Showing posts with label Determination. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Determination. Show all posts

Friday, February 19, 2016

My Very Own "How I Got My Agent" Story!

I have a literary agent.

Did I really just get to type that sentence?!

Two weeks later, and it's finally starting to sink in. It's something I've hoped for, worked toward, and daydreamed about for such a long time. Now that it's real, I'll do my best to squash into a few paragraphs the crazy journey that got me to this point, in the hopes that my story can encourage someone else. (Basically, I'm here to once again be that annoying person that shouts at you, "DON'T GIVE UP!")

All I ever wanted to be was a writer. I remember writing some of my first stories in elementary school. My go-to Mother's Day gifts were poems, decorated with doodles and stickers and homemade cardboard frames. (My mom still has one of them, tucked away in a box filled with old family photographs.) But somewhere around high school, becoming an author turned into a pipe dream--as likely as becoming a pop star, or an actress, or living in one of the castles on the posters I had pinned to my wall. (That's right, while my friends had N'SYNC and Backstreet Boys, I plastered my walls with maps of Europe.)

Still, there was a hope...maybe someday.

A few years later, and I still had my someday dream. The desire to write wouldn't leave me alone, and neither would my amazing husband who nudged and encouraged me to actually do something about it. So I enrolled in a writing course from the Institute of Children's Literature. I learned a lot about the basics of good storytelling, but most importantly, I learned what comes after you write the story: Querying.

Suddenly, the path to publication didn't seem so mysterious. It started to feel less like a pipe dream, and more like a possibility. Especially when I got my first acceptance letter for a short story I'd submitted to a children's magazine. But could I really go from short story, to full length novel?

Enter NaNoWriMo.

I wrote my first novel in November of 2009. 50K in 30 days. A young adult fantasy that no one else will ever, EVER set eyes on. (Seriously, you would probably fall into a plot hole and never be heard from again. But it proved to me that I really could write enough words for a whole book and for that reason, I will allow it to live out its days in peace, buried in a folder on my laptop.) I continued to participate in NaNoWriMo every November, and in 2012, I wrote my first children's novel. In 2013, I wrote my second, a middle grade fantasy called FOLLOW ME, which would eventually...

(fast forward to more recent months)

...earn me a spot as a mentee in Brenda Drake's 2015 Pitch Wars contest. My amazing mentor, Kara Seal, helped me make FOLLOW ME even stronger. I got a handful of requests in the Pitch Wars agent round, but it would be the slush pile that would finally land me an agent: the ever-so-lovely Marietta Zacker of the Gallt-Zacker Literary Agency! Marietta had actually read FOLLOW ME almost two years ago when it was still...well, let's just say "in progress." (AKA it was a hot mess, but Marietta's encouraging words spurred me to take it from "almost there" to "By George, I think she's got it!") After Pitch Wars, I queried her again with the revised manuscript, and I'm SO glad I did! From our very first conversation, I knew that having Marietta as my agent would mean having an incredible champion in my corner. I feel very fortunate to have found such a great match; someone who is passionate about my stories, loves my characters as much as I do, and is excited to help me build my writing career. 

The road here has been filled with highs and lows, plenty of rejections, tears, frustrations, and triumphs. Not to mention countless hours of rewrites, edits, and revisions (and a fair share of both pity-party and celebratory ice cream). I have gone from optimistic and sure of myself one day, to depressed and feeling like the worst writer ever the next. There were times I wanted to quit, but thankfully I have a community of family, friends, and fellow writers (and, of course, those pesky characters demanding their stories be written) who wouldn't let me. 

So here it is (I warned you it was coming)...

Even if it feels like a pipe dream...

Even if you feel like you've been at it forever...

Even if you've gotten a hundred rejections...

Even if it means shelving one story and starting a new one...

Even if the words don't come easily...

Even if you're terrified it's never going to happen...

DON'T GIVE UP. 

If you require further convincing, check out this blog post I wrote while I was in the midst of writing FOLLOW ME (and pretty convinced it was going nowhere): The Day I Almost Quit.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Picture Quote Monday {It Couldn't Be Done}

I missed putting up a picture quote last week because the entire family decided to come down with a nasty head cold ALL AT THE SAME TIME. It's bad enough when the kids are sick, but when both parents are feeling miserable on top of it...double the not so fun. But thankfully, after much pitiful lounging about on the couch and the disinfecting of all surfaces, we are on the mend and here I am, up way too late on a Sunday night to bring you your picture quote.

