sub·jec·tiv·i·ty [suhb-jek-tiv-i-tee] noun, plural sub·jec·tiv·i·ties for 2. 1. the state or quality of being subjective; subjectiveness. 2. a subjective thought or idea. 3. intentness on internal thoughts. 4. internal reality.
I never know how much to say about anything because sometimes you learn lessons too late, after you've already made mistakes and I don't like the idea of wrecking something for myself before it even happens. Every rejection letter that you get probably has some variation of the phrase "please continue to send your work out as my opinion is subjective". You try really hard to believe that; to tell yourself, it's just not right for that agent. Sometimes though, it's hard to keep going when that subjective opinion seems to be shared by more than a couple. It's important during the times that you feel like this to reach out to the people that will push you forward. Also, to remind yourself why you write. You also have to keep telling yourself that it really, really, truly, absolutely IS subjective. Even though I let myself believe otherwise last week, here's a look at my week to show you how I was reminded.
Monday: a kind letter from an agent saying that I write well but she didn't connect. Okay, I can handle that. I can focus on the "you write well".
Tuesday: a "your work isn't right for us" letter. Okay. Fine. Played on Facebook, connected with writer friends to remind myself that this industry is subjective. Was asked to do a review by someone I respect immensely. Okay. Because I can write. Right?
Wednesday morning: a "thank you for submitting to us but your work isn't what we're looking for" response to an email I sent YESTERDAY. Wow. Okay. Um. Maybe I need a new hobby? Or I can just read. All the time.
Wednesday evening: letter in the mail (like in an envelope and everything) from Blue Mountain Cards. The letter told me that one of the poems I had written had been chosen ("among hundreds") to move onto the next stage.
Moral? It really is a subjective industry. Overwhelmingly so. What can you do? If it matters to you, keep going. Keep writing. Connect with other writers because they have the same stories that you do. If you want it bad enough, you have to keep pushing ahead. Remind yourself of what you have done. Write it down and look at it so that the next time you wonder if you don't understand the meaning of subjective, you can read over this list of achievements and feel good. Because regardless of anything else, if you're writing, if you're connecting with other writers and improving, learning to be better, becoming better, then you are succeeding. And eventually, that persistence is going to serve you well.
There are so many things happening around me right now that are out of my control that it feels impossible to sit still and encapsulate how I feel about that fact. Twitter and Facebook have been abuzz with #yesallwomen and I want to weigh in but I'm not sure how to summarize all of my feelings so I basically just read the hashtags all week. Because yes, I think, all women, but I also think, all people. We all have a fundamental stake in being good people. To others and to ourselves. Every day, we should be the kind of person we would want our kids to be proud of, be the kind of person we want them to be. And if you don't have kids, then be the kind of person you'd want to be friends with. The kind of person that you would count on. One of my favourite quotes (ever) is "The only person you should try to be better than is the person you were yesterday." We get a blank slate every day to right wrongs, make better choices, be better people. Women and men. Kids and Adults. All of us.
Something else weighing heavy in my mind is the politics surrounding teaching right now. It's horrible. It's horrible to watch and horrible to be part of. When you become a teacher, you want to work with kids. You want to make someone's life, day, next ten minutes just a little better. You want to see them succeed, get over the hurdles, and achieve their potential. There are a lot of deterrents in that path. There are crowded classrooms, higher needs, budget cuts, and mountains of curriculum. That's not what bugs me though. And no, it's not the wage either. What bothers me is the overall shift I'm seeing that makes me think that people are devaluing teachers. Not all, maybe not even most, but some. Margaret Mead says “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed, citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." I love this quote and find it quite true. The flip side of it though is that a small group of people committed to making you see the negative can actually create change too. When I was growing up, I loved a lot of my teachers. There is an undeniable bond, for most people, between themselves and a least one teacher in their memory. While we were on strike today, we talked about who that one teacher for us was. For some it was their home economics teacher. Others, it was their Language Arts teacher. For me, it was my high school drama teacher. Whoever it was, it is very likely that you had a teacher touch your life in a positive way. Teachers shape us, spend time with us, watch us grow, notice when we surpass our own expectations, applaud us, push us back up when we fall. When I was little, we studied community helpers: police officers, firemen, doctors, and teachers. They were people you could trust. People that wanted to impact someone else's life in a positive way. We still matter because your kids will always matter. They are the next generation that will make choices based on the core values that we instill in them, together.
