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Achieving Clarity June 5, 2014

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ClarityThis is the second article in my series about working with a life coach to reach my goal of becoming happily published through clarity, focus, ease and grace. After one coaching session I have realized that even though I know I want to make my living as a novelist, I am mentally wavering and not always being 100 percent clear about what I want to achieve.

 

There are times that all I am clear about is that I want a change. Reading about amazingly successful people, I’ve seen that they always had a very clear goal in their head. They may have had to work other jobs to be able to get there, but their eye was always on that ultimate achievement and they had no doubt that they would reach it. But while striving to make my life change, it’s so easy for me to formulate a number of plans in my head. One day I may read a job posting and decide that’s the way to go, but the next day I find myself back to fantasizing about my ultimate dream job – writing. A TV commercial or driving past a company may spark other imaginative alternatives, and it’s possible for me to decide on a different direction each day. But this is not clear thinking – it’s indecisiveness. The first step in my hitting that seductive bulls eye is for me to simply recognize it and have complete faith in my ability to reach it. It’s essential I do what I can each day to work toward it, and in the meantime, remain grateful for my life just as it is. I have turned my thinking around from what I don’t like about my present situation to all that I do like. And it’s a lot. I have found ways to incorporate steps into my life each day that will lead me closer to my highest aspiration. By focusing on doing this, my head has become clearer and much of my indecision has been erased.

 

Clarity is not only recognizing what goal we want to achieve, but also gaining a clarity of who we are and what we’re thinking. I thought back to times I was surprised by a compliment. Surprised that someone saw me in a very flattering light. My insecurities, just like yours, don’t show; we’re masters at masking them. The person we present ourselves to be on the outside is not that same being who dwells within. If we could see ourselves the way other people see us, we would all probably be very happy with who we are. I learned that I can’t look at the front someone else projects and know the turmoil and problems they are experiencing internally. This is why I am determined to stop judging my insides by comparing them to others’ outsides. To get mental clarity of who I am, it’s important I stop internalizing negative things. I am determined not to drag problems and slights inside to simmer; rather, to find that bright, warm, wonderful spot within me and radiate all that vigor and charm outward. Positive attracts positive. Expecting problems and complications have often made them materialize, so why wouldn’t anticipation of the best bring it to my doorstep?

 

I am trying to be constantly aware of what I’m thinking. I vow to dwell on the good that comes to me each day and forget those insignificant rebuffs and discourtesies. I think I’m a bit clearer of who I am and who I want to be and have formed a mental image of that successful person I strive to be in my head so it is always there to intercept negative thoughts and melt them in glowing yellow rays of warm optimism. Now I am clear about what my dream is and am doubly clear that I deserve it and am quite capable of grasping and holding it.

 

I now have a successful vision, a clarity about what my ultimate goal is and I am concentrating on the one path I want to take. I have learned not to compare myself to others, and to embrace and exude the creative and accomplished person that I am. My next step will be to work on focus.

What is Even Considered a Rejection? May 26, 2014

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rejection Today the submission process for books is very different than it used to be. It’s a blessing for writers because email submissions make it easy to query, but maybe too easy. Agents receive hundreds of queries every day and sorting through them is an epic task. Where your query lands in the pile is sure to make a difference. But often it isn’t even the agent who rejects a query. Many have assistants or even interns who sort through the piles and zip back a response that the project doesn’t sound like something that would fit their list – sound familiar? I send out a lot of queries, and far more often than not, I don’t hear when an agency is not interested in seeing my work. But no response is not a rejection. I only count rejections of those who have actually reviewed my work and decided not to represent it. I once sent the same query, months later, back to an agency from whom I had gotten no response and they asked to see the book, so perhaps a different assistant or intern reviewed it that day. Maybe the agent was less rushed that day or in a better mood, or perhaps it wasn’t as close to quitting time when it was considered by the assistant.

