Excitement and Acceptance

Today, another story of mine was accepted for publication.

I tried to be excited. But something just felt off.

The story was one that I wrote almost ten years ago, while an undergraduate. That particular fall semester, I was taking both a creative writing fiction course and a seminar on the American War Novel. That seminar was one of the most influential and wonderful experiences of my undergraduate education, and it bled into my writing that semester. This particular story was my favorite that I wrote during that creative writing course, and my instructor had given some solid, positive feedback. I had submitted it for publication back then, but it was rejected.

It sat on my hard drive all these years, and I only reopened it this past spring when I had begun writing again in earnest. I could see some weaknesses and flaws right away. I worked with it and revised it numerous times. I was happier, but there still seemed to be something off. There were things about it that still didn’t ring true, and it just continued to feel a bit “amateur” to me. I convinced myself that it was because I’d originally written it so long ago.

Then, I sent it out again to three places. The first rejected it within days. But, today, one of them accepted it—with some edits.

When I found out they had some edits and suggestions, my stomach immediately dropped. I almost didn’t even open the document they had attached. Instead, I wanted to just revel in the feeling of acceptance and avoid reading what was “wrong” with the story. The thing is, though, I knew there were some things wrong with the story.

So, I opened the document. And, behold, they nailed it on the head.

The issues that I’d been struggling with were identified right there in front of me. While I didn’t necessarily agree with 100% of their edits, the main crux of them were so directly spot on, I could have wept with joy. It’s so difficult for me–as an editor myself–to accept and recognize that I can’t always be objective in my own writing. I struggle to edit myself effectively, and I have to remember that this is okay. I need to focus on the writing and let someone else give me feedback and ideas because without them, stories live in a vacuum and I’ll continue to be bothered by these little bits of, “No. That’s not quite it…,” on and on.

So, now, not only will this story that means so much to me be published, but it will be published in the best possible version imaginable.

Now, I’m really excited.

Writing Advice

Because I am excellent at procrastination, I’ve taken to reading a lot about writing lately. Basically, I have signed up for every email list imaginable that involves writing advice and lessons, and I’ve also signed up for the email newsletters from every online publication I can find that publishes work I like or that I would like to emulate in my own writing.

In the interest of sharing the wisdom I uncover, and sharing the beauty of procrastination, with others, I thought I’d post some of the stuff I come across that I like.

Elmore Leonard’s ten tricks* for good writing:

  1.  Never open a book with weather.
  2.  Avoid prologues.
  3.  Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
  4.  Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said”…he admonished gravely.
  5.  Keep your exclamation points under control. You are allowed no more than two or three per 100,000 words of prose.
  6.  Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
  7.  Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
  8.  Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
  9.  Don’t go into great detail describing places and things.
  10.  Try to leave out the part that readers tend to skip.

My most important rule is one that sums up the 10.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.

* Excerpted from the New York Times article, “Easy on the Adverbs, Exclamation Points and Especially Hooptedoodle”

National Novel Writing Month, 2013


NaNoWriMo. This year is my year.

“The biggest thing separating people from their artistic ambitions is not a lack of talent. It’s the lack of a deadline. Give someone an enormous task, a supportive community, and a friendly-yet-firm due date, and miracles will happen.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 14)

I’ve wanted to participate in National Novel Writing Month for ages. I first learned about it when I was in grad school, and there honestly just wasn’t time. I was also knee-deep in a period where I wasn’t writing creatively at all, so it wasn’t something that “fit” into my education and career goals. But I quietly placed it in my back pocket and thought about it from time to time.

“…writing a novel simply feels great. Slipping into “the zone”–that place where you become a passive conduit to a story–exercises your brain in weird, pleasant ways and just makes life a little bit more enchanted.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 18)

When I made the decision to begin writing again, and when I discovered that I could carve out some time to actually do it here and there (yay for kids who sleep all night!), I began toying with the idea of embracing NaNo. But I kept chickening out.

My best friend did it last year, and she loved it. Well, she didn’t “love” it, but she was definitely proud of the achievement. She inspired me, and I vowed then and there to try again next year… although about ten minutes after I made that vow, I began to develop some excuses–ahem, “reasons”–why I might not after all.

“A rough draft is best written in the steam-cooker of an already busy life. If you have a million things to do, adding item number 1,000,001 is not such a big deal.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 17)

I’m starting to realize that I’m my own worst enemy when it comes to writing. I really can’t help it. I’m an editor and a writing teacher by profession, so I edit and critique everything I read. Even the words I am writing myself. But editing while you write is the worst possible way to get any real writing done.

