Every year I attend a retreat here in the beautiful Northwest for likeminded women writers. I love it.
It was here that I met so new lifelong friends. It was here at this retreat that I first whispered, "I can do this. I can be a writer." It was here that I learned that it's ok to me Michelle. Not Mom, or wife, or sister, or whatever. But, to be me.
Every year I go and learn something new. I wonder what I will learn this year. . .
Six years ago today I finished my first book. It was the fruition of all faith, courage, and optimism I had. I wanted to be a writer. I was so excited to have a book- a real book- that I had written AND finished, that I exhausted my Costco printer cartridge just so I could hold it in my hands. I smelled the fresh ink on the page and imagined the possibilities
Yet, it was never published. And rightly so, as it really had no right to be. And I wasn't the only one who thought so. So I tucked it into a bookshelf where it sat for six years. Six years hidden. Six years, with no apparent purpose.
As of today I have two inspirational nonfiction books traditionally published-one was just released last week. I have an awesome literary agent who is shopping a novel and two more inspirational nonfiction books I've written. And yet . . . just the other day my husband asked me if I felt like a real writer and I answered no. I just needed one more book, then I'd know I was a good writer, that it wasn't all a fluke, some joke I wasn't in on. If I wrote one more book, then I'd know I was a real writer- as if five books weren't enough.
And the truth is, five books aren't enough. Neither is six or ten or fifty because doubt has no expiration number.
I've been pondering his question, or more aptly, my response to his question, the last few days. Why did I not yet feel like a 'real' writer? I came up with some answers that I felt were quite legitimate:
1. I didn't have an author photo that made me look smart. I was perusing some very successful authors and I realized most of their pictures were of them looking pensive, concerned, or with a hint of a smile, as if they were hiding a secret from the rest of us. They all looked smart. I considered getting a new headshot with my reader glasses, gray roots, and a straight face that would make me a real writer.
2. Real writers write books over 100,000 words long. I don't have the fortitude nor the attention span to conquer such a feat.
3. Real writers don't have to bribe friends to come to their book signings because they are tired of sitting at the table alone.
I don't have a secret in my sly smile, or a book over 100k, and yes, I did bribe friends to come to signings with candy and food. Maybe if I had another book I'd be legit.
Then I picked up this book today and my answer suddenly changed.
I don't need one more book to feel like a real writer, because the truth is, I've always been one. It's not what I've done, or what I will do, that makes me a writer; it is who I am. I'm not saying I'm a successful writer. Or even a good writer. But I AM a writer.
I wrote this first book because I'm in love with lassoing thoughts and wrangling them into reality through the keyboard- making ideas into sentences and sentences into messages and stories. It's my therapy, my happy place.
And yet, somehow, the more I wrote the more I felt the need to qualify my role of writer. "I will be a writer when I finish a book. When I publish a book. When I publish two books. When I'm asked to speak to crowds. When I publish three books." I allowed outward accomplishments to define who I was.
Today, as I held this book in my hands, I realized the fictional story I've been telling myself over the last six years, the story of a girl who wants to be a writer and maybe will be if only . . .
I am a writer.
And to my writer friends, so are you. Whether you're unpublished or published a dozen times over; whether you've been rejected once or a thousand times; whether you've written a million words or just a hundred- you ARE a writer.
Once you acknowledge this- once you accept that you are a writer now, through and though- you can turn your focus from legitimizing your role as a writer to improving the way you- a writer- express yourself. You can hone your craft without apologizing for how much you have to learn. You can get feedback on your work without wondering if red marks on a page are proof you're not a writer. You can stare at the blank screen of a new work-in-progress and not feel the need to prove anything; you can just write, because you are a writer.
You can even not write for a while and still be a writer; because it's who you are. Not what you do.
Now, if you want to be a published writer, a famous writer, or a New York Times bestselling selling author, that's a different story. These are things we do- when hard work, perseverance, luck, and the stars align in just the right way all come together. They are awesome milestones and accomplishments. Writers can work for these things to happen if that's what they want, but these things don't make us writers.
