Tag Archives: life journeys

The Curious Phenomenon of Evolving Self-Perception

My AALB bookshelf - still the alpha shelf in Chez Jung, yo.

GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES belongs on the Arthur A. Levine Books shelf! Yes it does!

As the release date for Geeks, Girls, and Secret Identities approaches, I seem to be going through some changes in self-perception. Yeah yeah, I know what you’re thinking – “Mike, you’re clearly a megalomaniac, which means you’re not capable of changes in self-perception!” Here’s a little secret: I’m not really a megalomaniac. I’m actually a quivery ball of emotional insecurity, which makes it a bit strange that lately I feel…good about my writing career? And not in a spoofy “I’m the king of the world” way, but in a “oh wow, THAT just happened” kind of way, or a “perhaps all this good stuff happening to me is justified” kind of way.

For example, I now have advance reader copies winging their way out into the world, and I was asked to whip up a list of suggested readers. I asked a bunch of people who I know to one degree or another, which was hard enough, but in a burst of uncharacteristic real-world bravado I also asked one of my very favorite kidlit authors if I could send them an ARC. Someone who I don’t actually know at all – no email, no Facebook conversations, not even a single-tweet exchange on Twitter. Nada. And that person said “sure, I’d love to take a look.” At which point my head suddenly – oh wait, I think it’s about to happen aga–

The ARC of GEEKS, GIRLS, AND SECRET IDENTITIES!

Oh man, ain’t that pretty?

*head explodes*

Uh, sorry. I’ll clean that up later… Anyway, the fact that this person is willing to read my ARC is FANTASTIC! It’s fantastic partly because it’s something that seemed so far out of reach three years ago, when I was scuffling through the query process and revising in what often felt like a state of intense psychological isolation. I have the best critique partners in existence, but it really isn’t the same as working with colleagues in the publishing industry the way I do now. I partially defined my writerly identity with terms like aspiring, up-and-coming, and just plain unpublished. And the word I’ve used more than any other is, of course, writer. But now I find myself growing increasingly comfortable with a different term, one that I’ve always perceived as having a certain air of untouchability: author.

Starred-review-collecting EMU J. Anderson Coats touched on this in her early post on how we answer the question “What do you do?” It’s funny how loaded one little six-letter word can be, isn’t it? Writer, author, author, writer, which one am I, oh I don’t dare call myself an author, etc. One of the things I appreciate most about the kidlit world is that people are clearly invested in living the self-examined life – logically enough, since it’s a prerequisite for the writing process. There’s a widespread awareness about how we project ourselves as public figures, assess our place on the continuum of children’s literature, discuss potentially sensitive topics, and affect the feelings of our colleagues and friends. I value this tremendously.

The thing is, I also struggle with this. I’ve struggled with it before, but now it’s happening differently, probably because the advent of my career as a published author feels so much bigger than anything I’ve previously experienced in my professional life. I’m struggling with the balance between being sensitive/diplomatic/cautious/humble and being expressive/optimistic/risk-embracing/celebratory.

I don’t want to be a jerk, you know? I’m entirely too capable of being a jerk. But I also feel really good about my place in the kidlit community, optimistic about my book’s prospects, and confident in my own abilities. Back in my pre-published days (which are still pretty recent), I started making a very informal list of things I wanted to happen during my journey to publication. They were things I thought I’d really love to experience and were contained within the big dream of publication, but they also qualified as dreams in their own right. And those things have actually started happening!

Broadcast News, one of the best movies of the 1980s

Really good movie, BTW.

In a scene from the old James L. Brooks movie Broadcast News, William Hurt’s character says, “What do you do when your real life exceeds your dreams?” Albert Brooks’s character responds, “Keep it to yourself!” That’s not an uncommon sentiment, and I do want to be mindful of the pitfalls of excessive self-adulation. L.B. Schulman touched on this in her early post on “Spreading the Good News.” I know the danger of being perceived as a braggart is real – in fact, the danger of genuinely becoming a braggart is real. I’m both a writer and a library professional, so I spend a lot of time in the company of people who share my don’t-be-a-blowhard concerns, which I think is much more positive than not.

But.

