Crying in Restaurants

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil
Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

Flickr: loungerie / Via Creative Commons

This is going to be my thing: sharing work that’s been previously rejected.

The following is a true story. The idea for the piece came from a writing exercise while on a writing retreat at Ragdale, an artist community on Chicago’s North Shore. Oh, and the title is courtesy of Dani Shapiro.

I submitted it twice and received two rejections: one with a personal note that they’d just published something similar; one with some suggestions for changes.

Writing is revision, and I’m arm-pit deep in revising my novel. So I’m not suggesting that we all run out and post our crappy stuff that couldn’t hack it elsewhere.

But I loved this piece. I loved that it happened. I loved writing it. I cried writing it. I’m glad it’s out of me, and I don’t want to work on it any more. I want to share it for whatever it’s worth.

The writing of it was the point. Not the publishing of it. Sometimes that’s enough.

 

Crying in Restaurants by Suzanne M. Brazil

My newly formed writing practice is fueled by a medium iced tea and a shortbread cookie at the local Panera coffee shop. In these two hours carved out of a busy weekend, I aim to add 500 words to the first draft of my novel, and I vow to stay off the Internet. But first, I reinforce my commitment with writing tips and encouragement from my favorite authors.

still writing

I begin with a chapter from Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life by Dani Shapiro. In its pages, I see shades of myself in a description of her mother, a frustrated, middle-aged woman, clickety clacking away furiously on a typewriter.

My eyes fill with tears and my stuffy nose blocks the yeasty aroma of the café’s freshly baked bread. These hours with my laptop in the corner booth are my attempt to finally pursue a passion long denied. I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer.

I’ve written my whole life but never allowed myself to believe I was a real writer

Maybe the catalyst was an emptying nest, age spots on my hands, or preparing to celebrate my own mother’s 70th birthday. Whatever the cause, a few months ago, I realized I had to give writing everything I had, or regret it for the rest of my life.

Still Writing was a reward for meeting my word count goals. It joins Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Stephen King’s On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft, and other sources of inspiration on my shelves.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers; living vicariously through Natalie Goldberg, Brenda Ueland, William Zinsser and many others.

For years, instead of writing, I’ve collected lives of real writers

Long ago, after reading Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write, I filled countless yellow pads with morning pages. There were flashes of stories in those pages I didn’t yet have the skill or courage to tell.

Back then, I marveled at King’s brazen recounting of his rejection slip collection. What nerve to believe he had something to say, and how fortunate for his “dear readers” that he never gave up.

I’m part of the tribe because I write

In a later chapter of Still Writing, Shapiro recalls sending an early manuscript to author Tim O’Brien, one of her literary heroes. His unexpected and encouraging endorsement symbolically welcomed her into the tribe of writers.

A chill passes over me. Maybe it’s the air conditioning on this hot summer afternoon, or maybe it’s that this morning my son handed me a copy of his favorite reading assignment for the semester: O’Brien’s The Things They Carried.

I close Dani Shapiro’s book and open my slim silver computer, prepared to add pages to my rough draft knowing I’m part of the tribe because I write. I allow myself one foray into social media to message the author who inspired my writing session today.

I click on Shapiro’s Facebook page not knowing who manages her account or if she’ll see it. I thank her for Still Writing and confess that reading her words and pursuing my passion has unleashed a flash flood of tears in this very public place.

Hours later, my laptop timer and the condensation on my watery iced tea signal it’s time to head home and make dinner. I’m satisfied with 873 words added to my manuscript. Before packing up, I check Facebook and see the message waiting icon. It’s from Dani Shapiro.

I wipe away new tears and take a screen shot of her generous, encouraging comments. As to my crying in the coffee shop, she empathizes and says she once thought of writing a book based on similar experiences. She’d call it Crying in Restaurants.

Dani Shapiro Facebook Message

 

 

 

6 Thoughts on “Crying in Restaurants

  1. Barbara Armstrong on April 5, 2016 at 7:51 am said:

    This will be copied and added to my files from my WRITER daughter and when she has her novel published, I will show it to her and we will probably be in a restaurant and we will both be crying!!!!!

  2. This is a great piece, Suzanne! I love those seemingly random synchronicities that give you chills. They’re kind of like trail markers, letting you know you’re on the right path. …I’d say you’re not only part of the writing tribe, you’re part of that tribe of encouraging and inspiring writers who welcome others into the fold. Thank you for sharing your journey!

  3. Daisy Wawrzonek on April 6, 2016 at 12:06 pm said:

    What a wonderful story!! Thank you for sharing.

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A Fine Mess: Writing and the Scientific Method

Writing is Scientific

I’m sitting in a middle school gymnasium wondering how I could have forgotten the deafening, high-pitched squeal produced by over one hundred 13-year-olds. My daughter, a research biologist, coaches a science Olympiad team on invasive species and my husband and I have come to cheer them on.

Bob the Bubble Man entertains the students waiting for their final scores and medals to be handed out. He repeats over and over that science is all about asking questions. If we want to make this bubble bounce on our hand, what’s the best way? Should we use a dry hand, a wet hand, or maybe a gloved hand?

Bob the Bubble Man

Writing fiction is all about asking questions. How would our protagonist react to this situation? What is the more dramatic choice in this scene? Would telling the story from a different point of view reveal more character?

