Filling in the blanks…

For most of my life, I have considered myself an introvert.  It’s taken me the better part of 30 years to realize that in fact, I am very much an extrovert and also a bit of an ‘acquired taste’.  I don’t give a whole lot of myself away the first time I meet someone, or maybe even the first few meetings. I like to think of myself as a good cup of coffee (or glass of wine), the first sip is good, but a few sips in and you find the sweet spot.  The past few weeks I have been documenting some of my first troubles and trials as an aspiring writer.  I have shared bits and pieces of myself in the process but I’ve let you know very little about the book itself or the girl behind the story.  If you will bear with me for just a moment, I would like a chance to fill in a few of those blanks.  After all, you’ve been with me four weeks now, we are WELL into the goodness of that cup/glass/bottle…

WHO am I?

I think I cover this well in my ‘About’ section, but if you still need a bit more…  I’m a middle child, an ‘old soul’, and what I like to consider a (mostly) ‘practical dreamer’.  My mom once told me that I “missed a good chance to be a fifties housewife”.  I am blessed to have a pretty great ‘poker face’ which I often use to my advantage.  I also have a fear of heights, which I tried to overcome in a moment of courageous insanity by ‘paragliding’.  It was an incredible experience, there are pictures to prove it, but it did NOT work.

WHAT have I written?

At last count, I have six children’s book manuscripts. My current WIP (work in progress) is a cheerful story about a young boy who discovers the power of his own imagination.  The main character overcomes a bout of boredom without technology or T.V., using only a healthy dose of his own creativity energy.  The first draft of this story came to me one sticky, hot summer afternoon but I have (almost) completely revised and rewritten it four times since that day.  I’ve used professional editors, asked lots of questions, and a picked the brains of a couple of people who really know what they’re talking about.  It’s designed to give the illustrations a chance to tell the REAL story and is written in rhyme (which is MUCH more difficult than you would expect….more on that another day).

WHEN will all of this payoff?

THAT is the million dollar question.  The publishing process is a painfully slow one.  Earlier this month, I sent my latest edition of the manuscript to another editor, and I am eagerly waiting for her feedback.   After another round of re-writing, I can only hope that the book is in good enough shape for submission.  There are two paths that can be taken at this point, I can look for an agent or I can look for a publisher.  The agent, if I chose that route, will look for a publisher with me and help me to navigate the publishing process.  The publishing houses don’t require authors to have an agent, however, and often times securing an agent is easier with a published book on your resume.  It feels a bit like a Chicken-Or-The-Egg dilemma.  If you have an opinion on the matter I would love to hear it! I wish I had a crystal ball.

WHERE do I write?

You name it, I’ve probably written there (at least jotting down mental notes).  My favorite places to write are at my little white desk, curled up in a cozy brown chair, or sitting outside in the south Louisiana sunshine.

WHY I do write?

  • For myself… Once my thoughts and ideas are down on paper they become more tangible for and things often come into focus. I write so that I can hear myself think.
  • For my husband… because I am cranky when I don’t, and without a doubt, more difficult to live with. I write because I am my best self when I do so.  He is wonderful and I want to give him my best.
  • For my children… so that they always believe in themselves and chase after their own dreams (as cliché as that sounds). I want them to think outside of their own box and understand that exercising their creative ‘muscle’ is as important as any other.  I have a daughter who has the spirit of an artist, a middle son who delights in telling a good story, and a three-year-old who loves to perform, maybe one of these lessons will be a big one for them.
  • For other children… and the adults who love them. I fell in love with books while I was sitting beside the adults who first read to me. Over time being read-to, became reading-with, and then reading-to those same people. I yearn to create those same kinds of moments for children; mine and others.  I fully believe that arming children with a love of reading inspires a love of learning, which will contribute to a better world for us all.
  • For the stories inside of me… William Faulkner said, “If a story is in you, it has got to come out.” I’m beginning to understand what a painful struggle it can be to harness inspiration and creativity, and also how necessary it is.  These stories are as much a part of me as I am of them.  I love them enough to give them fertile soil, sun and room to grow, even if it means exposing them to the elements of rejections, editing, and opinions.

HOW did I get here?

This is a question I’m still trying to answer, but with each day I’m growing more excited to see where this journey will take me.

This was a long one! Thanks for sharing this time with me.

Hope you all have a safe and happy Mardi Gras!

Thanks for reading, come back anytime,

-JP

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Put a sleep cycle on it…

It’s safe to say that one of the hardest and most significant lessons I’ve learned in my journey as a writer up until now, is the importance of being patient.  In my ‘day job’ (aka the one that currently helps to pay the bills), ‘put a sleep cycle on it’ is a technique used often in conflict resolution.  I’m not sure where the phrase started, but it means put your thoughts down on paper, and then step away.  The following day, revisit your work with a less emotional view and then proceed. Very rarely is that first draft or decision the route you decide to take.  A better, more effective course of action almost certainly emerged, and it’s all thanks to a good night sleep. Here in my writing world, I’m starting to understand that more than just ‘good practice’ it needs to become my mantra.  As eager as I am, to share my creation with the world, time is not the enemy.  Time, in fact, it should become my dearest friend and closest ally.  The longer I chip away at my current project, the better it gets.  I deeply regret each and every time I have submitted it before now.  I cringe when I think of the publishing houses that read my sub-par work.  I owe the agents who read my earlier revisions in their slush pile an apology. In all of those over eager submissions, I did myself a disservice, my beloved manuscript an injustice and wasted the time of people I am trying desperately to impress.