The last thing that is on my mind is the Book Expo of America. I'm an odd person in that I am intensely jealous of all the wonderful people that I "know" who are there now, walking the aisles with Rainbow Rowell, Neil Patrick Harris, Jeff Kinney, and so many more. I wish I were there. But then I think, what would I do if I were there? Most likely, I would freak a little at the thought of talking to these people. I'd be ultra nervous and quite certain that every wrong word ever invented would come out of my mouth at exactly the wrong time. I would laugh too loud and babble incessantly. Someone who was brave enough to say that yes, they were actually with me, would smile politely and yank on my sweater sleeve, trying to save the poor person I'm talking to. This is why my interaction is better online. The delete button doesn't work in real life. Which brings us full circle-- #yesallwomen, #yesallpeople because the delete button is not an option and we don't know what word or gesture, attitude or comment will impact the person around us, or how. We all matter. It's important that we not only remember that, but teach it to the next generation-- to your children, your friend's child. Manners still matter, thoughtfulness isn't out of date, thinking before you speak never goes out of style. And you really don't understand someone until you've walked in their shoes. So instead, walk beside them, without judgement, and just do your best to keep moving forward.
Sorry if this was just straight up rambling, but I did warn you in the title that it was #allthethings
It's possible that last summer I may have had a little problem...an addiction of sorts...to all things contest and query related. In fact, there may even have been an element of longing to get noticed or validated. In addition to this, I was also suffering with need-to-write-every-single-second-so-that-I-don't-lose-my-chance syndrome. I believe I caught this from Twitter, where you can find writers galore, contests galore, and constant updates on which writer raked in the good news of the day. Like a good game of poker, it's exciting to be sitting at the table, trying your hand, and seeing if you can stay in the game. It's exhilarating when someone "calls" (or favorites your tweet). There's strategy and technique in crafting the perfect query letter, ensuring that your submission is strong. There's luck in finding the right match for yourself. But there's also the necessity of knowing when to fold. When to back down and realize that the stakes might be 'too rich' for you. It might even be necessary to walk away from the table. Until you're sure you can handle being there. Until you understand that it's not a high stakes, winner takes all game. And until you understand that you, may lose a lot of hands before you finally win.
When you start querying, entering contests, and "showing your cards", you learn what you're made of as a writer (and a person). It is not easy to go from the rush of someone wanting your work to the edge of your seat waiting for them to read it to the hard landing of rejection. It may build character but it also leaves a mark. It is incredibly hard to make yourself understand that they are rejecting your work, not you. Because of course, our work feels like part of us. If you can't face the reality that not everyone is going to love your work, that not everyone is going to want it, or you, even if you thought they might, then maybe you're not ready. Or at least, that is what I learned. I wasn't prepared for the slide down. The attention is wonderful and validating, but the time in between scoops out your self-esteem. And it becomes a cycle. If you let it. If you're writing to prove something or because you think you have to, then you're writing for the wrong reason and it won't be authentic. You have to write because you can't not write. Because it's part of you. If you feel this way, then you'll know, or come to know, that sitting out a round, standing on the edges for a bit, doesn't pull you out of the game. It just lets you breathe.
I sat out the last twitter contest and I thought I would be sorry but I'm not. I like the conclusion that I've come to in the last several months: if I slow down it will not make me disappear. If I don't get an agent, it will not make me stop. But if I had entered the contest, when I finally feel like, okay, I can just breathe and write at the same time, I would have thrown myself back into the cycle. And right now, it's not where I want to be. The point is, you have to know what your limits are, what you can handle, and what you can give. This leads me to my second decision.
I've decided not to participate in the A-Z challenge, which I think looks incredibly cool. Writing a different blog every day for 26 days is a fantastic way to be motivated, be part of something special, and be creative. And I signed up. I even chose a theme (a good one) and organized my drafts file to get myself ready. But then I asked myself, "why"? I have been welcomed into a small community of gracious, funny, and talented writers. I have a support system and a couple of critique partners that I respect. So was I pushing myself because I wanted to just play one more hand or because I felt that this hand would be a building block for the rest of the game. Right now, my building blocks include co-authoring a romantic suspense novel, waiting on agent responses to another romantic suspense novel, being a critique partner, and writing things that I enjoy. I'm putting less pressure on myself to do it all. It all sounds great...but this is how you burn out. It becomes overwhelming and emotionally exhausting if you push yourself past your limit or worse, if you don't recognize you have a limit.
Sitting out and opting out are hard choices as a writer. You feel like, even though everything is moving slower than you ever would have thought humanly possible, there's so much happening around you, without you. And it can become nerve wracking. A friend of mine said this week, "Unless you have an editor breathing down your neck, write for fun or what's the point?" I don't have to spread myself thin trying to be a part of every challenge and every contest. But last summer, I had myself convinced that I did. That if I didn't play every hand, that I'd lose for sure. Really, the only thing I was losing was sleep. And maybe some sanity but that may or may not be tied to writing.
