Back in the Word Game

I am very happy to be back in the word game. Though I have seen my name and words in print many times before, I am still thrilled when I get the letter (or more often these days, email) telling me that someone else likes what I have written enough that they want to share it with their readers.

Just three months ago, I started down a new path and right now I am feeling very good about it. I feel that I am able to once again call myself a writer. I have always been amused at the reaction I get when asked what I “do” and give this answer. Many people are awed and most will ask what I write. Since I really don’t like talking about myself, these conversations sometimes get uncomfortable for me. I don’t think writing is all that special, after all, many people write something every day. Having said that, I will admit that being a writer is hard, but not for the reasons most may think. The writing itself I find easy, it’s the process of getting published that is difficult.

I attribute my ability to string words together in a way that makes sense to the fact that I was blessed with a family that put value on education. From a young age I was surrounded with quality reading material. I spent allowances at the bookstore and hours at the library. Writing was a natural extension of that. Organizing my “word vomit” (as I referred to it when I worked with high school students on their writing) to me is like a puzzle, fitting the pieces together where they belong. (In the old days, I actually did much cutting and pasting, with scissors and glue.)

Deciding when a piece is ready to submit is the real challenge. Over time, I have learned that nothing is truly “done.” It may reach a point where it is good, but it is always possible to make improvements. As a writer, resisting the temptation to keep making changes is tough. Hitting “send” on a submission is something I usually do quickly, before I chicken out and change my mind. And then there is the waiting.

Waiting to hear back from an editor can be stressful. I try to send and then forget, resisting the urge to compulsively check my email several times a day (yeah, I sometimes do this). Getting a rejection sometimes stings, a lot. Weeks with only rejections are especially difficult. This is where readers come in. Like any other field, praise is music to the ears. Hearing that I have touched a reader, getting that “Me, too!” message touches me. I write because I need to, for me. I share it so that others can read and hopefully discover something. Maybe I can share information I have discovered myself, maybe I can make someone feel less alone, maybe I can simply brighten someone’s day.

Much has changed in my life over the past three months. For the first time in a long time, I feel like I have an identity all my own (not simply someone’s mom or wife). I have made new friends and, based on the comments I have gotten, have touched a few lives. I don’t think it is possible to adequately show my appreciation for each of you who is taking the time to read this, and anything else I have written. Each time I see that someone has shared my work, I am, quite honestly, awed. The fact that someone likes what I say enough to share it with others means very much to me. I have wondered if I will ever get used to that feeling. Truthfully, I hope I don’t. I think that “Wow, they really like me,” (with Sally Field’s voice in my head) is a good thing. Without readers, there would be no reason to publish. It is my readers that keep me submitting and inspire me to write more. So, THANK YOU READERS! You get me through the dark spots and make me want to give more.

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What a Difference a Year Makes

I am sitting at my desk, with thoughts spinning around in my head. This has become a frequent reality for me and I try to scribble notes as ideas come to me. I have notebooks throughout the house, and have learned to use the memo feature in my phone. Taking a break, I see how different things are toady than just a year ago.

This time last year, I was struggling to get off the couch. I had things to get done, but no motivation to do anything. My head and my heart hurt – a lot. The summer before, I had made significant progress on a novel that I strongly believe in and had planned to complete over the winter months, before spring activities set in and took up my free time. Events and emotions conspired against me and there was simply no way that was going to happen.

Last year was a big one for changes. Several people I love no longer walk among us and my daily routine came to a screeching halt. I was forced to make adjustments, in my schedule and in my attitude. I resumed work on the novel and hit a point where I needed to take a break for a bit. Then I found an online world I had previously been unaware of. Yes, I had read the occasional article that a friend posted on Facebook, but I had used the social media mostly to be, you know, social. It was a tool to keep in touch with family and friends, to share news and photos. I didn’t even consider that there were online avenues to getting my work published.

Before I knew it, I was back into the freelance game, submitting articles to publishers, only now it is all online. There has been no printing of stories, addressing envelopes, finding stamps and the worst, waiting for weeks for an answer. My first week, I submitted four pieces and within 2 weeks had answers back on them all (three of these have been accepted for publication).