Recently I was having an email conversation with someone, discussing the difficulty in selling pirate-themed picture books and picture books in rhyme. Then she said it didn't surprise her that I was attempting to write the impossible - a trio of rhyming pirate picture books. To which she said: BRING THEM ON! And she wrote it just like that, in all caps. It made me exceedingly happy.

I'd like to think that there's a little of the White Queen in all of us, if only we, too, would dare to believe in six impossible things before breakfast. When I came across this jaunty poem, I knew I had to share it. It can't be done? Psh. Do it anyway. Because the only thing that's sure to fail is the thing that's left undone.

Did that make any sense? I think I need to go to bed.






Monday, November 18, 2013

The Day I Almost Quit

It's noon and I still haven't put up today's blog post. Why?

Because I almost quit last night.

The last two weeks have been filled with some serious ups and downs. This year's NaNoWriMo project is not going easy on me. Some days the words have flowed well, but most days it's been an uphill struggle to keep moving forward. Not necessarily because the story isn't there, but because I'm not meeting my own expectations. Last year, I averaged 2,300 words a day and I was in love with my story. I knew exactly where I was going next, and the snags were few. This year, I'm lucky to meet the required daily 1,667 by midnight each night, I have no idea what to do in my next scene, and my entire story seems like one gigantic tangled mess.

I was hoping that last year's finished novel would be some sort of magical line in my writing career. Beyond this line, everything would be easier. Every first draft would be gold. Every story and character would be loved and cherished through the entire process.

Or something like that.

Instead: Reality. In all honesty, I knew it would be hard. No dream is ever easy to reach. No passion ever really reaches perfection. There's always more learning and growing and hard work to be done, even after harvest. But I was completely unprepared for how difficult this month would be. It seems my fifth NaNoWriMo is shaping up to be my most difficult. Last night, after ignoring my novel for as long as I could (it's only 36 days 'til Christmas--I HAD to finish crocheting that stocking), I finally sat down at 10:30pm and coughed up 1,000 words before giving up an hour later.

And then I tried to convince myself of all the reasons why it was okay if I gave up completely.

After all, I've chalked up four NaNoWriMo wins--that's not too shabby. We're all allowed to have an unfinished year, right? Why should I waste my time on a story I'm not enjoying? A story that will probably end up in the trash bin anyway.

And there was the truth. Or, should I say, the lies.

The story isn't good enough. 
I'm not good enough.
I'm wasting my time.

I went to bed discouraged and defeated--and while we're being real--with a soggy pillow.

But thankfully, dark nights are often followed by mornings of clarity. I was reading some sample chapters of an upcoming novel from one of my favorite authors (I'll be sharing those pages with you in a couple weeks, so stayed tuned for more info on that!) and I had a thought. It's a thought I've had many times before that has always given me new life when I'm in the writing dumps.

This book is made of words. Simple, everyday words put into sentences, put into paragraphs, put into chapters to make a book. The story is beautiful, well written, intricate. But it all begins with just...words.

I like words. I can handle that. I can do that.

So I sat at my computer and wrote 300 more words this morning. They might not be perfect, they might get thrown to the cutting room floor come December. But if I want to be a writer, I must be willing to risk the imperfect first draft. The messed up timeline. The characters who aren't sure who they are yet. The villains who seem undefeatable.

Because I don't want to be the person who missed out on a great story because she quit in the first draft. I don't want to be the person who misses out on future possibilities because I focused on present difficulties. My story might not make it to 50,000 words (it is a children's book after all, and I'm focused on the 35K-45K range) but I don't want to stop before THE END.


So, as a reminder for myself and anyone else who needs it, here's today's picture quote.