My daughter’s team scores two big victories and over a celebratory dinner, I chat with the head coach, a Ph.D. entomologist, about projects she and my daughter are developing in their day jobs for the same scientific company, and I update her on the progress I’ve made on my novel. She’s a big reader and curious about the writing process.

I share the stops and starts, how detours down one path have led me to revelations about changing the point of view, even the tense I’m using to tell my chosen story. How I’ve narrowed down—finally and after three full drafts—what my story is actually about. How I feel like I have the tenuous grasp of a spine that I’m building on and how all the “mistakes” have gotten me to this point.

Writing is Scientific

She nods knowingly and shares how she must coax the junior scientists on her team into making mistakes on purpose. She encourages them to pursue unusual avenues in the hopes of uncovering something new.

Sometimes, she’s frustrated with the younger scientists who, having mastered one testing method, become comfortable and want to stick with it. She has to nudge and push them out of their comfort zone.

Writers have comfort zones, too. We identify as pantsers or outliners. Like scientists, we can benefit from trying different methods or inventing new methods.

As a former die-hard pantser, I hesitated to use even a beat sheet, but in later drafts, outlines have helped me shape my character’s focus and purpose.

The doc reminds me of a development project she worked on and how the genesis of the idea came to her in the shower. She asked “what if” questions and hit on a unique solution that continues to pay off.

She leads a team of researchers and is responsible for encouraging them to move past their fear, to encourage them to look at what would they try “if they weren’t afraid of being wrong,” of wasting time or resources. She teaches them to expect dead ends and detours. It means they’re exploring possibilities.

Back to Bob the Bubble guy. He asks the kids to predict how best to bounce a bubble on their hands. He recruits three volunteers and they try all three options. Turns out the dry hand pops the bubble, the wet hand causes the bubble to stick and on the third try, on the gloved hand, the bubble bounces over and over, glistening under the gym lights.

Cool Scientists

Cool Scientists!

What would you try if you weren’t afraid of being wrong, of wasting time? What would you create?

 

 

4 Thoughts on “A Fine Mess: Writing and the Scientific Method

  1. great observation!

  2. Painting/drawing. I have it all in my mind, but it doesn’t ever come out that well in reality! Perhaps I am afraid of being crap at it! So I don’t try. Like a true hedgehog.

    Thanks for dragging me out from under the safety of the leaf pile!

    A xx

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Have You Finished Your Book Yet?

uncle-franks-chevy-2
uncle-franks-chevy-2

Creative Commons http://rutheh.com/tag/vintage-car/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Growing up, I was a curious kid. I wondered about things to a sometimes annoying degree. If we’d had the internet back then—the age of brontosaurus burgers and dodo birds, according to my kids—I would have fallen down the Google wormhole and never emerged.

Alas, having to travel to the library to look things up in an encyclopedia limited my research. One thing I didn’t understand until my late teen years was the process of invention.

If man could build an airplane or rocket, if the human brain could figure that out, why did we bother with the Model-T Ford or the Wright Brothers? Why not skip right to the harder stuff?

The concept of building on a body of knowledge was a hard one to grasp.

When I spun my first complete rough draft of a novel, I wondered the same thing. Why didn’t it feel the same to read as books I picked up at the bookstore or library?

I wanted to be able to write the perfect novel on my first try. I wanted to go straight from horse and buggy to Apollo 13.

When friends or family ask me about “my book,” I try to find the right words to convey a complicated, mysterious process that I’m only beginning to comprehend myself. Today, I spent an hour geeking-out with a fellow writer on the magic of figuring out this writing a novel thing.

Because the cool thing is . . . I am figuring it out. Draft five (yes, you read that correctly, I’m in my fifth rewrite of a 260-page novel) is a billion times better than that first rough draft. And yet, it’s still so far from ready. According to an interview I heard, Station Eleven, a popular novel by Emily St. John Mandel released earlier this year, took over 20 drafts to complete!

Writers are taught to avoid clichés like the plague (see what I did there?) yet the study of the craft of writing follows many. One of the standards is “writing is rewriting.” It wasn’t until this fifth draft that I was able to use some of the tools I learned about in my first class on writing fiction.

Like the internal combustion engine, there are specific working parts to a story that runs. Reading a zillion books over the last 42 years did not make me capable of writing one. Just as driving a car for the last 34 years has not given me the ability to build one from scratch.

Studying fiction, learning to read like a writer, finding out what the parts of a novel are and how to put them together is a work in progress. I needed to learn to build on the body of knowledge I was accumulating.

There’s a survey floating around on the internet that shows over 81 percent of Americans want to write a book. Many do and they’re horrible. Most never even try, some try and never finish a draft.

Many more write wonderful stories that never make it to publication. A few are both publicly and critically acclaimed. With modern technology, many publish their own books without ever learning what makes a novel work.

I didn’t want to do that. My goal is to learn to write stories like those I like to read, books that you get lost in and never want to leave.

So the latest update on my book is I’m working on it! And, it’s starting to take shape. I described it this way to my fellow writing geek friend just today:

It’s like I’ve been hiding in my garage using odds and ends to build a car from the ground up. And it runs! There are creaky parts, parts that fail to spark, parts that clunk where they should click, occasionally a foul cloud of smoke puffs out of nowhere, but it’s drivable.

