Reality and This Writer’s Life

Sometimes, no matter what you want, or how passionate you feel about it, life has other plans for you. If you’re smart, you’ll listen and learn the lessons.

Last month I shared my acceptance with Writer’s Relief. It has been a whirlwind of a cycle so far. A cycle is a three month period where your query is created, synopsis polished and the ‘package’ you send to each of approximately 25 literary agents at a time provided; is developed for each agent, and please know, when I say EACH literary agent – I actually mean it.

The Reality is it is not what you want, or what you think should be submitted. It is what is requested be sent and in what order and how much if anything of what you’ve written. This can be anywhere from the first three pages, to the first three chapters to the first fifty chapters or just a one-page query – copy and pasted in the body of an email and nothing more. Not one more word.

The Writer would love to have you curl up with a fresh cup of coffee, or rich glass of wine, as you delve into the life of my characters, my plot, my tale. I want you to enjoy, squirm, cheer and weep when the story is over. Yet the reality is, a literary agent does not have the time to do that. Perhaps for the King’s, the Paterson’s, and the Grisham’s – but not for you or me. It’s nothing personal – it’s just business.

I’ve learned a great deal in this first cycle of the business of being taken seriously as a writer. What is expected of me? What is the reality of this writers life? The next cycle begins tomorrow. Another batch of agents, another stack of email rejections, or ‘we’ll let you know in a month or two or three.’ It is indeed difficult, but, you do have options – you can withdraw your submission for any number of reasons. The agent will not ask you why, or beg you to send them something more. Nope. They might even be relieved to have one less package to read. But this is where you decide – do I give up? Do I give in? Do I stop learning or do I give myself a day or two to really think, is this my passion? No matter what? Yes. No matter what we continue, by pen and paper, or keyboard and screen. You carefully look at what reality is telling you to do – and you press send. Take a breath. Do it again, and again and see where this journey takes you, who it introduces you to and watch to see the kind of person and writer you become.

Oh, and if you’re hoping that the word Relief actually relieves the writer? Well, yes and no – it depends on the quality of work you produce as a writer and the work you are willing to do or paid to have done (for example, writing your own query letter, or having it written for you). Are you proud of what you’ve created? Have you done everything you can to make it the best writing you can? Not just edit for spelling, grammar, punctuation, sentence structure, but also looked at comments from your Beta group, given copies of your manuscript to family and friends and really listened to their views and opinions? Have you gone as far out on that limb as you can? Can you go a little further? Yes. Yes, you can. If you dare.

The Writer and the Reality of being a Writer are so very unique to each and every person who has wanted to put pen to page. But the business of publishing is vastly different. It is a business, and just like any other business you want to go into – research it, understand it and surround yourself with people smarter than you are to succeed in it. Keep writing. Keep creating and keep moving forward on this journey. The Reality is, at the end of the day – it begins and ends with you.  How sturdy is that limb?

 

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Is This Really Happening?!

It is still hard for me to believe it has been four years since I boarded a plane at LaGuardia and travel to Whitefish, Montana alone. Not knowing a soul, relying on a stranger to meet me at a hotel, and drive into the mountains to a writing retreat.

Haven writing retreat, what was I doing there? Could I truly make a dream, a wish, a fantasy of becoming a writer a reality? That was a life-changing journey, in more ways than building confidence as a writer. It opened up possibilities at a time when everything was shut, locked and chained. But it also showed me the path was not going to be easy, and if I was going to do this, I had to do the work. And there lies the answers.

If you cannot help but put pen to paper, or fingertips to keyboard – you are a writer. If you journal, scribble, enjoy the feel of creating sentences that extend to paragraphs and ultimately fill up a page or two or three hundred – you are a writer. If you sculpt stories, laugh as you write memories, or dampen the parchment with tears – yet you keep at it, keep pouring words in script, print or New Times Roman – you are a writer. You may not be a published author – but you are a writer.

Embrace that fact – because some days that may be all you can hold on to, as you work to become the best writer you can be – and then, the learning begins.

You see I am still climbing, learning, falling, correcting, and reaching the next plateau. Right along side a million others who are also climbing, struggling, collapsing with exhaustion only to get up and start ascending again, and again. The art of writing is a solitary journey in and of itself, but you are definitely not alone.

If it’s worth having, it’s worth working for – and learning to write well is work. But let me say this – if you are happy when you write, if you get a chill when you see what you’ve created, if others enjoy reading your work, or if you keep every word private – that’s just fine. Do not feel you must follow everyone else to be fulfilled. You are enough. In this four-year personal decision, I’ve learned a lot, from a lot of people, and the most important thing is there is a lot more left to learn. Practice doesn’t make perfect, only perfect practice does. As anyone who is trying to learn the proper form to shoot a free throw.

