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.

On Making Sense of Critiques

Let’s be honest: taking critique can be tough. It’s something every writer needs to learn how to handle, and it only happens with experience.

 

Sometimes I go in to a critique knowing that there’s something—an exchange of dialogue, a transition, rushed action—I need to work on. It’s encouraging when readers agree it’s an issue without my prompting them. I trust myself as a writer more because I’ve identified a valid problem. Simply hearing my readers put the problem into their own words can get me closer to a solution than I would have reached on my own.

 

Other times, I learn that readers aren’t connecting to the part of the work that means the most to me, or that they don’t understand what the piece is trying to be about. That stinks, but when I accept it, it always makes the piece stronger.

 

There are two important things I’ve learned recently:

 

  1. You can recognize the issue a critique presents, without agreeing with the proposed solution.
  2. Sometimes the reader isn’t the right one for your piece.

 

Some of my critiques have given me great ideas for how to remedy issues in my manuscript. Others have clarified where the problems lay and I’ve decided not to use the suggested solutions, because they were not aligned with the larger purpose of the novel.

 

This is not a decision that can be made emotionally or reactively. It’s not about whether or not the critiquer was “right”—it’s about what best serves the novel.

 

I usually still change something, since there was something disengaged the reader. It may be a sign that I need to rethink what I believe the novel is trying to be about.

 

The farther I get into my current novel, the more I understand what it is—not just what I want it to be. In the years I’ve been working on this manuscript, some elements have stayed the same, but become sharper. Others have changed dramatically. The more willing I am to let go and let the thing move on its own, the faster I make progress toward a more cohesive and more engaging novel.

 

As far as point 2, consider that my novel falls into the category of “foodie fiction.” Early on, I had a reader suggest I cut a scene in which the main character is cooking a meal. This reader thought the scene went on too long and wasn’t important for the rest of the story. In fact, it is a pivotal scene in establishing the character, and one I’ve gotten good feedback on from my first round of submissions.

 

Was the scene not right for my novel? No, the novel wasn’t right for that reader. And that’s okay. It wasn’t the kind of thing he’d read before, and he didn’t connect with it. That doesn’t mean much of anything other than that.

 

By learning to make better use of critique, I am gaining confidence in my ability to identify and fix issues in my writing. My novel doesn’t need to be for everyone. It does, however, need to be the best version of itself for its audience.

Editing On Purpose

I’ve been editing my first novel again recently. This is not news.

 

What is news is the conversation my writers’ group has been having recently on how we incorporate feedback in our revision processes. Those who have responded use different methods I won’t get into here, but there’s a similarity at their core: these writers edit with intention.

 

Each critique in our group consists of a conversation that lasts forty-five minutes to an hour. Within forty-eight hours, each member strives to send written feedback—the notes composed before the conversation, for the most part—as well. This means that post-critique, a writer can have eight documents to compile and make sense of. It’s a gift to have this volume of consistent feedback, but using it can be a challenge. So how best to go about it?

 

One way is to organize the critiques by concern, that is, consider all the comments on dialogue together, then those on character X, then those on character X’s relationship with character Y, and so on. Then the writer can pass through the manuscript once per concern with focus and intention.

 

When I was editing my novel earlier today, I took this advice to heart. There were a couple things I knew I needed to fix, but then I ran out of steam. I started reading through the manuscript just looking for something, anything to fix. I didn’t know what I was looking for, nor did I have an idea of how I would remedy it. I started to get discouraged.

 

So I stepped back and returned to my critiquer’s notes. I identified something I agreed needed to change and went in and worked on that. Then, onto the next note. There will be a time later to read through the whole and see how all the pieces work together, and I’m sure there will be more to do then. Isn’t there always?

 

With this technique, I got a lot more done in a lot less time, plus I’m fired up to do it again. As with any goal, having a plan—even if it’s one you’ll deviate from—is worthwhile. And at the start of a new year, when everything seems fresh and possible, making the most of the moment is a great practice to get into.

 

 

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.

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:

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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.

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!