This is such a struggle for me because stepping away is painful.  After a good session of writing, closing my computer and shutting off my brain sometimes feels impossible.  Like a proud parent, over-posting pictures of my kids on social media, I want to share my story with the world.  Up until this point, I am a strange mix-breed of ‘self-taught’ and ‘winging it’.  (I say that out of envy of those who did study Children’s Literature.)  My education took me in a very different direction than where I’m headed now.  Though I love the career path that has filled the past 10 years, I am acutely aware that there is so much I don’t know in regards to the publishing industry.  In fact, I worry that I don’t even know how much I don’t know.  This ignorance is not bliss, this ignorance is scary.  When I think back to the very beginning of this journey, however, I wish someone had told me, (or more likely, I wish I had read somewhere) “HOLD ON!  Don’t send it yet.  I know you think it’s good but it’s not quite there yet.  You need to wait. Wait some more.  Read it again. Write it again. Wait. More Waiting. More writing. And repeat… like 5 times.”  If I’m honest with myself, I’m sure that I DID read that somewhere, it was just sugar coated and easy to overlook. I needed it in bold, italics, underlined in 72pt font highlight in red.

This manuscript is my first venture in this new line of work; my first born child if you will.  I know that 20 years from now, I won’t love this one any more than my other books. (Thinking positively!)  If I’m lucky, however, I will have the painful, awkward, fumbling memories of figuring it out.  This book and others have been years in the making. Much of that time, I had nothing more than a ‘feeling’ that there was a story I need to tell.  (Maybe I don’t need to explain that to you, if you’ve found your way here, then there’s a good chance you understand.) As it continues to take shape, I know that there are other mistakes on my horizon.  Likely, some mistakes will be even more consequential than those first ill-fated submissions.  As I approach ‘completion’ on my project, (I use the term loosely) I am a little older, a little wiser, and a lot more aware of how many pieces are in this puzzle.  In the mean time, I’ll continue to chip away at it, puzzle pieces, sleep cycles and all, keeping my eye on the (published) prize.  I promised myself that I cannot hit ‘send’ until I’ve slept on it and someone else has read it, providing me with some honest feedback. (Thank goodness for sisters and their loving, albeit sometimes brutal opinions.) If you’re on a similar journey, I’d love to hear from you.  I hope we can learn together.

Thanks for reading, come back anytime!

-JP

Pardon the Interruption

I have a confession to make. I fell short of my goal to read 12 books in 2016.  Truth be told, I’m not nearly as avid of a reader as you would expect.  I do have good reason, however, and it’s not what you would think because I absolutely LOVE to read… therein lies my problem.  I love to read so much that a good book will absolutely consume me.  Few things will sour my mood faster than having to abruptly stop reading and see to someone else’s needs.  I have a young family, for the good of everyone I had to cut back.  In my last post, I talked about an earlier tendency to lose myself in my school work (see Florence & Ursula), and the same is absolutely true for my writing.  You don’t have to dig too deep to find that I have been writing for my entire (adult) life.  I’m one of those people who have volumes of college-ruled spiral-bound notebooks, filled cover to cover with different writings and musings.  I write in moments of joy, sorrow, prayer and everything in between.  For as long as I can remember, I have dedicated 20-30 minutes of (almost) every day to writing. The times that I’ve fallen out of this habit have, without a doubt, been my most unsettled and un-centered.  As I’m making the transition from writing for pleasure to writing with a purpose, I can easily be consumed by the desire to write.  When I feel a wave of creativity or inspiration, I literally want to drop everything and head to my computer.  The trouble is, that is rarely an option.  With kids, a husband, a job and other areas of involvement, most days I don’t get to write nearly as much as I want to, and it affects me.

After receiving a rejection letter from one of my ill-fated, over-eager submissions, I hit a patch of “What’s the point?”  (Have you been there?… “What’s the point?”, “I’m wasting my time”, etc. etc.)   For the three weeks or so that I avoided my computer, I was irritable, restless, and short- tempered. I remember thinking that I needed a kick-boxing class, to give myself a release for all the pent-up, unhappy energy I was filled with.  Alas, there was no kickboxing class to be found, and that wasn’t what I needed anyway.  After a moment of clarity, I did something even better than punching the air; I re-read my manuscript and started writing again.   It was after I returned from my brief, but painful hiatus, that I realized I feel the same irritation when my writing is interrupted as when my reading is.  I also quickly recognized that stepping back from writing is not an option, as evidenced by my terrible mood in the preceding weeks (as evidenced by… a nursing term that just slipped right in.)  I found myself with a similar problem in need of a different solution.

Instead of rushing to my computer every time the desire strikes me, I’m trying to schedule time in each day where I can dedicate myself to it, and hold on to my thoughts until I get there. The most obvious and important change is the fact that I am writing with more intention.  Scheduling writing time for myself, and honoring those boundaries, allows me to share more present energy to the precious little (and big) people around me.    What’s been an interesting development for me, is that as I am learning how to channel my creativity, I am finding unexpected benefits to it.  It seems that the longer the ideas and inspiration have to sit in my head until I can find my computer, the stronger they are once I put them on paper.   What always felt like a hindrance, may actually be a great tool in my writing toolbox.  When I’m channeling my creative urges, I find that my writing-brain feels healthy and in better shape than ever.  Now, as a writer, I can be productive whether I’m at my computer, in the carpool line or traveling on business.

Ironically enough, I’ve been interrupted at least a dozen times in the past 600 words… it’s like they’re reading over my shoulder and forcing me to put these things into practice.  (Since “they” are toddlers, I know it’s not possible).  If I want to be taken seriously as a writer, and continue to pursue this dream long term, I need to figure out how to have writing fit seamlessly into the life that surrounds me.   So I take my lessons in patience (more on that another day), add it to this new creative channeling process and maybe I’ll be closer to finding my perfect writing formula.

 

Thanks for reading, come back anytime,

-JP