Writers often refer to first novels as “under the bed” books, books that will never see the light of day because they’re not good enough. The rare whiz-kid turns out a masterpiece on her first try. That has not been my experience. I couldn’t have gotten to this draft, to this level of improvement without writing that first awful draft.

For any beginners out there working on their first draft, or for any of the 200 million out there that think they have a book in them, you learn how to write a book by writing a book. Study craft, technique, read, practice, write, screw up, delete, add, write some more, then do it all again.

The jury is out on whether or not this particular book will be hidden under my bed, or left to rust in the garage. Either way, I can tell you this, the process of getting it running has been one of the most challenging and exhilarating of my life.

 

8 Thoughts on “Have You Finished Your Book Yet?

  1. Great article.
    I do believe many feel/know they have a book in them. Some of us persist. That “eternal itch”.

    20% talent, 80% dog with a bone. Always in my head, even if it’s background.
    Accumulating ‘material’. Working the puzzle of plot.

    Knew it at 9, still persists into my 50. The scenes, dialogue, settings in mind’s eye.

    Inspite of parenting, FT work and caregiving, lurking there more than often.
    Yourself and two writing friends have trod thru this mind jungle.
    It’s true then, I guess.
    As Cheri Adair says, ‘just write the damn thing’.

  2. Nice article Suzanne. You are right on all counts. I published my first novel, The Mystery At Sag Bridge, in April, and I lost track of the number of drafts. Somewhere mid-process I kept patching the same one for a while. The final count probably came to eight, not counting the proofing process, which involved another three or four read-throughs.

    A writer starts with so much enthusiasm, but it’s not easy to critique your own work. Critique groups, beta readers, and editors are so important to the process. I was fortunate enough to have an editor who “suggested” instead of “demanded”, but after thinking things over I usually realized he was right. At that point the fear comes out of the process and enthusiasm returns – along with the final draft.

    • Thank you for reading! It’s good to know that you found the light at the end of the tunnel. I’ve had great and helpful and difficult to hear but ultimately useful feedback. You’re right, it makes all the difference. Congrats also on your beautiful book! Loved your website.

  3. Loved it. Great article. You are only in your “fifth” rewrite. That’s okay. My first “under the bed” novel took me twenty-seven rewrites until I published it. From first draft to last, completely different stories. I guess I can say I’ve written twenty-six books that will remain “under the bed” and am now a published author with one book 🙂 My second novel is on its eighth rewrite going into ninth after my editor returns it to me. So, it really doesn’t matter the rewrites, the main thing here is perseverance of finishing the book, and giving yourself the forgiveness to write it. Keep doing what you are doing.

  4. Definitely dog with a bone…and just write the damn thing. Great post and the only answer I have for patient supporters who live vicariously through someone in the writing process is, “Do you have a book in you?…How about a blog?” Memories, history, different brains, create magical stories for our tribal collection, Getting it from brain to book to readable takes time 🙂

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Why It’s Always This One Thing, And It Sucks

fear

fear

I was sitting in my car on my lunch hour last Wednesday and I couldn’t figure it out. Not only did I not think I could figure it out, I was convinced I would NEVER figure it out.

No, I wasn’t searching for a cure for cancer or even wondering where my next mortgage payment was coming from. My crisis was trying to put my main character’s want into a single sentence. That’s it. Earth shattering, right?

My eyes watered, I started breathing heavy, and finally climbed out of my car to walk it off. This writing thing was supposed to be fun. I’d been devoting hours and hours to it because I was finally admitting to myself it’s what I felt called to do.

And here I was, not working on the third in a series, not posting my NaNoWriMo word accumulation, not shouting on Facebook about my two book deal with Random House (no, Mom, there’s no deal . . . yet). I was struggling to come up with ONE . . . FREAKING . . . SENTENCE.

Here’s what I learned about the novel writing process last week:

  • The middle is hard.
  • Quitting is not an option.
  • You have to welcome ALL feedback and get tougher.

I found some inspiration in Heather Seller’s Chapter After Chapter:

What is really happening is a giant fear attack. you wish you were done—that it was good just like it is. You are scared to look at it again deeply, because you are afraid you’ll find hideous flaws . . . You are afraid you won’t know how to fix these things.

Some people call it writers block. Sometimes we think its our inner critic. Self-doubt. There’s only one thing wrong with any of us and there’s only one antidote.

Fear is the root of all the world’s problems and action is the only cure.

Maybe you’re 3 drafts in (or 4, like me) but have you really torn it apart? Or, are you just smoothing the edges? You just want to be done. But you’re not. You need more versions. It’s what writers do.

Suck it up, buttercup. (That’s me talking to myself . . . and you . . . if you needed that.)

 

 

 

2 Thoughts on “Why It’s Always This One Thing, And It Sucks

  1. I’ve had a short picked up by elephant journal that is about The End Result. Controlling it, wanting to control it and needing it to look like the picture in our heads. I’m on the 6th or 8th rendition (depending on who’s counting), of a memoir. I feel your pain/aggravation/desire, This thing we intend “I am a published author, my words are heard!”, is a fey witch who gathers us in with a sweet smile and then reveals the rocky road we must walk barefoot.

    • That’s exciting news, Deb! Congrats!! I received an acceptance last week on a piece I submitted in May. Then my fear was having it out in the public and it being judged. Even when we think we’ve captured the fey witch (love that by the way), she jabs us with her pointy wand. Onward. Onward. Nothing to do but go onward.

