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.

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.

How to Know You Married into the Right Family

At the start of the season, there was a special on PBS after Downton Abbey called The Manners of Downton Abbey. For those of us borderline obsessed with the show and hungry—after nine months—for as much of the Grantham/Crawley/everyone else world as we can get, it was magical. The historical expert for the show explained life in that time—how to eat, how to dress, and how to marry. As a millennial, I do almost nothing the way the people of that era did, but I remain fascinated by the rules by which they lived.

 

You won’t be surprised, then, to learn that I did not marry for status or land. And so, clearly, I’ve had to establish my own rules for determining whether I’d married well.

 

My husband and I have a whole lot in common: our values, our faith, our love for avocados, bacon, and ice cream. But while I spend my happy time in Word, he spends his in Excel.

 

This year, at Christmas, one of the writers among his five siblings—the screenwriter, as opposed to the songwriter—gave me this lovely card:

 

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and with it, a puzzle whose image was of bestselling book jackets. It was spot on, and so appreciated. But the gift was more than those two items: it was a show of encouragement, of motivation, of confidence that what I’m working on is worthwhile.

 

It wasn’t a tract of land or inherited artwork, but for me, it was proof enough that I sure did marry into the right family.

 

Who inspires you? Is there a creative person in your life who could use a burst of confidence? The little things make a big difference!

 

Winner’s Circle

This morning, my husband I took our kids to a local Turkey Trot. It was the first time our four-year-old ran an official race (and the first time the younger one got to come along for the ride). It was a mile, which is a lot when you’re about three feet tall. Something like four minutes in, he told me, “Mommy, this is a long race!” My husband and I looked at each other. Kid had no idea.

 

For the next fifteen minutes, we walked and ran and ran and walked at his pace. Please keep in mind that it was thirty-two degrees outside. At one point he was talking a lot about when we were going to get to the end. We told him to focus on enjoying the running and not worry about the end; we would get there when it was time.

 

Sooner than I expected, the finish line was in sight. He wanted to walk, but we encouraged him to at least run through the finish line. We mentioned the Oreos we’d seen there earlier as motivation, and that seemed to help—again, thirty-two degrees. The smile on his face when he ran through the gate was priceless. We each received a little white ribbon as a token of our accomplishment. We walked to the aforementioned Oreo station, and he said, “Mommy, I didn’t think I was going to win, but I did!” We came in just about last, but he didn’t notice. He didn’t care. He had run his race, and that was what mattered.

 

Until tonight, I didn’t understand why those who completed National Novel Writing Month were called winners. Didn’t just one person win a race, a game, a challenge?

 

But then I hit 50K (actually a little over to make up for any discrepancy in my word processor’s word count). I submitted my novel and had my count validated. And I felt, for real, like a winner.

 

So now, my husband is making me a latte. Celebratory cookies are ready and waiting. And I am so grateful for the challenge of NaNoWriMo, for everyone who cheered me on along the way, and for the rough draft I thought would take five years to write, but was completed in a mere four weeks.

 

A winner, indeed!

NaNo Progress Report

We are sixty percent of the way through the month of November. Isn’t that an odd way to say it? It’s probably not the best way to gauge how far along I should be, considering that I am not planning to write every day, but there it is.

 

I started off strong—over five thousand words on my first day of writing! What a boon that was in making this thing work. It gave me room to shut down the computer early on a couple of nights when I was literally falling asleep while typing. If I can keep on target for the next less-than-two weeks, I will easily make my goal of 33,750 words. If I can step it up a little, I will make it to 50K.

 

What’s ultimately more important than word count is that I am making progress in figuring out where this novel is going, what’s happening, and, although to a lesser extent, who these people are.

 

The last time I tried NaNo, I had a figuratively sketchy idea of what the novel would entail. There was no outline; I’m not sure I had written more than a few pages of anything related before diving in. There isn’t an outline, per se, this time either, but I’ve been thinking about this novel for what might be close to a year. And I’ve been dying to know what happens (that’s a bit of a pun, as death plays a large role). That, coupled with the fact that I am due with another child on March 1, has upped the ante on getting some form of this thing on the page.

 

Still, last night, I found it tough to get into the work. There are things I know I need to edit out and rewrite. Plot points that need to trade places. But there’s no time for that. There’s more that needs to be written—even if it will all be deleted next month—first, and NaNo is helping me to get that done in a way I think I would struggle to do on my own.