There are times when these tendencies have inhibited me. There’ve been moments when I may have robbed myself of joy and satisfaction in the pursuit of diplomacy, and that by trying not to irritate people through excessive self-regard I’ve unnecessarily put myself down. That’s the last thing I want to do right now, because I have this extraordinary feeling that my professional life is metamorphosing into something that has more purpose and meaning than it’s ever had before.

I keep returning to the great warhorse in my stable of quotes, Marianne Williamson’s astonishing insight into our deepest fears, and realizing that I don’t want to play small. I want my light to blaze like the sun! I’m very happy, and I’ve tried to be open about expressing it. The infancy of my career has been more than a dream come true: it’s been an entire series of dreams come true. I’ve driven myself like a plowhorse to get here, and I’ll continue to drive myself as my career progresses. I’ve described myself as many things during the journey to publication. I’m a newbie! I’m a wannabe! I’m a dreamer, a writer on the verge, a burgeoning creative professional! Now I’m adding one more thing to the list, yes I am, right out there for the entire world to see.

Look alive, world. I’m an author.

Advertisements

31 Comments

Filed under Anxiety, ARCs, Celebrations, Colleagues, Happiness, jealousy, Satisfaction, Thankfulness

Zen and the Art of Manuscript Submission

On Friday, April 1st I came home from work, logged onto Facebook, and was reminded that it was the deadline for two of my fellow EMUs to send their revised manuscripts back to their editors. Those two are Natalie (whose panic surfaced here at EMU’s Debuts last week), and Mike, whose Facebook post for Friday looked like this:

I don’t usually derive joy from the pain of others, but I have to admit Mike’s post delighted me.  Three things seemed worthy of celebration:

1.  Mike is back on Facebook after his revision hiatus (Yay!!)

2.  Mike sent revisions to his editor right on schedule, a Herculean feat that keeps his book on schedule for publication! (Yay!!!!!)

3. Mike is even more uptight and neurotic about sending a manuscript off to his editor than I am (YAY!!!!!!!!!!!)

I know, Number 3 seems a little mean-spirited. No doubt some Mike Jung fans are crying in protest– “You’re the uptight neurotic one, not Mike!”  But consider my Facebook post of January 16, regarding a similar moment in my life:

You see? ! I granted myself a full 24 hours (8 of which I was asleep) before freaking out.

Okay. So what of it, you are asking. Sure, Mike’s a bit twitchy. Name me one writer who isn’t. Is the whole point of this post just to drag his good name through the mud?

Here it is--the manual we all need. I designed the cover, now who do we know who can actually write it for us???

Absolutely not.  I am writing this because these posts reveal a NEED.  We writers need a manual on Zen and the Art of Manuscript Submission.

Zen Buddhism centers on meditation as a means to peace and enlightenment. Meditation strips away the hectic surface of our lives to reveal a calmer, deeper place where the ultimate reality of unity, love, and boundlessness may be experienced. Just the sort of place one needs to seek out after hitting that send button or slipping that dog-eared manuscript in the mail.

The irony is that writing is a very Zen sort of thing, at least for me, but it leads to revision and ultimately to submission, which is SO NOT Zen. To clarify, allow me to employ the Jeannie Mobley Ten Point Scale of Zenosity, wherein 1 is all  hectic surface noise that keeps us from peace and truth, while 10 is Nirvana itself. Henceforth, I shall abbreviate this as the JMTPSOZ, which is admittedly a bad acronym, but a much worse hand in Scrabble.

So let’s evaluate these three parts of the writing process: Writing the First Draft, Revising for the Editor, and Submitting.

Writing the First Draft rates somewhere around 8-9 on the JMTPOSZ.  When I put pen to paper the noise and chaos recede and I sink into a deeper place. Hours pass unrecognized, words flow, threads of the story come together miraculously in ways I do not seek to understand. It is as if I am the instrument for a creative force greater than myself–it is the Zen of Writing. I re-emerge refreshed, deeply satisfied, reveling in my unity with the universe.

If writing is meditation, revision is work.  So the revision process sinks on the JMTPOSZ to a 4 to 5.  Note however, that we haven’t hit rock bottom here.  Revision can be hard, but it’s satisfying too. Not the deep, Zen, spiritual satisfaction, but more of the Protestant Work Ethic sort, wherein  accomplishment just feels GOOD! As long as I am blundering through the religious metaphors willy-nilly, this moment is more like the Conquering of the Wilderness–the Manifest Destiny of the acquired novel:

The Great Editor appeared and spoke thus to The Author, saying, “When thou hast made the changes writ herein, thou shalt find the promised land!”

