Auld Lang Syne

Here was today’s writing prompt from Writing a Sacred Path’s Review and Renew Course:

Write about your goals, achievements, disappointments, and triumphs over the past year. Allow yourself to grieve the disappointments—but don’t forget to celebrate the successes! Vent, mourn, cheer, and rejoice on the page. Raise a metaphorical glass to the things that went well and tell the things that didn’t go so well. Whatever you do, don’t despair if things didn’t go as planned. This whole course is about starting a new year in 2014!

Here’s what I wrote. None of this is new or a surprise to you, if you’ve read the blog before. I’ve been over most of these events in the past year, but putting it all together makes me realize how much I did accomplish in one year:

In 2013 I redrafted Takes One to Know One twice, first with feedback from my writing group and then after rethinking some of the major plot issues. I revised and edited the last draft and pitched it to agents at the Writers League of Texas Agents and Editors Conference. An agent was interested in Takes One to Know One and asked about other Contemporary YA that I’ve written, so I explained the concept behind Punx Not Dead. She also wanted to see that manuscript. I panicked because I hadn’t picked up that story in over a year. So for the summer I tried writing the new draft using a Beat Sheet. In theory, it seemed like a great idea, but in practice, for me, it was far too stifling. I decided to stop working on the story because I’d lost hope that there was anything I could do to fix it. In August I did CampNanoWrimo with my writing group. I wrote Halls of Righteouness, which is a YA Thriller. I got my 50,000 words done, but that novel is sitting unfinished because by the end of summer I was ready to get back to Punx Not Dead. Around the same time that I realized I needed to get back that writing, a woman I’d met at the agent’s conference emailed me out of the blue to see if I was still interested in joining a critique group. We’ve been meeting every other week since October and it’s been an incredibly valuable experience. I’ve written three short stories, all of which I think have potential to be submitted and published. I’ve also been extremely motivated to finish Punx Not Dead, so I can get both YA novels out the door and into the hands of an agent.

I started 2013 with lofty writing goals and, though I didn’t actually achieve any of them, I feel like I made pretty good progress. I work fulltime, am a member of more than one book club, try to stay active and work out, and have a husband and dogs to care for. Making time for writing was a priority that waxed and waned throughout the year, but during those times when I wasn’t writing, I was very aware of something missing in my life and I always came back to writing.

Now, in December I’m back in a writing upswing. I didn’t do Nanowrimo, exactly this year, what I tried to do was just write a little everyday, to get back into the writing habit. I followed through for about 2 weeks and then fell out of habit. I’m trying to pick it up again, even if it’s just a few hundred words, or even if it’s just a response to the Writing a Sacred Path course, like this. At least I’m writing, and my manuscript will get there when it gets there. I’d been so consumed with working so quickly that I burnt out once. Hopefully I’ll find a comfortable, sustainable rhythm from here on out.

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Life After a Writing Conference

If you ever have the chance to attend a writing conference I cannot recommend them strongly enough. I learned so much and met so many new people; the networking alone is enough to spend the money and go.

Here are a few take-aways-

1. If you can swing it, do the optional classes/sessions before the conference gets into full swing. I went to a the Pitch Perfect session with Chuck Sambuchino from Writers Digest and left feeling like I had a great bag of tricks for writing and presenting a solid, yet interesting pitch.

2. Bring business cards- I did not and wish that I had. I talked to so many great people and took their cards with the express purpose of reconnecting with them once we’d left the conference. I put all the cards in one place and was able to email people one by one and check in with them a week late. This networking will help me build a great base of writing partners, writing friends, and beta readers. And the more we stay in touch the more likely we’ll be to buy and read each others’ books. But, I didn’t have a card, so my email address is swimming around lost in notebooks or on the back of a napkin that got thrown away.

3. If you have a very personal question, please wait until after the panel or speaker is through to ask it. Personal questions are best left for one on one conversations and not so great in a ballroom full of people.

4. If an agent, editor, or otherwise expert speaker says something you didn’t understand, please ask them to clarify. Please do NOT start arguing with them in the middle of their talk.

5. Be prepared, do you homework, know what you want to get out of the conference. If you are pitching to an agent or editor be sure they represent the type of work you’re pitching. Don’t ask questions that can be easily found online or that you should know if you’re trying to break into the writing business, like the difference between an editor and editing your book for submission.

6. If you’ve got a great story to tell, by all means do- but keep it brief. When you’re sitting around at the workshops, panels, and speaking sessions everyone is very friendly. I was able to practice my pitch and get feedback with lots of different people. I was also happy to be  a sounding board to people who wanted to practice their pitches. I know, as writers, we’re all in love with our books and could probably talk forever about them, but please don’t.