“Exuberant imperfection allows you to circumvent those limiting feelings entirely. It dictates that the best way to tackle daunting, paralysis-inducing challenges is to give yourself permission to make mistakes, and then go ahead and make them.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 33)

So, I’m going to write a crappy novel. I’m going to write at least 50,000 words of new fiction in the month of November, and I’m going to finally conquer something that I’ve been forcing myself to avoid for a long time. And maybe, just maybe, I’ll end of writing something worth a crap.

“The first law of exuberant imperfection is essentially this: The quickest, easiest way to produce something beautiful and lasting is to risk making something horribly crappy.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 32)

But probably not. And that’s okay. Because I’m going to do something that scares me, and I think that’s a valuable experience for life, in general, and writing, in particular.

“When thinking about possible inclusions for your novel, always grab the guilty pleasures over the bran flakes. Write your joy, and good things will follow.” (No Plot? No Problem, p. 88)

So, here’s to writing your joy. And deadlines. And exuberant imperfection. Care to join me? I’m signed up and ready to go on the NaNoWriMo website.

Figuring out my motivation

Last year, when I started thinking that I wanted to write again, I wasn’t sure where to start. It all began when my best friend had started writing a novel and told me how much fun she was having, and I started to remember how much I enjoyed writing.

I had considered diving back in with NaNoWriMo last November, and I even mentioned doing it together to the same best friend. As the fall approached though, I realized it just wasn’t going to happen for my schedule, and she hadn’t mentioned anything about it. Then, lo and behold, she did NaNoWriMo. Without me. (Okay, she’s a grown woman and if I was really ready to do it, I would have. Nothing but love for her, really.)

Another friend participated as well, and she encouraged me to at least use that month as a means to start making some writing commitments. So I did. And then I failed miserably on all of them. Without someone holding me accountable, I just let it fall by the wayside. I knew I needed a better approach.

At the start of the new year, this past January, I committed again to some blog posts each week. Again, I failed miserably. I had thought that being held accountable by my “followers” on tumblr would be enough to keep me going, but it wasn’t. I mean, really, what were they going to do? Storm my house with pitchforks and torches? They don’t know where I live. And many of them live hundreds (or thousands) of miles away.

So, as spring rolled around and I felt myself floundering at this whole “writer” thing, I decided to find a writing class/workshop to take. I thought that with the rigor of assignments and due dates, I would feel compelled to write and my grade-grubbing fear of “poor academic performance” would prohibit me from falling short. I found a six-week online workshop in writing flash fiction, and I enrolled.

Guess what? It worked.

During those six weeks, I wrote more than I had in all the preceding five years combined. Ideas were flowing, writing friendships were building, and it was a delightful experience. I don’t believe that the instructor in that venue was cut out for that course. In fact, I learned little to nothing from the person actually “teaching” the workshop. But I learned something valuable about myself. I need structure and deadlines to write. I need to be part of some form of writing “community” to accomplish the actual writing. I need to know that others are writing “alongside” me at the same time, even if in a virtual space. I just need that camaraderie to hold me accountable. Without it, I am queen of excuses.

This was further proven when I attended a weekend writing workshop at the Iowa Summer Writing Festival. In those two days of workshop, I wrote more than I had written in such a brief period of time in my entire life. I was inspired by my classmates, my instructor (who was kind and dynamic and thoughtful and oh-so encouraging), and my environment. It was bliss. And I returned home with ten short stories in some stage of drafting.

Since then?


I had planned to try to enroll in a creative writing course at the local university. I even reached out to an instructor on campus to find out some more information. But it just didn’t feel like the right choice. With our busy family life right now, I just didn’t see how I could commit to being on campus one night a week (as minimal as that sounds). In addition, the tuition would have been a hefty price tag to rationalize into our budget.

But, after weeks of realizing I’m just not producing without some sort of “push,” I think I’ve decided to enroll in an online course. I’ve done a ridiculous amount of research on schools and instructors and courses. I think I’ve found a course that will be a great fit for me, and I’m excited. It doesn’t begin until October, so even though I’ve already enrolled, I still have some time to change my mind and back out. I think it’s good though. The course is ten weeks long. This will be the longest consistent and consecutive time I have devoted to my writing in ages (likely since my undergraduate days), so I’m excited to see how it works. I’m interested to see if I can maintain momentum and rhythm. I’m anxious to “meet” the instructor and my fellow classmates. I’m just plain excited about the impetus I need to actually write.

Oh, and in case you didn’t notice the dates there, I will be in my class during this year’s NaNoWriMo. So, I just might conquer that beast after all… but I’m not holding my breath.