And lo! The Author took from The Editor the Immense and Glorious REVISION LETTER and went forth, brandishing the Flaming Pen of Truth in one hand, and the Word Processor of Grammatical Accuracy in the other, and the unwashed hordes of characters with unclear motivations cowered before him! And when all was complete, the writer saw it was good, and offered up the glory of the Newly Revised Manuscript to the Great Editor, saying unto him,  “Here is the most dog-eared, incoherent, raggedy-ass revision the world has ever seen!”

That last line kind of killed the whole religious moment I had going there, didn’t it?  And that’s because that line moves us into the third phase.

SUBMISSION.

Submission, whether it is to the agent, to acquiring editors, or to someone who already acquired the manuscript, it gets a negative 3 on the JMTPSOZ (I know, I just yanked you back to Buddhism. Think of this as sort of a fruit salad of religious philosophy.)

Submission is the part of the process that completely and utterly exposes us all to the most brutal noise and clutter in the world– the voices of self doubt and criticism that come shrieking in like Valkyries onto the bloodied battlefield of our creative minds (because what fruit salad is complete without some Old Norse Paganism?)

BUT here is my point, Mike (and anyone else who kept reading in the hope I might eventually have one):

Those Valkyries are illusions–their shrieks only empty noise. The deep, quiet place is still there-and as true as it ever was.

The time has come to rely on the Zen of Manuscript Submission. Please turn to page 3 and follow along.

Close your eyes, Mike. Breathe. Contract away from the noise, the clutter, the false voices that shout “you are a clueless, bumbling, bowl of neurotic Jell-O.”  All writers hear them. They are liars and fools (the voices, not the writers.)

Relax. Breathe.

Draw in a deep breath and say to yourself “Arthur will…”

Now let the breath out and say to yourself  “…love it.”

In breath: “Arthur will…”

Out breath: “…love it.”

“Arthur will…” on the in breath

“…Love it” on the out breath.

That’s it, Mike. Relax into it.

Okay, while Mike is doing that, I suspect the rest of you are thinking, she can’t REALLY know Arthur Levine will love it. Of course, you’re right. This is meditation, for heaven’s sake, it’s not fortune telling–and I don’t even know Mr. Levine.  But here’s what I can say with confidence, and what we all have to say when the submission panic starts to rise.

Our editors are our allies.

They may not love our revisions and may send us back to the drawing board (or writing desk), but if they do, it is because they are attempting to achieve the Zen of Manuscript Submission too.

Our editors acquired our manuscripts because they love the stuff we drew out of the deep places of truth.  In asking for revision they are helping us to peel away the noise and clutter so that the inner beauty can shine forth.

That’s right, Mike. Arthur Levine is your very own personal Zen Master. Fear not his opinion of your revisions, because even if he tells you they are incoherent, it is because he loves it.  Now one more time. Breathe.

Arthur will…

…love it.

And if that doesn’t make you feel better, resort to chocolate.

ADDENDUM

After writing this I logged back onto Facebook, and saw Mike’s post, with this new comment:

Okay, Natalie. Relax. Breathe.

“Emily will…” with the in breath.

“…love it,” with the out breath….

33 Comments

Filed under Editing and Revising, Publishers and Editors, Writing, Writing and Life

Defying Logic, Fighting Gravity, and Other Lynda-esque Kinds of Things

I’ve been thinking a lot about my transformation from writer to published author—and I don’t mean signing on the dotted line or that new tiara I bought myself. I mean getting serious. Shifting perspective. Taking action. (Maybe I need my own action figure doll?)

SCBWI had become a social world for me. I’d made friends and enjoyed the conferences. For about four years, I met with editors who had enthusiasm for my work. Each time, I went home and started something new—much to the frustration of my writers’ group. “Why are you working on this new thing?” they would ask. “I thought Editor X requested the other full manuscript at Conference Q.” I would shrug, telling them I had a new “voice” in my head.

Enter Editor Z. When I sat down for a critique, she raved about my 25 pages. What direction did the story go in? Was it finished? She actually said, “I have to have this.” Was this “Candid Camera: SCBWI Edition?” I hoped Geraldo would not host.

