Failure

It’s time to admit it. I’ve been hiding it for far too long, and it’s just not a secret that I can keep anymore. It pains me to admit it, but I am a failure as a coffee drinker. Now I know what you’re thinking. So what? There are plenty of people out there who don’t drink coffee. In fact, there are people out there who are actively trying to wean themselves off of their caffeine habit. And good for them. But I am trying to be a coffee drinker, and it’s just not working.

I have never liked coffee. I drank it for a short time in high school because I thought it was cool. I had to add so much sugar and milk to my parents’ Folgers that it was unrecognizable as coffee, and nearly impossible to drink. It left your teeth feeling like they were wearing Mohair sweaters when you were done. In retrospect, I should have started selling it and given Starbucks a run for their money.

Recently, however, my husband started buying some relatively expensive coffee beans that come in awesome flavors like Dutch Chocolate and Black Nutty Fudge (am I the only one who thinks of poop every time I think of that name? Maybe it comes from living with a five year old boy.) I’ve discovered that I can drink this stuff with only a little sugar added.

When I realized this, my husband started leaving me a cup of coffee out of his pot every morning. One measly cup. Surely I could drink that much. But, alas, I’m probably the world’s worst wanna-be coffee drinker. I’ll pour my cup in the morning and put it in the microwave to reheat it. Half an hour later, I’ll remember it’s there, so I’ll hit the add minute again to warm it back up. Sometimes this happens two or three times before my husband gets home and finally drinks the coffee himself. Other days I remember it, but only get halfway through the cup before lunch time rolls around. Some people know how to nurse a beer. I can nurse a cup of coffee like no one’s business.

Still, you’re asking so what? If I’m so bad at it, why don’t I just give up? Well, first of all, I’m a stay at home mom with two young kids who have an endless reserve of energy. But that’s not the most worrying aspect of it. I’m a writer! How will anyone ever take me seriously if I don’t suffer from at least a caffeine addiction? And I worry that they’ll find out. I could just see going to a meeting with a big, fancy agent who wants to represent my work.

BFA (Big Fancy Agent)- Can I get you a cup of coffee?

Me- Oh no thanks. I don’t drink coffee.

BFA-(Painfully awkward silence while they stare at me like I have the numbers 666 tattooed backwards across my forehead to match my horns that have just popped out.) Oh I see. Well thank you for your time.

Me- But we just started.

BFA- (Walks away mumbling incoherently.)

In fact, more and more I’m thinking that’s why I haven’t found an agent yet. (Let’s ignore the fact that I’ve only queried a handful, and the first few queries I sent out were not very good.) I’m sure it’s because they’re looking for the telltale coffee stains on my letter to know that I’m a member of the club. (Again, we’ll ignore the fact that I’m emailing everything.) The point is, they know!

So I’ll keep on keeping on. I’m not ready to throw in the towel just yet. As I sit here, typing and nursing my mug of coffee that I reheated over an hour ago, and it’s still over half full, at least the glass is half full right? I’ll keep drinking, and maybe some day I’ll get to sit down and have that meeting over a cup of coffee with an agent or editor. Or maybe I’ll just order tea.

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Your baby is ugly!

Sometimes the truth hurts. You never know when it’s going to bite you. It could be at the pool when your 5-year-old looks at you and says, “Mom, you’re fat!” It could be when you look in the mirror and notice that you’re starting to get wrinkles, or when you look at the dog you’ve had since she was 11 weeks old and realize that she’s getting old. Truth can be an evil bitch.

I’ve recently compared writing a novel to having a baby. You spend months (or years) working on its creation. By the time it’s finished cooking and ready to share with the world, you’re in love with every aspect of it. You look at your baby/novel and you see perfection. So what if it looks like a troll doll? (My son did when he was a newborn. I’m not kidding.) Who cares if your plot has holes the size of the Atlantic ocean? You see past all of that because of your love for the thing you have created.

At first, you shield your creation from the big, scary world. The few friends and family that you do allow to share it with you coo and gush about how amazing it is. And would they really tell you if they thought your baby looked like a Sharpei? Probably not, because they love it almost as much as you do. But at some point, chances are good that you’re going to have to take your baby outside of your comfort zone. Luckily, with a human baby, most people have enough tact that they’re not going to tell you that they think your baby is ugly even if it looks like a chimpanzee mated with a head of cabbage. (Try to visualize that, I dare you.) With a word baby, that’s not the case. Even the most amazing novel isn’t going to appeal to everyone. Just take a look at the reviews of your favorite novel on Amazon. Chances are, no matter how many amazing five star reviews you see, there are still some brutal one star reviews as well. People can be downright mean when it comes to word babies. Of course, the good thing about that is, if you can be thick skinned enough to accept the criticism, you can use it to your benefit. You can use it to become better.

