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.

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Things I Didn’t Finish in 2015

Happy New Year! It’s a time for reflection, resolutions, and rebooting. I’ve been doing some of each. I have a goal to sell my novel this year, but that’s not really a new thing, I guess. Ha! Still, I made some big changes to the manuscript last year, after some big feedback from the year before. I’m psyched to get it to my agent and see what she thinks. And speaking of sending it out . . .

 

I had this crazy idea that I would rework my last edit in the last two weeks of December. You’re laughing, right? I am, too, which is a good thing. Especially with three little kids and family visiting from four different states, this is a very special time of year. My oldest had a long break from school and my husband took the same break from work. I didn’t write, but I hit the reset button in a lot of ways. Speaking of the reset button . . .

 

I received my annual blog report from WordPress recently, and saw that I posted here only thirteen times in 2015. Now don’t get too excited; I’m not committing to a jillion posts this year. But I am happy for the perspective on where this blog fits in my writing life. Right now, revising my novels, writing for Verily, preparing every other week for my writing group, and completing editing projects take the majority of my writing time. I haven’t forgotten about this corner of the cyberworld. I’m grateful for it. It’s a place to take stock, to share ideas, and to mark progress.

 

My initial idea of posting twice a week hasn’t become a reality, and that’s okay. Maybe twice a month is more like it. Maybe something big will happen this year, and it will take on a life of its own. Maybe the new year is a new page turned, but without anything written on it yet.

 

This is all to say, I’m still writing. I’m still here. I hope to have more to share this year. I don’t achieve every goal I set for myself (if you followed my #25BookstoChristmas on Facebook or Twitter, you’ve seen proof). But I’m trying and I’m finding my way in the ups and downs. I hope the strike of midnight on 01/01/2016 gave you permission to do the same.

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.

Cleaning Creative House

Summer is drawing to a close, and even though only one of my three kids is in school, it feels like we’re in a transition period. My response to this, creative type that I am, is to go head-on into finishing a bunch of stalled projects and planning to start new ones come the change in season.

I am an avid/obsessive knitter, and this week I will be finishing up a Christmas stocking, a purse, a dress, and a sweater. I may sew some shorts and a pincushion, too. You know, for good measure.

I have tried to reflect on where this creative burst is coming from (last night I stained two end tables that had sat incomplete in our living room for the majority of the last year). Part of it is that the change of seasons does something to my mind, which likes to compartmentalize—this happens here, then that, then we’ll be ready for this other thing. I recognize life doesn’t work that way, and that the changes often bring us much more exciting experiences than we would have come up with on our own.

Still, I like to have a plan. If you don’t believe me, you could ask my kids. My four-year-old asked for a calendar for his birthday. My two-year-old regularly suggests what he’d like to eat at his next meal, finishing with, “Is that a good plan, Mom?”

A good plan is one that gets the job done, but that allows flexibility for real life to happen. A good plan means there’s a realistic goal and a reasonable amount of time to accomplish it—with the understanding, of course, that something entirely different might take place instead.

For me, a good plan gets the juices going, gives room for me to produce, without causing upheaval in the rest of my life. At this point, it means completing what I’ve started, seeing something (somethings, rather) through to the end, so that my mind, my plate are fresh and clear.

I have a plan to edit two novels in the remainder of the year. I’m hopeful that one, if not both, will be ready for beta readers by New Year’s Eve. But then, something else might take me on another path. And being willing to follow it, if it’s promising, is the best plan I can manage.

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!

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.

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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!

Return to Blogging

My late winter hiatus turned out much longer than expected. But then, it was a long winter—too much sickness, the passing of my grandmother, and more heavy snow than I would have liked.

But now we are here in spring. I have a beautiful little girl, whom my bigger boys love dearly. My first contraction came at our local library, which I hope says something about her interests as she grows. In the few weeks after she was born, I spent a lot of time in our rocking chair snuggling, nursing, and reading. A few of my favorite things, you might say, and good inspiration for new writing projects.

Currently, I am two-thirds of the way through a CampNaNoWriMo WIP that is pulling together a lot of ideas I’ve had over the last few years, as well as surprising me with a bunch of new ones. It may sound crazy to be writing right now, but life has slowed down so much since my girl was born that my brain has had a good deal of space to be creative. Must find a way to keep this up as she gets bigger!

Here on the blog, there are a couple of interviews on the horizon, one I hope to post later this week or early next. Freelance work is up and running, and my writers’ group is active and well.

This spring feels like a new chapter in so many ways, more than normal. I hope it’s that way for you, too, and that there are exciting pages coming your way soon.

Back to work!