Perseverance Is a Tricky Thing

Perseverance is a tricky thing. It means sticking with something you believe in, even if your goal isn’t in sight. It means having faith in what you’re doing and trusting that good will come of your efforts. It’s easy to celebrate in retrospect, but can be tough to stick with in the midst of a challenge.

 

A few years ago, I heard about a magazine called Verily, whose mission aligned with what I was trying to do with my fiction, that is, create content in mainstream media that is backed by solid values without being preachy.

 

I subscribed right away. I was bummed when, three issues in, they had to go to online-only. Still, I signed up for the daily email and read the articles consistently. I looked up the submission guidelines until I had them memorized. Finally I got the courage to submit a piece.

 

Prior to this, I had little experience with magazine publishing. With the guidance of a friend who did, and with confidence that the piece I pitched mattered, I sent in my article. There was a dance party in the kitchen (the best place in the house for such an event) when it was accepted!

 

In the following months, I continued to pitch. Not everything was accepted, but I got a good response from what was.

 

One night, I was talking with my husband, wondering how it was that some of the writers contributed so much more frequently than I was managing. I looked again at the site’s job board, but I’d never seen a posting for a staff writer or anything like that.

 

It was about this time that I committed myself to publishing two pieces per month with Verily. Two weeks later, I got a message from the editor who published my very first piece. She wanted to know if I would be interested in contributing regularly.

 

Would I?!

 

I waited thirty seconds before responding, as not to seem overeager.

 

In the three months since, I have learned so much about pitching, writing, editing, collaborating, and what works online versus in print. I am grateful to have an editor who is interested in helping me grow as a writer.

 

I have tried to make myself read the things I thought I should be reading, the places I thought I should want my work to get published. What they say is true, and the best fit for my work was what I was already reading. It took courage, confidence, and resilience to bounce back when I was rejected, but ultimately, I’ve found a great place to contribute my work and build some great relationships along the way.

 

Is there somewhere you’ve been dreaming of submitting your work? What’s stopping you? What steps could you take today, this week, this month to give it a shot?

 

P.S. Check out my pieces at Verily here.

Advertisements

The Frightening Reality of Revision

Yesterday was Halloween, which means today is Day One of National Novel Writing Month. Having completed the challenge last November and CampNaNo in April, I’m not participating this time around. Instead, I’m engaging in something perhaps even more terrifying than trying to write 50,000 words in a short month with a long weekend: I’m editing my first novel for the jillionth time.

I have been working on this novel since my five-year-old was this big:

IMG_2909

They say the first novel is one to throw out, but I’ve been encouraged to keep at this one, and I’m glad I am. I made a bunch of large-scale changes when I finally revised it in September. I felt good about them as I wrote, and I was thrilled that I finished before the stroke of midnight on October 1.

But as this month has passed, I’ve grown skeptical. I haven’t allowed myself a single peek at the revision in thirty-one days. What’s really in there? Did it work? Did it fail? What still needs reworking? Will I be able to see it?

Now, I dive back in. I’m nervous, but I’m reminded how far I’ve come over the last four and a half years of working on this thing. I have beta readers waiting for the revision December 1, and I’ve set myself the reward of ordering a 2016 planner when the new revision is complete.

So today, my thirty-day challenge begins. Once I’m in it, I think I’ll be more excited than scared. But I’m going to have a bowl of fun-size Kit Kats by my side, just in case.

I Wrote a Manuscript, Now What?

As an editor, I’ve recently joined a couple of online platforms that are focused on helping authors find the resources they need to bring their stories to the world. I was already a contractor on Elance, which is now part of Upwork. Now you can also find me on Reedsy and Pronoun. I’m grateful to be involved in communities that help writers get access to the guidance they’re looking for. I meet fascinating people as an editor, and I love the breadth of stories I get to work on.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been fortunate to meet a number of authors who have completed manuscripts and are looking for help with next steps.

Zack Morris Time Out: Let’s take a minute to recognize the considerable milestones these authors have achieved. Not only have they completed their manuscripts, they are ready to share them with a stranger, investing time and money to get feedback, with eyes toward improving their work. This is a big deal.

Time back in.

It’s not across the board, but I’ve noticed a theme often enough in the proposed work: authors are ready to take next steps, but they don’t know what those steps are. They are ready to pursue publication, but they’re not familiar with the industry’s landscape. They know they want to get published, but they don’t know how traditional or self-publication works. Basically, they ask me to do whatever it is that needs to happen for their book to be published.