There’s another big difference. Even ugly babies (and let’s be honest, they do exist) are awesome. There is every chance that they’re going to grow up to be someone incredible. You know, the whole ugly duckling syndrome. Novels? Not so much. You can make them better, but sometimes, they’re so ugly that they need to be hidden from the world.

When I finished my second novel, I started the query process. I spoke with a publisher, who very politely turned me down, stating that my I needed more description to make things come to life. Looking back, I think it was his way of being gentle. In all honesty, the story itself was flawed. The novel suffered from a serious identity disorder. It didn’t know what it was trying to be, and honestly, neither did I. It was a prime example of what happens when you start a story with no ending destination in mind. But it took me several years to realize that, because I loved my characters. I loved my story. And I still do. Every once in a while, I spend some time trying to figure out a way to resurrect those characters. Because as ugly as it may be, it’s still my baby, and I’m not ready to give up on it quite yet.

Twelve Steps for Writers

I’ve been writing on and off for as long as I can remember. I vividly remember the first story I wrote on my own. It was in first grade and titled “The Lost Dog.” The plot focused on the narrator’s discovery of a lost dog with *gasp* no tags, so a journey began to try and find the dog’s home. My narrator eventually traversed across the world, and in the much awaited sequel, even took a space ship to the other planets to find the dog’s owner. (Apparently I was a bit naive about stray animals.)

I wrote my first novel in middle school. Quality-wise, it probably wasn’t any better than the Lost Dog. Rosewater Creek looked at my life running a horse ranch in Texas (neither of which I knew anything about.) My friends were the main characters, and I even wrote a letter to a famous, and very hot, country singer asking if he’d come film the movie with us. (Oh yes. I thought it was good enough to make a movie.) I never did hear back. Through all of my life, writing has been one constant for me, so it makes sense that it’s what I’m returning to now.

That being said, I was not prepared for the way writing would arrest every bit of my mind when I started writing my latest novel. I started work on Plan B for NanoWrimo. For those of you who don’t know (and if you haven’t done it, that’s probably you) November is National Novel Writing Month. To acknowledge that, a non-profit holds a contest every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. They want you to let go of your inner editor and just let the words flow. I’d heard of Nano before, but I had always forgotten about it until it was too late. Last year, I was reminded of it on November 3. I was hesitant to jump in, because I was already a couple of days behind with no idea what I was going to write about. Then it came to me, and I started to write. It was amazing the way the words flowed onto the page, and the story morphed and took shape. I’ve heard people talk about their characters as though they were real living, breathing people, and I never got it. Until now.

Since November, my mind is never far from my writing. I finished the first draft of my novel, then buckled down on a fresh rewrite. When that rewrite was through, I found beta readers and then I started editing again. In the meantime, my mind has been working constantly on trying to find the next idea. The next novel. Because, honestly, I can’t wait to start writing again.

I read a recent interview with R.L. Stine. He described being an author as being addicted to writing. And he’s right. Writing, publishing, editing . . . It’s on my mind constantly. I fall asleep at night thinking about what I can change, what can be fixed, what to do next. That being said, I decided I needed to develop a 12 step program for all of us writers out there.

Step 1- Admit that you have a problem. (That’s what I’m doing right now.)

Step 2- Believe that turning your manuscript over to a higher power (agent, editor or publisher) will help with your problem.

Step 3- Write a query letter.

Step 4- Rewrite the query letter.

Step 5- Rewrite the query letter again.

Step 6- Force yourself to hit send.

Step 7- Check your email immediately after sending. Just in case.

Step 8- Pee a little when you get an immediate response.

Step 9- Realize that it was only an automated response. Change your pants.

Step 10- Try not to get excited every time you check your email.

Step 11- Get a response.

Step 12- Start the whole process again.

The beauty of the process is the fact that it doesn’t matter what the response in step 11 is. If they say no, you’re going to keep trying. It’s going to keep eating at you. If they say yes, well, chances are good that once the dust settles, you’re going to be right back at the computer, pounding out the next manuscript.