Rejection, I know it well

Rejection. Rejection. Rejection. Rejection.

The week of my thirty-fifth birthday, my email inbox was starting to look a little depressing. The week prior, I had been turned down for a part-time job. It was a job I was well qualified for. I had the experience, the ability, and the skills. The interviews went well, and I spent several hours researching and preparing for the second interview.

But. I didn’t get the job. I also didn’t receive a clear answer on why I didn’t get the job, either, and that was quite frustrating. I was really disappointed because I had adored the editors I’d interviewed with, and I thought I could do some amazing work in that position. Such is life…

Then, as if the world wanted to show me that things always can feel even worse, I started receiving rejections in the mail.

Five of them. To be exact. Five rejections for stories I had submitted this summer. In one week. Including one on my birthday.

To be fair, I had anticipated rejections. I am not so arrogant as to believe that my dip back into the writing pool will be paved with acceptances and love. I know the truth. I know how this works, and I’ve been down this path before. But, I had forgotten the sting of those rejection slips, even when they come from the most expected venues (I really wasn’t yet ready to be entering competitions with decent compensation; I know this).

For a brief bit, I thought that maybe this was a sign. I thought that this series of rejections was the world’s way of telling me, “Nope. Not gonna happen. You were kidding yourself to think you might be able to reclaim being a writer. Not on our watch.” I thought that maybe I should just accept that I’m trying to squeeze blood from stone. I’m not a writer. I was right to question it. I’m trying to force something that isn’t there…

But, alas, there is a silver lining.

An acceptance letter came last week.

That’s right. A story I submitted to an online magazine has been accepted.

One of my stories will be published online in November.

And it’s kind of ridiculous how something so simple can turn the tides so well. And so quickly. All of that rejection shakes free from my shoulders based on this single instance of acceptance. This isolated moment of someone saying, “Yes. We did like something you wrote,” can make all the difference in the world.

So, my strength is renewed. My spirit is mended. I am not broken.

Bring on the rejections… because I know there are more coming. But I’m ready.

Goals: I gots them

So, rather than eleventh-hour posts, like I’d expected, it seems that I’ve found a rhythm in posting earlier, rather than later in the month. So, August? Done. September? Covered.


August was hectic, and that’s always the case with August for our family for a million and twelve reasons. I also over-extended myself, making commitments to friends, enrolling in two online courses for professional development, and going through a grueling interview process for a job I didn’t even get.

On the plus side, one of the courses I took expanded my developmental editing abilities ten-fold. I’ve been copy editing for years, and I always assumed I could do some pretty kick-ass work with helping authors on the developmental side, but I’d never really realized how involved that process is and how different it is from copy editing. I learned a great deal, and I think I can apply some of it to my own writing, which is helpful.

Sadly, all of this craziness has left little time for writing. I have followed up with some writing friends, critiquing their work and asking for critiques of my own. Nonetheless, I’m left feeling as if for every ten things I accomplish, twenty-five more are left in the wake. I have the constant impression that I’m rolling down a slope snowball style with an increasingly longer “to-do” list on my back. It has become a bit ridiculous, and I need to find a way to get “ahead” of the snowball.

So, my plan for now is to make a plan (Type A personality, anyone?). I want to make a comprehensive list of all my goals and all the tasks I need to accomplish (home and work related, mostly). I also need to establish some solid plans and goals, so that I can be better poised to schedule my time. Most of the goals, however, will be long-range, but I need a list. I need a schedule and a plan because, right now, I’m feeling so untethered and scattered, and that’s not comfortable for me. At all.

Even if I don’t accomplish any of my goals within the time frame I specify (which would be quite sad, I know), at least putting them down on (virtual) paper will keep me mindful of them. Having goals you can look at and recall easily makes them more “real,” and perhaps, more accessible. Or, at least, that’s my hope.

Right now, I have several friends working on novels. Several other friends are preparing applications to graduate programs or working toward developing businesses and establishing themselves in new industries. I am so proud of what they are accomplishing and attacking, and I want to draw inspiration from them. I think it might just be as easy as putting the goals down in front of me and working toward them.

Maybe. Maybe not.

Maybe I am not a writer

For a long time, I have thought of myself as a writer. But I’m not sure if I am. When it comes down to it, I don’t like to write. I really don’t.

I love to read. I read a lot. I always have. For some reason, the two acts, the writing and the reading, have always been intertwined for me.

When I was little, I wanted to be a writer. I told people all the time that I loved to write. English class was my favorite. I have written stories and poems for as far back as I can remember.