We all heard about “Carrie” being rejected 30 times, and “Watership Down” and “A Wrinkle in Time” receiving 26 rejections each. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” seems to hold the record at 121 rejections. If I counted all the submissions I have made as rejections, I could easily top this record, but they aren’t truly rejections. A rejection sent with little to no thought or consideration cannot be taken personally by the recipient, and it certainly should not affect your outlook or belief in yourself as a writer.
Consider the process of browsing for a book in a library or bookstore. If you don’t have a particular title in mind, you may have to read quite a number of book jackets to find one that appeals to you. Sometimes the jacket sounds good, but while reading the first line or thumbing through the book, the voice just is not appealing. Keep this in mind as you face a short and not so sweet rejection on your query. You, too, reject a number of books before you take one on, and the ones you are rejecting are published, maybe even best sellers. It’s all a matter of taste, mood and luck. So don’t give up — it only takes one of the hundreds of agents out there to choose your book and rocket you to success. Zoom!

Journaling for Future Generations May 21, 2014

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images        Journaling is something people do for many reasons. Some want to leave a record of their lives for future generations and others claim to journal only for themselves, as a form of therapy. The more you write, the better you get at it, and journaling is a great way to make yourself write regularly. Writing helps the memory, inspires creativity, and makes us aware of our actions and behaviors. But if you are taking the time to record your days, why not bring them vividly to life?

The best way to breathe life into your writing is to think about the five senses. How did things look, taste, smell, sound and feel? When describing an experience, such as a family gathering, leave a record of the day by appealing to the senses. Don’t just report what was eaten. Describe the colors, the presentation, the aromas. Talk about your sticky fingers as you sampled the barbecued chicken leg and report on the tang of the coleslaw that had just a little too much vinegar in it. Even if you write just for yourself, it might bring a smile to your face rereading it and remembering that the past weekend when you had Aunt Martha’s coleslaw and it still made your cheeks pucker. Your observations are the basis of your work; you are presenting the world from your point of view, so take the time to include what you feel as well as what you see.

Include national and historic events for reference. If it effected you, record it. It adds dimension to the time in which you lived. Who knows, your journal may one day become another writer’s reference work, so give them some great material. Fill your journal with those small life details that we think will never change, because they will.  Be honest, because this is the record of you; admit when you’re lonely, depressed, jealous, opinionated, overwhelmed or lazy because it’s the dark times as well as the good ones that will truly reflect who you are and make your life feel real. When we report on everyday tasks, we can easily picture them being done while talking about the present. But future generations will have a greater gift in your journals if they can compare how they do things to how they were done in the past, so throw in those details you take for granted to create a graphic picture for others.

If something impresses you, share it. Describe that cloudy sky and the feel of the wind as it shifted from warm to cool. Did the wind howl as it picked up? Did the dresses and shirts look like dancing phantoms as you hurried to pluck them from the clothes line and get them inside? There is a thrill for both writer and reader when words strike a chord and bring vivid pictures to mind, and using lyrical sentences can bring the past back into the present. But remember that you don’t always have to use prose. Draw a picture, create a map or write a poem.

Taking just a little extra effort to include more details will round out your journal. It will help you by forcing you to see things you might not otherwise notice, thereby instilling feelings of wonder and gratitude. For future generations, it will bridge the years and make them realize, all at once, how much things have changed and how much they haven’t changed at all.