If you’ve walked with me on any part of this journey of mine to become a writer – you know I was accepted by Writers Relief. After all the work I have done, the reading the practice and drafts of query letters, synopsis and bio’s – seeing a professional carve the details – understand the process to publication and know after all is said and done, there are still no guarantees, but you keep at it, because you can’t stop – that is where I am. I can’t stop. I’ve come too far to let it float away into what could have been. I’ve watched this story grow and unfold, and I know there is something special there. I have had Beta-readers of all different ages, nationalities, and cultures read my novel, Northeast of 80 from cover to cover. Two readers immediately asked me for the next book! You can’t get a better compliment than that. I know it’s a small slice of humanity, but I could not have come this far without their support and encouragement. They all want to see these separate pages bound into a book, something to hold and dive into and share and put on a shelf with pride because they know they each had a part in making this come true.

This September Writers Relief is working hard, they are an extraordinary group of amazing people who are there whenever I have a problem or question. They are supportive, honest and make me feel I am in exactly the place I am supposed to be. Soon the query letters will be sent – and the hardest part of the process begins. Waiting. Yet I know this is all part of the journey too. Anyone who has gone hiking or simply went for a walk know, the best part is stopping to sit and enjoy the view.

I can’t wait to see it!

I can’t wait for YOU to read it!!

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What’s Different About This Month?

When I began to consider what I wanted or needed to write about this month, I realized how very different this month is compared to thirty days ago. Last month I wrote a piece about going to writing retreats and the different options you have. It was also the month that I had become a little down about not hearing from literary agents I sent query letters to. Oh, it wasn’t because I received rejections, that I could handle and anticipated, maybe looked forward to because I knew I was in the belly of the beast working to be recognized. No, it was worse, it was not hearing anything. Not a peep. No acceptance or rejections. Last month I found myself in limbo.

This month, my feet found the earth and I am walking forward once again. I knew this journey of a writer, creating a story, then taking that story, developing the characters and weaving a murder mystery together was a long shot. Then diving into the publication world and everything that means was like attempting to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in a season, or at least a weeks worth of climbing up to Mount Washington (that one I did, and it kicked my butt) or attempt the Pacific Crest Trail as in the book “Wild” (it still amazes me Cheryl Strayed hiked that trail alone). No one can really tell you what you’re going to feel and experience. You must do it yourself. Earn every blister, feel parched to the point of pain, exhausted or so wet you can do nothing but sit and shiver till the storm passes.

Since the beginning of this blog in 2013 – I’ve hiked with the writer in mind. I’ve invested in myself. Challenged myself. Loved it and hated it, sometimes at the same time, and although supported and loved, the journey was mine and mine alone. Until this month.

This month I took a chance and put myself a little further out there, never daring to hope someone would reach back, but reach back they did. They grabbed my hand firmly and lifted me up into the air for a moment, before firmly planting my feet on the ground of what I now needed to work on right now. After listening to their direction, reading the vast amount of materials and resources they laid out in front of me. I could see why no one had accepted or rejected me. What I had prepared was not anywhere near what was needed to entice the beast to take a taste. In just the last two weeks I’ve learned more about the publication process and requirements (query, synopsis, format) than in the last two years! It has been a lot of work, but more importantly a lot of growth and understanding and ‘ah-ha’ moments.

Is it still scary? Hell yes! But I’m not alone on this part of the trail anymore. I have a guide who points out beautiful views, cautions when the terrain is slick or uneven, she even laughs and celebrates with me, as we get to know one another on this journey.

Are there any guarantees I will get a six figure book deal? Ha! Seriously? I mean it would be nice, more than nice, amazing, but that was never really the focus. This has taken a lot of effort, sacrifice, and tears, but it has all been worth it. Meeting all the people I have, learning from some outstanding writers and authors. Having opportunities open up and stay open is crazy amazing.

So, this month, which is slipping away quickly into the next season, has repositioned me. Refreshed me. Shown me there is so much more to come, so get ready, prepared, gather what you need, cause the journey isn’t over yet!

Note: My sincere thanks to Writers Relief who accepted me as a client. I am humbled and grateful and still running around in little circles of joy! To Jen, my liaison and WR contact extraordinaire. For your knowledge, gentle reassurance, cheerleading, guidance, wit, humor and patience! I don’t know how long the ride will last, but I’m going to enjoy every minute.

Breathe Deep, Think Peace
Patty

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Do You Really Need To Spend Money on a Writing Retreats to Write?

