My story, “Forensics & You,” just went live at HOBART today! If you have a few minutes today, please give it a read. I hope you enjoy!
As a writing instructor, I often wondered how my students had made it through high school with their limited writing skills. To me, their writing was an indication of the condition of their minds. In this digital age, many are losing the ability to communicate, and not just through writing. In a recent conversation with the principal at my daughter’s high school, she said some of her students can’t even talk face-to-face anymore. When she asked one to apologize to another, that student asked if she could text the apology instead.
Pulitzer Prize-winning author and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, David McCullough said, “Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.” His assertion is supported by modern psychology. If you’re interested in this, here’s an article by Keith Oatley and Maja Djikic from Psychology Today: “Writing is Thinking.”
When I came back to writing at the age of 28, I wanted so badly to be published. Now, I’ve never actually stopped writing. I churned out essays as an English major, but when I say I came back to writing, I mean stories and poetry. I grew up absent from my own childhood, preferring to create alternate worlds instead. I also read. A lot. I preferred the written word to the harsh reality of life in an unstable and abusive home. Probably what saved me was the ability to safely escape through books, and writing provided a way for me to order my thoughts and deal with things in a productive–rather than destructive–way.
Because writing came so naturally to me, I thought I would be published instantly. I was mistaken. I had to learn how to edit. I had to learn the meaning of revision. Re-vision: taking another look. Looking deeper. Reading as if you’re someone else. The words we find so pretty and perfect often fall short of our intentions. In my post about balance, I discussed how “most of the editing and revision process happens inside my head, before I even begin to write.” It hasn’t always been that way. I had to learn that writing is a process.
This week, I proofed my story, “Fear of Sudden Things,” for EMBER: A Journal of Luminous Things. [I should mention that I also read through most of the issue after I finished proofing mine. It is a beautiful publication–for younger readers, as well as adults–filled with magical illustrations, stories, and poems by talented artists and writers. It is worth a subscription, for sure. But, in the words of LeVar Burton, “you don’t have to take my word for it.” Check it out for yourself! You’ll be glad you did!]
As I read through my story, witnessing it in the digital form before it goes to the printer, my vision blurred from tears of sheer amazement. I wrote it close to 2 years ago. When I submitted, they accidentally rejected it. Then, a few months later, an editor contacted me and stated that Brian Lewis was asking about my story. They then realized their error. Laughing, I told them in my reply that things like this happen to only me.
I mention this because the story was rejected, then accepted back in March, and I am just now proofing it for publication. The entire process has taken 2 years. On Sunday, I received an acceptance from HOBART for my story, “Forensics and You.” I sent an immediate letter of gratitude and received an instant reply to proof the story, which will appear in the web edition on November 24th. I wrote this story last June.
Long story short: the entire process requires patience, faith, and an unbeatable confidence in your own ability. I cycle through loving, hating, doubting, and back again–even after publication. I worry that it’s never good enough. But this says more about the state of my mind than my writing. It’s determination to keep going that leads me to success. When Yoda said, “Do, or do not. There is no try,” it’s obvious he wasn’t a writer. He was a Jedi Master. Sometimes trying is all we mere mortals can do. The rest is up to the editors, readers, agents, publishers, and whatever other employees handle our writing. I imagine the editors at PLOUGHSHARES sitting plumbers and cleaning ladies down at computers to filter through submissions. It’s probably a good practice. I mean, If plumbers and cleaning ladies actually want to read it, who wouldn’t?
Today is November 1st–day one of NaNoWriMo. The goal: write an entire novel in 30 days. This is the first year I will be participating in the madness. If you want to join the fun, you can just do it or go to the National Novel Writing Month website and sign up. At this site, you can track your progress, get support, and meet other writers. Either way, come back here and let me know how it’s going. We can encourage each other along the way!
Let the games begin! And may the odds be ever in your favor!
If this is your first attempt at writing a novel, here are a few resources to help you get started:
10 Simple Habits to Help You Write Your First Book (Life Hacks): Simple tasks to put your writing potential in action.
How to Write Your First Book (BuzzFeed): 21 successful writers share their stories about overcoming writer’s block, completing, and selling their first books.
How to Start Writing a Book, 1st Chapter (Writer’s Digest): A sampling of advice, tips, and guidelines to inspire your “first steps from blank page to finished piece.”
Thanks to the Writer’s Digest Platform Challenge, I’ve kept track of this month’s activities on a calendar. I start out with the week’s goals in red and as I complete each task, I change it to black and move it to the day the task is completed. This way, I can look back on everything I’ve accomplished, and still keep my upcoming deadlines in mind. So, when I have one of those days where coffee just isn’t helping me focus, I have something to provide a clear path for what I should be doing.
It’s simple. In Microsoft Word, I create a table with 7 columns–one for each day. Here’s an Example Calendar to show, rather than tell you what I mean.
It’s also important to celebrate your successes!
This year, my poem “Mourning List” appeared in the same issue of Calyx as the memorial to Margarita Donnelly, founding editor of the beautiful publication. Margarita Donnelly died Christmas Eve 2014, the very same day as a good friend of mine, Sarah Edwards McFarland, who I’d known since 4th grade. The title and subject matter of my poem was appropriate, though when I wrote it, I had no idea Sarah or Margarita were going to pass on. I wish I would have known. I wish I could say goodbye to Sarah, or thank Margarita for building such a wonderful home for women to place their works of art.
Sadly, we cannot time travel. (Yet.) So, forget the rejections. Draw from them whatever constructive criticism they offer, then press that lovely delete button. Life’s too short to dwell on your failures. And, if you haven’t had any publications yet, tomorrow is a new day.
In fact, tomorrow is November 1st and… NaNoWriMo BEGINS! So, let’s get to work. And WHEN–not if–you have a publication or acceptance from an agent, come here and let me know. I’ll feature your good news in a pretty post dedicated to your successes and we’ll all celebrate together!
Even the Greats receive countless rejections before they’re recognized as “great.” Stephen King, Sylvia Plath, Kurt Vonnegut and Gertrude Stein all used their rejections to drive them to keep working, and work harder. They didn’t let these stop them, and the world is better for it!
Last week’s Prairie Schooner e-newsletter featured an interview with Adam Zagajewski titled, “The Border Between Sadness & Joy,” where Zagajewski discusses success:
I think success is the enemy of the poet. Poetry arises out of inner life; out of some contemplation, sometimes out of lament, and success creates an artificial reality. It’s not you− if you happen to be acclaimed. I haven’t reached this degree of success, luckily, but I can imagine there is a degree of success that cuts you away from real life, from real people.
Last time, I mentioned contacting fellow writers. In her response, Lisa Fay Coutley said, “It’s exciting, those earlier days of meandering and working your ass off. If that’s where you are, in a lot of ways, I think that’s the best part. It’s like new love. Enjoy it!”
For me, this adventure is like being a new mother. No one can possibly articulate how difficult it will be. On the same hand, no one can possibly describe how rewarding it can be.
As K.M. Weiland describes, “The magic ingredient in fiction is that special something that socks readers right in the gut and leaves them breathless with joy or sorrow (or maybe wabi-sabi, the Japanese term for that impossibly beautiful combination of the two).” (Outlining Your Novel, 66)
This July I will deliver my fifth baby. Because they arrive without specific care instructions each child is a beautiful mystery. Like Adam Zagajewski, I haven’t reached the degree of success that removes a writer from reality. I only know the magic of discovery involved with each new creation of poetry or fiction, and the overwhelming feeling of wabi-sabi that inevitably comes each time. And I will take Lisa Fay Coutley’s advice and enjoy it while it lasts.