it’s a trip . . .

tips, quotes, insights, and lessons about writing and publishing learned the hard way

Archive for motivation

Lessons learned from friends . . . Ian Healy

Feel free to argue this point, but the thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful, the published from the unpublished is sheer perseverance–to keep writing, writing, writing–through block, snow, sleet, hail or dark of mind.

Author, blogger, man about the Internet Ian Healy is on the fast-track to success

Author, blogger, man about the Internet Ian Healy is on the fast-track to success

I can’t name another writer in my acquaintanceship who better exemplifies perseverance and gritty determination than Ian Healy.

I don’t know how he does it. He’s already written 15,000+ words on his novel during National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo). I have 4,700 words, and I feel successful. He’s topped 15K and feels like he’s failing.

He’s also done NaNo numerous times, earning badges for completing his 50,000 words in several successive Novembers.

He’s got two blogs, he authors a web comic, and one of his books was named to the top 100 in the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Contest last year. And when I blogged regularly, he always made it around to a lot of people’s blogs and made comments, mine included.

I was supposed to have posted this yesterday, but I ended up going to bed early. I was up way too late on election night.

But as soon as I put this post to bed, I intend to go add to my measly word count, inspired by writing mate Ian Healy.

Yes, Ian’s work deserves to be published. But make no mistake about it. When it is published, it will be because he’s earned it. He works harder than any other writer I know.

And I will always fall short, by comparison, but am nonetheless awed  by his determination.

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on winners and non-winners, also known as losers

from losers to winners in an inning

from losers to winners in half an inning

I don’t have a lot to say in this post other than sharing an important personal observation I made and felt sink into my bones after the Philadelphia Phillies won the World Series Wednesday. A local cable interviewer was talking to one of the players.  (In case you don’t know, Philadelphia fans have died a thousand deaths over the last twenty-five years because our teams either never get to the championship rounds or have choked miserably the few times they did. Philadelphia is forever fighting the perception that it’s a city of losers).

Anyway, one player essentially said (I can’t remember which one), “Winning the World Series has given us so much cred. You’re just not a winner until you win.”

I know the same holds true for writers. Sure we can all tell each other we’re winners in God’s eyes, which is great when one is facing her eternal reward, but not so great, say, when one is going face-to-face with bullies and people who dismiss you because you haven’t made it.

It only takes one published book to change all that–to go from wannabe to winner, to earn that cred most writers richly desire and many deserve.

As someone new to writing and publishing (I’m a toddler in dog years), I know I don’t have the cachet of a published author. This week I presented my workshop for the Literary Festival on writing flash fiction at the university. All the important people at the university couldn’t attend–my boss didn’t show, the president took me off his calendar, and a close friend and supporter never showed up either (although some other “lesser” colleagues did, for which I am eternally grateful, which I say sarcastically, because I’m very happy and humbled that they came).

I got an email from a high school friend who had seen my workshop in the paper and said, “Oh, I really wanted to come but I don’t have my lesson planning done for the afternoon.”

Oh, well . . .

If I were a published author, I doubt she would have brushed off my workshop. What she and others don’t know is that I feel I’m on the cusp of being published, that sooner rather than later, some literary agent will snap me up, and one of my books will get published.  I know it in my heart and my bones. Maybe not this year, but soon. Heck, I’ve only been at this creative writing stuff for three and a half years.

But until that time, I just have to accept that others have a dimm ed perception of my value as a writer, that I’m not a winner in their eyes until I’ve won.

And that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Justice is wonderfully motivating.

It’s a reality of the times we live in, and perhaps each era before us. If the Philadelphia Phillies can endure all the injustices they have–I mean just last year, everyone was calling them “the losing-est franchise in the major leagues” after the Phillies franchise accumulated its 10,000th loss in franchise history–I guess I can suffer a few slings and arrows for a little longer, too.

You’re just not a winner until you’ve won.

meeting triumph and disaster

“If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two imposters just the same . . . ”

–an excerpt from “If” by Rudyard Kipling

the writing life is defined by ups and downs

the writing life is defined by ups and downs

I got a piece accepted. I got a partial rejected. The judge gave me a 52 out of 100 on my short story; if I were in school, that would be an “F.” I won fifth place in a national novel competition with scores of 90 and 92 out of 100.

Sound familiar?

The writing life is often a string of contradictions: positives/negatives, acceptances/rejections, “I like your work”/”I hate your work.” At present the only entity with more ups and downs than a writer’s career is the stock market.

What was that lyric Mary Chapin Carpenter used to sing: “Sometimes you’re the windshield. Sometimes you’re the bug.”

Writing is subjective (though it is curious to me how many people think something is good only when others like it, too–case in point THE DA VINCE CODE, a well-plotted vacuuous book that made a ton of money). It’s like rhythmic gymnastics–your work is subject to expert assessment. Yes, there are mechanical standards that must be met. Assuming you’ve met a modicum of competency, your work will advance or fail to based on someone’s subjective opinion.

When writers are rejected, because writing is such an extension of oneself, often we take it hard–too hard. I know I have. But I keep trying, keep getting back on that horse. Because there’s no way I can get a book published if I don’t get back on that horse–no matter how many saddle sores I’ve accumulated.