When I was 10, I won a Young Author competition in my school. I won for my grade level and won for the school overall. My school was tiny, so it wasn’t that impressive, but still. As part of my “prize,” I attended a Young Author’s conference an hour from home. It was a daylong event where I sat among other “young authors” discussing what we liked to write and what we liked to read, and receiving superfluous praised for our imaginations, our diligence, and our proper use of punctuation and spelling. In some ways, it was great. In others, it was awful. I didn’t enter the competition ever again.

Writing is a release. It lets out the voices and stories and words that shake around in my head. But the act of putting it down on paper is laborious and disconcerting and disappointing.

There’s such an immediacy with the act of writing, for me, that I never can get it right. When a story or a thought or a phrase pops into my head, it’s only there for a fleeting moment. If I don’t writing it down RIGHTTHATVERYSECOND, it’s gone. I can’t get it back. That loss feels terrible. Trying to conjure something that has fled is the worst feeling in the world. Rather than feeling good, it makes me feel horrible.

The older I became and the more responsibilities I acquired, the less likely I was to be able to respond to the moments of “inspiration” that struck me. I started just letting them slip on by. I numbed myself to the stories that wanted to escape my brain. I avoided thinking about the ideas I wanted to explore on paper. I encouraged my mind to go elsewhere. And in the process, I think I irreparably injured my writing “muscle,” whatever was there to begin with, that is.

Finding time to write is difficult when you have a family. And a job. And a house. And, and, and, and. What is even more scary is realizing that when you find the time to write, it doesn’t work. In the quiet warmth of my shower, in my mind, I can compose paragraphs, create characters, fabricate plot points—all with ease. Put me in front of my laptop two hours later, and the ideas are all gone. Where do they go? They escape into the far reaches of my brain, I suppose.

All of this makes me wonder if I really am a writer. Perhaps I’m just an avid reader. Perhaps the ideas and thoughts that appear in my head are just residual aspects of things I have read. Perhaps they are completely unoriginal; memories that transition and adjust in my mind, altered so that I can give myself credit for them and then curse them when they disappear later. Perhaps they were never really mine to begin with.

I know I can phrase things effectively (sometimes). I know how to use grammar and punctuation and syntax correctly. I know the value of alliteration and repetition and how a run-on sentence (or a fragment) can be a useful interruption to otherwise flawless prose. It can.

But that doesn’t make me a writer.

I’ve identified myself as a writer my whole life and I can’t help but wonder if it’s habit now. If it’s a notion I convinced myself of long ago, one that I’m not willing to relinquish because it’s comfortable and reliable.

Because, honestly, the idea of sitting down and actually writing something, terrifies the hell out of me. I do it. Sometimes. But other times, I just can’t do it. I know I need to establish a rhythm, a schedule, a pace that works in my life. I haven’t been able to do so for a long time. I don’t know if I ever will. So, I just avoid thinking about it, but I finally convinced myself to put these thoughts down. I have doubts. I don’t know that I am a writer, but I do know that I feel compelled to write. I just can’t decide how that all works and what it all means. But I guess I don’t have to.

So, there.

Writing about writing about writing…

So, I’ve been dragging feet on posting this. I felt compelled to write something profound and important. Instead, I decided to just write something–anything–and get it over with. So, here it is. My very first blog post on my very first writing website. Impressed much? I didn’t think so.

To be honest, I already have a blog on tumblr. It’s my “brain dump” area where I commiserate with virtual friends and acquaintances who are mostly like-minded introverts. Most of them are also parents, so we share a lot about our kids. I occasionally write about my writing there, but not in a meaningful way.

I’d like to use this blog to write about my writing process. I’d like to talk openly about what I’m focusing on, what’s inspiring me, what’s currently working in my writing, what’s not working (and, boy, will there be a lot of that), and (hopefully) I’ll get to talk about who’s reading my stuff and what kind of response I’m receiving.

I’m honestly not sure where this blog will go, but I need to become better about posting here. I’m challenging myself (unofficially) to write here once a week. But, in the interest of acceptance and a rational understanding of my reality, I’m officially committing to writing something here once a month (don’t be surprised by a lot of 30th and 31st of the month postings).

Mostly, I don’t want to feel like I have to write here. I want to WANT to write here. And I think I will. Eventually. With my other blog, I was a “lurker” in the community for months before actually posting. And then, I only did it occasionally. I’m assuming that will be the case here too, but we’ll see.

Regardless of how often I write here or how meaningful my posts might be, I want to become a better writer overall. And the best way to do that is to … write.