Achieving Goals May 18, 2014

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA We all have goals. You can call them aspirations, dreams, hopes or ambitions, but all those words represent the same thing – a place we want to get to. Many of the most successful people in the history of this world have attributed their achievements to persistent, raw determination and an unshakable belief in their ability to reach that ultimate destination.
My goal is to be a successful novelist. I am already published but my agent had his own goals, and they didn’t include my success, so I had to move on and am presently looking for a new agent. Today major publishers don’t work directly with writers to acquire books, they work only through literary agents. The publishing industry was hit as hard as any other by the recession, so fewer books are being published and agents are being extremely selective about the clients they take on. I have been on the agent search for about two years, which sounds like a long time, but it isn’t when you consider that an agent can take months to respond to a query and even longer to review a full or partial manuscript. Agents can get hundreds of queries a day and it’s anyone’s guess how huge their reading piles are.  workshops, conferences and book fairs, and their first responsibility is to their existing clients, so patience is a must. I once read a blog where a writer said that in the submission process, three months feels like three years to a writer and three days to an agent.
Recently I have advanced a bit in the process; from receiving just rejections to receiving rave rejections. My latest novel is getting personal comments from big agents in the industry about how lyrical my writing is, how good my plotting and character development is, how exciting the story is and even how marketable it is. Then comes the “but” – the reason they chose not to accept the book. This is the cryptic part, as the reasons can range from “It wasn’t what I expected,” to “It doesn’t fit my list” or “I didn’t connect with it as I had hoped to.”
These rejections can’t be taken personally. All art, including telling stories, is very subjective. Think of the best sellers you’ve read that you didn’t finish or wondered how they got such terrific reviews. How many times has your favorite television show been cancelled while the one you couldn’t sit through even one episode of went on for six or eight seasons? Consider that Herman Melville, Franz Kafka and Edgar Allan Poe were all considered failures in their lifetimes. Great artists such as Van Gogh, El Greco, Cezanne, Manet, Gauguin and Vermeer suffered the same fate. So was the difference between them and those who knew success in their lifetimes simply how they directed their determination and the way they felt about themselves?
My goal is to get those “buts” I am receiving eliminated and find the perfect agent to represent my books. I feel I have been doing everything I can to accomplish that, but we all sometimes need outside help. Timing and luck are also factors so a writer needs every advantage they can get. I have turned to a  life coach to coach me so I can achieve clarity, focus, ease and grace. She says she can help people grow beyond their normal stopping points and navigate the obstacles that might be in the way. She will give me the tools to achieve my goal, but I’m the one who will have to put the energy and time into using them. She will keep me and my mind focused so I keep my eye on the end result and don’t drive myself crazy with those self-limiting conversations that filter so easily into my head. She will give me support when I need it and make sure I think and act in a positive manner. She will help me see things differently and, most importantly, she will show me how to fully believe in myself and my work. In my first meeting with her, she already made me realize I must appreciate the achievements I have already made and that writing a novel, in itself, is a great achievement.
Life coaches aren’t cheap, so I lucked out. I am being coached in return for writing articles about the experience in the local paper I write for, and I will be posting them all here as well. It’s a pretty rural publication, so will give you city folks a chuckle. You can check it out at http://www.middlefieldpost.com. (That’s me, the little shit, in the photo above in a publicity shot for the publication with two coworkers.) I hope, that through these articles, I can inspire others to not only define their loftiest dreams, but to reach out and act toward achieving them. We all deserve to be the best we can be and to feel great about ourselves and our lives. We already have the power to do so within us, but the trick is to learn how to release and utilize that power.

Finding an Agent for Literary Fiction March 22, 2014

Posted by lycan librarian in Uncategorized, writing.
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Whale tail mug       I have been looking for an agent for my latest novel, a story about the boyhood of Captain Ahab. I studied Moby Dick and Herman Melville extensively and interjected a peppering of Melville’s phrases and many of his themes into my work. While sending it out, I got a few very strange replies from agent asking to see a partial or complete manuscript. The oddest comment was, “This isn’t a thriller. Wasn’t Moby Dick a thriller?” I began to realize that a lot of agents who said they represented literary fiction have no idea what serious literary fiction is. So when I got good comments about how beautiful my writing is or how with the right agent my career and I could go far, I savored them. The rest I discarded.
Presently I have received positive responses from eight agents including one of the biggest in the U.S. and one of the biggest in the UK . They were both taken with the partial they were sent and asked for the entire manuscript. I am convinced this is my breakout novel that will launch my career.

