When I grow up . . .

The other day while we were driving my six-year-old announced that he’d decided what he wanted to be when he grew up. My heart swelled in anticipation. What would it be? An soldier? A firefighter? A doctor? No. None of those. He wanted to be a . . . (pause for dramatic effect) dishwasher at a hotel.

Now, no disrespect towards dishwashers everywhere. It’s certainly a necessary job, and it’s one of the many duties listed on my resume as a stay-at-home mom. But it wasn’t exactly the type of shoot-for-the-stars goal I’d anticipated. Especially since I can’t even get him to help wash the dishes at home. So we talked for a while about some of the other career options that are available, and he finally changed his mind. Now he wants to be a scientist. Pretty broad, and I’m not sure the pay is much better, but at least it’s something to shoot for.

Afterwards I realized that, at almost thirty-years-old, I still don’t know what I want to be when I grow up. The uncertainty is a little disconcerting, especially because I always had a plan when I was younger. For most of my childhood, I wanted to be a veterinarian. When I was in middle school I set my sights on Colorado State University because they had a good veterinary school. I did an independent study with a local vet, and I joined 4-H where I raised sheep and goats in addition to my family’s menagerie of dogs, cats and the occasional llama and horse. 

Then, sometime in middle school, like most childhood dreams do, things changed. After a particularly unsettling injury to one of the goats in our flock, I decided I didn’t have what it took. For a while, I was set on being a country music singer. (Good thing none of you have heard me sing. The shame would be unbearable.) Then it was a teacher. Then a musician. Or a Marine. I started college as a music major, but changed quickly thereafter to English. I wanted to be a writer. In all reality, making it in this world as a writer probably isn’t a whole lot easier than making it as a singer (short of the fact that I have at least a smidgeon of talent when it comes to writing. The same can’t be said for singing.) But I was passionate, and I started writing my second novel.

Six and a half years ago, my son was born. When my husband was offered a job in Moab, we decided we’d move, and I would stay at home with my son. So now, here I am. I am a wife and mother. And even though it’s hard for me to admit, I’m a writer dammit! This definitely isn’t where I thought I’d be when I was a kid, but I’m happy to be here. At least I’m not washing dishes in a hotel. And who knows. Maybe some day, I’ll find a real job. Or maybe I’ll find a way to make writing a real job. Only time will tell.

So what about you? What did you want to be when you grew up? Did you make it?

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On the fourth day of NaNo, my novel gave to me . . .

So we are officially on the fourth day of NaNoWriMo, which means I probably shouldn’t be writing this blog post. For the next few weeks, there are two reasons I will be blogging: either I’m taking a quick break from my novel (and hopefully caught up on my word counts) or I’ve fallen hopelessly behind and given up.

Today is the first of those two. Whew! It’s been a difficult few days, but I’m keeping up. I think this year had a rough start because the first of November fell on a Friday. For most people, the weekend is probably the best time to get writing done. For me, it’s the opposite. With my husband and kids home all weekend, it’s hard for me to find time to sit down by myself and concentrate like I need to. And for us, the weekend usually starts early on Friday. Combine that with a six-year-old who is still recovering from a nasty fever, and trying to hit my 1666 2/3 words each day was a challenge. 

On Friday, I managed to get a good start, writing over 2,000 words. But I knew I needed some extra in the tank to save up for later. Saturday we went for a 22.5 mile bike ride, which took most of the day. And yesterday we spent a good portion of the day in the car. It was a bit of a stretch to hit the 5,000 word mark that I needed to reach to keep on track, but I managed.

The story has been moving a little more slowly than I’d like, and I’m not sure I like most of what I’ve written, but that’s the point in NaNo. Sometimes you have to just have to hogtie your inner-editor, add some duct tape across their mouth and toss them in the corner. They can wait there patiently until December first. So that’s my plan. I’ll keep putting down words, and hopefully I’ll have at least a rough story that can be shaped into something better down the line.

As I write this, I’m at 7,295 words which puts me ahead of where I need to be, but there’s a long time between now and the end of the month. There’s no telling what could happen between now and them. So for now, I’ll just keep on plugging along and hope divine inspiration strikes.

