You Can’t Win

Starting out a new year always seems like "Woo! A fresh beginning! A chance to start over!" with the implication that "This time, I'll do it right!"

Yeah.

I've got a couple of nits to pick with that.

First, the same applies to every morning. I prefer to look at each new day as a chance to start again. Every day is a New Year's Day, even if it's a Wednesday in the middle of April. Don't get me wrong. Year end is a year beginning and that's cool. It's like a door into the future - as soon as we enter, we can pretend everything gets reset. But if I get off on the wrong foot on January 15th, I'm screwed on an annual framework. When I only have to get through today? Well, Ground Hog Day. I can get up tomorrow and do something different.

Second, I'm not convinced "do it right" is a meaningful construct. The difficulty for me is figuring out what "right" is. Most times, I don't know until after I've done it whether it was right or not - 20/20 hindsight and all that. What's been more interesting to me is that I seem to learn the most from doing it "wrong" -  what I thought was "wrong" turned out to be pretty darn good. I'm not saying "Go break a window," but maybe you keep using that word "wrong" and I do not think it means what you think it means. At least not always.

Which brings me to looking at outlook, looking forward, and an aphorism that is more canard than value. You've probably heard it:

Writing isn't a sprint. It's a marathon.

Here's the thing.

It's half right. Writing isn't a sprint.

It's half wrong. Writing isn't a marathon.

By trying to treat it as a race of any kind, it sounds like there should be a finish line. A tape you can break with your chest as you cross that line or a trophy you can collect on the way out of the stadium.

Maybe it's different for you, but for me, writing is neither sprint nor marathon. It's not a race. It's a way of life and nobody gets out alive. While that may sound moribund, for me it's an important reminder that, however we look at writing, we each have a finite amount of time to practice our craft. I see that as a challenge worth rising to. I see that as a really good reason to keep getting up every morning and putting on my writing shoes. It's a good reminder at this cusp of a year that whatever happened last year happened. What matters most is what happens today, and I'll see what I can do to make sure I leave as many good stories behind as I can without worrying about whether or not I'm winning.

Because with writing, you can't win. You can only do.

Here's to a productive and prosperous new year to all my friends in RMFW. May you all keep doing.

Image credit: Webweaver's Clipart

It’s Full of Stars

In many ways, a writer's journey has much in common with Arthur C. Clarke’s novel-turned-classic-film 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The hapless author boards his-or-her craft (a manuscript instead of a rocket), launches into a hostile space, and spends many months (or, sometimes, years) in what seems like suspended animation. Time passes, the author alternately waiting for something to happen and struggling with the perpetual fears that NO ONE WILL EVER OPEN THE POD BAY DOORS no matter how much (s)he begs.

(HAL’s got nothing on a writer’s subconscious. Trust me here.)

During those weeks, and months, and years, the author keeps busy, studying craft and working on as many manuscripts as it takes to reach the destination. Agents get queried, tearstained rejections get filed, and life moves on. Eventually, the writer finds an agent and a publisher, or decides the self-publishing path is the right one.

Then, just like the astronaut in 2001, the author's journey reaches its endpoint–the book release. At which point, the author stares in awe at the real, live book in her hands and whispers softly...

It’s full of stars.”

… fade to black. Journey over. Story ended.

WHAT????

Now, wait a minute.

If you're like me, you saw that ending and said. "That can't be all there is."

WHY DIDN'T YOU TELL US WHAT HAPPENS NEXT?

But there's a reason 2001 ended where it did, and why it didn't tell us any more. It parallels the writer's path here, too.

When you get there, you realize the ending--whether we're talking 2001 or an author's debut release--isn't actually the ending at all.

The ending is just the start of another journey.

Publishing is a marathon, not a sprint. (There’s a reason we call it “the writing life.”) The author's initial trip to publication is wonderful, scary, and filled with firsts, and yet it's merely the opening bars of a longer (and even more beautiful) symphony.

Surprise. When it's over? It isn’t over.

And now, another story.

In late December 1973 I was two and a half years old.

A neighbor gave me a pair of lovely presents wrapped in shiny paper and tied with ribbons. I opened the first, unwinding the bow and setting it gently aside before I peeled back the tape that bound the paper. Minutes passed, but I took my time. I savored every moment until at last I removed the wrapping and revealed a brand-new book beneath.

A hardback book.

