Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

Archive for the ‘Obstacles’ Category

The Toilet Test

My gym buddies and I have a way of determining whether a workout has been effective. We call it The Toilet Test. The more difficult and painful it is to get yourself up and off the toilet seat, the better the workout.

I recently signed up for the O2X Couch to Summit Challenge (http://o2x.com/summit-challenge/).   Nine weeks of grueling workouts of cardio and strength training followed by a race up Loon Mountain. Nine weeks of sore muscles.

According to Carol Torgan, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, “the muscle discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time.” (http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/sore-muscles-dont-stop-exercising#1)

Stronger and better.  

Rejection letters are the sore muscles of publishing.  

Getting that “thanks, but no thanks” letter is as painful as aching arms and legs. And both offer the same thing: proof you are getting better.  You are working hard toward your goal.

In her blogpost on Literary Hub, Kim Liao recommends collecting rejection letters: http://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year. “If you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances,too.”

I’m on Week 3 of the training and so far I’ve received two rejection letters – only 98 more to go.

But first, I have to (ouch) get myself (double ouch) off the toilet…

A Series of Unlikely Events

9497589-bad-luck-road-sign-unlucky-bad-day-or-bad-fortune-misfortune-arrow--Stock-PhotoI haven’t been feeling so fortunate lately. This past month,

  • I injured my back at the gym. The slightest movement was quite painful, so I as unable to attend our annual family party. It will be another year before I’ll see some of the people that did get to go.
  • I ended up in the Emergency Room with jaw pain, dizziness and heart palpitations. Cause, still unknown despite the many tests. (If you are a woman and experiencing this, it may be a heart attack. Go to the ER immediately.)
  • I broke my computer (though I must admit that was due to bad temper more than bad luck).
  • And after committing to finish the fourth revision on what I thought was my unique and original MG novel (Dream Sweepers), I found out that another author is releasing a similar book (Dreambenders) this spring. Too similar.

I am the Unluckiest Girl in the World.

Except I’m not.

My bad luck has revealed how truly lucky I am.

  • I am part of an incredible group of writers who will not only help me reach my goals, but keep me smiling with their encouragement and bottles of wine. One of them even lent me her old laptop.
  • I didn’t have a heart attack and my back injury allowed me to shorten that pile of books I’ve wanted to read.
  • Upon hearing my medical frustrations, a friend suggested the book Medical Medium by Anthony William. I am hopeful that I may no longer have to suffer with the dizziness, mental fog, joint pains, heart palpitations and depression that I have been experiencing for far too long.
  • And while I am still going to finish my original and unique story, I’ve decided to focus on another novel that has a better chance of getting published – a story about a girl who thinks Fate hates her when she has to go live with her eccentric great aunt.

It’s new title: The Unluckiest Girl in the World

The Glory of Failure

Considering I stand only five feet tall on my tip-toes, I never would have thought I would have something in common with basketball great Michael Jordan.

But we share one thing: failure.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan

I, too, have failed again and again – evidenced by my growing pile of rejections from agents and editors.

First PenguinSo, it was quite an honor to recently be awarded The First Penguin Award because I “attempted the hard things, out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way without worrying about failure, has taken the gamble of trying new ideas, and continues to be creative and ply my craft”. (Thanks, Mom!)

In his book, “The Last Lecture“, Randy Pausch encouraged his students to “Be the First Penguin”. Students were awarded a stuffed penguin for taking the biggest gamble in trying something new even though it ended with failure. Why a penguin? Because when a group of penguins jump into waters filled with predators, one of them has to go first.

And with each failure we gain experience.

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…It’s a phrase worth considering at every brick wall we encounter, and at every disappointment. It’s also a reminder that failure is not just acceptable, it’s often essential…First Penguin winners were losers who were definitely going somewhere.” Randy Pausch

CTCaper poster finalAnd this First Penguin winner is on her way. As one of twelve authors selected to write a chapter, I invite you to come along with me in the Great Connecticut Caper, a serialized mystery for children to be published on the Connecticut Humanities website. Join the fun!

When the Universe Speaks

I’ve been meaning to take a day off from work to try and finish my forever-in-progress novel, but haven’t managed to get around to actually doing that.

Then…

…our dog developed started itching and scratching himself to the point where his hair was falling out. I thought, well, maybe I’ll take Friday off and take him to the vet and send the rest of the day writing. But it was spreading quickly. So I took him to the vet on Thursday night. $294 later, he’s is on antibiotics and steroids for a possible allergic reaction to either a particular food or something environmental and I went to work on Friday. Not a lot of writing done.