Scrapbooking and Self-Doubt

Scrapbooking and laundry. That’s what I did yesterday during the small amount of precious free time that I get these days. That’s right. I said scrapbooking. For those of you who know me, you’re probably having a hard time reconciling that image. I don’t scrapbook. I’d love to, but it’s not really my thing. I started a scrapbook when my son was 2 years old. I got three pages done before realizing I had other things I’d rather do with my far from copious amounts of free time. So it got filed away.

For the past eight months, I have dedicated a large part of my free time every day to writing. Writing this blog, writing one of the two novels I’ve been working on, anything. All I wanted to do was write. I loved it. It felt so freeing, and I couldn’t wait for that block of time each day so I could sit down with my computer and get more words on the page. I even began to dread weekends, because I lost that time.

So how did I find myself working on a scrapbook yesterday instead of writing? Simple. Self doubt has paralyzed me, and left me more or less useless at the keyboard. It’s ironic because just over two months ago, at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I sat in on a session about Writers Block. The speaker talked a lot about writers block being caused by fear: fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, etc. And I remember being surprised. I wasn’t scared of failing. I write for fun. Because I enjoy it. Failure, while a definite option, wasn’t a concern.

So what happened? To put it simply, within one week two of the three agents who requested to look at my manuscript turned me down. They were both very cordial about it, and I can’t say I was surprised. It’s a tough business to get into. It was only a few months ago that I wrote about getting my first rejection and how it wasn’t going to get to me because I knew it was going to be hard. I tried to be stoic and not let it get to me. But apparently it did, because my current work in progress has been languishing, and even though I have some ideas on how to fix the manuscript that has been turned down, I can’t bring myself to open a file and work on it. I have all of these ideas in my head, but when I do try to write, they seem stale and lifeless. So instead, I spend my time on Facebook. Or worse . . . scrapbooking.

But I finally felt enough inspiration to write this. So here’s to the hope that finally being able to pound out a blog post (though it may not be funny or witty at all) signals at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Because I have to push through this and keep going. At least if I don’t, I’ll have a mediocre-at-best scrapbook to show for it.

I Take It Back

There was a time when I thought that, as an aspiring author, nothing was more painful than the rejection emails flooding into my inbox. I was wrong. 

A few months ago I started my querying journey. I didn’t send out large batches, partially because I was planning on attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference to meet with some agents at the end of April. So I only sent out a handful of queries. Most of them were rejected. But I did get one request for a full manuscript. My excitement level went through the roof. The request came in in the morning, and I emailed her the requested material that afternoon. Her website states that it can take 12 weeks to hear back on a manuscript, but that didn’t stop me from watching my email like a hawk within hours of hitting the send button.

I shared my excitement with a select few people for a couple of reasons. On one hand, I wanted to soak it in on my own. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to have to share it if my manuscript was subsequently rejected. Getting a rejection on a query letter is one thing. There are so many reasons the agent may not have been interested. They could be too busy. They may not like the idea. Who know? But once you get past that initial hurdle, if they reject it, it’s because of the manuscript itself. Does that mean it’s flawed? Not necessarily. But it certainly feels more personal.

A couple of weeks after I sent the manuscript, I left for the conference. It was an amazing experience. Everyone I talked to was so friendly and supportive. I expected to spend the entire time as a loner, but I made several friends while I was there. During breakfast one day, I went to sit at an empty table because I didn’t recognize anyone. As I set my stuff down, someone at a nearby table said, “No, you’re not going to sit over there alone.” Like I said, the whole experience was just amazing. Anyway, after sitting through a few sessions (which were chock full of great information) I realized that the manuscript I’d sent out was not really ready. The story was good. The characters too. But it needed some work.

So I was faced with a serious dilemma. I could do the revisions and just hope the agent that already had my manuscript liked it the way it was, which seemed unlikely. Or I could send her an email and pull my manuscript from her consideration. After discussing the situation with an agent who was speaking at the conference, I knew what I had to do. It was with a heavy heart that I emailed the only agent who had my manuscript and admitted it wasn’t ready.

It was a hard decision to make, and an even harder email to send, but it was the right decision. It needed to be done. Luckily, the agent was understanding and thanked me for letting her know. Also, I had two more agents from the conference request to see at least part of the manuscript when my revisions are done.

So for now it’s back to the grindstone to finish these revisions. The best part is, I know I’m only making it better.

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.

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.