Thursday, August 15, 2013

Own It

Last week someone said to me, "So you're an author?" It threw me for a second because most people who ask about this ask if I'm a writer. I'd never had someone ask me if I was an author. I mustered up all the courage I owned and forced a hesitant-yet-hopefully-confident "yeah" through my lips. Then I promptly chickened out and backtracked. "Well, I haven't published a book yet. Right now I'm in the process of trying to get an agent for my children's book." My gaze darted to the door where I was sure the writing police were about to burst through, ticket for false identification in hand. I squeaked out a quick defense of my earlier affirmation: "But I have had some short stories published in a few magazines!" So much for confidence.

After having conversations with other writers and reading blog posts and Twitter feed comments, I've come to realize I'm not the only one who has a hard time labeling who I am as a writer. In fact, there seems to be a trend--a pattern to the words we use to describe ourselves, depending on our level of confidence and/or perceived accomplishments.

When we first venture into the writing world we tend to define ourselves as "aspiring writers". This is the newbie level. We walk by the exclusive Writer's Club and we can see the bright lights and smell the freshly published books and hear whispers of 5-star reviews. We cast longing glances toward the line of people waiting to get through the door and say to ourselves, "Someday..."

Fast forward a few short stories and a couple of NaNoWriMos later, and we get brave, drop the "aspiring" and move up to just "writer". Writing is something we love doing, and we do it often enough to be (somewhat) comfortable allowing ourselves the title. At last we feel like we've reached a high enough word count and taken enough classes or read enough craft books to sneak to the back of the line. But then panic sets in because suddenly there's a rumor cascading down the queue that only authors are allowed through the door and you don't know if you're an author yet and you can only shuffle closer and closer to the door with anxious pulse and sweating hands and hope your name's on the bouncer's ultra secret clip board because who really knows where the point is that you cross the threshold from "writer" to "author" and who makes that decision anyway? And the closer you get to the door, the more you convince yourself that you should just step out of the line and wait until your name graces the cover of a book inside a real Barnes and Noble and you can bring it along as proof that you really are what you consider yourself to be deep down inside.

*deep breath and...exhale*

Here's the reality: There's no difference between being a writer and being an author. Merriam-Webster's definition of author is this:
1 :one that originates or creates
2 : the writer of a literary work 
By definition, you are the author of anything you have written. Therefore, I am an author. And I'm hoping the more I repeat that to myself, the easier it will be to simply answer, "yes" the next time someone asks. (So if you see me mumbling to myself, don't worry, it's just a confidence building exercise.)

Now some of you may hesitate to even go so far as to call yourself a writer, much less an author. As if you have to be published (aka getting paid) in order to lay claim to that title. But I say, NAY! I became a mother the moment my first child entered the world. I don't have to put in 10 quality years of child rearing, or wait until my daughter successfully graduates from college in order to earn the title of Mom. (And last time I checked, I'm not getting a paycheck.) The moment you wrote down that first idea, that first line--the moment you birthed your story--you became a writer.

Own it.

Because the bouncer isn't there to check if someone else put you on the list. He's there to see if you'll put yourself on the list. He's there to ask one question.

Are you a writer? Are you an author?

Whether or not you get in is entirely up to you.
  


Check out these great posts for more encouragement on owning your writer/author label:

Don’t Eat the Butt–Lies that Can Poison Our Writing Career #1 - Kristen Lamb (one of my favorite bloggers)

When Should You Start Calling Yourself an Author?

- See more at: http://authoritypublishing.com/book-publishing/when-should-you-start-calling-yourself-an-author/#sthash.LsW6Zk8o.dpuf

When Should You Start Calling Yourself an Author?

When Should You Start Calling Yourself an Author?

- See more at: http://authoritypublishing.com/book-publishing/when-should-you-start-calling-yourself-an-author/#sthash.LsW6Zk8o.dpuf



Friday, July 26, 2013

Oh Hello, Irony

There are times when the truth slaps you with a load of irony.

It goes something like this: First you're like, "whoa", and then there's this awkward moment when you realize you're going to have to admit you were wrong, and then you do and you feel SO much better.

At least, that's been my experience.

You may recall a post I wrote a couple weeks ago involving unicorns and writer's block. Well, the reason I was so desperate to overcome my creatively stuck position, was because something awesome was about to start and I had made a goal--a goal which I had shared with a major author and a couple thousand people.

Let's flashback a bit and this will make more sense...

