

I mean, REALLY SUCKS.

It’s one thing to get generic, form, bland passes. I tell myself, just one more no until I get a yes. I don’t dwell on them.

But when you get a pass that is just so lovely, so complimentary, so very close to a yes but is still a no, no matter how many times you read it, you’re gutted like a filet of fish. No matter how long you’ve been doing this, it still hurts like hell, and no amount of cookies and cream ice cream is going to make you feel better.

I know many writers who obsess over passes…who try to read in-between the lines, the subtext, what did they really mean, or not mean.

In the end, it doesn’t matter.

A pass is a pass, no matter how nicely it was worded.

And as much as it hurts, you must remain professional. I repeat, YOU MUST REMAIN PROFESSIONAL.

You can’t write the agent back and say boo-hoo, they’re missing out on the next great fill in the blank.

You can’t threaten.

You can’t cajole.

You have to grin and bear it, and move on. I can’t stress that enough. Don’t be the nitwit who is castigated on social media for being a jerk.

It’s a business. Opinions differ.

Many writers who went on to become great writers were all rejected at one point.

JK Rowling.

Stephen King.

John Cleese. (Fawlty Towers was rejected. Fawlty Towers!)

What I’m trying to say is that rejection is normal. You can’t expect everyone to “like” what you do or to “get” it.

As I am fond of saying, it only takes one yes.

I don’t need ten.

Just one. (As I reach for another box of tissues with watery eyes).

Taking Stock

Well, not that kind of stock, but it looks inviting,  doesn’t it?

We’re in the last collective gasp of 2018, and while the house is semi-quiet, and outside it’s cold and dreary, it seemed like an opportune time to put my feet up next to the lit tree while I’m semi-lit from a couple of sips of Grunch (don’t ask), and ruminate on what I did these past twelve months.

Positive: I kept to my diet pretty much, but then, I always watch what I eat…except when it comes to Nutella, croissants, brownies, cookies, coffee cake, ice cream, apple pie, ice cream sodas, and Blizzards. Do you notice a pattern here. 

Negative: I didn’t lose any weight, but then again, I didn’t expect to.  See positive. 

Positive: I resolved to make 2018 the year of novel writing. I was determined to finish my long aborning passion project come hell or high water. And I did, and now it’s out in the world trying to find a good home, and I hope one day that it will be available for all to read.

Negative: I’m still on the hunt for an agent.

Positive: I persevere. Hope is like Santa’s endless bag of presents. Just when you think you’ve reached the end of your rope, someone throws you a lifeline. 

Negative: I need more rope. Lots of it.

Positive: I signed contracts for two picture books to small presses. Completely unexpected, not on my radar, and a great confidence booster. 

Negative:  I’m still looking for a home for my passion project. Patience, grasshopper.

Positive: After fits and starts and delays, my personal website is up and running. I had a lot of help, you know who you are, and I can’t thank you enough.

Negative: I have not mastered Scrivener, and I doubt I ever will.

Positive: I started writing two brand new books, one a contemporary MG set in a seaside village with a unique tourist attraction, the other a magical YA fantasy re-imagining of  The Prince and the Pauper.

Negative: I have more ideas than I know what to do with. Ideas are like seeds, the more you sow, the more your back aches from all that bending down.

Positive: I’ve made many new, supportive, writing friends. They’ve picked me up when I’ve been on the mat, and I’ve celebrated their successes.

Negative: I haven’t won Powerball or Megamillions.

Positive: The Blue Wave is real and very much alive.

Negative: Trump is still President, but hopefully, not for much longer. 

Positive: I’m still in relatively good health, aside from my sinus, allergies, weak stomach, and bum knee. 

Negative: Hard lesson learned, don’t screw around when it comes your health. My husband was loathe to get a routine colonoscopy; finally, around Halloween, he got it done after a ton of nagging, and to our shock and surprise, the results turned out to be anything but routine. Flash forward a few scant, whirlwind weeks later, he had major surgery and thankfully is now on the mend, but it wasn’t  without a lot of upset, fear, and worry.  I’ve earned every gray hair this year, trust me.

As for 2019, my goals remain the same: write, write, write, get an agent, sell more books, keep my family happy and healthy, and ice cream.