What Querying Has Taught Me

Rejections and the struggle to not take a standard form letter as a personal attack on your words. Then there’s the elation a personalized rejection brings. Constant stress eating. Welcome to the dreaded query process.

Querying agents is a necessary evil, and one which I loathe. “The Thing That Will Not Be Named,” as it’s known in my house. But the process isn’t all bad. Just mostly. Querying these past two months has taught me a lot.

First, it’s taught me that rejection won’t kill me. I’m still alive. I’m still determined most days. Some days are hard, and that’s when I hug my cats (sometimes too tightly).

I’ve also learned that I have no patience to be patient. But I have to deal with it. I’m relying on others now, so it’s their timeline. Not mine. To cope, I began vomiting a first draft of manuscript #2 and that has helped me whittle away the time. When I don’t want to write, I find something else to occupy the daylight (and sometimes the late night) hours. Yoga (finally, after months with a broken foot I can do some basics!), cooking, and even cleaning help pass the time when I can’t find a cat to hug.

I have a great support system. I have critique partners, a circle of writer friends, a book group, not to mention my non-writing friends who support me with food, alcohol, and a shoulder to cry on. So while I’m being rejected, I’m also networking.

Finally, querying has taught me discipline. Since I’m self-employed, I sometimes need the super power to not get distracted. Did someone say squirrel? Since I know approximately how many queries I need to send per month to hit my rejection goal by the end of the year, I can block out chunks of time per week to do the The Thing That Will Not Be Named. I schedule the rest of my work around the days I query. I treat it like a job I’m on the clock for.

While the process is daunting, slow, and mostly filled with rejection, I know my agent is out there. Likewise, I know that if I can survive this process, I can survive a lot.

 

 

 

My Tribe

More than a week later and I’m still experiencing a surge of energy from talking with like-minded people: my writing group. I secretly call them my tribe. They probably don’t know the impact they’ve made on my life unless they read this personal, but not-so-personal blog. (This is published on the inter-web, after all.)

I met these two kick ass writers at a local class. When we kept in touch outside of class, I assumed it would be like every other writing group I’ve been a part of: we’d exchange pages a few times and things would fizzle out.

Months later and we are stronger than ever! Pushing boundaries and making things up as we go. The three of us come from completely different backgrounds, both social and educational. But perhaps that’s why this works so well. We all want the same thing: to be better. And we all bring unique experiences to the table so learning from one another never turns stale.

Even though we don’t know many personal details about one another, we know each other intimately through our writing. We have a place to share ideas and pitch crazy off-the-handle stories that any sane person would say, “this person has LOST their marbles!”

I guess the moral of the blog is this: I write for me. My tribe inspires me to write better.

 

Currently reading: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz & After by Amy Efaw

Past Self vs. Future Self

We look to our past to get a sense of who we are. Where we come from. Our genes, our ancestors. But why don’t we look at our present and ask who we want to be. Who are we in this moment? Are we thrill seekers, the introvert gamer, the 9-5er? Or are we somewhere in between? What experiences and how do we react to things make us more of who we are than any family hierarchy.

My friend is addicted to solving the mysteries of her family tree and recently found out her background isn’t what she’s been told for thirty plus years. When she told me, I was stunned. It was like our giant pink balloon had popped and we were left with broken pieces. Until I realized that this piece of knowledge doesn’t change one thing about her or our friendship. She’s still my best friend, she’s still the most beautiful soul you will ever meet.

While I’m not saying it isn’t great to identify with your heritage–because it totally is. Own it! But you shouldn’t let it define you. Let your current actions and your future dreams define you. Who are you today? Who do you want to be tomorrow? And finally, what will you DO right now to be the person you are meant to be?

What I’m reading now: Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

A Hiker’s Peace

I climbed to the top of Camelback Mountain. People do it every day, no big deal. Except that it was a HUGE deal for me. I’ve never done something like that (and probably won’t be back to Camelback in the near future), but I reached the summit. I stood at the top and spread my arms wide as gusts of wind bit at my face. Adrenaline coursed through my body and I breathed heavy from the climb (and a little bit of residual panic attack), and I thanked myself for believing in ME.

Above the noise from the city, the smog that hung in the air like low clouds, and away from my phone I found a peace that is hard to come by. The solitude (but camaraderie) at the top was something so unique that only fellow hikers probably know what I’m talking about. Yes, there were other people at the summit, but for a moment we all shared a bond. We smiled at one another, silently congratulating the other for making it to the top.  We were giddy, taking pictures to remember. Remember what, though? For me, it was to prove to myself that I did it. I set my mind to a goal and my body followed through.