It hasn’t all been smooth sailing. I have plenty of rejections, most of which have been very polite, even encouraging. I have been setting weekly goals, but am not beating myself up if I do not reach them. The holidays slowed me down, so I submitted fewer pieces, but I found time to get in some scribbles which will find their way into future stories. My husband, kids and dog have been patient with me as I have been rediscovering myself and embarking on this wonderful new ride. I couldn’t ask for a more supportive family as I work toward establishing a career, a concept that until recently I couldn’t see myself having (I was content with being simply Mom).

I am trying to form a strategy, to discover new markets, in the circuitous way that I work best (think of a “Family Circus” comic strip). I am realizing that writing is not enough. I need to also be a publicist. I am reminded of the great truth, the more I learn, the more I realize what I don’t know. I am learning more about social media and how to use it, both the technical know-how and the practical uses. I am getting frustrated at what I don’t know and how long it sometimes takes to learn new things. This is time that could be spent writing, which is obviously what I would rather be doing. I am coming closer to answering that question – What will I do with the rest of my life?

This week, I have a few new Facebook friends; those who I assume found one of my stories and liked it. Today I am starting a writer page to make it easier for those who want to follow what I am writing to get updates, without having to open up their Facebook lives (and family photos) to me. To make it a little more interesting, I may share some of my older blog posts for those who may not have seen them. I hope to have new material to share regularly and am appreciative of those who are sharing this journey with me, providing encouragement and inspiration. I hope that in doing this, I can reciprocate. We are all in this thing called life together.

Reading and Writing and Being Read

To be a writer, you have to be a reader. In the past two months, I have been discovering many new websites, from the mediocre to the excellent. I have read countless articles, for research purposes and for the sheer pleasure of reading (and sometimes both).

Of my recent finds, one of the really good ones is Grown and Flown, which is where my latest post has been published. Grown and Flown focuses on parenting teens through college-age. They have some great articles on their website and share relevant articles from other sources on their Facebook page.

Here is the link to my piece. http://grownandflown.com/my-empty-nest-what-surprised-me/# While you are there, you might want to check out the rest of their site.

Leaving the Comfort Zone Is Not So Bad

trail @ Acadia National Park, MaineA week ago I made a change. I discovered the online publishing world is much more open and welcoming than I had thought it to be and decided to just put myself out there. It is very different from the print world and has different rules. I made a list of websites that accept submissions and made a plan to write a number of pieces and send them out.

From the start, I made a conscious decision to not promote my blog. Here I have recounted very personal feelings, sometimes so much so that it has scared me to put it out there. Up until a few days ago, I was confident that I had only been sharing these thoughts and stories with friends and family who we all know are too nice to make anything but positive comments. Knowing my audience was limited has made me feel more secure and let me move outside my comfort zone in small steps. Besides, I want to focus on the writing side, not the promoting side.

It didn’t take me long to learn that with online publishing, most websites expect you to have a blog. That means you have to share it. This week, I added the blog link on my LinkedIn page. In addition, it has been included with submissions in my contributor “bio.”

The bio was another challenge. How do you describe yourself to people who don’t know you? What do you include and leave out? If I weren’t so eager to follow my plan and get the submissions actually, you, know, submitted, I might still be pondering the bio. Instead, I put something together and will consider that a “work in progress.” There doesn’t seem to be any rule that it has to stay the same, so I expect it will change over time.

To be honest, as scary as this all is, I am excited about my plan. More ideas keep popping into my head and my bedside notebook is filling up. (Some of the best ideas come when I wake up in the middle of the night or am just drifting off to sleep.) Sometimes the ideas flow into one another, like a strange kaleidoscope of words. Today I got a rejection and am excited about it. Why? Because the website warned that they have too many submissions to respond to all. I didn’t expect a response at all if it was a no. Instead I got a, “Great post, but not a great fit for us right now.” I find it encouraging. I may even find a new comfort zone.

Outside the Comfort Zone

rocky trail @ Acadia National Park

It’s a little after 10:00 a.m. and I have been awake for six hours. That is unusual, to say the least, for this not-a-morning-person. Why am I up so early? The brain just won’t shut off. I have been looking into new opportunities and to say I am overwhelmed is an understatement.