Then…

…Sunday evening, not even an hour after my husband left for work n Pennsylvania, water started gushing out of the ground by our septic tank. I called the septic company. He asked me if I thought it was an emergency. Well, no. We didn’t need to wash clothes, dishes, ourselves that night. Then he offered to try and fit me in on Monday instead. Only he wasn’t sure what time he could come. I’d have to take the day off and wait around for him to show up and pump out our septic tank. Oh, and it would cost $220.

phone_redRing…Ring…

Hello?

It’s the Universe calling. Quit complaining and listen. Take the day off. Write.

So I did.

I sat. Butt in chair. I wrote. I Iistened.

I finished it! (well, almost)

And I know I must listen to the Universe whenever it speaks.

I just hope next time it isn’t such an expensive call.

Writers of the Rivers

Herring Run, Pembroke MA

Herring Run, Pembroke MA

The Wampanoag and Massachusett tribes used to call the area, Namattakeesett, place of much fish, because of the annual springtime run of herring in the rivers.  Although overfishing, pollution and the destruction of spawning grounds have reduced the abundance of fish, re-stocking and careful management help this springtime event continue.

Yesterday, my family and I were fortunate to witness the first day of this year’s herring run in Pembroke, MA.  We watched a couple of dozen of the river herrings try to make their way up stream toward their spawning grounds.  We saw their obvious struggle to go against the current.

At times, it appeared they were stuck, their wiggling bodies just moving to stay right where they were.  Some even flipped around, only to lose ground.  You wonder how did they make it this far.  Will they get to where they need to go?

Yet, inch by painstaking inch, the herring advance.

They are the writers are the rivers.

We writers continually struggle to find the right words to tell the story.  At times we flip-flop over what we’ve written, make changes, even go back to our original words or ideas.  And sometimes we get stuck.

Sometimes the herring appear to be going nowhere, but they aren’t really stuck.  Instead they are gathering their strength, focusing, getting themselves ready for the next push forward.

It is in the herring’s nature to make this journey, as difficult as it is.  Just as it is for writers.

Inch by inch.   Word by word.  The story gets written.

When we saw one of the fish successfully shimmy forward past a difficult rock step, we clapped and cheered (much to the surprise of the other visitors in the parking lot).

And while the herring may not need our encouragement to get to where they need to go, we writers do.

And I am so very grateful for every cheer I receive from friends and family along my way.

Over, under, around…

Rosie’s Walk by Pat Hutchins is used in classrooms to teach preposition phrases in an entertaining way. Rosie has to go around the pond, over the haystack, through the fence, and under the beehives on her walk through the farmyard.

I had my own lesson on prepositions this past weekend, as I went on a “walk” – not through a farm yard, but a muddy motor cross course.  The Rugged Maniac race is a “5k obstacle course race that combines the most rugged terrain and burly obstacles to allow those with a sense of adventure to define themselves, then bask in glory…” (www.ruggedmaniac.com).

Rosie’s Walk may be about prepositions, and the Rugged Maniac may be about adventure and glory (and beer), but both the story and the race share an underlying message.  Life is full of obstacles.  And to continue on your “walk”, you must find a way to get past all those obstacles, whether it’s over, under, through, or around them.

Think of your writing life – what obstacles stand in your way?

Are there walls of your own creation, like the Wall of Self-Doubt; or are they real (your computer died, yet another agent rejected your novel, too many after school activities, not enough time)?  I had to climb over walls up to 12 ft. high (not so easy for this vertically challenged individual).  I had to get creative, use the posts holding up that wall to hoist myself up and over.  You may have to get creative to get over your walls (use the computer at the library until yours is fixed, write during those 15 minutes before the doctor is ready to see you, get up a half hour earlier). Find a way.  Get yourself over the wall. Keep yourself going.

Stay focused.  It’s necessary, especially when you’re crawling under barbed wire in muddy water.  Staying low also helps.  And when you are on your hands and knees crawling through a tunnel of complete darkness, just persevere.  You will finish that novel.  There will be a light at the end.  And another obstacle around the next corner…

Life is full of obstacles, full of mud – petty annoyances, dirty to-do stuff.  Mud is messy.  It’s there to slow you down, burden you.  Keep your eyes open.  Find higher, firmer ground, where not as many people have tread before.  And suddenly you may find yourself racing past all the others stuck in that mud.

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