It took time and patience, but I didn’t give up on my book. I took early comments to heart, put the work aside for a while, then went back and rewrote the book. Now that it’s finished, I’ve gone back to work on another I had completed some time back. I’ve finally learned that it’s important to let the work sit, digest feedback, and go back to it fresh. I probably would have given up on this book by now, but received some very strange messages from the universe. My brother and I don’t exchange gifts anymore, so I was surprised when I suddenly got a package from him. Bear in mind he had no idea I was writing a book that referenced Moby Dick. I opened the package to find a whale tail mug. (See photo.) The handle came up and attached to the mug in a whale tail. My brother knows me and he knows I love color, but the mug is white. Spooky, huh? Then, everywhere I turned, there were Moby Dick, whale and Ahab references. In crosswords puzzles, comics, commercials, magazines, and every time I turned on the TV. I even found a whale tail charm at a garage sale I had no intention of stopping at. The car just turned in without me even thinking about it. The strangest was one day when I was feeling down and asked for a whale sign. I turned on the TV and Moby Dick, the opera, was on. I can’t help but think this is all positive and means something.

Stay tuned, I’ll let you know how things turn out. Is the universe just screwing with me (again) or is it guiding and helping me?

ARE YOU LOOKING FOR A LITERARY AGENT? April 25, 2011

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     I recently stumbled  across a blog where someone was asking about a particular agent. They said they had sent  their manuscript to this agency a year ago, had not heard back, and were wondering if anyone knew anything about them. I had no desire to sign up for that blog site, so could not answer the query, but I felt compelled to address the issue. I won’t mention the agent’s name or agency, but I did a quick online search and found that the agent does not accept unsolicited queries. That means the writer’s query was not only ignored, but it was probably immediately deleted. Meanwhile, this guy’s checking his emails every day waiting to hear back from the agent. Sigh!
     Reasearch, people! Reasearch! It doesn’t take very long in this day and age, so there is no excuse for sending queries to agents who don’t accept the type of work you have produced. Guidelines are clearly outlined on most agents’ websites, and it is in your best interest to take the time to study  the market and send your manuscript to only the appropriate agencies. By the way, if you don’t hear back from them within a couple of months, they probably aren’t interested. Suck it up and keep submitting. There are hoards of agents out there, but make sure you check them out before submitting and never, never, never give them money to read or edit your manuscript. One of many excellent websites to find and learn about agents and submitting is pred-ed.com. Oh, and keep writing. If this project doesn’t sell, the next one just might. Don’t dig yourself into a rut by relying on only one manuscript, rather forge on, look ahead and make maximum use of every day by creating something wonderful and new.

LITERARY BLING January 20, 2011

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     My friend Rich Figel is a brilliant screenwriter.  He understands plot, marketability, characterization, and all the other elusive stuff writers are supposed to know.  He’s always able to pinpoint exactly what I’m doing wrong in my novels, and when he does, I get it. 100%!  So why can’t I see it on my own? I can look at everyone else’s writing and see what they need to cut out or improve, but I can’t pick it out of my own work. I get blinded by my literary bling; the spirited characters, colorful locations and wild scenes that I love to write, but that sometimes don’t contribute anything to the plot.

     The bling is hard to let go. The creative juices flow when I write it, so it always seems a shame to have to dam up the results. But just as one must suffer for beauty, they must also suffer for their craft. One by one, the words, sentences, characters, and paragraphs must be removed, like golden chains and diamond pinky rings, until the writing is stripped down to the beauty contained in its own countenance — much like the beauty we can see in others, but seldom in ourselves. So we write, and rewrite, and we take our chances. And if we’re lucky, we learn to listen to the Rich Figels, those who are able to see our work through fresh eyes and correct us with intelligence and tact.

     This doesn’t, of course, mean I’ll stop throwing in the bling. When you’re an extrovert in your writing, you’re going to keep pushing the limit, and that means you’re going to have to keep editing. But every now and then you’ll get to keep a scrap of gold that’s embedded into the text just right, and that will make everything worthwhile.

     You can read Rich’s pearls of wisdom at squashedgecko.wordpress.com.   Happy writing — and reading!