Earlier this month, I responded to a blog post by Jon Acuff, in which he gave a Safety Not Guaranteed-esque call to those willing to go on an unspecified adventure. If you were willing to embark on said adventure, without knowing any details, you were to email him your name and mailing address. And in true clandestine fashion, the blog post was set to self-destruct in 24 hours.

Thus began the Start Experiment. A group of individuals from all over the world, taking a chance and ultimately being grouped together to encourage and assist one another in the pursuit of a dream or a goal, punching fear in the face in the process. One of the first things we were asked was what we were each willing to risk--what would our goal (to be moved toward over the course of 24 days) be? I immediately knew what mine would be: To write the first draft of my second novel.

Hence the need to be able to actually write.

The entire foundation of Jon's experiment, and the theme of his latest book, START, is that fear needs to be overcome in order for you to move toward your goal. So I was going to overcome the fear of stalling out, the fear of not being able to write, the fear of running out of ideas. Fear was going down!

And then a funny thing happened on the way to the fear smack-down. After coming out of the first week of the experiment with a super lame word-count, I had an epiphany. I suddenly realized that my risk was actually driven by fear. 

Helloooo, Irony.

You see, I finished editing and polishing my first children's novel in May, and queried my first agent the beginning of June. And instead of taking time to celebrate my accomplishment and focus on getting an agent/getting published, I immediately put a huge bunch of pressure on myself to write a second book. I convinced myself that one book wasn't enough to make an agent feel I was worth his/her time, that I needed to at least have a second one started to prove I was a real author and not a one-hit wonder. 

And then I wondered why I felt stressed-out, overwhelmed, uninspired and generally unhappy with my writing.

And so, after a jolly good laugh, irony and I parted ways and I took a new path. Now my risk is pursuing my dream of getting published by focusing on my finished book and preparing more queries to send out in the next couple of weeks. I've created a neatly ordered list of agents that I would love to have represent me, and I'm going to start tailoring my individual queries next week. I'm also continuing to write by working on some picture book ideas that I've been cultivating. This has been much less stressful and--hallelujah!--FUN. And come November, I will happily don my novel writing hat once more and leap into the literary abandon of my fifth NaNoWriMo. Until then, I will pour my heart and soul into a project fueled by hopes and dreams, not fear.

So, in case that was a lot to follow, here's a quick recap:

Fear 0 - Ashley 1


Friday, July 12, 2013

On Unicorns, Rainbows, and Rest


I came across this photo in my Facebook feed last week (courtesy of The Institute of Children's Literature), and I couldn't help but breath a giant sigh of relief. Which was immediately followed by a torrent of doubt. But so many other people say you have to work through it. Write every day even if it sucks. Write yourself out of writer's block! Don't stop, no matter what!

For weeks I felt like I was beating my head against a wall with my current work-in-progress. I just couldn't seem to get back to that beautiful place of writerly bliss. You know, the place where I sit down and look at the blank screen and suddenly the story begins to flow effortlessly and the words stack up as my fingers fly across the keyboard like a unicorn galloping across a rainbow on the wings of inspiration.

Okay, in reality maybe there's not quite so many rainbows and unicorns, but you get what I'm saying.

I was forcing myself to write, waffling between two ideas--both with potential--but coming out with exactly what the above quote describes: uninspired dreck. The more I wrote, the more frustrated I became, and the more I fell into an "I love you but I don't like you right now" relationship with both of my stories. So, with few other options and still feeling like I was breaking some sort of set-in-stone, thou-shalt-not-stop-writing rule, I took the above advice and stepped away. I didn't touch my laptop for several days in a row, worked on other creative projects that didn't involve writing, and curled up for some much needed reading therapy. I cleared the clutter from my word-mired mind and made room for inspiration to return from its vacation.

And it did.

After a week, I began to feel the itch to take up my pen. And as of today, I finally have a solid outline for my book and am ready to press forward. 

Also, my house is freakishly clean.

I learned a couple things from this little exercise. One: At some point I think you have to release yourself from the notion that there's a perfect formula for anything. Otherwise, you'll waste valuable time trying to follow other people's strategies. Everyone's process is different, and that's okay. Maybe your path to inspiration looks like plowing forward now and straightening your plot lines later. Maybe it looks like taking a long walk or watching your favorite comedy. Maybe it looks like closing the laptop (or notebook) and only writing to jot down notes as they come to you. Whatever works for you, go forth and do without guilt.