Are you a writer? Then yes, yes you can, IF you want to. But the amount you spend is up to you, and I’m not just talking about the money. The amount of time is important, is it for an evening, a day, two days, a week or more? Most people think of ‘retreat’ as more than an evening. Perhaps a long weekend is envisioned, or a trip to the Matterhorn to be inspired by the view to write! But it doesn’t have to be. You can gain a lot in a few hours if you have the right mind set, and unfortunately I know several people who spent a month’s salary on a hyped up event and walked away disappointed and unfulfilled.

There is a LOT to think about when you are deciding to attend a writing retreat. That being said, please allow me to reassure you – you have options and choices and a wealth of information to ponder – and every bit of it should be a joy and not a headache. The amount of effort is important too – will this be a financial hardship? Will it involve more than the actual retreat, is there airfare, hotel accommodations, and a car rental to consider?

If you are getting stressed out in this kind of decision making, take a breath and walk away, but deciding if you want to attend a retreat is easier than you think. There are a multitude of them on the web to be sure, but you might be surprised to find many of them locally too. If you’ve followed Touched By Words, you know I’ve shared retreats I’ve attended myself, as well as support in my local library as well as in my favorite Harley Davidson classroom. (See – you might be surprised where you find writers!)

Okay – so what is my point?  My point is you do not need to stress out about retreats. You can create a simple, lovely space to write. If you enjoy being outside – by all means – go outside! If it’s raining, find a quiet spot in your apartment, house or room, light a candle, choose music if you’d like, or wrap yourself in silence and a cozy blanket. You can pick up a notebook from the grocery store, or colorful pens at the office supply store- it’s your choice YOU are in control. Place a small bouquet of flowers or a single blossom or a lush plant near by– yes it can be to inspire or simply be a place to rest your eyes from the page. You do not need a bucket full of money to spend on a writing, or you can plan to attend one, save up and do your homework, read reviews, take a chance and explore what is out there. I did and I’ll always treasure the experience. Yet remember what you are ultimately doing, why you want to go, what you hope to gain, the point is to write! Write what you want, when you want, or when you can. Get it on the page stop planning to get it on the page and do it, work on it, nurture it, plow through it, do what it takes to get it out of your head and onto the paper. Of course, you can change it, add to it, erase it, but write it!

I know people who go to writing retreats and never write again. Really? Why are you going? Is it to begin? To meet others who write? To have your work critiqued? To share an idea? To get ideas? To finish your book, poem, essay, etc? Those are wonderful reasons! Or maybe you have no idea what you want and hope the retreat shows you a path. Then all I would say is to choose carefully and dive in to what the experience can offer.

There are lots and lots of reasons to write, and you can do it anywhere you wish and spend as much or as little money as you wish – but it comes down to the written word. Putting thought to page – to record what is burning inside you to get out. I do not want you to think you need something out side of you to accomplish. It’s, inside of you –  your experience, your word choice, your story -it is all yours!

Now – go write!

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It Still Hurt

In my journey of becoming a writer, not every lesson learned was pleasant or easy. I’ve met some amazing writers and authors. I’ve met some equally difficult people, some published, some not, who do what they can to cause people to doubt their own abilities, or steer them away from their goals. These people are toxic. They can infect your mind and sicken your spirit if you allow them to get too close.

Unfortunately there is nothing that announces these individuals, such as a flashing light, a  warning bell or terrible smell. So you proceed with caution and quickly develop methods to keep yourself and your work safe, while navigating choppy waters.

I’ve never sailed a boat, other than a kayak and row boat. Yet it has been a desire of mine to travel on the water up and down the coasts looking at lighthouses. To understand the tides, read the currents and steer your craft safely brings up all the romance of the sea, along with all the dangers. You may have blue skies and a strong wind quickly change into a frightful storm, your skill the only thing you can rely on.

Whatever skills I am honing, didn’t prepare me for this month. June took the wind from my sails, it tossed me on the waves and pounded me into the sands. My writing silenced as my body suffered. This was a month of painful tests, biopsies and the first time I said the word cancer out loud. For the past year I have fought a private battle working with a remarkable team of doctors to figure out what was going on inside me. MRI’s, multiple blood work ups and painful tests and waiting for lab results changed me. I looked at this life very differently – simply things would make me weep – because maybe, just maybe if the tests showed malignancies, I may not be able to do those simple things again.

Surgery was scheduled and several weeks of recovery followed. I was black and blue and green from clamps, bandaged holes from needles and wire placements, and finally stitches, still healing under liquid dressings. But no cancer. I was in terrible pain and endured tests I never knew existed. But no cancer. It still hurt. It still changed me – but as I finish this blog for the month of June – I find myself reaffirming what I’ve been working on for years now. I find myself in a better place then when I started and I can see a little clearer the simple things I love, too numerous to list, they give me joy and I look forward to doing them each day.