 

There are times I want to make excuses. My grandmother has been sick. I’m toliet training my youngest. I’d almost rather watch another episode of The Biggest Loser. I’m pregnant and tired! My other novel was rejected by an editor I was very much hoping to work with (albeit for a very sound reason) the first week of the month.

 

But the camaraderie I experienced at the Kick-Off Party I attended and the prospect of “winning” NaNo are stronger. Last night, in a moment of Web-surfing weakness, I discovered that my agency’s revamped website had launched, and there I was, on the author page. There isn’t a title or a publishing house by my name. Yet. But I believe there will be.

 

Not, however, until I get back to work.

NaNo, Day One

So here’s the truth: NaNo, Day One was extraordinarily successful in this neck of the proverbial woods. I do not say this to boast; I say this because I am kind of in shock.

 

I happened to be up at midnight last night, and thought I might as well write a few lines. Getting hyped for the start in the last few days, I’ve had some things in mind that I committed to e-paper in the loosest terms possible, as not to break the rules. In the time I had before summoned by a sleepy, but awake child, I managed 455 words. A nice start, I thought.

 

I slept some and after taking the car in for service, made it to a library nearby for a regional Kick-Off party. One relatively young guy was doing NaNo for the twelfth time! Another had a typewriter. Another two were writing by hand.

 

We had a couple of word sprints—fifteen minutes in which everyone writes as much as possible. Any time I’m writing this month, it’s going to be writing as much as possible! After winning the first one (the only sprint I will ever win), I kept my headphones on and continued to pump out stuff that wasn’t total drivel . . . I don’t think.

 

Contrary to my plan, I ended up starting the novel over at the beginning, and I’m glad I did. I’ve written the start so many times, it was good to have a fresh take at it, without trying to manipulate something I’d written previously. There’s still a huge deal of editing to tackle later, but I’m into the story faster than I have been on previous drafts, and I can see where the next few days of writing, at least, might be going.

 

I ended up leaving the library because I was feeling more productive than social. I reconvened at a Panera for about an hour, before heading back home. I may try a “Write In” next weekend, which is a quiet work session. It was fun to be with people embarking on the same challenge. I heard both the success stories of years past and, for others, the couple of years it took to finally win.

 

NaNo is a beautiful thing in this sense. It gets people writing, it builds community, it encourages us to tell our stories, whatever they may be. As long as it doesn’t make me totally nuts over the next four weeks, I’m glad I’m doing it.

 

Oh, and my word count today? 5,159. Okay, two words were my name. One was “by.” And four were the title. But still, pretty good, I think. We’ll see what the rest of the week brings.

 

Happy writing!

A Revised NaNoWriMo . . . Is That Even a Thing?

My first and only attempt at National Novel Writing Month was four years ago, when my first son was just two months old. I only made it to 25,000 words before all I could think of to do with my characters was kill them off. And it wasn’t the kind of book in which you’d expect anything like that to happen.

 

This year, I’m finding a bunch of different reasons to give it another shot, the main one being: I want to figure out where this novel I’m working on is going!

 

So I’m cheating a little bit. I’m continuing a work in progress, and have set myself a lesser goal of 33,750 words. My count was calculated by the number of sessions I expect to complete and the number of words I have proven I can put together in that duration.

 

There’s a part of me that’s hoping I’ll exceed expectations and make it to 50K, but I have to hold that piece at bay. The objective needs to be to get the words on the page to figure out what’s next. I’d be happy if, at the end of the month, I simply had a real, workable outline of the full novel—even if it means throwing out the majority of the pages I’ll produce. I mean, a real, workable manuscript would be better, but again, let’s not get ahead of ourselves.

 

Because I’ve set my expectations realistically, I’m getting really psyched for the month to begin. I have an “in theory” calendar and an “in practice” calendar printed and annotated to mark my progress. I also have a week’s worth of prompts to get me started (I expect to do an hour and a half of free writing each night, not necessarily in the order of a narrative arc). My workspace is clear and waiting. Now all that awaits is the clock striking midnight.

 

Or the clock striking noon. There’s something romantic about starting at midnight, but I’m not sure it’s enough to make me do it!

 

Stay tuned for what I hope to be shorter, but more frequent posts with word counts.

 

Are you embarking on the NaNoWriMo challenge as well? Let’s be buddies! Find me as 34Kforthewin. Good luck!