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New Stuff to Read!

Bang2Write

Excited to be featured on Lucy V Hay’s Bang2Write site offering writing craft tips for screenwriters and novelists.  Please share if you like the post!

Also, my review for Eighth Wonder: The Thomas Bethune Story can be found on Blogcritics this week! Stay tuned for a cool interview with the author, Anita M. Cal.

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You’re Asking the Wrong Questions

Go Set a Watchman

Go Set a Watchman

How do you know when you’re done with a story?

I may be the only professed Avid Reader (yes, in all caps) to have no physical memory of devouring To Kill a Mockingbird. With the publishing world atwitter at the release of Go Set a Watchman, both novels are making headlines again.

On returning from a 3-day writing retreat last night, I was excited to dig into my latest issue of Entertainment Weekly with X-Men Apocalypse on the cover and my favorite sections–The Must List and, of course, the book reviews.

X-Men Apocalypse

Several days of intense workshops, emotional sharing and connecting with other writers had me a little wrung out and some light reading for fun was just the thing I needed. I grabbed a wine cooler, Jamaican Me Crazy, and plopped on the chaise lounge under our giant Silver Maple in the back yard.

Sidenote: Should my husband and I ever divorce, it will be due to whiskers (I hope they’re whiskers) in the bathroom sink or too many cinematic iterations of the X-Men. I am so sick of this franchise.

When I eventually reached the Books section, Reviewer Tina Jordan had the following to say about To Kill a Mockingbird which was originally carved from the larger manuscript that became Lee’s new novel:

“Lee’s formidable editor, Tay Hohoff, read the manuscript and said something along the lines of ‘The flashback scenes, where Scout is a  young girl? That’s your novel. Forget the Jean Louise stuff.’ Hohoff spent years coaxing these bursts of genius into a very different book. That kind of artistic nurturing has all but disappeared from publishing.”

To Kill a Mockingbird

My reaction was maybe the illustrious editor coaxed  To Kill a Mockingbird out of Lee, but maybe it wasn’t the story she wanted to tell.

Not 24 hours earlier, I was standing in the oak-paneled living room of Ragdale House with our teacher for the weekend, Author Patricia McNair. We were discussing a flash fiction story I’d shared during the group readings that evening. With a few other writers, we talked about MFA programs, students, how to get to the meat of a story, etc.

I wanted to know if I’d done the story right. Did I pull it off? What I really wanted was for the teacher to tell me “Yes,  you did a flash fiction piece correctly. You may now submit this because it is done.” Not…going….to….happen.

I do not know the history of Harper Lee’s relationship with her editor. It’s possible, after her editor was finished with the manuscript for To Kill a Mockingbird, Lee lay prostrate at his/her feet thanking the editor for coaxing exactly the book she was hoping to write. Though the review referenced here for the second novel refers to it as being “all about the money,” Lee’s first novel is revered.

If we believe all the author acknowledgments in all the novels on bookstore shelves, writers love their editors. Editors are an invaluable resource to writers, but writers have to write their story. I write my story. Harper Lee wrote her story. You write your story.

Often, we’re asking the wrong questions as writers. We’re asking, “how do I do it?” or “what do I need to do to get it published?”. I was asking the wrong question about my flash fiction piece and maybe a lot of my writing.

Patty suggested writers ask themselves: Does this say what I want it to say? Does it convey the mood, the character, the sense of a place I was going for . . . and if not, why not? What if my character tried this instead? Are there paths I haven’t explored?

Ragdale House photo by www.Ragdale.org

Ragdale House: A whole separate post for this!

Constantly seeking feedback, or feedback from the wrong people, can do our stories more harm than good. If we’re lucky enough to have a mentor or access to professional editing, we would be foolish not to take advantage. But we have to trust our own voice and commit to working with a piece until we have said what we wanted to say.

This takes practice and perseverance. If the days of “artistic nurturing” are gone from publishing, we’ll just have to nurture ourselves.

How do you approach rewriting your stories? How do you know when you are done? How do you nurture your writing life? Am I the only one who can’t remember reading To Kill a Mockingbird?

 

 

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Wedding Rewrites – A Quick Recap

Emily Brazil Wedding Independence Grove, Libertyville IL

Emily Brazil Wedding Independence Grove, Libertyville IL

Wedding week is over. Bride and Groom are now husband and wife. I have a new son-in-law and my brown-eyed girl, our monkey, our sunshine, is somehow a married woman with a career, two dogs, and a mortgage. Life does not stand still.

My intentional week away from writing was action packed. Family and friends descended from all corners of the continent. Alcohol flowed, meals were take-out or skipped and there was no time for my fledgling meditation practice. With one notable exception.

Bride and Mother of the Bride, Emily and Suzanne Brazil

The novice officiant– a college friend ordained online and doing double duty as a bridesmaid–appeared at my side in the bridal suite as we prepared to walk down the aisle saying “I can’t stop sweating. I’m so nervous.” I suggested we take some deep breaths together. I don’t know if it helped her at all. She gave a heartfelt and inspired ceremonial speech which was the talk of the reception.

No doubt, the breathing helped me. I’ve been on the verge of crying or in full flood mode for going on two weeks. The parents were asked to give a blessing via microphone in front of 178 guests just prior to the vows.