It really distresses me when writer friends/acquaintances have taken rejections too hard, threatening to give up writing or tear up a manuscript or tell a gatekeeper something that might compromise any future acceptances. I can see it so clearly that they are over-reacting to one person’s subjective opinion (much less clearly when it’s me.) If writing means that much, how can anyone consider giving it up so easily?

Also, writers really want to stay far away from their work when mired in self-destructive cycles. Let the bad feelings sink in. Feel the pain so you can let it go, but don’t go after your manuscript. Give it a day, a week, a month. I promise you, you’ll feel differently.

Sometimes I get down on myself. Most of us do at some point.

But give yourself permission to get back up. And fix your eyes on the prize, and keep your head out of the clouds. Believe in yourself but don’t get carried away with yourself.

On fewer occasions, I suppose because many of my writing friends aren’t published, they are tempted to let themselves become complacent with that occasional endorsement.

Writers striving to be published have to learn to weather the bad and the good. Some of you might be thinking, did you just say, “Weather the good”? What’s to weather when things are good, you may be thinking. However, if old Rudyard Kipling has any cred, he contends that triumph and disaster are both imposters.

So, what happens to the person who “meets with triumph and disaster just the same”?

A product of his day, Rudyard Kipling says, “You’ll be a man, my son.” With apologies to Mr. Kipling, we can  consider that his use of the word “man” applies to “women,” too.

I’ll go a step further in suggesting that his couplet applies to the writers among us if we “have ears to hear.”

it’s not how you start, it’s that you finish…

I learned something invaluable last January: the very best thing a writer can do for herself is finish her manuscript.

Sounds academic, right? But none of the things that have happened to me thus far–the opportunities for exposure, the chance to request literary representation, the opportunity to attend a Pitch ‘n’ Shop in December would have come about without a finished manuscript.

finish what you start

finish something you've started

Some time in November of last year, I picked out a manuscript contest with a submission deadline of January 20, 2008, and made myself finish my manuscript by that date. And I did finish. I added 35,000 words in the next three months. And you’ve got to believe me–it wasn’t all good, and it sure wasn’t easy writing that many words. I’m not the fastest writer and I edit as I go. In spite of those handicaps, on January 20, with 25 minutes to spare until the midnight deadline, I shipped off a manuscript.

Was I a fool for sending it? Maybe. I see the flaws in it now, but I didn’t at the time. But I was absolutely right to push myself to finish. I’m grateful to those contest organizers. It was an artificial incentive that helped me reach my goal.

And I also announced my goal of hitting 75,000 words to my regular blog readers. Just like people who make their weight loss goals public, I wanted my friends to encourage me to reach my goal of a finished manuscript. And encourage they did. They formed themselves into a cheering squad. One of my blogging friends even embraced my mission to the extent that he changed the name of his blog to include “Home of the Gale Martin Cheering Squad.” I had to stop blogging to summon the focus to take that 75,000 manuscript and beef it up and put spit and polish it. And my old blogging friends (you know who you are) still supported me.

Did these things help? Absolutely. Am I a weak, undisciplined writer for relying on these artificial stimuli to help me finish my book? Maybe. But I’m human. Without them, I doubt that I would be where I am.

And where is that exactly? I’m in the game. Yes, I get rejection letters, but each rejection brings me closer to an acceptance. Yes, I’m still polishing my manuscript, but at least it’s finished. That means I can submit it to manuscript competitions, which I did, taking fifth place. Not only that, the judges’ comments helped me make it stronger.

I have two unfinished manuscripts, each with about 100 pages–a young adult novel and a woman-in-peril suspense story. I have two first chapters of two more novels. I have ideas for two more.

But the best thing I can do for myself is embrace one of those hundred-pagers and finish it.

To sum it up, set a word count for yourself. Add a deadline with some teeth to it (because you are trying to enter contest or a challenge among friends.) And tell as many friends as you can what you are doing and enlist their support.

I’m kind of stuck on a manuscript right now, feeling like it’s sheer dreck. But I’m going to embrace its dreckiness and finish the damn thing because most first manuscripts are dreck.

Because it’s not how you start, it’s that you finish.

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  • my author bio . . .

    I began writing creatively three years ago, fueled by midlife and a Curves' addiction. Since then, I have published short work in The Christian Science Monitor and Sirens Magazine in the same year. How's that for versatility!
    Sirens Magazine

    Sirens Magazine

    Also the Duck & Herring Company's Pocket Field Guide, The Giggle Water Review, Alighted, Wet Ink Press, America's Funniest Humor, Brilliant!, Laughter Loaf, Flash-Flooding, and the Greensilk Journal where my short story, "How I Boinked John Cusack" won editor's pick.
    The Greensilk Journal

    The Greensilk Journal

    My newest novel, THE SHAKER PROPOSAL, has received numerous accolades, the latest a fifth-place in the 2008 annual NWA (National Writing Association) Novel Contest.
    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    THE SHAKER PROPOSAL

    I am a marketing professional by vocation (but not by choice). My husband and I live in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania—the sounds, sites, smells, and flavors of which are a never-ending source of literary inspiration.