Not going to lie...some days it's really hard to stay positive. There are some days that it is much harder to remind yourself of the good, pick yourself back up, tell yourself that everything will be okay. It doesn't matter what you do for a living, what you hope to achieve, the path is not always easy and some days, it seems entirely too rough. On those days, I'm inclined to stay in my bed, re-read the best parts of my favorite books, and have my children bring me diet Pepsi in bed. And waffles. Fortunately, along with the waffles and pop, my children provide perspective. While checking Pinterest today, I found the above three quotes, sent from my oldest daughter, with a note that said, "Don't give up, you'll get there. I know it." So. There's that. And for today, that's enough to hold onto.
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 things I want to say and share but I can't. Not yet. But because I'm antsy, I want to share something so I'm sharing some of my favorite words and quotes by others via my pinterest board. Words have an incredible power to soothe, hurt, heal, inspire, build up, tear down, linger, and last. That's why how we use them, where, and when matters so much.
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.
I used to spend time on Facebook. Then it was Pinterest. Now, it's all about Twitter. My best friend had a great status when she started Twitter: Twitter is my new Pinterest which was my new Facebook. I like Twitter. At the moment, I like it a lot because in 'real life' my husband is playing air guitar to Guns and Roses so it's probably better to be looking at the computer screen. I thought I'd see how my life compares to Twitter overall. I couldn't do a fancy Venn diagram like I'd make my students do at school because I don't know how to do that on Twitter, my website, or in real life.
What's your favourite form of social media and why?
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.
If it was...I'd be out!
If you've been reading my posts, you know that in the last seven months, I have gone from writing just for fun, to being agented, to being on submission, to being un-agented. If you haven't been reading, then you are now joining me at the "un-agented" phase.
Now that I've been exposed to people liking my work and wanting to make it into an actual, hold-in-your-hands, turn-real-pages book, I feel this overwhelming desire for it to be so. I can't really say that I'm back to square one because I'm not sure that I started there. I think I started sort of in the middle, spun around several times, and landed, here. The benefit, for me, of having approached the writing industry in this way is that I was safely tucked away in my agented corner. I am a self-doubter to the maximum degree and so I think that if I had just started, like so many do, by sending my work out there, without knowing how to make it stronger and getting rejection after rejection, I would have buried myself away from the writing world. Instead, I felt free to explore and connect and learn. All of those things have been invaluable. I feel like I am far more prepared to query than I would have been without the last seven months of making those connections and learning about the industry.
Of course, none of this makes me an expert, which is proved by the three rejection emails I've received in the last week. It has, however, made it easier to get back up. Now that I've spent time connecting with other writers, I realize that querying is, thankfully, not like sports. If one player gets ahead, it doesn't mean the other player loses. There's no keeping score, you can always improve your 'game', and if you get older, it doesn't affect your performance negatively. Most importantly, when you feel like you're on a "losing streak", it's not always as bad as you think.
When I mentioned to my friend and reader, Lauren (visit her site for great information and help on writing and editing) that I'd received 3 rejections, she said "that's not so bad". Well, it's not so good either. However, the big thing for me is that by having Carly sign me, even though it didn't work out the way I hoped, it was like I was front-end loaded with confidence. It's waning a bit but not enough to stop.
The desire to keep going is fueled by the kindness that accompanies the rejection emails. They have encouraged me to keep writing, send to other agents, and apologized for not being interested at this time. Yes, I know it's a form letter but it could also say: "No", "No thanks", "Not for us". It speaks to the kind of people that writers, agents, publishers, editors, and readers are. When you fall in love with a book, it's already been loved by others, numerous times (I'm sorry to say you weren't its first). To make it through the long journey that is the book industry, the people fighting for you have to believe in you and your words one hundred percent. Or more. I appreciate that someone has taken the time to create a form letter that says, "This isn't for me but it's a subjective business. Keep trying."
In sports, when you have a bad game, you watch playbacks to see where you could improve. In writing, you count on people to be honest with you about what works in your writing and what doesn't. What I have learned, for sure, is that if you are at the point where you want to share your writing, you want to be certain that it stands out. I am learning, slowly, that to stand out, to stay in the game, takes patience, revision, more patience, and an understanding that three outs don't necessarily mean it's over.
I should note that I do not play any sports at all, unless you count online shopping or being able to stand on a paddle board for longer than one minute without falling. Therefore, I think this adds strength to my sports metaphor. Or undermines it. I'm not sure which.
Sometimes, writers have nothing to write. You can call it writer's block, but sometimes, it's just a matter of having nothing to put on paper (or screen). Fortunately, being a writer, you can come up with a long-winded way to share that you have nothing to say.
See, I just did a whole paragraph on how this blog is, technically, about nothing. The beauty of words. So, since I had nothing of particular importance or consequence to say this week, I thought I would try a Top Ten List (not laminated, of course, because I often change my mind). Once I decided to do a top ten, I started wondering what the list should be about.
I won't give you the top ten list of my ideas for top ten lists. Instead, I'll skip ahead and tell you that I've decided, as part of my attempt to establish an online presence as an author, that my list will just be about me. Don't be disappointed. If you've come to this site, you have some reason to want to know about me; hopefully it'll one day list my top ten children's books that I've written, but for now, it'll give you a clearer idea of who I am.
Top ten things that make me happy
10. Having my counter tops clean. This may seem random, but my counter tops are rarely visible. They have homework, planners, piles of books, papers, treats, lunch kits, and many other things on top of them. There are these moments, each week, where I get them cleared off and it's really enjoyable to look at the open space. I now take pictures when I do it, so I can remember what it looks like.