I don't remember the title but I'll never forget the cool, slick feel of that cover beneath my hands. Immediately, I opened it up and began to "read" the pictures.

My mother gave me a gentle reminder: “Susan, don't forget you have another present. Why don't you open it? What do you think's inside?”

I paused, one hand on the page to hold my place, and looked at the second package. After a moment I answered, "Probably … another book.”

And then, I went back to reading.

That story has more to do with this post than you might initially suspect.

I love my debut novel, CLAWS OF THE CATI enjoyed every part of the detailed process that went into its writing, editing, layout, and publication. The book's release came after ten years of struggle, craft, and rejection, and I savored the feel of that book in my hands as I savored the beautiful Christmas book my neighbor gave me many years ago.

But by the time I held my published book in my hands, I had already boarded another craft--the second book in the series. When that one was finished...I started on the next.

Consider this post your gentle reminder to stop gazing lovingly at the book in your lap--regardless of whether or not it's published--and to continue moving forward, one the next phase of your journey.

Because the writer's journey, the writer's life, is not about a destination. Finish a project and start on the next one.

Never let your fears or insecurities stop you, no matter how impossible the journey seems right now. Don't wait on someone to open the pod bay doors and let you enter this realm--success as a writer is something you have to work for, and accomplish, through hard work, determination, and effort. And you can do it, if you try.

But on the way, take time to enjoy the process, no matter where you are.

Today is the dream.

Today is the journey.

Savor this moment.

Trust me.

It’s full of stars.

P’s in Publishing … by Margaret Mizushima

Margaret MizushimaWhenever there is a first time published author panel at conferences, I’m often in the audience. I never tire of listening to the different ways authors connect with their publishers. Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers played an important role in my story, and while this blog might be aimed more toward those seeking publication, other members could still be interested. I’ll tell you how the P’s in publishing worked for me.

Persistence. Don’t give up. Like many of my writing friends, I’ve been at this for a long time. I’ve attended writing conferences including those presented by RMFW, bought a bookshelf full of how-to books, attended creative writing classes and writing institutes, and studied my favorite authors to see how they crafted their novels. I’ve written several novels that are buried in my storage cabinet and will never again see the light of day. I’ve wanted to give up, but I didn’t; and persistence finally paid off, resulting in a publishing contract. Continue to pitch your work to agents and editors if you want to go the traditional route. Take classes in indie publishing if you’re interested in going that direction.

Positioning. I found both my agent and my publisher at writing conferences. Position yourself so that you can meet yours. Pitch your work at conference pitch sessions, sit at a meal table with the person you want to meet, introduce yourself in hallways and elevators. Be polite; ask permission to pitch outside of scheduled pitch sessions. I met Matt Martz of Crooked Lane Books at the RMFW Conference 2014, sat at his table on Friday night, and asked if I could pitch to him after dinner. He agreed and told me to send it, which I did as soon as I could. I know how scary it feels when you sit at the computer with your finger hovering over that send button. Be brave. When you get the nod, be sure to follow through.

Mizushima_Killing TrailBe Pliable. Matt Martz passed my manuscript to Nike Power, editorial and publishing assistant at CLB. She loved the characters, setting, and writing, but not the plot. She asked if I was willing to talk about it, and of course I said yes. We began an exchange of emails leading to suggested revisions that would require a large amount of time. My novel fit between genres, and she thought it would find readers more easily if I made it a solid mystery. I hesitated. There were no guarantees, and approximately two months of work lay ahead. Besides, I liked my story. But…although the work had generated some interest, I had not yet received an offer. I decided I had nothing to lose except time, and maybe I’d end up with something I liked even better.

Be prompt. If I wanted to make their 2016 publication schedule, I needed to meet the deadline that Nike suggested for me. This is important at this stage for other reasons, too. Editors want to make sure you can get your work back to them when they need it. They may offer some flexibility, but it’s still an opportunity for them to see if you can be on time, even before you’re offered the contract. In my case, the resubmission worked. Nike told me she liked the new version, and she would talk to my agent. I’m delighted to say that she remains my editor, and we’ll be working together on two books, the first two in The Timber Creek K-9 series.

Promote. Promotion starts before you publish. In reality, it should start when you set a goal to write a book. Marketing should include taking a look at what readers want. I don’t mean try to follow a trend, things move too slowly in this industry for that. Write the story you want, but keep your readers in mind. Research by reading popular books, study how bestselling authors develop their characters and structure their stories, and strengthen your writing skills through education and critique. Network at conferences, listen to authors who already know the ropes and are willing to offer guidance, set up those social media sites and accounts. Attend workshops at conferences to learn about the different ways you can promote, both online and off.