I had written something. Rewritten it five times. Cut out the opening paragraph. Reread it to my husband who daringly suggested I cut out the second paragraph as well. Last minute, the morning of, I revised again eliminating three lines excerpted from Anne Morrow Lindbergh’s Gifts from the Sea.

Emily Brazil and Bridesmaids

As Mother of the Bride, I had an important role to fill. I just wanted her day to be perfect. I tried to take my cue from my unruffled daughter. She only had to scold me once or twice to relax and let things go. Perfection was not the goal. Enjoying the people, the music, the food and the love in the room was the focus.

She barely glanced at the footsteps littering the train of her ivory dress; she didn’t fret over the weather reports predicting torrential thunder storms; and she graciously allowed herself to be pulled to and fro with an authentic smile on her face.

The sun prevailed, she glowed in her dream gown (with pockets!), and she and her Groom had a night to remember. The writer in me welcomed the warm response to my prepared blessing. The rewriter in me acknowledged that cutting is hard but necessary. The wife and mom in me was touched most by my husband’s toast.

Mr. and Mrs. Rankin, Independence Grove, Libertyville IL

He does not write. He doesn’t read for pleasure unless you count Mother Earth News. Yet, he had life experiences and emotions and language to share with our daughter. He painstakingly handwrote three full pages of memories, advice and wishes for the new couple. They were laced with humor, enhanced by sincerity and delivered with love. And he moved a room of 200 people.

Everyone is a writer if they want to be. I will try to follow his example in the future.

6 Thoughts on “Wedding Rewrites – A Quick Recap

  1. Michelle on June 8, 2015 at 2:17 pm said:

    Beautiful!! Very well put, Mama B!! It was a beautiful day! I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend it!

  2. Oh Suzanne – you made me cry! What a lovely memory, and one to cherish for years to come! I hope I will be as steady when (if!) my two daughters get married
    And your brown eyed girl was a beautiful bride!

    Thanks for sharing the day with us. xxx

  3. Jennifer on June 8, 2015 at 2:38 pm said:

    Congratulations! Sounds like a lovely day.

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Soup to Nuts – How I Got My Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor copies arrive

A lovely writer friend said she’d love to hear step-by-step how I got my story “An Ordinary Life” published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Thanks to My Mom. I promised to do a blog post on it so here’s what happened.

Which cameChicken Soup for the Soul my name first, the chicken or the soup?

Some people write a piece then look for a place to submit others check out open calls for submissions and then write to a specific theme. I’ve done both. In this case, I really can’t remember which came first.

I think I saw the open call for their latest book and an idea popped into my head. A recent conversation with my mom had brought up an old memory and I wrote about it.

Shitty First Drafts

The first draft poured out in about 15 minutes at Panera. I read it to a good friend but she knows my mom. I wanted another opinion from someone outside my circle. I wanted to know what message an impartial reader was getting about my mom.

I had made a few connections at a writer’s retreat. I posted a request for readers on our retreat alumni Facebook page and got two responses. Kathy is a wonderful soul and she replied with general criticism and positive support which I appreciated. Ana had previously published a story in another Chicken Soup volume and has also written professionally for a long time, and gave me some great tips.

Ana went on to red-line and edit a couple of drafts for me.

Writing is Rewriting

In all, I did five or six complete drafts. I had to cut it down from about 1,600 to 1,200 words. When I first decided to commit to writing, I thought my first drafts should be good enough. If it didn’t come out perfect, I felt I lacked talent or didn’t feel like the “real deal.” I’ve since learned and come to accept that the “magic” comes in the rewriting.

If you’re just starting out, the only way to believe this is to see it work. The best wording, the right order, it all comes in revision.

Tears in the Writer

How did I know the story was working? I couldn’t read it through without crying. I’ve read it a hundred times by now and still, every time I cry. It was told from the heart.

Follow the Guidelines

The great thing about the Chicken Soup for the Soul franchise is they have explicit and easy to understand guidelines.

I followed them exactly. They tell you what is and what is not a Chicken Soup story. From making sure to include all five senses, to telling the story in first person, I just went down the list and made sure my story had all of the elements.

I cut and pasted the story to their online form a couple of weeks before the deadline. They even tell you to submit early. Your story could be great but if they’ve already decided on several that share similar attributes, you may lose out.

Keep Writing

I submitted the story in late September for an October deadline. I kept working on essays, blog posts, author interviews, book reviews, etc. I submitted the first draft of my novel to a developmental editor. In other words, I didn’t sit around and wait to hear back.

The Chicken Soup website states that you will only hear back from them if your story has been selected. They don’t do rejections. If you don’t hear back from them 60 days before the on-sale date listed on the website, you probably haven’t been chosen. My on-sale date was March 17 so I noted January 17 on my calendar.

The Good News 

On December 9, or about eight weeks after submitting, I received an email saying “Congratulations, your story has made it to the final round.” The letter indicated that out of thousands of entries, they could only select 101. It cautioned that though most in the final round would make it into the book, a few wouldn’t. The email instructed me to fill out a release, submit a bio, etc. What did “final round” mean and when would I know for sure whether or not I’d be published in a book?

Email #2

On January 2, I received a second email with a PDF of my story asking me to review it and make edits before giving my final approval. It also said “you’ve made it to the final round.” At this point, I was still confused because I’d previously “made it to the final round” so I emailed back and asked the question–am I in or not?