Now that I have a mostly empty, largely quiet house, I am seeking new freelance work. I am still working on my novel, but am craving the immediacy of working with daily, weekly or monthly sources of information and entertainment. I am getting excited at the prospect of deadlines and researching stories. I want to meet new people, hear their stories, share new information. I am discovering new avenues to explore and finding that there is even more out there than I had previously suspected existed.

On the big job boards, current writing jobs have more acronyms than the New Deal. After looking them up, I find that they are really not as scary as they seem. These self-important, intimidating, all-caps letters really just add up to writing well so that people will want to read what you have written. (The concept is similar to getting key words in your resume so it will stand out.) There are classes available to improve the possibility that your work will be found in a web search and jobs dedicated to analyzing what is read and why. However, that doesn’t change the fact that good writing is essential. You can learn tricks to get people to a website, but if the content isn’t well-written, people won’t come back a second time.

The dilemma of course is the age-old problem that people have to see your work in order to appreciate it. Getting it seen can be a challenge, especially in today’s world of instant everything and information overload. With so much being put online, stuff always moves to the bottom. Wading through the trash to get to the gems can be a lengthy process. So, I am learning that to be noticed, you have to make noise, sometimes a lot of noise. You need multiple platforms. You need to communicate in every way possible, to reach the largest audience. Apparently, I now need a Twitter account. Although I see the value in Twitter (having a newspaper background, brevity is something I truly appreciate), I naively thought having one social media account was enough (though that has changed in recent months as I have also joined Instagram, Snapchat and LinkedIn).

Now my problem is coming up with a good Twitter Handle. All the cool kids have fun names. Personally, unlike most of my family, I have never even had a real nickname (unless you count the time my uncle dubbed me Ineeda, as in I-need-a-name). Finding a balance between clever and corny, trendy, but not dated, personal, but not too so, is a challenge.

While I ponder that, I realize it’s time to take another step – out of the comfort zone.

Time Travel

The past few months have been a whirlwind and I honestly can say that I am amazed that it is June. Though I would like to have a handy dandy box to climb into and go to any time I want (or just make it stop for a little while), my reference to time travel is really about something different. I am referring to the ability to transcend time and place immersed in a good book.

One of my favorite genres is historical fiction. The past few summers, I have indulged in traveling back to the 1400s, to the court of King Henry and his daughter, Queen Elizabeth and their contemporaries. I am fascinated by the many characters living in this time period. I am also interested in writing historical fiction, but think that this era already has enough (I have 3 or 4 books ready for this summer as well, and have still just scratched the surface of what is available).

Instead, I am currently immersed in a time just a little over 100 years ago, doing research that covers a span of just days – the maiden voyage of the ship Titanic. I have long been percolating a book about the story and have decided that now is the time to complete it (or at least enough of it to send it off to try to find a publisher while I keep working on it).

I have a few other ideas for historical fiction, but this is the one I am currently most passionate about and have the most research complete for, so this is the direction I will take. Unfortunately, other ideas keep popping up, so I have to take some quick notes and file them away for later. My other delay is that life has a way of getting in the way. Fortunately, I knew that May was going to be a busy month and reduced my expectations (though I have been able to immerse myself in 1912 sitting in waiting rooms and in the car waiting for my daughter). Questions and answers are coming unbidden into my mind, and I have changed direction a few times, but I think I am just about at a place where I can sit and write and have it all pour out (with some interruptions for new questions, then research to find answers, etc). With the school year coming to a close, I think I will have some time in the coming month to lose myself (or lock myself in the study) and become immersed in the writing process.

I think I am going to have to get tough and set some rules though. The internet and phones are very real distractions. I don’t think I need to go cold turkey, but think I can limit access to certain times each day (while still being available to my family). There is also the very real problem that everyone needs to eat. (This is a problem, because when I get started, I don’t always think about food – hmmm, this may be good for my waistline.) I haven’t figured that one out yet. The crock pot will work some days, but I don’t know about a couple weeks worth of crock pot meals. The problem: I hate schedules and routines and the muse doesn’t always appear on schedule. The reality: I actually work pretty well with schedules and LOVE lists (especially the crossing out part). I guess I’ve got the first step accomplished – I’ve figured out what I need to do. Now it’s time to find a way to implement it.