PAGE FRIGHT By: Harry Bruce January 2, 2011

Posted by lycan librarian in book reviews, Books and reading, writing.
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     PAGE FRIGHT gets its title from the many writers, famous and otherwise, who confess how utterly terrifying it can be to write.  Writers bare their souls and turn themselves inside out searching for insight to slather on paper, but are often not capable of recognizing if their own work has merit or not. Sometimes they argue that a rejected work is worthy of publication, and other times, they are left stunned, confused, and embarrassed by a highly lauded piece’s success because they view it as inferior. Harry Bruce’s fascinating account of the world of writing begins with an overview of the history of writing and man’s overwhelming desire to express himself. It then goes on to explore the various methods that have been used to record ones thoughts and feelings. The historic beginnings for using quills, pens, pencils, typewriters, word processors and computers are all examined, as are the various techniques and positions writers have assumed to complete their work. Some sit, some stand, some lay down, and others, such as THE LIFE OF PI’S Yann Martel have such bony butts, they need extra padding in order to sit for extended periods of time. (Note: the writer of this review does not suffer with that particular problem.)
                                                                                                                                                                                                    

     It’s amusing to read the older quotes about how one cannot trust writers who write with pens rather than quills, or that work suffers if one  employs typewriters, while we are now steps beyond the rickety manual typewriters that were once considered so new-fangled. As you might imagine, Bruce does get into addictions and discusses  authors who wrote under the influences of alcohol, pot, opium, cocaine, codeine, benzadrine, coffee, tea, and tobacco, among others. (Balzac drank about fifty cups of sludgy coffee per night and is the only great writer who drank himself to death with coffee.)
     This is a fantastic book for writers and readers alike, and book discussion groups will probably run late while discussing the array of authors, techniques, opinions and vignettes offered in this amusing and interesting text.  There are numerous authors mentioned, and it’s great fun to suddenly stumble upon a quote from a favorite, or read a line that perfectly explains ones emotions while laboring over his or her own books and essays. It’s well worth a read — or at the very least, a good and thorough thumbing.

SUCCESS IN WRITING December 28, 2010

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     What defines success in writing? This is a loaded question and there are probably as many different answers as there are people willing to shout one out. But every single one of them will be forced to agree on one particular reply: if you finish a piece, you have achieved success. They are legions of people who say they are going to write a book, screenplay or novel some day, but many never even sit down to write the first word. Others may start, but that’s as far as they get. The successful ones choose a piece and stick with it. They work it and rework it and rethink it and, eventually, finish it — they succeed.
     When I facilitated a library writers’ group, there were always new members who came in and said they wanted to be a writer, and would proceed to pull out their work. Then I started my familiar lecture and told them they were a writer. If you write, you are a writer. Being published, or being recognized by certain people or groups as a writer does not make you a writer — writing does. 

     How you write also does not define you, because we all use different creative methods. I always begin my novels the same way. I get that big brainstorm and start writing scenes and dialogue until I think I know my characters, and then I begin the book. I tried, for a while, to start with the one sentence and then one paragraph pitch, but it didn’t work for me. It isn’t until I am immersed in the book that I fully realize what I want to say. I spent a couple of weeks trying to write my pitch before the book. I began thinking up concept after concept and trying to define them in one sentence. I wound up with an impressive stack of scrap paper, but I wasn’t getting any work done. So I had to put on blinders to those professionals who insist you can’t be guided along a piece until you know exactly what you want to express, and allow myself to employ my “groping” method. And then I began to get a lot of work done. A book finally emerged and began to take shape, and now I am 25,000 words into it, and very excited by its message and characters.

     I figure, if we think that only published writers deserve the title of writer, then all the world’s first-time authors weren’t writers when they wrote their book. Whoa! Pretty profound, huh? But if you allow yourself to view it that way, you’ll see a writer the next time you take a potty break from your book and catch a glimpse of yourself in the mirror while you’re washing your hands.

     Keep on writing — and loving every minute of it!