They quickly replied that I had made it! But, they hadn’t yet notified everyone so they asked that I not publicize it until official notice came a few days later.

Chicken Soup for the Soul contributor copies arrive

The Fun Stuff

As a contributor, I found out that I would receive exclusive monthly newsletters with information on upcoming opportunities. They also encourage contributors to keep sending in their stories for other volumes. They celebrate those contributors with multiple stories.

I received several emails from their dedicated PR firm detailing how news releases were handled and providing ideas and encouragement on how to handle book signings, charity fundraisers through book sales, etc.

About two weeks before the on-sale date, I received my 10 free contributors copy and got to autograph my first book! Contributors are paid $200 per story via check about one month following the book’s release.

That payment will end this journey but I’ve already submitted my second story.

Chicken Soup for the Soul on the shelf at Barnes and Noble

I’m in a book, on a shelf, in Barnes and Noble!

 

The Steps to Publication in Chicken Soup for the Soul

Hmmmm, I think I’ve read those steps before…(duh, everywhere!)

I have nothing but praise for the Chicken Soup for the Soul folks. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but it is a trusted and respected market for a very specific kind of story. They know what they do best and they treat their writers well.

Did I leave anything out? Ask me a question or share your success story in the comments. I’d love to hear about your experience with Chicken Soup or other publications.

 

 

 

 

5 Thoughts on “Soup to Nuts – How I Got My Story Published in Chicken Soup for the Soul

  1. Hi Suzanne!
    What a great thing to do – write up tips. And more than that the time and energy you were willing to put into the rewrite of your story. Most people think writing is easy. Bang something out and send it off. I admire you for slogging through the process. Your story shines from all the polishing you did to and for it. Thank you for including me in your process. Congratulations on getting published. Wahoo!
    Ana

    • It’s Ana…the Chicken Soup Whisperer 🙂 It isn’t easy but it is rewarding and to quote some more famous writer…it isn’t exactly coal mining either! Thanks for reading and for all the help. It’s the generosity of other writers like you that have inspired me this year.

  2. Pingback: Autographed Books to Benefit Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF) | Suzanne M. Brazil

  3. ksamudio on February 29, 2016 at 5:11 pm said:

    Ok, so obviously I am commenting on this older post, but since it was referenced in your latest one I went to it. What wonderful advice & tips for those of us starting our journey (and you have already been unfailingly supportive & generous) – and I love “tears in the writer” BTW. Now I need to read the story 🙂

    • I used the Chicken Soup piece to audition for Listen to Your Mother essay reading contest and could NOT get through it even once without crying, LOL. Thanks for chiming in and feel free to share/pass on any tips with your writing group. So excited for you on your journey and so many people have been so helpful to me, it’s humbling to think anything I share might be of use to someone else.

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After the First Draft or I Wrote a Book, Now What? The Editor’s Assessment

edit all the words

So did the editor like my novel? I promised to give you an update and share some information on selecting an editor. What follows is a breakdown of the assessment I received along with my Top 10 Tips for a Manuscript Assessment.
Book Cover

There are plenty of websites out there telling you how to select an editor and that will describe the different types of editing. If you’re a beginning writer, know that you can you can Google this just as easily as you can Google the most popular Christmas song of all time. Silent Night, by the way, is more than twice as popular as the #2 song.

I selected Warner Coaching, Inc. and Editor Brooke Warner to review my manuscript based on a referral from a published author I met in a writing class. During our email exchange, I got a feel for how prompt she was; how open to questions (I’m new, remember?!); what the report would look like; and how payment would be handled.  I paid about 40 percent when I sent the manuscript and the balance after I received the evaluation. The process took about three weeks from the time I emailed my manuscript.

What follows is a little bit like showing you my underwear

Brooke’s assessment started with an overview and then flowed into specifics. She was direct but encouraging and most of all, she was professional. Sections in italics are excerpted directly from the assessment.

edit all the words

 www.memegen.com

Overview

Tell Me What You Want is a solid effort at crafting a broadly appealing, suspenseful page-turner. At this stage, additional developmental editing will help you to ensure that the book is more streamlined and nuanced and that the characters who shepherd your readers through these pages are as distinctive as possible.

Key Themes/Reader Takeaways

Some of the valuable lessons that you share in the manuscript include the following-

I won’t give away all my secrets here. This section was 7 bullet points detailing what the editor thought my story was about. Good news – she got my messages.

Structure/Plot Flow

The book is structured ambitiously, as it alternates between different points of view, but very consistently. It is easy to follow and proceeds chronologically.

Details in this section included some recommendations regarding a main character and eliminating one POV for streamlining.

Pacing

The pacing of the book is fluid overall, but it suffers at times from unnecessary repetition of details and ideas that bog down the plot.

(p. 71): “Jenny had told her a couple of times that she’d done some amazing things in her life but Shelly never seemed satisfied.” We already know that Jenny feels this way, because Shelly has already shared this information with the reader.

The paragraph above is one of seven Brooke wrote citing specific page numbers and quotes directly from the manuscript along with her recommendations for improvement.

“So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.” 
― Dr. Seuss

Dr.-Seuss

www.sockitmama.com

Character Development

Shelly’s character has the most dramatic arc in the story and is well done, as is Greg’s. In particular, Jenny’s character, albeit likable, feels quite one-note, which is part of the reason why her point of view doesn’t add significant value to the narrative. A developmental editor can help you to tease out each of these key characters’ unique attributes to make them more distinctive.