When I feel like stopping a project because it is too difficult, or I am metaphorically stuck, I can look at this picture and remember there were moments where I was stuck on the side of a mountain, hyperventilating “I can’t” until I made up my mind that I was going to reach the top. And I did.

 

Currently reading: Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff

My Version of the Truth

Someone asked me last night if I tell the truth. What a loaded question. This person referred to a specific event in our lives, but their question got me thinking about my writing. What truth is in my writing?

“Write what you know” is common advice for writers. Does that mean that fiction books represent real events? Maybe, probably, no way in hell. But a real event can be construed so many ways by the “what if this happens?” question that writers ask themselves as they place their characters in the middle of a huge shit storm.

A seed of a truth can be taken, used, morphed, rewritten so many times that the original seed is no longer visible. Does this make something any less true?

While writing, I take an incident– or several incidents– and blend them into a story. The only truth that matters to me while I write is the question I ask myself every day: did I tell this story to the best of my ability? This is one of the hardest questions to answer truthfully, but also one of the most important instances for me to be honest.

So, truth in writing only matters at the end of the day, once the words are on the page. Is this my best work to date? Did I pour my soul into these words? If the answer is yes, then it is the only truth that matters.

Currently reading: Play It As It Lays by Joan Didion

Wrestling the Muse

Writing is a job. There are good days, and there are bad days. Bad days are those days where I seem to get nowhere, the days my Muse has decided to stay buried.

More often than not, I stare at a blank page, or a blinking cursor, and wait for my Muse to show itself. It’s not always like that, but sometimes my brain is just stuck. And that’s when I realize that using my brain is the problem.

For me, writing is about discovering hidden parts about myself. In order to do that, I must turn off my brain– that left-sided pesky thinker– and turn on the inner voice. Sometimes I refer to that inner voice as the Muse.

Sometimes it is easier for me to wait until the story bubbles to the surface, bursting at the barriers, threatening to break walls. When I write those stories, the words flow easily, images come quickly, my fingers barely keep up.

But because of deadlines, I can’t always wait until that voice comes through my fingers. I have to go searching for it instead. Yoga, going to the gym, taking the dogs for a walk all help to quiet the left side of my brain.

Sometimes I can write 1000 words, then BAM! I’m stuck. And remain stuck. I have to let go of outside pressures, influences, and turn off the internet. I recently started what I hope to be the final rewrite of my work-in-progress.

And here I am, delaying the writing.

The ass-to-chair method is failing me. I show up each day for the Muse to appear, but all I receive is quiet. So I just begin writing. I write terrible sentences, beginning at a place where I know deep down the story would never begin. But I am writing. And soon 250 words turns into 1000. And I can feel the Muse beginning to poke through the dense clouds of my brain. But I keep writing, knowing most of the words I will cut. For now, though, these words are bringing me closer to the real story that needs to be told.

Wrestling the inner Muse can take up much of a writer’s time. Word sprints, object focus, and other tricks can get a writer writing. Anything to get that Muse out and onto the page is considered successful. Even if that method is procrastination by writing an blog entry 🙂

Currently reading: The Stones of Mourning Creek by Diane Les Becquets
Just finished reading: The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls & Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Why I Write

I write because I need to write. That is what many writers say.

I write because I need to feel. I need to process the world around me, take in the images I see, and process the feelings, the emotions that linger long after the image is gone. Writing keeps me grounded. Without writing, I would go through life, not truly seeing what is around me.

As a writer, I sit at the edge of a conversation or interaction. Being a writer means taking into account what is around me, observing what takes place during gatherings or impromptu conversations. If I wasn’t a writer, I’d be a daydreamer.

I’ve always been a writer; however, it wasn’t until recently that I identified myself as a writer. In elementary school I wrote stories about my cat and dog; middle school I copied Edgar Allan Poe’s style, and wrote stories and plays of the macabre. High school I penned poems of unrequited love (because who didn’t do that in high school?). College killed my creative writing. I was excited to take a creative fiction writing class, but not so excited the mechanics of sentence structure. I stopped writing. I stopped feeling.

Only recently, at my husband’s suggestion, did I attend graduate school for creative writing. I had dreams of being an editor. He had dreams of being married to the next very successful author.

I learned all over again how to feel through words.

Now I write because I need to write. Days without writing negatively affects my mood. Of course I want to be a successful author, but that is not why I write.

Currently reading: What’s Important is Feeling by Adam Wilson