And that brings me back to Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers. This organization can help you achieve your writing goals. At RMFW 2014, conference chair Susan Brooks stated that this is our tribe. Be a part of it, and benefit from all of the many opportunities RMFW has to offer. I’m very grateful for everything it has given me.

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Margaret Mizushima is the author of Killing Trail: A Timber Creek K-9 Mystery to be released December 8, 2015 by Crooked Lane Books, available now for preorder on Amazon. Her fiction has won contest awards, and her short story “Hayhook” was selected for the 2014 Rocky Mountain Fiction Writers anthology Crossing Colfax. She likes reading, hiking, and yoga, and she lives in Colorado with her husband and a multitude of animals.

Learn more about Margaret at her website. She can also be found on Facebook at Margaret Mizushima Author and on Twitter @margmizu.

Is It Worth It?

By Lisa Brown Roberts

Lisa Brown RobertsLast fall, I participated on the RMFW First Sale Panel. We had a great time talking about our books, and taking questions from the audience. One question has stuck with me ever since. Someone asked, “Is it worth it?” Essentially, all the blood, sweat, and tears getting to this point of publication- is it really worth it?

My response was, if you can walk away and not miss writing, then it’s probably not worth it. But if you can’t stop writing, if this is your calling, your obsession, your neurosis and your passion, then, yes it’s worth it.

Now that I’ve gone through intense rounds of editing with an amazing editor who pushed me as an author, now that my book is “real,” now that early reviews are trickling in, now that I’ve nearly drowned in promo and marketing tasks, now that I’ve spent days feeling like I’m either going to puke and/or that I’m floating on clouds.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Even though I got my first one-star review (maybe more, by the time you read this). Even though lots of people want free books and don’t quite understand why I can’t oblige. Even though a creeper somehow tracked down my day job phone number and called me at work to say we apparently had a lot in common, based on my social media presence.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Roberts_How to FallBecause here’s the most amazing thing I’ve learned over this last year and a half from contract to book on the shelf: There is an amazing tribe of supporters out there. I knew this in part because of my fantastic SCBWI critique group. But then I met more of this tribe when I branched out from SCBWI to also join RWA and RMFW. Then I found even more of the tribe at my publisher and agency, and online. People I’ve never met in person have been some of the kindest and most supportive.

When I have bad days or freak-out panic attacks or “my books stink and should never be published” phobia…all of those typical neurotic writer issues…I’ve been tremendously grateful to know that support (and maybe a glass of wine) is just an email or tweet or phone call away.

Yeah, it’s worth it.

Because the main reason I write, to connect with readers, to touch them emotionally, that’s finally happening. And when a blogger reached out to say how much she loved my book and fell in love with my characters, and that she’d be posting a great review? That made it all worthwhile.

I always told myself that if my book resonated with just one stranger, someone not obligated by familial or friendship ties to say they liked it, that I’d know I’d done my job, and that it would all be worth it. I’m sure my publisher is hoping my book connects with more than one reader (as do I), but from the perspective of outside validation that the story “worked,” of empowerment to keep writing, I’m learning that yes, it’s worth it in ways I only imagined before getting to this point.

None of my worries and doubts have decreased by getting published; in fact, I have new ones. Three years for neurotic writers! (A big tribe, that one…)

But for every anxiety about this whole journey that I confess in whispers to writing friends, I receive sympathy, commiseration, and encouragement times one-hundredfold.

So to the gentleman who asked that question last fall, I stick by my answer. If you can’t walk away from writing, don’t. I promise you, it’s worth it.

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Lisa’s debut novel, How (not) to Fall in Love, releases from Entangled Teen on February 3, 2015. She’s having a book signing and launch celebration at Hampden Hall/Englewood Library on Saturday, February 7th at 4:00 and would love to see you there.

Lisa Brown Roberts still hasn’t recovered from the teenage trauma of nearly tweezing off both of her eyebrows and having to pencil them in for an entire school year. This and other angst-filled memories inspire her to write and read YA books about navigating life's painful and funny dramas, and falling in love along the way. Catch up with Lisa at lisabrownroberts.com, Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Goodreads, and Instagram.