I proclaimed that it wasn’t done, but it would be. I don’t know if it was this particular editor, or that I was finally brave enough to see if I had what it took. But, for whatever reason, I went home with my eye on the prize. In ten months, the novel was ready to go. I packed it up, my kids kissed the envelope, and off it went. This was it. That was that. I was going to be published! Time to start planning the book launch, right?  

Ten months later, approx 300 days, or 7,200 hours, the rejection came. Editor Z had taken the time to write a very kind, gracious, and detailed letter. She made suggestions, but they just weren’t things that my protagonist would do. So, I wrote her a heartfelt note, and let go of the idea of working with her. I was devastated, and I licked my wounds for longer than I’d like to admit.

The thing that bothered me the most, though, was people telling me it was okay. That it was great to have just written a novel and, if it never got published, well…it was still a great accomplishment. I agree. It is. But it annoyed me just the same. I know people were well-meaning, but it felt like permission to give up. So, I took on researching agents like I was training for the Olympics. I had charts, ratings, and notes from writers’ blogs, Publishers Marketplace, and Verla Kay Blue Boards.

I would soon drive five and a half hours to the incomparable Flying Pig Bookstore to meet the agent that held the top spot on my chart. More than one person told me I was crazy for making such a trip. Aside from the distance, she was Erin Murphy. I was told, “She’s a rock star agent!” to which I shrugged. “Why start at the bottom?” Did I think I’d actually sign with her? Maybe not. But I was happy to take the chance to risk the, “No.”

So, you’ve heard my story. What’s yours? Are you close to finishing a ms but can’t quite get to the words, “The End?” Do you talk about querying but never actually push the “send” button? Do you spend a lot of time reading books on craft and not enough time writing? Please read this excerpt from Marianne Williamson’s quote; let every syllable sink in.

“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us…”    (Full quote here. Thanks, Mike!)

I think most writers, artists, musicians and other creative types feel this sometimes; it’s part of being imaginative. For some of us, the difficulty doesn’t lay in the craft of writing, though. Not directly. I think it’s, perhaps, rooted in vulnerability—three facets of it.

The first facet is the upset of having someone not love your work; it’s easy to take this personally. Gosh, most writers and artists can understand that! However, it’s important to stay open to yourself and others during these times. Also, even if we pour our heart and soul into our work, it is still a product to be sold (if your eye is on publication) and that requires some objectivity. If you’re feeling vulnerable? That can be tough.

Secondly, I think those of us who struggled as kids sometimes feel like they are “less than” in some respects. The idea that we could be talented and “powerful beyond measure” can feel odd because, to varying extents, it goes against our emotional grain. It feels unnatural, like driving on the left side of the road or having a cheeseburger for breakfast. Even so, dare to be remarkable!

The final way relates to the work itself, I think. The letting go of the slice of yourself that you may be holding back. The cracking yourself wide open part—that’s your voice. That’s where you mine your gold. The parts of yourself that can make the rejection so hard are the very parts that can take your work to the next level. Maddening, isn’t it?

I can’t tell you not to be afraid, but I can tell you I know how you feel. The reason I revisited this quote after Mike covered it in his post last week, is this: When I first read this quote a few years ago, it triggered my attitude shift. I carried it in my pocket for weeks. It stunned me. Mostly, it saddened me. The quote defies logic, yet I knew it pegged my writing life. I decided that I may not get published, but I didn’t want to look back on all this knowing I’d just given up. And I didn’t want my kids to see me do that either. How many times had I told a disappointed kid who’d almost made a soccer goal, “You’ll get it next time!” I decided there were far worse things than rejection letters or not getting published.

So, ante up. Slide those chips into the center of the table. It’s a small gamble compared to the winnings—pride in knowing you have some gumption. Some guts. All the while, remember, that there are people who want to cheer you on, support you, and celebrate with you—including me! And you know what? If you get rejections, you can handle them. You can. Yeah, I know it’s hard, but you’ll brush yourself off, hone your book, and you’ll ante up again. You will. Just like I did.

36 Comments

Filed under Agents, Celebrations, rejection and success, Writing, Writing and Life

Traveling Companions on the Writer’s Journey

Today is my oldest child’s 19th birthday (Happy Birthday, baby girl!), and I find myself reflecting on life’s journeys, and the people who are part of them. On my journey toward published author, I have had many traveling companions who haven’t just made the journey more pleasant, they have made it possible.