The editor included several paragraphs of examples here both positive and those needing revision.

Scene Development

You have a good instinct for developing scenes, most of which are fluid and well wrought in this book. The primary exceptions are the scenes involving the following plotlines:

Again, specific examples of unbelievable coincidences or unlikely events were detailed with page numbers, quotes and recommendations for improvement.

Dialogue

The book’s dialogue is quite strong overall. It feels natural and both true to life and true to your characters’ distinct personalities. My one recommendation in this area is to eliminate the use of the nicknames…etc. Eliminating this language from these women’s conversations would serve both conversational flow and character development.

Brooke commented not only on the wording that sounded forced but also how it didn’t mesh with some characters’ personalities that were previously established.

Point of View

Your current approach of using three alternating points of view is successful in the sense that it is consistent and comprehensible. However, I do not think that Jenny’s point of view enhances the manuscript significantly (although I would not remove her character from the story entirely).  In addition, on p. 81, there’s an abrupt POV shift.

The editor pointed out why she thought this POV should be eliminated and suggested either reworking it myself or with the help of a developmental editor. She explained why it wasn’t working or wasn’t necessary as well.

Tone and Style

Your writing style and tone are consistent but at times you employ clichéd language. In addition, you sometimes rely on telling the reader what your characters are feeling, rather than showing it.

Here she gave page numbers and quotes as well as suggestions for more nuanced language and fresher descriptions. Much of this I would have caught as I began revising but it is helpful to have the examples to follow as I check through the manuscript.

Grammar and Punctuation

The book needs a medium to heavy copyedit after all of the developmental work is complete, to fix grammar, punctuation, and formatting errors.

Was it Worth it and What’s Next?

In a more extensive developmental edit, the editor would go into even more detail. This was the right step for me taking my goals into consideration. I am using this book as a learning process. I wanted to get professional feedback from someone that had read the entire manuscript instead of just excerpts. Now I know what my strengths are and where I need to focus for the most improvement.

My revision process has started with character profiles. I’m trying to make my characters more three-dimensional. I have applied and been accepted to the Novel In a Year program at Story Studio and my plan is to work on and finish the second draft in this class.  So that’s where I’m at. Leave me a note to let me know where you are with your latest project.

Here are my Top 10 Tips for a ManuscriptAssessment

  1.  Ask for referrals, send emails or call explaining your project and what you need
  2. Make sure you understand what is included, ask questions
  3. Decide what level of help you need
  4. Receive feedback with an open mind – anything can be fixed once it’s on the page.
  5. Pay on time. This might be your first time dealing with professionals in the publishing industry. You want to project professionalism.
  6. KEEP WRITING. Whether it’s short stories or an outline for a new project, keep working while the editor is reading your manuscript and preparing the assessment. Don’t sit and wait.
  7. Read it and ignore it. That’s right. You will be curious and anxious and excited and possibly distressed. Read it and then let it, and your ego, rest. Go on to something else and come back to the assessment when you are ready to begin revisions.
  8. Follow the editor’s advice. You paid him. He’s an expert. Don’t make the mistake of ignoring his advice.
  9. Don’t follow the editor’s advice. It’s  your story and if you think they’re dead wrong about a beloved character or plot twist, follow your gut. Take a risk.
  10. Exercise your rewriting muscles remembering that anything can be improved. Make use of the information you received for future projects as well.

 

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After the First Draft OR I Wrote a Book…Now What?

Suzanne Brazil Novel - Work in Progress

 FOR NEW WRITERS ONLY (or My Relatives)

“What’s happening with your book?”

I’ve been getting this question a lot so I decided to share an update.  For those of you feigning interest (family and friends) or for new writers wondering what happens after the first draft of a first novel, read on for some insight into the process.

Ernest Hemingway - making crap

Ernest Hemingway – making crap

Sh*tty First Draft

Turns out, completing the first draft of a novel is just the beginning.

When I triumphantly typed “The End” and climbed out of my writing cave, I strode into the kitchen with tears in my eyes.  I demanded a hug from my perpetually perplexed husband and told him “this is a big deal.” And it was.

But it wasn’t the whole deal.

One axiom shared by writers of all genres and all levels of expertise is:  The first draft is sh*t.  Just ask Hemingway or Anne Lamott. (If you’re a new writer and you don’t know who she is WHY ARE YOU READING THIS?  Drop everything and run, run I tell you – to get Bird by Bird.)

Another rule of thumb is that after you finish a first draft, you are supposed to hide it.  Distance yourself so you can come back to it with a more objective outlook.

I finished  “Tell Me What You Want” on August 31.  It’s on the shorter side for a novel at 65,000 words (245 pages).  Turns out there’s guidelines for stuff like that.  A novel is typically 80,000 + words.  Who knew?

The First Read Through

It wasn’t until the second week of October that I read it through for the first time.  I’d sent a copy to both of my sisters and my best friend knowing they would all be supportive.  I felt a panic attack coming on when I got ready to read it myself.

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Covers have sh*tty first drafts too!

My chief concerns were in this order:

  1. It will suck
  2. It will suck so bad, I won’t even finish reading it.
  3. It will suck so bad I will never write another thing.

