On being published, and how it changed my life

i-am-a-writer

Two years ago, I got sick and tired of my pathetic longing to publish my novel. My book project was only one year into the revised drafts, and I felt like time was running out. Let’s face it –I’m not getting any younger, and if I want to be a best-selling author I need to get my first one on the New York Times bestseller list. So I sent out an army of queries to any agent that represented my genre. My submission spreadsheet grew into several pages with polite rejection notes. The agent I met at a very expensive writer’s conference never responded to my query. I was desperate for a new approach.

My critique group was supportive and gave great feedback, but they were not professionals in the writing industry. I wasn’t going to improve my writing without higher standards. Should I go back to school? Seeking to improve my craft, I enrolled in a local university’s online creative writing program. What I expected was that my writing would be pulled apart, equipped with upgrades, and become the shiny sports car I needed to catch a literary agent’s eye. What I experienced was a barrage of articles about writing that I could have Google searched myself. The students provided feedback on each other’s assignments, although most were not qualified or bold enough to give more than vague compliments. Curiously absent were concrete suggestions from the teacher. Although it was great to have structure and deadlines for creating short pieces, I didn’t really learn anything new.

However I did enjoy discussing the art of writing with other people interested in pursuing a writer’s life. There had to be other writers out there like me that wanted to be taken seriously. So I searched the internet and found the California Writers Club. It was a state club with local branches, so I checked out the Inland Empire Branch. What an exciting moment when I walked into a room with thirty other writers, most full time professional ones, and listened to a presentation about marketing books on social media. These people were living the life I dreamed about! I joined the group, and the members have become some of my dearest encouragers.

One of the club’s suggestions was to set smaller goals along the way to my big goal of publishing my novel. For my WordPress blog, I include articles about riding with my husband in the HOGs (Harley Owners Group). I found a database called Duotrope where you can find submission information for all varieties of print and online magazines and contests. A new submission spreadsheet was begun, and within two months one of my articles, “Backroads to Pioneertown” was accepted into an international travel journal called Coldnoon Travel Diaries. There was no money award, but my work was validated. Buoyed with my success, I continued to submit articles and last month “The Almost Grand Canyon Trip” was published in the literary journal The Courtship of Winds.

            My blog caught the attention of our HOG chapter and I was asked to become the editor of their newsletter The Handlebar Star. My responsibilities include collecting and editing articles written by the club officers and adding my own touches.

Success with my nonfiction writing sparked my creativity toward my novel project. Instead of giving up, I asked for help from my social media audience. One of my Twitter followers agreed to become a beta reader for me, and sent me seven pages of notes and revision suggestions. I was surprised to discover that the roots of my story were still alive, and I am weeding out unneeded sentences and watering my characters. I am learning to persevere in editing, long past the point where I’m in love with any of my sentences.

What began two years ago as a desperate search for help has shown some small victories. I’m not giving up on writing courses yet, although I will do more research on the best programs. Joining a professional writers group has given me a supportive family that helped me discover opportunities I never would have found on my own. And becoming an editor has reinforced the basics that I need to practice.

And so I start this year as a published writer. Did it change my life as I thought it would? Absolutely. Criticism and encouragement have sharpened my writing sensibility and I’m ready to do the work necessary to perfect my writing style. Today I’m even more dedicated to improving my writing and finding new ways to get my stories out to readers.

January Reset Button

retreat

 

I only have a few more days of winter break to procrastinate about my novel revisions before I return to school. With the New Year comes the reset button, the chance to make this year different than the previous. Feels a bit odd, as it actually hits halfway through the school year, where we’re not resetting anything, but chugging along down the tracks of education toward May state testing. (How many weeks until Spring Break?)

During the eight years we’ve been married, my husband and I hold back from giving each other Christmas gifts each year, especially considering we have six grown children and seven grandchildren. Instead we go away for a weekend in January, press the reset button and reflect on our personal, spiritual, financial, and couple goals. We write our goals down in a notebook and then look back to see how well we’re progressing each year. Some things we write down seem trivial a year later, while others become more focused and urgent.

Some of the goals are wishes, and many of those we’ve seen come true as the years roll by. But it’s not so much whether or not we hit our targets. Each of us has to search our hearts and share our dreams with each other. Saying them out loud gives them shape and writing them down gives them weight. Even if we don’t achieve a goal, we still feel validated by sharing it with each other, and holding each other accountable when needed.

When a couple wants each other to grow into the person they were made to be, it provides a nurturing environment for change. No judgment, only understanding. Forgiveness when needed and grace to cover our shortfalls. Our January reset button has helped us grow as individuals and in our marriage.

As the End Nears

window

Dark windows made our kitchen seem smaller as we sat wrapped up in our sweaters at the dinner table. Our old heater belched out only enough warmth for the central core of our 50’s ranch house, so we stayed in the kitchen or living room as much as possible. I yawned into my pasta for the third time since I’d gotten home from work. Early winter nights tricked us into thinking it was 10:30 pm instead of 5:30 pm. Finally, after cleaning up the dishes our weariness drove us into pajamas and under the covers to surrender to sleep.

Although my body was tired, my mind still sought to settle accounts with the day. Why was I so weary? My week had not been any more arduous than previous months. Yet December seemed to suck the marrow from my bones. In my mind, I could see my calendar, with the final month of 2016 barely hanging on by a staple. For many people, this year could not pass quickly enough, with its disasters, both natural and man-made. In the back of my mind I could still hear their harsh whispers, but my foundation held fast.

As the year wound down to its final days, I could hear its slowing tick tock. Bitter cold weather mirrored my own bleakness. As I looked out into the black night, my unfulfilled dreams blocked the shimmering stars. This year was five years worth of years – musical productions, writing projects, travel, new curriculum, new principal, and my first published articles. New friends made and old friends made closer. But my three year novel still waits, finished but not finished. So many obstacles remain.

And so I suffer a winter sadness, a darkness that encroaches upon my usual positive nature. It feels like the end of a movie, when the magic is over and you have to walk back out into the lobby. I have to leave the writer’s created world to walk back into the real one.

I pull my comforter close around me and close my eyes, hoping to drift into dreams of the year to come.