9. Re-reading the mushy, cheesy, adorably-sweet, romantic moments in all of my favourite books. I go back and just re-read these parts. No matter how many times I read the part where he realizes he loves her and says the perfect thing, I get that little flip-flop in my belly.
8. Finding Dawson's Creek re-runs on T.V. I actually have all of the seasons on DVD but that makes watching it seem intentional. This way, I can say I was just flipping channels and happened upon it.
7. Winning at a game-any game. In particular a game I'm playing against my husband. He wins at everything. I win at nothing. But every now and then, the unthinkable happens (and it doesn't matter that it might be during a game of Sorry) and I win. That's a good moment.
6. Doing absolutely nothing with the people I love. It's not that I want to do nothing, because I actually am not very good at doing nothing. However, I really enjoy just being in the same room with the people I love. They don't have to pay attention to me; they just have to be there.
5. Being on time. This rarely happens, unless you include work. I show up on time for work. But that's about it. Sad, because I do think that being on time for things is important and respectful. The ability to pull this off on a regular basis elludes me. Our friends now invite us over and expect us on "Holford Time" (about a half hour late).
4. The moment on a T.V. show when your favourite characters FINALLY get together. Love that. Truly love it. (See Mer & Derek above)
3. Snuggling in bed with my whole family when it's raining outside. I hate the rain. It makes me morose. But there's something about laying in bed, together, snuggled up, cozy and warm, listening to the rain beat down on the house and not having to go out in it.
2. Writing. I have to put it on here because it's silly not to point out that it is one of the things, and definitely in the top ten, that bring me inexplicable happiness. On the flip side, it also brings nerves, self-doubt, and uncertainty. But mostly, it brings me happiness. Especially when I write a story that my girls love.
1. The people in my life. I am reminded, daily, through a number of actions and words, how lucky I am to be surrounded by people that get me, accept me, support me, love me, and take me as I am, even when I'm not always easy to take.
I've never shared my writing with many people. In high school, I wrote poetry (like every angst ridden teen) and some plays. One play was performed by a group of us, so I did share it a bit. Once I went to university, my writing, other than for academics, came to a standstill. As I finished school, I might get the odd burst of need to write something down. A few years ago, I really got back into writing by taking a university writing course to meet my Post Bac. Degree requirements. I started writing short stories, poetry, and short and full length plays. I suppose that was what reopened the door for me. Since that course, I have played with writing now and again but about two years ago, I started feeling more driven to write. I felt like I had to write something. Having said that, the time I wasn't writing, I was posting articles online and some in the newspaper so I suppose writing has never really exited my life completely. Still, I've never felt such an energy for writing as I do now. I started a couple years ago with a story about my oldest daughter and it kind of snowballed from there. After attending a writing conference this last October and being blessed enough to receive representation from an agent, I decided that now is the time. If I'm going to write for anyone other than myself, now is the best time to do that because I have someone who is in the industry willing to read my work and guide me.
I'm becoming better at sharing my writing, as a result. And as a result of that, my writing, itself, is becoming stronger. Before I send things to my agent, I want to make sure I'm not wasting her time. So I send to my very best friend and another close friend for revisions, edits, and overall impressions. I specifically asked that they not be gentle with me because there's no use pretending something is good when it isn't. Besides that, I have a feel for it anyway. Kind of like when you cook something that tastes awful and people say, "No, no, this is good." I know when food doesn't taste good and I know when my writing is not at it's strongest. However, the benefit, I've found, in sharing it, is that 'beta-readers' do more than just provide edits. They provide questions and they act as your audience. They help you fill in the gaps and see that maybe you're not presenting what you meant to.
A lot of people, now that I am letting them see it, ask where I find the time to write. This is the question I often ask of people who say they work out an hour a day. Where do I find the time? In tiny little pockets that show up and in time that is provided for me by my lovely husband who will sometimes take the kids out for a bit.
Sometimes, it's a real challenge; I will admit that. I get that feeling that I have to get something down on paper but that doesn't mean I don't have to cook dinner, give baths, make lunches, do laundry, do marking or planning, or read to my kids. So, I look for those pockets and I make the most of them. Kids gone to the park with dad? I'm writing. Husband watching T.V.? I'm writing. Actually, if I'm watching T.V., I'm often writing as well. I'm often writing while my daughters are asking me three dozen questions or telling me about the life cycle of some animal I've never heard of.
I want (and need) to believe that my writing doesn't throw anything off balance. I hope that my kids don't feel like something is missing, but honestly, I don't think they do. We spend lots of time together and one of the most wonderful things that has happened as a result of my new-found desire to write as much as possible, is that my kids are writing; A LOT! My ten year old wrote a beautiful song yesterday. My six year old wrote about saving the Wood Thrush (she's a little hooked on Wild Kratt's). It's a pleasure to see them spend time and energy on something that means so much to me. It's also nice to see them work this into their schedule; should I write or watch T.V.? Write or play? Write or color? Write or drive my sister nuts while she writes? That last one often wins out for my youngest.
So yes, it's a balancing act; but I wouldn't/couldn't change it anymore than the person who absolutely has to get their work out in or manages to walk their dog at 5 a.m. (I could NOT do that). When you love something though, when you feel like something is an essential part of you, balancing it does not seem difficult. In fact, while I'm balancing everything else, it often seems feels like it's the break I need.