I shelved this book six years ago, sad that I was rejected by publishers. It was a failure. I thought I'd keep writing. Keep trying. I wanted to prove I could be a writer. And tonight this same book reminded me I've always been one.
And chances are, so have you.
Guest post from the prolific Wendy Jesson:
Nearly four years ago, I decided to start writing. It was bumpy and stressful at first. However, as I kept working at it, I found a rhythm. It got easier, more natural.
I’ve written around 400 articles for the website, familyshare.com. This is a site geared toward families—marriage, parenting, relationships, family activities, etc. We also tackle other topics like faith, health, mental health, and personal growth, etc.
Think back to high school for a minute. Not the drama parts, but your English classes. Remember learning how to write 5 paragraph essays? You know—the attention getter and thesis, 3 main points, and then your conclusion? That’s basically what I do. Who knew it would have a practical application?
Here is a simple rundown of how to write an article for some of these online sources.
Articles should be simple. Simple to write, and simple to read. Remember the people reading aren’t necessarily scholars, but they are smart. Find a balance so everyone can enjoy reading while they learn something new.
Just because it’s nonfiction, doesn’t mean it has to be boring.
The following post is by the ever-talented Rosalyn Eves, a part-time writer, part-time English professor, and full-time mother of three. She loves all things BBC, especially costume dramas and mysteries. When not wrangling children (and sometimes when she should be wrangling children), she's often found reading. Her debut novel, BLOOD ROSE REBELLION, is forthcoming March 2017 from Knopf/Random House. She's represented by Josh Adams of Adams Literary. The post originally appeared on the blog "Thinking Through our Fingers" on July 1, 2016.
You can find more of Rosalyn here and here
If you've been writing for very long at all, you know that one of the critical tools in any writer's arsenal is good readers. Sometimes these readers may come in the form of a critique group (sometimes called alpha readers) who read the story in progress. Often, they come in the form of beta readers--other writers and readers that read the entire novel and give feedback on the overall shape of the story. Personally, I think most writers--especially in the early stages--need both.
But finding good readers can be tricky, particularly since, if you've asked another writer to read your work, there's an implicit understanding that you'll read theirs in turn. And being a good reader can be even harder. There are lots of blog posts out there on how to start a story. There aren't nearly as many posts on how toread a story in order to give feedback. My aim here is to give you six (sets--okay, I'm cheating a little!) of questions to help you as a beta reader.
(If you're reading this hoping to find directions on how to find a beta reader, may I direct you here instead?)
When you're reading another author's manuscript, the most important thing you can do is read as a reader--think about how you respond as a reader and try to articulate that response to the other writer. It goes without saying that your feedback should be honest and kind: someone has trusted you with their precious words, and you need to respect that trust.
Also, don't overwhelm the writer by detailing everything that you think needs fixing. Try to focus on a few areas that will make the biggest difference in revision. At this stage, you want to focus on big picture issues (plot, setting, pacing, character, mood and voice) rather than local issues (phrasing, grammar, style), since local issues are often things that might change in revision anyway.
Below, I offer questions you can ask as you read someone else's manuscript to help pinpoint what suggestions to offer. (Alternately, you can also use these questions to guide beta readers who are new to critiquing. This is especially helpful if, say, you're asking your roommate or partner to read for you. Though I also recommend branching out to other readers!)
Questions about Plot:Where does the story really begin?
Is it clear what the MC wants (consciously or subconsciously)--and is most of the action driven by her choices in pursuit of that?
Is most of the action rising action that escalates the conflict?
Where does rising action seem weak?
Where could readers use a break?
Is the ending satisfying? Why or why not?
The Cockeyed Caravan blog also has a great list of questions about plot.
Questions about Scene and Setting:Which setting was most memorable—and why?
Does each scene have its own arc (goal-conflict-disaster)?
Does the end of a scene make you want to keep reading?