If you’ve ever slept through the night and awoken on your own – comfortable – in peace and you stretch and can’t help but smile. If you’ve ever worked hard, so hard your labor has drenched you with sweat and someone gives you a cool drink, it is the best tasting, satisfying and refreshing beverage you could ask for. If you’ve looked at a sunrise or sunset and felt you were actually, some how a part of it, connected to it, well then, you know how I’m feeling.

It still hurt – but I am feeling so much better, and living a much richer life than I was before, because I appreciate it now more than ever,  because I choose to and I encourage all of you to choose good health, peace of mind and the simple joys you CAN find in each and every day.  Now…write!

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The Secret to Getting Your Book Published!

That sounds pretty incredible doesn’t it? Here I am offering you the secret, that coveted delicious slice of knowledge so many are seeking to savor, and not only am I going to offer it to you – I’m not even going to charge you for it!

Yes, you read that correctly. This advice is free to everyone and anyone reading this blog. Good grief that sounded like an infomercial didn’t it? The only thing I didn’t include was the free set of pot holders, or a veggie slicer with separate shipping and handling.

Okay, now where did I get the secret? You see, this past Memorial Day weekend, I had the opportunity to spend time in a Harley Davidson dealership. Okay, wait, wait, wait – where am I going with that? What do motorcycles have to do with publishing a book? Well, you could write a book about motorcycles, but that is not what I was doing. Hudson Valley Harley Davidson in Nanuet, NY allowed us to use their classroom for a writing workshop. Not just any writing workshop, this one was at a ridiculously low price by a woman who is writing her third book and was sharing her knowledge of how to write a memoir.

Now you might say, well, I’m not writing a memoir, so this would not pertain nor interest me, and that is where I would respectfully disagree.

A memoir, unlike a biography is simply a section, a part, a slice of your life. It is not a complete work from birth to present day, but a question you need answered, a segment of history you’d like to share, a lesson learned. But I learned an enormous amount of information about the craft of writing. How to weave the threads to make the tapestry. How to use different brushes when working on a painting. How the use of question and resolution combine to not only bring the story to life, but to develop and enrich and make you want to keep turning the pages.

Isn’t that what we want to do when we write? Have our reader enjoy the read? We want them to keep turning pages – we want them to keep wanting more!

What was intended to be a workshop of about 25-30 people did not turn out that way at all. As a matter of fact, in the history of planning for workshops – this was a bomb. In a classroom that can fit 90, we were a group of four. Traveling, BBQ’s and department store sales took precedence over the craft. I was saddened. I expected the author to politely decline, perhaps try again in the fall, and leave after the free bagels and coffee the dealership provided. But she didn’t. She stayed and not only did she stay – she taught, she shared and she told us the secret!

For two days, we sat together and talked and read aloud and listened and asked questions and discussed and agreed and disagreed and enjoyed the time together and the craft so much it was magical.  What was to be a workshop, became a personalized seminar in what each of us was working on, struggling with, attempting to do. It did not matter if I wasn’t writing a memoir, but it helped us me to write and understand the craft a little more. The author was so kind, sharp, witty, caring, strong, direct, bold and with all of her experience she gladly and openly shared what she had learned, what worked and what didn’t and how so many people seem to be making a living off keeping the secret to themselves. THAT is the travesty. Writing was never meant to be kept a secret. It was never intended to be only for a select few. Writing is a pleasure, a joy and torture all rolled into one long line of ink! It is the best of both worlds – it is balance.

But hey, I said I was going to give you the secret. I stated in the beginning of this blog I would tell you how to get published, and I was going to do this for free.

So here it goes – the secret to getting published is – – – there is no secret. YOU the writer have the gift inside of you – or you do not. Now, let me pause here for a moment. You can enjoy writing and not be published. You can enjoy the process and create wonderful things – and that is enough. IF you choose to self-publish there are a ton of different ways to do it that can all be researched online. And please, please, do your homework. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you invest in hardcover, gold edged bonded paper with beautiful illustrations – you might have to get a second mortgage – but please don’t. Write because you desire to write. The written word is indeed magical – it can take you anywhere and it can drop you on your butt in a puddle. Decide where you want to go.