In the last year, my writing has become infinitely stronger. But so have I. By taking away the urgency, I've side-stepped the pressure that I was putting on myself. I've stopped telling myself I have to enter everything I can (though I highly recommend many of the fantastic contests and pitching events you can find on twitter). Instead, I'm telling myself to make what I do write, what I do query, the best it can be. In the process of slowing down, finding balance, and gaining some insight, I may even have become slightly less annoying to those who have to put up with me when I get a little too caught up. One of my favorite quotes is below. That's what I'll aim for. As a person and as a writer.
Technically, it rains a lot in BC. But that's not really what this is about. This is about me waiting for things to happen and realizing that so much IS happening. I have some publishing news that I want to share but I haven't received my confirmation email so I'm cautiously waiting but promise I'll tell as soon as I can. But here's what's up in October:
October 9th.................................So You Think You Can Write
Top 50 entries chosen
October 15th................................Gold Rose Competition
Finalists are notified
October 18th.................................WE Day Vancouver
I will take 20 kids to see amazing and motivating
speakers & be reminded of what really matters in life.
October 24th................................Dinner with REAL authors
I was invited last year, by a friend, to spend an
evening w/writers like Diana Gabaldon, Sam Sykes,
Jack Whyte, and Michael Slade. Last year I was too
nervous to speak. This year I will talk to someone!
October 25th.................................Surrey International Writers Conference
Keynote speakers, workshops, authors AND
I will get to meet/talk to Michelle Johnson,
Carolyn Forde, and Pam Van Hylckama Vlieg
All the while, I'll be waiting to hear back from agents who are reading Damaged, my newest contemporary romantic suspense manuscript. Busy. And let's not forget what this month is really all about, according to my ten year old and seven year old (because writing is great and being published would be lovely but does not hold a candle in their world to:) HALLOWEEN
Keep Calm and anything doesn't really suit my nature. I mean it when I reply to people who tell me, inanely, to 'relax' that "this is me relaxed". My brain works on overdrive all the time. A situation that would bring a few questions to mind for most people, generates hundreds of questions in my head. So, as you might guess, waiting patiently is not my thing. I think maybe, in some alternate universe where I try to see the good side, having to wait for answers about my writing is a good thing for me. I'm slowly learning that everything does not need to happen RIGHT NOW. My friend sent me a beautiful quote that, oddly enough, did making me relax a little.
I always feel like I just have this short window of opportunity to start and complete something but this a self-imposed window. I box myself in by creating deadlines or telling myself that I have something to prove. This works against you in writing. There is no time limit here and this needs to be remembered. Also, it's true when you're told that this is a subjective business. So far, for my current query, I've had a few "it's not right for me" but "perhaps another agent", rejection letters. It is hard to have someone turn down something that matters to you. In fact, I sent my best friend and husband a text earlier this week that said something along the lines of:
I don't want to do this anymore. I can't keep sending my work out there.
I, with my inability to WAIT for anything, got a little down when I entered a very cool pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website and had no immediate responses. I felt that if I got some requests, I should keep going, but if I didn't, I should take a break. Here's the important thing though: I can't take a break from writing. The words and characters won't stop forming in my head so, in the end, whether I get published or not, if my work is requested or not, it's part of who I am. Keep calm? I have to write to do that. I have a tendency to obsess and need immediate results. This is not a good combo in the writing world. Fortunately, I have a strong support system that is used to me, ignores my defeatest texts, tells me to take a breath and doesn't mock me, too much, when I send a follow up text about an hour later that reads:
Disregard last text. Just got a request. Still bring pop, please.
Actually, I got three requests from the "Pitch Party" and I am thrilled and excited and feel like I'm starting at the bottom of the roller coaster, again. However, I think it was a good little learning curve for me because it reinforced what I've already said: you have to write for you. It's where your best writing comes from. You have to be willing to listen and accept feedback and critiques AND rejection. If you decide to pursue the path to being published, you have to be willing to move forward, fight for it, get your writing out there and understand that it is a subjective business. It's like anything in life, I suppose, you have to really want it and the harder it is to get, the more you'll appreciate it when the good moments come.
Last week I wrote about how I started my journey of "professional" writing. If you missed the first one, just scroll down to last week's blog to catch up.
When I ended last week, I told you I had a scheduled blue pencil session and a pitch session. Common sense helped me pick who I wanted to sit down with: I looked through the lists of authors and agents and chose people that worked with or represented what I'd brought with me to the conference. Sometimes, as I did with Tanya and Carly, you take what you read about them and then just go with your gut. Before I tell you how my sessions went, I'll point out what I should have done to be more prepared. When I think about what I didn't know when I attended, I realize how lucky I am to have been successful.
