A Peek Inside the Writing Life

Craft books and novels in progress

What does this “living a writing life” look like in real time?

This week, I’m submitting a partial manuscript to two literary agents I pitched last year at my first Chicago Writers Conference.

Panera writing session

Getting the submission ready includes the following:

  • Knowing and following the guidelines given to me by the agents during my pitch sessions.
  • Ensuring my first 50 pages are formatted and the best they can be at this stage of my development.
  • Preparing a one-page synopsis. This is not an outline, nor is it enticing cover copy. A synopsis has to spell out what happens in the book, including the ending, while revealing the voice and flavor of the novel.
  • Including a well-written query letter along with the manuscript and synopsis.

Once I get that all emailed, I will note it on my submission tracking sheet then dismiss it from my mind and get on with finishing the rest of this draft. It can take months to hear back on submissions, even if they were invited!

Engaging means improving my craft. That makes me chuckle. It used to sound so pretentious to me when I tried to think it let alone say it out loud.

The reality is I do work at the craft. I read, study, ask questions, practice, read some more. I am in the middle of three different books on craft today. They are: Save the Cat, The 12 Fatal Flaws of Fiction WritingWriting 21st Century Fiction: High Impact Techniques for Exceptional Storytelling.

Engaging means reading as much fiction as possible. I’m enchanted by the idea of writing a real world story with hints of magic ala the very talented and successful Sarah Addison Allen.

Craft books and novels in progress

I’m working my way through all of her novels (just finished my third). Plus, she’s recommended a few of her favorite books by other authors, and I’ve tracked one down from an interlibrary loan: I Am One of You Forever by Fred Chappell. Reading this before bed each night.

Playwright Michele Lowe recommends that writers always have more than one idea or project to work on. She’s brilliant so I listen to her. I’m collecting ideas and snippets of scenes for what might be my next book-length project.

I’ve started researching and am in the middle of a fascinating book All the Single Ladies: Unmarried Women and the Rise of an Independent Nation by journalist Rebecca Traister 

The idea that there will be a next book feels like a gift I’ve given myself. Three years ago I wasn’t even sure I could finish one book.

I’m also planning ahead for the fall. I might take a class, go to a conference, or sign up for a retreat. For me,  I need to build in time and space for meeting other writers, talking books, learning from more experienced authors.

My vision of “living the writing life” means engaging in the world of writers and readers on as many levels as possible.

Last week I published a book review on Blogcritics.org and am preparing a list of interview questions for the debut author, Abbey Campbell Cook.

I met an inspiring young writer at a family graduation party in Minnesota a couple of weeks ago. Ellie is 14 and a voracious reader and writer.

We talked under a canopy that provided scant relief from the blazing sun. We commiserated about the difficulty of creating interesting characters and working in solitude.

Last week, I received an email from an old friend who recently joined a writing group. We didn’t discuss writing, just exchanged book recommendations.  But there’s an energy exchange that takes place just knowing she writes!

This week I’m looking forward to a coffee date with a writer I met at a retreat last summer. She recently finished her first novel, and I was honored to get to read the first few chapters. More energy, more writing flow.

And I’m two weeks away from attending my second StoryStudio’s Ragdale Retreat.

A mentor of mine—a talented author and inspiring coach—recently recommended a list of short stories.  She compiled a curated list of stories with craft elements that shine in each. Can’t wait to get started on this!

Engaging means following the careers of other writers and supporting them whenever you can.

I’m eagerly awaiting Jennifer David Hesse’s first novel in July and have been sharing free bookmarks with my friends and family. Be sure to look for Book #1 Midsummer Night’s Mischief (A Wiccan Wheel Mystery). 

Midsummers Night Mischief

Living the writing life means making choices. I spent Sunday afternoon in Panera, wearing ear buds and flip flops (and clothes, I was wearing clothes), brandishing a purple flair marker as I went over what I hope is finally the final draft of my partial manuscript submission.

I could have been poolside with a margarita. And a part of me wanted to be.

Sometimes living the writing life means saying no to things (like hanging out at the pool). Twice this month, I turned down opportunities to write and publish (once for pay, once for a byline).

So I will miss out on those two opportunities. My time is limited. I have a day job and a family. To finish this novel, I have to focus.

Write where you are

Sometimes that means writing in the car, then walking in the nearby park

To make all of this possible, I continue to invest in my health and wellness. That means making room for life. For good food and movement and mindfulness.