On one hand, this makes sense, and kudos to them for going out and asking questions to figure out how the whole thing works. On the other, I’ve sometimes gotten the impression that authors—who have already achieved so much!—want to hand their work over and have someone else sort it all out. There are lots of sites out there that explain the various means of contemporary publication; there are societies, conferences, workshops. To my mind, this is work that needs to be done before approaching an editor.

I get that feeling of wanting someone else to just finish the thing already. There have been more times than I can count that I want to send a finished-but-not-yet-read-through revision to my agent to let her identify what still needs to be fixed . . . and then tell me how to fix it. Or to send it to editors and have them see that I could eventually get this thing into shape, if they’d take a chance on me. In my right mind, I know this isn’t really what I need. Rather, I need to persevere and accept that this thing is going to take a while, and the hard work is on me.

My main concern with some of the projects I’ve been approached with recently is that the authors don’t have specific and realistic expectations. They haven’t done their research and haven’t clearly defined, for themselves, what they want to achieve with their work. This isn’t a decision I can make for another author. It’s based on how much the author wants to put into it and how much they are willing to endure to accomplish their goals.

If these goals aren’t set, there is a greater possibility that these hard-working, passionate people are going to be disappointed and discouraged from further pursuing the work they love. And nobody wants that!

So what’s an author to do about it? Well, there are blogs to read (like this one!). There are websites to follow, authors to keep up with on Twitter and other social media outlets. Get involved in the community you want to be a part of. It’s a fascinating place, filled with all kinds of people, all kinds of stories.

And when you know what you want from your work, when you have an understanding of what it’s going to take to get from point A to point B and you’re ready to tackle it, find an editor who shares your passion for good stories, for hard work, for the satisfaction of giving something your all. It will be an investment of time and money, but it will not improve not only your manuscript, but also you as a writer.

You’ve gotten this far. Keep it up. Watch a classic underdog movie for motivation: Miracle, maybe, or Rocky or A League of Their Own. The good stuff is worth fighting for. And what you’ve been working on? It’s good stuff.

Update and Pitch to Publication Announcement

The writing life is happily busy these days. While I clearly haven’t been writing blog posts, I have been at work on a number of other pursuits that have me feeling creative, productive, and artistically encouraged.

After four years of its being on my shelf, I finally read On Writing by Stephen King. I was, frankly, terrified of this book. (I know, Stephen, I know, drop the adverb.) I was going to seek writing advice from someone as successful at King? Really? I didn’t expect to be able to assimilate a word on the page. Turns out, the book is incredibly accessible, and honest and encouraging to boot. My copy is underlined and dog-eared, and won’t be spending too long on the shelf before I break into it again.

Earlier this month, I published an article with Verily about my experience with miscarriage and a few seemingly minor changes everyone can make in the way we speak to help those who suffer such losses to acknowledge the pain for what it is. In a day, it had over a thousand shares, and now it’s over 9K. I’m amazed and humbled to see how working at my craft has affected so many other people. Practicing writing by reading, editing, writing fiction meant that I could communicate my story in a way that resonated with readers. For the first time, writing really feels like a gift. There isn’t an endpoint on the journey of being a writer, but this is a milestone I will treasure.

In addition to caring for my three little humans (the youngest will be four months this week!), I have also been editing my CampNaNo project from April and reading a ton. The novel is not finished, not even close to the polish stage, but I’ve been making time for it, and it’s exciting to see it coming along, even as I chuck pages and pages out at a time.

I also start half marathon training today. The schedule I have is almost the same as my writing schedule, as to which days are on and off. It was a totally subconscious move, but I guess I’ve found my groove. I’m a little concerned about how I’ll fit it all in, and still have the hours I need with my kiddos, but it will work out. In both pursuits, I have family and friends supporting me, and I know from experience that engaging in activities that grow my artistic and physical dimensions make me a better mom—as long as I don’t let the scheduling get out of hand.

Both finally and simultaneously, I am about to embark on the first Pitch to Publication event at WriterPitch. I’m participating as an editor. It works like this: Writers submit queries for their finished manuscripts, along with a list of five editors they’d like to work with. Editors then get to select the authors they’d like to see more from. We see partials, then work together to determine who works with whom. After a month-long editing period, the manuscripts are off to agents and then to publishing houses, if things are ready to go. It’s the whole process in a matter of months, which promises to be challenging in a good way. I’m looking forward to it!

So much on my plate, and so many things to be grateful for in this artistic life. Here’s hopes for a fruitful summer! Stay tuned—another editor/author interview is in the works, too!

Editing, When You’re Four

The other day, my four-year-old overheard me telling my husband I have a lot of work to do to edit my latest NaNo novel. Always helpful and convinced he can do anything (and be the best at it), he piped up, “I’ll edit it for you, Mommy.”