IF you want to get published – learn as much as you can about the process. Don’t just say you’re going to write a book. Write it! Figure out the How To and do it. Don’t explain it, don’t defend it, don’t judge it, just do it! As you write, there are a wealth of different avenues to learn about beside, good grammar, punctuation and spelling – but guess what – these are important too. If you’re going to do this – Do The Work it takes to learn how to write the best way you can. Then write! NO ONE is going to give it to you. YOU have to earn it and as you earn it, you will discover so many secrets within you. How you craft the story, how you describe the scene, how you give voice to the characters, how you weave the story together. It comes from you.

Now tell me – did this help? Do you see now you do not have to spend a bucket full of money to pay for the secret? BUT you do have to have a good, solid, well written, spelled correctly, formatted correctly, edited (by someone who has edited your type of genre before, not a well-meaning friend who is an English teacher) book. You have to package your work the way the literary agent requires it and know that you can not approach a publishing house – they will turn you away. You must follow their rules and regulations and you’ll probably have to hire an attorney if they offer you a contract. But the point I am trying to make, the information I’m trying to share is – there is no secret and if someone is telling you, if you pay them, they’ll tell you what the secret is– put them in your story and…(giggle) hey, you know the rest!

Breathe Deep, Think Peace

Patty

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I Came For The Sunrise

A bit of insight into this months post: I was given a great gift, for six full days in Cape Cod. I was given time, freedom and the beauty of the ocean to write.  It was off season, so the people who would meet my eye and smile, giving me permission to visit with them for a moment or an hour, were the locals who are truly blessed to live in this very special slice of earth and water.

I met wonderful people, genuine and thoughtful,yet cautious to share their stories and views with an outsider, until they realized I’m not a traditional definition of a tourist. I was not a snotty nosed, careless individual who expected everything. Nor was I one to barge in, build multi-million dollar homes in their neighborhoods, adding nothing to the community, then occupy the estate for only two weeks out of the year. Mine was an unexpected visit and I was star struck, excited and overwhelmed by the beauty and power of the ocean. How the grass drew circles in the sand when the wind blew on shore and danced. That each sunrise was spectacularly different each morning. That toasting the day with coffee in silence was something more than a morning jolt. Also, I must thank my mother for her valuable lessons – because having manners was recognized and returned, a hand extended in friendship and email addresses shared. I invite you to read my prose-poem, I hope it reveals some of the magic found in Chatham,MA.

I Came For The Sunrise

This is not a cool spring breeze. Nor the showers with promises of May flowers. This is fury.

The wind does not dance among the Adirondack chairs, but slams them to the ground and dares them to sit upright again.

The ocean rages against the shore. It grabs itself like a lady gathers a long and obstinate gown to rush up a flight of stairs. Then smashes the fabric against the lace of an angry wave again and again and again. The wind screaming above it all, demanding to be heard.

The window rattles in front of me as I watch this raw display of nature. Only death itself would keep you from feeling the energy as the Atlantic claws its way up and over the sand. Licking at the sea-grass and gobbling up the walk way.

I felt an icy finger slip down my spine. Perhaps a sailor from the past walked through the room and back to his ship lost at sea, missing a woman’s touch.

The rain splashes the window, it reminds me of the glass men were learning to master, when it was as wavy and imperfect, scarcely letting in the sun, but distorting the view perfectly. I can barely see the tormented waters on the vast horizon.

But I feel its strength and the power man can only harness in a dream.

Although I am in the castle Chatham, whose walls bravely face the dragon’s cold merciless breath, I am anxiously unafraid. Watching the lanterns swing back and forth, their light struggles to cut through he wind and driving rain. Veranda chairs tip and shift positions. Rattan washed clean sit unusable today.

Trees brace themselves fromt he decades of storms and gales and pray for the summer breezes to arrive soon.

As dawn attempt to brighten the sky, it exposes dark flat stones that glisten in the pale light. White caps now appear, as an ever changing landscape of salt, water, sand and I’m sure hidden creatures safe beneath the anguished surface, in depths I cannot fathom.

Far above a lone seagull navigates the tempest, tossed and beaten he seems to evaporate right before my eyes. I strain to find him – he has vanished. There was nothing I could do. My chest feels tight. As I watched, I was holding my breath.

The wood of the Captain’s chair feels smooth and comforting to the touch. I grasp it tightly as I sit alone in the great hall. The fire crackles and burns on, undisturbed by the squall.

A bell’s mournful sound, dampened to a thud more than a crisp sharp ring is heard far away. It sounds sad and lonely.

The time suggests the sun should be up. Yet the sky and ocean share the sea glass blue and safe green with frothy white bands of waves impossible to distinguish one from another.

The sunrise I had hoped to see has also succumbed to the storm.

Is it truly morning? Or is it really dusk? Is that the mast of a ship? Or the shape of a whale?

The ocean refuses to reveal details – only shadows in the storm.

 

 

    

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