Nineteen years and about 1,000,000 words ago on my life's journey.

I feel very fortunate to have companions who have been in turns hand-holders, critics, cheerleaders, and most importantly, friends. They have shared honesty that made me a better writer. They have kindly pretended not to notice when I’ve thrown childish tantrums, and they have laughed at my jokes, some of which may not have been that funny. That’s the kind of truly dedicated companions that I believe make a writing journey a successful one, no matter where it leads.

So where does one find these companions? For me, they come from a variety of sources. Here are a few:

Family

My first reader has always been my mom. An artist herself, she has a keen appreciation for transferring the mind’s image into something tangible. She also has a sharp eye for pace. She has yet to return a manuscript without several marginal notes, “this drags here,” and she’s usually right. (Okay, she’s always right, but one should never admit that outright to one’s mother.)

My kids have been great readers, too, and the young audience I need, but they have been more than that. They are the ones that fill my soul with joy and light and humor when it might otherwise be drained dry by the stresses and mundane duties of life. In that sense, they have been not just my readers, but my muses as well.

Writing Groups

My wonderful critique group, Mike Hassel, Megan Kelly, Kiersten Stevenson, me, and Jenn Bertman, celebrate the sale of my first novel by all sitting together very closely on a four-person couch.

A stable, long-term critique group has been so vital to my writing. I am fortunate to have a group that has stuck together for over five years. We meet every other Sunday at a local coffeehouse (we’ve outlasted two other meeting locations.) We have held each other up through rejections and frustrations, talked through character or plot problems, and honestly told each other things we didn’t want to hear. I am grateful for them every day. THANK YOU, Mike, Megan, Kiersten, and Jenn (of Mixed Up Files of Jennifer Bertman fame.)

Without my critique partners, I would not be an EMU’s Debut today. They pushed me to rewrite MAGIC CARP, the manuscript that sold to Karen Wojtyla at McElddery Books in November. It was a manuscript I had abandoned, but they could see the merit when I could not. And when it did sell, they brought me gifts, hugs, and big, happy smiles, and not a one of them succumbed to the temptation to say “I told you so!

Gifts from my critique group when MAGIC CARP sold, including a "diamond in a lump of coal," since MAGIC CARP is about a coal mining family.

I also belong to the Coffee House Percolator, a writing group of a very different sort. The Perc is an online freewriting group with members in numerous countries. Daily writing prompts serve as inspiration for quick, unfiltered writing, which is posted to the group listserv. We then comment, but only positive feedback. The point is not critique, since the work is spontaneous, unpolished writing. The point is to access deep writing and identify what is best within it. The Perc is just that–a perky pick-me-up when the journey gets grueling, but it offers more than affirmation. Sharing freewriting brings me back to the reason I am on this journey–the pure joy of creativity.

Groups of Writers

In addition to having writing groups, I have found support and inspiration in groups of writers who have never read a word of my prose. From them I have gained valuable advice and perspective on the challenges we all encounter on this journey.

EMLA clients at our Fourth Annual Retreat in Chicago, May 2010, an event filled with sharing, writing, laughter, and friendship. Four EMU's Debuts members were present, L.B Schulman (second from left in back row), Jeannie Mobley (fartherst person to the right), Cynthia Levinson (immediately left of Jeannie), and Natalie Lorenzi (the barely visible head next to Cynthia's head.)

Examples of these groups for me include SCBWI Schmooze Groups that sponsor presentations or brainstorming sessions, and a listserv for EMLA clients, where my agency siblings freely share experiences from the heart-wrenching to the silly. This sharing has been so valuable that we have begun annual retreats, where the camaraderie and friendship reinvigorates us all. And of course I would be most remiss to not mention the incredible support of my agent herself, Erin Murphy (dead center in the photo, in purple and orange.) But more on her role in another post.

These are just some of the groups that have made a difference in my success and enriched my journey, a journey that is far from complete. If you are on the writing journey without traveling companions, look around you. Writing groups (and groups of writers) can be found everywhere–on blogs and listservs, in local bookstores and coffee shops, on Facebook and Twitter–maybe even under your bed or between the couch cushions. Maybe right here.

Share with us where you have found your traveling companions for this journey, and how they have helped you. The more we share, the more we have on this writer’s journey.

10 Comments

Filed under Writing, Writing and Life