I said sure and thanked him for his help. A moment later, he spoke up again.

“What’s editing?”

Don’t we all feel that way sometimes? I have 50,000 words that I’m sure aren’t in the right order, and most of which probably won’t even stay on the page. If there are strict rules to editing, I haven’t figured them out. It’s a layered process of cutting what isn’t helping the whole and adding in other pieces to make each line sing. It’s push and pull. It’s frustrating. It’s hard to know when you’re finished. But it’s a necessity.

Before editing, all I have is a first draft. That’s something commendable, for sure, but the “first” part sticks out to me. It will probably be months before I can put “final” on this draft. Often, the time goals I set are too ambitious. But every time I sit down to work on it, I get a bit closer.

Sure, there are days it seems that handing it off to my little guy might not be such a bad idea. What I really need, though, is his attitude—that I can do anything, and because this novel is mine and mine alone, I am going to be best editor for it.

What Lisa Ann Sandell Learned While Writing a Novel

Today I’m excited to share an interview with the talented Lisa Ann Sandell, executive editor at Scholastic Press and author of The Weight of the Sky, Song of the Sparrow, A Map of the Known World, and contributor to the collection, 21 Proms. Lisa writes for young readers in both prose and verse, and has generously offered to share her wisdom on writing and publishing.

unnamed

Here we go!

You were an editor before you were a published author. How did your day job prepare you for being on the other end of a project for the first time?

I think I was an associate editor, assisting two more senior editors, when my first novel sold to Viking. I was incredibly excited. I wanted to be as professional as possible and wanted to deliver the cleanest manuscript I could. I just wanted to do my best to make the process as smooth as I could. As a writer, I tend to agonize over the most minute details – I can scrutinize a comma for hours. I’m not sure whether that stems from the ingrained habit of poring over details like this in my day job, or whether it’s just my personality!

Now that you have published three novels of your own, what has changed about the way you work as an editor?

As an editor I always try to be highly sensitive to the authors’ feelings and needs, and above all to their sense of a book’s integrity. A book is an author’s baby, and I make sure to keep that at the fore of all my work. I love editing; I love working with authors – it is always an adventure, always an amazing and rewarding collaboration. Working with an author on a book I love and that resonates with me and speaks to me and moves me is just the most wonderful gift.

What are the challenges of performing both roles simultaneously? What are the benefits? 

The primary challenge of doing both jobs at once is finding enough time in the day to do everything I want to do. So much of my editing work gets done at night and on weekends. When I was working on my own novels, that time was split between my editing and reading responsibilities and carving out some pockets of time to focus on my own writing. It’s a juggling act. But now that I’m a mom, I have to say, it all seems so easy in retrospect – ha! The greatest benefit of working as both an editor and a writer is that I just feel more mindful overall – of text, of story, of what it means to deliver a book into the world.

Your sculpture played a large role in A Map of the Known World. How does engaging in other creative activities influence your writing?

I think creativity begets creativity. Letting my imagination and my mind and my hands play in one medium simply allows for everything to feel more free and opened-up when I turn to the next medium.

Your work is largely influenced by personal experiences—living in Jerusalem, the artistic legacy your grandparents left you, etc.—and yet the stories are not autobiographical. Do you find yourself more compelled by the idea of “writing what you know” or of discovering something new?

I very much wrote of what I knew in my first book, The Weight of the Sky, and once I was done with that story, I went on to write something that I knew about only academically. Song of the Sparrow was probably the most enjoyable writing project I’ve ever embarked upon. I loved diving into the research, and I loved writing about a world that I mostly got to imagine from scratch. But I do love research, digging through old texts, looking up random facts, like what sorts of vegetation would have grown in the time and place where the story is set. I think, for me, the most ideal sort of story to tell is one that contains some measure of context by which I can connect to the world I have to build, but that also has a very wide field in which I can play and learn.

You write beautifully in both free verse and prose. What advice would you give to an author interested in playing with structure and form?

Thank you so much – that is very kind of you! I think the best advice I can give is to just read as widely and deeply as possible. Reading the works of one’s predecessors and understanding the craft will give younger writers the tools to explore and experiment and invent on their own. Then, go play!

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thank you so much for this fabulous opportunity!

Where can readers find you online (Website, twitter, goodreads, facebook, tumblr, etc.)?

I am on twitter (@lisaannsandell), goodreads, and facebook, but here’s my embarrassing confession: With two little toddlers at home and a lot of books to edit, I’m not online nearly enough. Readers can also visit my website: www.lisaannsandell.com

Thank you, Lisa, for your time and thoughtfulness. Now, back to writing . . . or whatever creative venture is speaking to you today!