What I should have known before I went:
So, what was it like?
What came next? The biggest part of this whole process: the waiting. There is a lot of waiting in this industry. So I tried, unsuccessfully, to pretend that it didn't matter if Carly emailed. I was surprised by how much being surrounded by writers and books inspired me to write. Since I came home from the conference, I have not stopped doing three things: writing, reading, and waiting.
So how did it end? Not that the journey is over but what was the result of going and putting my writing out there for others to read? While you may think you know what I will write in next week's third and final blog in this series, I can promise you, you do not. Even I did not know how this particular journey would end until this week. Where am now in my journey? What's it like to get the phone call from an agent who wants to represent your work? How can you prepare for that phone call? You'll have to come back next week and read the third in this three part series to find out!
What stage of your writing journey are you at? What do you find most difficult?
While playing the game of Life with my oldest daughter yesterday, she said the simplest and sweetest of things and it reminded me that, sometimes, you just have to let it go, let things work themselves out, and believe.
She was beating me mercilessly, as usual. I had four children, lost my job twice, got sued, and went on a $35,000 vacation. She, in turn, had bought a mansion, found treasure, and got a book deal. She wasn't gloating though, so she clearly takes after me more than her dad.
When she landed on the "You signed a book deal, collect $200,000", I commented, in passing, "I wish that would happen to me."
While collecting her money, she says, "It will. But for real, not just in a game. You'll see."
Just like that. Now, I do hope that one day my book, which is on sub, gets picked up and has success. It's a fun story. However, I in no way think that I'll become rich in any way. From what I've learned about the book/publishing industry, you write for the same reason you teach: because you love it. Which is fine; more than fine.
What struck me is the simplicity of her statement and her conviction. When we're young, we believe in fairy tales, happily ever after, and ourselves. Sometimes, we lose that along the way. As the truth about fairy tales and reality, we let go of that blind faith in things we cannot see. I don't consider myself a jaded person. I believe in people, that good things happen and that good triumphs in the end.
But I can't tell you how good it made me feel to know my daughter believes in me, even when I forget to. That simple show of faith reminded me that, in the real world, believing in something (like yourself) can't be measured by time, accolades, or even your definition of success. Believing in yourself, and in turn, in your writing, needs to be a constant. It's what keeps you moving forward. I read an excellent quote the other day:
“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.”– Margaret Shepard
This could not be more true. We need people in our lives that will remind us of this when we forget. I feel grateful to the people I have in my life that do this for me.
Balance is an important thing to me. Kind of like patience. I think the draw for these attributes, for me, is that I lack them both.
I want both, but they seem quite elusive. Like something fancy and shiny that you save for, only to find that the price has been raised once you go to buy it.
It was pointed out to me by my husband this week, that being patient does not mean waiting 12 minutes for cookies to bake. Apparently, it means allowing time to pass without trying to control every single minute of it. That's not one of my strengths.
Nor, as I've discovered many times, but repeatedly this week, is balance. I balance things in a fairly odd way. For example, I've been writing constantly for months now. I signed with my agent before Christmas and have not stopped writing since. Yes, this is a good thing. It's an outlet and it's rewarding.
Recently however, I realized that I am more than a little behind on my reading. I generally have anywhere from 5-8 books on the go. I plug away at them, whip through them, or re-read them. I read every book I can by an author I like and then move on to authors they recommend. Since I've started writing daily, however, I haven't been reading books as much. When I read online articles about the publishing and writing industry, one of the key suggestions is to read and write every day. Balance.
If I'm going out for the evening and my kids aren't joining us (or more likely, if I've spent too many hours writing or texting and my guilt kicks in), I grab a pile of books, suggest some games, or get a craft going. Then I lose myself in that and in them. Then the "I haven't finished that chapter" guilt starts up and I go back to what I was doing.
If I have something yummy but bad to eat, I eat something so-so but healthy to compensate. Or I go for a run and come home and eat five cookies. Balance. As I've said, mine is a little skewed.
I've been worrying this week because I have been trying my hand at an adult fiction novel. I wrote every day for weeks. I'm currently sitting at about 40,000 words. I hit a wall. Just a mini one, because I know what I want to happen and where it needs to go, but I have to figure out how to take it in that direction. I received valuable, strengthening feedback on my first attempt at a Young Adult piece of fiction that I finished over Christmas. So, one would think that since I hit a wall with one, I could work on the other. Instead, I haven't written anything in three days. Other than this, but it's the end of the third day. So I've gone from writing hours every day to missing three days. Balance? No so much.