Questions about Pacing:Where do you find yourself skimming?
Where do you find yourself wishing the author would slow down?
Where did you stop reading the first time?
Questions about Character:What character do you enjoy the most—why?
What three words would you use to describe the main character?
Where do characters behave inconsistently?
Do you have trouble distinguishing between any of the characters—and why?
If you had to get rid of a character, who would it be—and why?
Does the main character ever surprise you? When?
Questions about Emotion and Mood:What scenes made you the most emotional?
What scenes felt emotionally detached?
Does the mood shift in meaningful ways throughout the story?
Questions about Voice:What three words would you use to describe the voice of this story?
Where is the voice especially distinctive?
Where does the voice seem bland or generic?
Note places where the dialogue bogs down or seems unrealistic.
By the time you've answered these questions, you should have some idea of the strengths of the novel, as well as areas where the writer can improve. As a teacher, I recommend using the sandwich method: start your feedback by praising what the author does well. Then offer suggestions for areas that could be improved. Close by returning to the strengths of the paper. Our goal as beta readers is to encourage the writer to improve their writing--not crush them so completely they refuse to write at all. (And though I've practiced this my whole teaching life, I didn't realize how critical praise as until I got my own edit letter for the first time--the praise was the only thing that saved me, in the face of all the things I needed to work on).
If you're still looking for more tips on giving feedback, you can check out this post on tips for phrasing your feedback to be most effective and this post on other ways to be awesome at critiquing.
I registered for my first writer's conference a few years ago. I was so excited! I also signed up for my first pitch session. I wanted my pitch to be perfect. So I did some research, a lot of research.
Then I got scared. What if I crash and burn? What if I make a fool of myself? What if I forget what my book is about and simply drool and stutter? What if I (gulp) get rejected?
All of these were major concerns of mine, so I turned to the internet for some relief.
I found some great hints and tips for the perfect pitch session, which I posted here. But I also found some really depressing statistics out there.
Most pitch sessions end in rejections, either on the spot, or after they receive (and maybe read) your work they requested.
"You'll never get a book deal through a pitch session," read many a writer's online lament, "but it's great for networking and practice."
"I've never picked up a book from a pitch session," wrote one agent, "but I continue to do them because someday I hope to."
I felt empowered by the tips and suggestions, but dejected still the same. Why would I pay $20 to get rejected? Didn't I get enough of that in high school? (Thank Kevin.)
But, I did it anyway. Even though the statistics were against me and I'd probably lose $20.
So, if pitch session hardly ever work, why even waste the money?
Because, sometimes they do work.
And I live for the sometimes.
'Does This Insecurity Make Me Look Fat?' , under the pen name Michelle Wilson, was pitched at that pitch session. My very first pitch session. At my very first writer's conference.
I don't think I'm anything special- but the stars aligned just the right way. It was the right book pitched to the right person at the right time. I don't know how it happened, but it did. Like magic.
I've had more pitch sessions since then for another book of mine, and so far each one has ended in a polite rejection. And I know that I will have many more end that way, too. But, I'll keep pitching, and writing, and pitching, though they hardly ever work because....sometimes they do.
So, if you're about to throw out the pitch sessions, don't.
Keep pitching, and writing, and pitching. Because sometimes it does. One of these days your book will the right one pitched to the right person at the right time - and it will work. Like Magic.
Over the years I've found some wonderful articles - but my favorite types are the easy-to-read, bottom-line, tips and advice from professionals (which do me more good than "Just follow your dreams")
I came across a great article this morning called '5 Editor's Secrets to Help You Write Like a Pro'
The article is great, and I highly recommend you read it, but below is a summary of the 5 secrets:
There is no 100% formula for successful writing--but there is one for failure: Don't write.
So, if you want to write, do it. Research, read, practice! Let others read your writing, and be sure to wear you big-girl underwear when they tell you it needs work (if they are good friends, they will!)
Then, re-write, edit, research more and keep writing!