All of that makes room for my dreams.

Long walks with a girlfriend or my husband or my son, walking my daughter’s dogs, doing pushups, sharing grilled chicken and an episode of American Pickers with my husband, talking to my mom on the phone, all of this is life.

Social media (will that be the phrase that sounds the death knell for all of humanity?) is both a resource and a drain for a writer. I belong to a few great writing communities online.

The best of these have provided inspiration and opportunity and are worth maintaining. It’s getting sidetracked on dancing puppy tangents that can suck away what little time I’ve carved out to actually write.

It’s also time to update my website, invest in new business cards and an updated author photo.

Deadlines approach for an essay I want to write and a residency application I’m nervous to submit.

Living the writing life means not being afraid to fail.

I know there are more of me out there, closet writers not sure they have talent.

You do. But it’s mostly about the work.

A brilliant author friend said during a recent conversation “if we’d known what was involved in writing a book, we never would have started.”

She’s right. But I’m ridiculously grateful I did.

 

4 Thoughts on “A Peek Inside the Writing Life

  1. Great post, Suzanne! Thanks again for the shout-out, and good luck with those agents!

  2. Elaine Richards on June 29, 2016 at 3:23 am said:

    So excited for you to finally get those pages sent! Thanks for reminding me of what I might/could be doing if I weren’t, er, ‘otherwise engaged.’

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What is Your Greatest Fear?

Conquer your fears

Thor and Ruger - Fear of Dogs

Last Sunday night, we were attacked by a loose pit bull. My husband saved us with his work boots and extra long legs. We had finished eating takeout with our daughter and her fiance and decided to walk off the Portillo’s Hot Dog feast instead of lolling on the sofa in a greasy stupor. Our neighborhood park was a couple of blocks away and my daughter’s two rescue dogs–a boxer mix and a spaniel-mix–needed the exercise.

The chaotic scene was a blur as I walked a few paces ahead of our group. All I remember is clinging to the back of my daughter who is four inches taller than me and then holding her smaller dog in my arms as I circled, keeping my back to the pit bull. I doubt I came off as heroic.

Fortunately, there were no injuries. The pit bull got it’s mouth on the boxer three different times but each time, my husband came to the rescue, keeping the dog at bay with his feet. The police were called, the owner showed up to claim the dog and received a couple of tickets, and vet checks ensued.

When it was all over, I had a headache and the desire to cry for two days. At the age of seven, I was bitten by a German Shepherd and stray dogs are my number one phobia. Before spiders or my husband’s irrational fear of sharks (we live in the Midwest for crying out loud), I am deathly afraid of stray dogs.

Conquer your fears

This past year has been a time for me to do those things that make me afraid…call myself a writer, submit things I’ve written risking rejection, perform at a Live Lit Storytelling night. I’ve faced these fears but still balk at walking outside alone. I do it. But I have to force myself.

After the dog attack, I’m more hesitant than ever. This reminds me of a class I took about 15 years ago. I don’t remember the exercise but I remember having to name my greatest fear. It wasn’t dogs, spiders or sharks–it was the fear of living a life filled with regret. I could feel it happening. I was meant to be doing something else but I couldn’t see what it was so sometimes I didn’t even look.

“This takes a lot of self-belief…to just follow an idea and believe something will come of it.” ~ Insa

Writing may not be my ultimate calling. I think it is. It feels like it is. Facing the scary stuff is opening me up. Each time I push through the membrane of my safe existence, I catch a glimpse of possibility. Fear, worry, regret…they’re my stray dogs. How do you face yours?

 

2 Thoughts on “What is Your Greatest Fear?

  1. Great post Suzanne. What an awful experience! Hope you’ve recovered by now.

    I also have a fear of large/yappy dogs. Especially when they are running wild! WHY do people Do that?? Grrrrr!! I think I have too many fears to list. I face them by keeping my eyes tightly closed, and going “La la la la la la la” and pretending it’s not really happening. Not the best way I know! 😉

    I am convinced that writing IS your calling, Suzanne! You are so good at it. Keep facing those stray dogs! You can hide behind me if you like. “Woof!” *Happy waggy tail* 😀 <3

    • Thanks, Angela! Your method just may work. I appreciate the support and am a fan of you as well 🙂 As always, having readers (and supporters) is the best reward–that is, after doing what we feel we are called to do. And keep the dogs on a leash, people! Sheesh!

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