Now that the conference is over I’ve got a lot of work to do. I pitched to two agents and both responded with requests to see my work. One of the agents also wants to see another story I wrote last year.

Now that I’ve received feedback and gotten the request to send an older manuscript, I’m busy with the revision process. The book I pitched needs some work in the middle and end, though I think those changes will be fairly easy to make- maybe 10- 20 hours worth of work. The other manuscript needs a complete overhaul. A lot of the scenes are salvageable but the plot is changing pretty dramatically.

Oh, and did I mention I signed up for Camp Nanowriomo with my writing group, so I’ve also committed to writing a brand new story in the month of July.

I’m hoping to be finished with rewrites, revisions, and edits and ready to submit in early September. That may be a really ambitious date, especially since I haven’t done any work on either manuscript in a week. So, instead of blogging I should be writing. Well, you know, writing writing.

Following My Bliss

So much has changed and so much remains the same.

In August, I left my teaching job. After 10 years of being a classroom teacher, I made a change.

For the last 3 months and some odd weeks I’ve worked for an educational software company. I was hired to write instructional content for the language arts portion of the software.  While the company was still deciding what that would look like, I was asked to consider applying to become the manager of the reading and language arts department. So I did and now I am. Without even doing the job I was technically hired to do, I’m now managing people who are doing that job.

Last week the company had layoffs. The grief I feel for my former coworkers currently outweighs the understanding of why it happened. I do get it, but I don’t get it and I certainly don’t like it. The corporate world is far different than the world of public education. I saw a lot of commonality at first, but now I’m feeling like I’m in a foreign land with no passport. I’m still working, I kept my job, but others didn’t. How do you weigh the sorrow versus the relief.

So I took to my notebook. I had to write it all out and let the ambiguous and contradictory feelings flow on paper. Thank the heavens for writing, clear train of thought or not, the ability to mind dump onto the page is a savior. As I wrote I came to one big realization.  What I’m doing in life is fleeting. I thought I’d teach forever. I thought I’d writing language arts lessons, I think I’ll manage (in more than one way). What I did realize is that if, and probably when, the same fate happens to me, I want to act with grace, dignity, and self-respect. I will be upset, no doubt, but I will hopefully look on it as a blessing.

With that in mind I went back to writing. I finished a story this summer, during the June CampNanoWriMo. I worked on editing it a little and then dropped it. I briefly considered doing CampNano in August, and then school started and then I left for my new job. Feeling a loss, my great friends Candace and Lizzie agreed to start a writing group with me. We decided to Skype one a month after sending each other 5 pages of a draft in order to get feedback and guidance.

I wasn’t ready to share my June piece, so I submitted the first part of my children’s chapter book “Raleigh.” I got great feedback and immediately felt reinspired to work on writing. I began redrafting the back story and beginning, with what I think are pretty good results. In October, Candace introduced us to her friend, Victoria, who was looking for a writing group. So now we’re four writers, with very different styles, but a whole lot of support for each other. Candace dabbles in realistic lit and romantic comedy-ish stuff, Victoria is working on romance and mystery pieces, Lizzie tends toward Supernatural YA and my recent pieces are more realistic YA, though Raleigh is a talking raccoon chapter book.

The four of did Nano this past month together. Every day we sent emails with word counts, musings, or grumblings. We made our writing intentions public to each other and it was a great motivator.

Over the past weekend when I thought about the layoffs and felt sad or cynical, I kept thinking about writing. Even though it’s tough and sometimes feels like work, it’s so endlessly rewarding. A string of thoughts that once only lived inside my brain can now be printed on paper. A plot, a character, an emotional quote that didn’t exist before my fingers set to the keys, are now things, they exist now in the world.

So writing will get me through. I have so much to work on and so much to do.  The events at work just highlighted the urgency that I need to bring to my writing. I must spend my time drafting, revising, editing, plotting, reading, thinking, writing. I want to bring my commitment to writing to the next level: submitting pieces to agents, finishing half done work, believing in myself.

So for public accountability, here’s my quarterly plan:

  • Finishing my Nano draft by Dec 14
  • Editing my Nano draft and sending to my writing group Dec 15
  • Whole month of Dec- Plotwrimo with Punx Not Dead Piece
  • End of Dec- Draft 2 of Raleigh
  • January- Draft 2 of Punx Not Dead
  • January- Revising Nano piece with Plot Wri Mo
  • February- Draft 2 of Nano piece
  • March- Have 3 pieces ready for submitting- Punx Not Dead, Raleigh, and Takes One to Know One
  • March- drafting Rose Quartz