What Lauren Oliver Learned While Writing a Novel

I am thrilled to have had the opportunity to interview New York Times-bestselling author Lauren Oliver on her experiences as an editor, a writer, and the founder of literary incubator Paper Lantern Lit.

 

In October of last year, I heard Ms. Oliver speak on a panel at the Boston Book Festival. She discussed her writing honestly and humbly, and I left inspired, encouraged, and wanting to know more. I’m excited to share our conversation here, as the newest installment of this publishing-professional-turned-novelist interview series. Grab a pen, because you’re going to want to take notes.

New Author Photo

 

Before you were a published author, you were an editorial assistant at a YA imprint. What did you learn there that fueled or challenged your own path to publication?

Before I worked as an editor, I was writing long and structure-less books tedious in their description and characterizations. Working for a commercial YA imprint actually taught me about story for the first time—about the need for tension and resolution, about the way that the components of narrative work.

 

You still work with authors as one of the founders of Paper Lantern Lit, a literary incubator. How does working with other writers’ work encourage your own writing? 

I just like being immersed in the field. I have a great macro sense of the industry because working at PLL requires it, which helps, I think, to keep my antennae up. And working with creative people inspires creativity. As humans, we’re emulators and sponges: we absorb the attitudes of the people around us.

 

PLL develops ideas and then pairs them with talented writers to craft manuscripts. How does this method relate to the way you write? Do you always have an outline first?

I don’t. I very rarely begin with an outline, although I always do develop some kind of outline to work from or within ultimately. Otherwise I end up reverting to kind of meandering ruminations about the nature of people. Nobody wants to read that.

 

I was fortunate to hear you speak on a panel titled “Fiction with a Twist” at the Boston Book Festival in October 2014. There, you remarked that you’ve gotten tangled up in reactions and sales of your books, and you intend to spend time becoming a better writer. Part of that will entail becoming a student again, enrolling in graduate classes. What in particular are you looking to retrain in yourself, and how?

I just want to get better. I want to get better, and I want to be able to separate what I’m doing from my expectations of its commercial success in order to take more risks and push my boundaries.

 

You said at the festival that you read very broadly. Are there certain genres or titles you intend to study as part of the “retraining” process?

No, although there are books I’ve been meaning to read or re-read—Chris Adrian’s short stories, for example; Love In the Time of Cholera; Wolf Hall—so I’ll tackle those. But I’m always reading so widely and with such voraciousness, it’s not so much a question of my reading habits as it is my writing habits.

 

Do you have a single writing process or a different procedure for each of your audiences (middle-grade, young adult, and adult)? What did you try to figure out what works for you? Are you satisfied with your process, or do you intend to change things as you “retrain” yourself?

My writing process is the same, roughly, in that I always write my way in to the world and the characters before thinking overall about structure. I am trying to get even more granular on a sentence level, to read everything out loud in revisions, to be merciless about what I cut. And I’m trying to get smarter about research and the way I use it.

 

At the festival, you said you always feel you are attempting to do something you’re not quite qualified to do. Do expect that to change? What aspect of writing will always be a challenge, and what do you think you are capable of mastering, or at least improving upon?

I hope it doesn’t change, honestly. I hope I’m always stretching myself and trying to be ambitious when it comes to my work. If you’re not attempting to grow, what’s the point, really? I think that progress probably looks like punctuated equilibrium—I might “master” an element of storytelling for a period of years only to have a completely and revolutionary new feeling or response or reaction subsequently that leads me to become a neophyte again.

 

It was encouraging to hear you say that writing is a calling—you simply have to do it—and that you are looking to restore the joy for yourself in that. In which part of the journey of writing a novel do you find the greatest joy? 

I mean, there is a joy embedded in the daily practice itself. There is joy in getting a sentence right, in getting a character right, in nailing down a detail. The joy and the difficulty are intertwined, I think.

 

I can’t wait to read your next novel, Vanishing Girls, due out March 10, 2015. It will be your tenth full-length book published. What did the experience of writing and publishing the other nine contribute to making this one what it is?

I think it’s obvious from the evolution of my books that over the course of my career I’ve become increasingly interested in things I tended to dismiss at the start, like detailed world-building and the way structure informs story and vice versa. I’ve tried to refine and distinguish the characters’ voices in Vanishing Girls, and that preoccupation is even more evident in my next book.

 

Anything else you’d like to share?

Thanks for having me!

 

Where can readers find you online? (Website, twitter, goodreads, facebook, tumblr, etc.)

All of the above! All of my info is on www.laurenoliverbooks.com, including information that directs you to my social media.

 

Thank you, Lauren!