The worst part is, a little piece of me believes that if I get too immersed in my books again or I take too many days off from writing, that I won't be able to return to it. That, somehow, it'll turn out that I don't have a lot to say, my characters have reached a dead end, or the edits are not something I can sort through. Instead of being okay with just taking a break, I invent worst case scenerios about myself as a writer. It's an all or nothing mentality and very far from my goal of balance.
So how do I find the happy medium that almost all of us crave? How do I enjoy my kids, provide healthy dinners, teach, work out, write, spend time with my husband, text, play on pinterest, tweet, sleep, and watch T.V. ? How do we fit it all in without losing one of them completely? I become too wrapped up in these questions and end up giving little pieces of myself to each of these things, which seems even, but not really balanced.
When I say balance, I think what I'm looking for is the ability to be engaged in an activity without feeling guilty about what I'm not doing. Quite honestly, feeling that guilt takes away from whatever it is I am doing. I want to be able to write for hours and then play games with my kids without feeling like either one of those things suffered from lack of attention. The fact is, I do all of these things, almost every day. Which could account for why I'm sleepy a lot of the time.
I'm not exactly sure how to achieve balance in my life. I've taken a little step this week by repeatedly telling myself that it is okay not to have worked on my story this week. I tell myself it's okay if I played one game with the kids instead of two. It's okay if the pizza wasn't homemade (but it was). Maybe, instead of balance, I should seek acceptance. Accepting my own need to do as much as I can and not waste a moment. Accepting the days where I manage to do it all, but also accepting the days where I don't. I've talked, in a previous blog, about seeing the smaller steps that lead to the end result. One small step at a time. Perhaps it is the same path to balance as it is to problem solving or having patience. One moment, one step, and one breath at a time.
Of course, searching for balance might turn out similar to my dog chasing her tail; entertaining, but futile. In which case, I'll at least try to enjoy all of the things I keep adding to my to-do list.
My husband often accuses me of trying to control time and if I'm being honest, he's right. I want to slow it down, stop it in certain moments, or sometimes make it fly. Of course, like everyone else, I am incapable of this but it doesn't stop me from trying.
In the last few years, I've been attempting to teach myself how to just live every day without worrying about the next one. This is next to impossible for me because I can't not (yes, I see the double negative) think about the next thing. I have learned to enjoy the moments more though by truly being 'in' them.
I read an article a long time ago that said that as parents and teachers we often get frustrated with children because they are distracting us from something we were doing, rather than because of something they are doing. The article suggested that when you give your full attention to one thing, it leaves less room for frustration. Basically, if you're not dividing yourself into multiple pieces to do everything at once, you're likely to enjoy the focus activity more and become less frustrated even when problems arise. Since reading this article (I don't remember the source), if I've said I would play with my kids, I play. If I've said I want to sit down and write, I write (perhaps multiple things as once like right this minute, but still, one general activity). If I am teaching a lesson, I am involved in that lesson and not trying to plan the next one in the brief moments of down time. It's helped. I know that what I need to do is still going to be there even if I give something my full attention for a period of time. Likely, each thing that I give my attention to turns out better because I'm not being pulled in multiple directions.
Throughout the holidays, I've really enjoyed the time with my family, being with friends, the chance to sleep in, and the chance to write without worrying about what I should be planning for the classroom. On Monday though, it's back to juggling all of it together and tossing in piano lessons, gymnastics, making lunches, staff meetings and so on. It's easy to find balance when you elminate say, a forty hour work week. It's harder to find it when life returns to normal.
I'm not one for resolutions because I don't like disappointing myself. I've made the exact same 'goals' for the past several new years; be a better person, be healthier, worry less. These goals continue to be my life resolutions rather than my new year ones. So instead of an actual resolution, I try to combine these goals with my life long quest for balance. As reality encroaches, I remind myself that I have been very successful juggling all of these things. It's really difficult though, after spending the better part of the last 16 days in pajamas, grabbing snacks whenever, staying up late to read and play on my iPad or iPhone, and sleeping until I'm not tired, to imagine getting up at 6:30 Monday morning.
Part of me thinks I should jump back in right now: go to bed on time, begin prepping my Monday lessons, and plan out my dinner menu for the next couple of weeks. But, since the post is called back to reality, I might as well be realisitc and acknowledge that what I'm really going to do is write as much as I possibly can in the next two days, stay in my pajamas, eat junk food, play word games, and cuddle my kids while we watch too much T.V. Everything else, can wait until Monday.