Two: I think it's important to remember there's a difference between quitting and resting. Quitting is a result of fear. Resting is a result of movement. It's a natural and necessary part of the cycle: work, recharge, work, recharge. 

No matter what your strategy is for getting unstuck, I think it would benefit all of us to give ourselves permission to rest. You can't go forever without burning out. Just because you take a break, doesn't mean you're giving up--it means you're filling up. And that's not just okay, it's good.

What about you? What strategy works for you when it comes to tackling creative block? What refills your cup of inspiration? I'd love to hear from you!

Monday, June 24, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Time}

Today's quote comes from Charles Buxton. There's so much truth to this. Whether it means getting up at 5am, staying up 'til 11pm, or skipping that hour of evening television, make time this week to pursue something you're passionate about.


Thursday, June 6, 2013

On Milestones and Hope

I reached a new milestone in my writing career this week--I sent out my very first book query! *SQUEEE!* My book has officially left the nest to try and find its place in the world. It was a lot more nerve-wracking than I anticipated and I definitely felt some nervous jitters as I hit send. But that was nothing compared to the excitement I felt when the confirmation email popped up in my inbox.

My first ten pages are sitting in an agent's inbox right now. Whoa.

Now comes 6-8 weeks of waiting. For me, this is one of the hardest parts of being a writer. Not because I have a hard time being patient, but because I have a really hard time being optimistic. I'm much more of a realist when it comes to things like this. Part of me wants to believe my manuscript can and will be accepted by my number-one agency/agent pick on my first try. But the other part of me thinks, if it took sixty queries for a book like The Help to find success, who am I to think I'll find success right off the bat? Plus, there's this feeling that--besides it being statistically unlikely--it wouldn't be fair. After all, so many amazing authors have had to work incredibly hard to land an agent. Who am I to hope I could nail it on a first try? And isn't it better not to hope for too much, so I won't be disappointed if things don't work out?

But despite all of that, I hope. This time, optimism seems to have taken hold of me. I really, truly hope that this particular agent will choose to represent me. Sure, it might not happen. And that's cool. I'll find another potential agent, send another query, and hope some more. Because I realized something as I waffled between optimism and my perception of reality. Even though it may seem like I'm hoping for too much, what point is there in trying if you don't hope for--and even anticipate--success? If all you hope for and expect is failure, your dream is going to have a super sad existence. And dreams aren't meant to be super sad, pessimistic creatures. It goes against their very nature.

So...make your dream happy. Feed it some hope.


Monday, May 20, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Sum Total}

So often we hear words involving "daily" in a negative context. The daily grind. Day in and day out. Day after day. It's like these phrases are trying to convince us our daily lives are boring and meaningless. But it's our daily lives that lead to our future. It's like that old saying, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with one step." But I like this saying better.

(Created with A Beautiful Mess app - read about it in my latest Small Things post)

Monday, May 13, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Critics}

I love this quote because it really puts into perspective something that writers (and anyone else who has a dream and a passion) have to deal with: criticism. And not the constructive kind. In Jon Acuff's book START, he has a great section titled "Critic's Math". In it he says, "1 insult + 1,000 compliments = 1 insult." It can be so hard to look past that one negative. So the next time someone hates on your dream, think of this, have a little giggle, and as Jon says: "Leave the haters behind you."

 P.S. Look for my full review of START on Friday! You won't want to miss this one.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Picture Quote Monday {Continue}

I love this quote by Winston Churchill. As a writer, you quickly learn to try, try again. If you want to succeed, you can't be discouraged to the point of defeat each time you get a rejection letter, or when your plot has holes in it, or when your story isn't flowing as smoothly as it was yesterday. And now that I've finished my first book, I'm discovering how easy it is to fall prey to insecurity even after success. Can I really do it again? I have to battle the voices of fear and doubt and keep going. Whatever your passion, don't let failures, mistakes, or temporary setbacks cause you to give up. And when you reach one goal, celebrate it and set your sights on the next one. It's all part of the learning process. Continue.