Completely daunted, I read it as a reader.  Without editing as I went. All of my fears were not unfounded.  Parts of it sucked a lot.

But some parts were decidedly un-sucky.  These parts are what is known in the industry as “my darlings” and the general wisdom is that these darlings must eventually be slaughtered (or for the less dramatic of you, deleted).

Does This Novel Make Me Look Fat?

What most writers need is honest, experienced critique partners and I don’t have those yet.  What I did have was a couple of published authors that I had met and who, as part of a class and later a writing retreat, offered to edit excerpts of works in progress.

The feedback I received was helpful, depressing and amazing often on the same page.  Turns out, I have a “voice” – again, who knew?  Also turns out I knew next to nothing about how a novel is constructed.

construction scaffold

Caution – Novel Under Construction

If I’m being honest, this came as a little bit of a surprise.  I mean, I’ve read thousands of novels. I’ve studied English Lit and even tested out of a couple of college literature courses.  None of these prepared me for the fact that a novel is a very specific thing with specific rules that you have to follow unless you’re good enough to break all the rules.

Novel construction was not something taught in any of my previous courses.  Most of them were about awakening your creativity.  That’s not where I needed help.

construction coneUnder Construction – Danger Falling Hopes and Dreams

To start with, if you’re a casual or even avid reader, it might not occur to you that novels are written in scenes.  Like a screenplay but different.  Go on, go get that trashy romance novel or mystery with the cat on the cover.  Alternatively, grab that suspense novel with the shadowy trees and bloody hand.  Either will do.

If it kept you reading until the end, it’s a pretty safe bet that the book you’re reading is made up of scenes – interactions between characters or a single character doing something.  They have thoughts, sure, but 20 pages of your heroine describing the grass and flower beds does not a published book make.

A lot of this stuff about how novels are made I began to learn during the process of writing the first draft.  Logically, the last third of my book is better than the first third.  That’s a relief.

Writing IS Re-Writing

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Tolstoy (Exhausted after draft #10?)

Another axiom for writers is that writing is a craft that can be learned, and each stab you take at it usually improves the product.  I tried not to think of stabbing myself when I thought of the time required to rewrite what I’d just written.

On the advice of some of the pros I’ve recently met, I decided to send my manuscript to an editor for an assessment.  Editors offer different levels of services and what I was looking for is a complete read-through of my draft.  The result will be a professional (if subjective) evaluation of what is working in my book, what needs to be reworked and recommendations on the best way to approach a rewrite.

Did you know that Tolstoy rewrote War and Peace 10 times?  Ten complete drafts of the same giant book.  Listening to some of  my favorite author interviews confirms that at a minimum, four or five drafts are common.  One author recently published a critically acclaimed novel after 19 drafts.

Don’t Fall for the New Project

Maybe I’ll Just Start a New One…

Working authors caution against the siren song of the new project.  Seems that a majority of writers agree. It’s easier to get started and write the first draft of a project than to go back and revise a work in progress.

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Actual Revision Shot – Do not try this at home

There are a few exceptions to every rule but I know my own weaknesses.  To me, the act of sitting down and spewing out my brain-droppings on the page or screen is a little bit like magic.  I see a prompt or wake up with an idea, a blank page, and my fingers just start dancing.  Invariably, the alarm goes off and I shut down the laptop to head off to my day job, leaving the tail end of my thoughts and a project likely to remain unfinished.

In other words, I’ve decided not to start another full-length book project until I make some decisions about this one.  I will hear back from my editor in a month or so and have pretty much committed to at least one more complete draft.

Never Never Never Give Up!

I have much to learn and I want to see something I’ve molded take shape into a better version.  In the meantime, I continue to write most every day.  I have a couple of short stories and essays in the works.  I update my blog, review books, interview authors and keep my ideas for new projects in special notebooks until their time comes. I continue to study the craft.

With the help of a friend, we created a working cover for the novel so I could remind myself that I did write an entire book.  I share that cover with you now.  Many first novels languish in drawers as writers take what they’ve learned and apply it to sophomore efforts they are less embarrassed to share with the masses.

Book Cover

I’m not embarrassed at all.  Even the crappy parts of this first effort are all mine.  They’re proof.  I put out effort and the result was a book.  I wrote a book.  Yay me! You can too.

4 Thoughts on “After the First Draft OR I Wrote a Book…Now What?

  1. Oh, how I chuckled at this – because it’s all so true!! Yes, you should never be embarrased for exactly the reasons you stated. I think my funniest fail is sending my book to a literary agent before I really knew what I was doing. There were tense issues, passive voice issue – lots and lots of issues!!

    I really enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing!!

  2. E.L. – I can relate. I sent out a flash fiction piece that had alternating points of view – in a flash fiction piece! We all make mistakes but it means we’re writing and improving. Now we have time for new mistakes! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Much appreciated!

  3. Susan Godenzi on November 17, 2014 at 10:10 pm said:

    Yes, I too can relate to all of this. I also cried when I typed THE END of the first draft of my first novel. I was shocked at how emotional I felt. Yes, I needed a hug too from my very understanding husband. Well, I actually don’t think he understands. But he tries really, really hard to. I love it when I find people who do actually understand and can relate. There is a real bond there.
    Well done with your website, Suzanne. xx

    • Well said, Susan – finding those people whose eyes don’t glaze over when you talk about writing is such a blessing! Welcome and thanks for sharing!

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