The sweet taste of rejection

I don’t handle rejection well. I mean, honestly, who does? It’s not like anyone out there really enjoys being told that whatever they’re trying to share with the world isn’t good enough. But I really, really don’t handle it well. To the point that I get nervous and start to sweat when it’s time to call my eye doctor to order more contacts. Doesn’t really make sense, but I do it just the same. I’ve never really handled it well. I ended up giving up on my dreams of being a musician because anytime I played solo, I was afraid that people wouldn’t like it. That they would reject my abilities because I wasn’t good enough.

For someone who hates rejection as strongly as I do, I sure picked the wrong line of work. Being a writer is all about rejection. Even if you’re a good writer, there’s a chance that you’re going to suffer dozens of rejections before finding someone who is willing to give your work a chance. But I love writing so much that I allow it to overpower my fear.
I recently finished writing, rewriting and editing a novel. After having a few beta readers run through it and give me opinions (strangely I wasn’t concerned about rejection during this time) I decided that it was time to step up my game. So I wrote a brief query letter to an agent who sounded like the perfect fit for my manuscript. I sent it out, and I waited. Within 36 hours I had a reply sitting in my inbox. Now anytime you see an email like that, your heart starts to race, your mouth goes dry and you cease to think logically. I had my first response.

Imagine my surprise when the preview of the email read, “Thank you so much for your query. We’d like to . . .” And then it cut off. For one brief but glorious moment I allowed myself to believe that the rest of the sentence read, “offer to represent your novel, and we already have a signed six figure book deal.” Okay. So I didn’t go quite that overboard. But I’d be lying if I didn’t at least briefly think that it might have ended, “read your manuscript.” Hand shaking, I opened the email. My not-so-mighty ego deflated slightly at the sight of the words, “We’d like to apologize for this form rejection letter.” Ouch baby! Very ouch. Way to get a girl’s hopes up.

But you know what? It’s okay. I’ve been here before, and I’m sure that I’ll be here again. It may take me dozens of emails before I find someone that will work with me. But I have faith that it will happen. For once, I’m not that afraid of rejection, because I’ve learned that it’s just another part of the process.

Let there be . . . blog?

So I’m starting a blog. Don’t tell Jason. He’ll just make fun of me for it. And I’m sure there are plenty of you out there that are screaming, “No! Not another blog!” while pulling your hair out and running for the nearest zombie apocalypse shelter. And I get that. I really do. I mean, everyone and their brother has a blog. I’m pretty sure I even know a couple of dogs that blog. (Don’t tell Fido that I don’t read his posts. I don’t want him to bite me the next time I see him.) Yet, here I am. Why? Well, there’s a simple explanation for it, but let’s start with the reasons that I’m not starting a blog.

 

1. I’m not starting a blog because I’m funny. Truth be told, I’m probably not, though I like to think I am. Thankfully my husband thinks so too. He finds it charming (sometimes.) Like when we saw a Swift transport truck that had caught on fire on the side of the road (no worries, it was just the trailer), and I said, “Not so swift now, are you?” He laughed, and I was proud. It’s the little things in life.

2. I’m not necessarily writing a blog to talk about my kids, though I’m sure that I will, because I’m a stay at home mom, and sometimes I have nothing better to write about. Mainly, what I’m saying here is that I’m not going to be handing out parenting advice, because, let’s face it, I spend most of my time flying by the seat of my pants. Apparently one of my husband’s coworkers has already condemned at least one of my kids to prison. (I guess that’s at least a slight improvement from his 50% odds that my kid was going to turn out a sociopath.)

3. In spite of the fact that I’m an aspiring author (I write regularly for the local newspaper and have written four novels) I’m not making any big waves in the publishing industry yet. So I’m not here to hand out advice on that. In fact, I’d be happy be on the receiving end if you have any nuggets of wisdom.

That brings us to the reason that I am starting a blog. I am attempting to get a novel published, and apparently in this day of digital torture, having an online presence is a good way to convince a publisher that you’re worth throwing money at. So here I am, hoping I can get a few people to follow my blog. I may even have to *gasp* start a twitter account. So please, read, comment and share if you think it’s worth a few seconds. I’d be forever grateful.

Join me next time when I’ll blog about my writing my newest novel and dealing with rejection.