February beginnings

It’s early Februarywe’ve had snow, but it has melted. Another cold snap is in the forecast. There’s been mud, too early for the spring thaw, but it has brought on the itch for flowers and green and warmth, none of which have arrived. For me, February is a month of patience (if I can find it) or frustration (if I can’t).

February is also a month that is a little bit late for giving a year-end update (bye, 2018!), but I hope you’ll bear with me anyway. Writing is often a slow task that seems to go nowhere. But a year of doing work slowly will still have markers of progress.

My biggest achievement of 2018: I finished my first novel.

Phew! That fact deserves its own line. And then a line of people cheering and toasting with champagne and me being hoisted onto shoulders. Not all of those things happened, but I fully celebrated the completion of the book. I’m still a little in awe of thisI wrote a novel!!

Then I promptly turned my attention to the next step: finding a literary agent. Publishing houses and editors are a small group of people with very specific interests and tastes. Literary agents have the important role of finding new writing and authors they love and helping that work find a home in the publishing landscape with the best possible partner. So I’ve been sending query letters to literary agents: emails about the novel I wrote, about who I am, and why I think we’d work well together. Keep your fingers crossed that I’ll find someone who loves my book as much as I do and has a good sense where it might fit in the publishing market.

Since I finished the novel, I’ve been researching the next book idea and have been following my muse as she’s given me other ideas. I’ve written a few creative nonfiction essays. I finished a new short story. I even wrote a few poems.

And all through 2018, I’ve been submitting stories and essays to literary magazines. I didn’t have much to show for this submitting other than a whopping 131 rejections (three of them had nice comments, though). Perhaps this is another reason this update is a little belated. Yeah, I finished the book, but then that turned into a pile of rejections from agents. Yeah, I’ve been writing short stories and essays, but that turned into an even bigger pile of rejections. Last year didn’t have much to show for all of that work.

And then in January: an acceptance.

That deserves it’s own line, too. I submitted an essay that I’d just finished, and it was accepted by the first place I sent it. I almost couldn’t wrap my brain around it. It was joy and surprise and excitement and validation and all the grief from all the rejections that happened to get me there.

Stay tuned: my essay will be published by The Threepenny Review later this year.

One of my favorite movies is The Shawshank Redemption. The main character is in prison, and he writes one letter a week to the state for support to expand the library. After six years, they send him crates of secondhand books and records and a check for $200. Then they ask him to please stop sending letters.

He looks up, a half-smile on his face, and says, “Now I’ll write two letters a week.”

2019 is the year of “two letters a week.” A year where I’ll keep sending out my stories and essays, trusting that the next acceptance will come. Where I will seek to find a great literary agent to represent my novel. Where I’ll follow the next novel idea, the next story idea, the next poem.

It’s February. The journey starts again, as it always does, and it continues. It starts wherever I am.

December musings

It’s December. It’s cold outside, the ground has seen its first covering of sparkling snow, and sunset seems to be getting closer and closer to 4pm. It’s hibernation season. It’s also the season where I find myself looking back on the year that’s passed and to looking forward to what’s coming next.

This past year saw me happily revising the novel that I wrote as part of National Novel Writing Month last November. While the revision process has been slow, hindered by an interstate move and adjusting to my first year at a new job, it has been steady.

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Second draft – done and relaxing on the porch

Slow but steady saw me to the completion of the second draft of the novel in July. It was a day worth celebrating in many respects. I was in Mt. Vernon, Oregon, enjoying a writer’s retreat with three other women who have been writing colleagues of mine for almost ten years. We worked consistently for three days together, 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off. And 45 minutes at a time, in what was a culmination of seven months of work, I finished the second draft.

Since July, I’ve been finally doing the task I put off as long as possible – intensive research. Parts of fiction are invented, yes, but stories are grounded in the real world. Nothing throws me out of a narrative faster than when a “good” swimmer shows up in a novel, but he can’t break a minute in the 100-yard freestyle. Novelists must get the details right. Their credibility depends on it.

I’m taking the time to get the details right. I’ve read more nonfiction than I prefer, I’m overdue to give a donation to Wikipedia, and my friends who are doctors and teachers and veterinarians are probably very sick of talking to me about my very random questions. (Don’t worry, friends, your place is secure in my acknowledgements page.) The result of four months of research? This week I finally jumped in to the third draft of the novel.

So far so good! The first week in the third draft feels energized and solid and full of potential. I’m looking forward to seeing how far this will go in 2017.

National Novel Writing Month

It’s official, I’m a winner of National Novel Writing Month!

Nanowrimo

For those of you have haven’t heard of National Novel Writing Month (otherwise known as Nanowrimo) here’s the scoop: in the month of November, write 50,000 words or about 200 pages. It doesn’t have to be good. It doesn’t have to be a final draft. It just has to be new words, written on a story, in the 30 days in November. To be a winner, you have to meet the 50,000 word goal.

I made it! I hit 50,215 words on the morning of November 30. The story wasn’t quite finished, so I kept writing for the rest of the week. I finished the first draft of the novel last Monday. It clocks in at just over 54,000 words (about 220 pages), but I have more to add as I revise. I’ll dive in to the second draft in January, once I can see straight again.

The most striking lesson for me from Nanowrimo was that it forced me to take my writing out into the world in a way that hadn’t happened before. Sure, I’ve written at coffee shops and while traveling, but this has been the exception, not the rule. My habit is to write in the morning, at home.  If it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen, and that writing day is gone. With Nanowrimo, I couldn’t afford to lose any days. I needed to write in the morning, yes, but if I didn’t get far enough into my daily word count, I needed to write after dinner, or before, or whenever I could find fifteen minutes and a keyboard.

And so I did!  In the month of November, I wrote:

  • In the mornings, at my desk.
  • In the evenings, exhausted from just starting a new job, with a keyboard in my lap and a dog curled up by my side.
  • At Powell’s Bookstore because I still had 30 minutes left on my parking meter after an afternoon meeting.
  • At my local library because I just had to get out of the house.
  • At my friend’s house the day after Thanksgiving, both of us up early, he working on a presentation, me typing typing typing.
  • In the car while my husband was driving.  Or while it was parked.
  • At Burgerville, while my husband was running errands.
  • At my parents’ dining room table.
  • On my sister’s couch, tapping out as many words as I could before other people woke up.

This taught me that writing can happen anywhere, anytime. The muse shows up because I’ve shown up. Writing doesn’t have to be a sacred act that can only happen when the stars are aligned and the tea is hot and the phone is off. It can happen when it’s raining and I’m tired and the day has already been long. It happens because it has to.

And now it is December. I’ve given myself this month to play, to enjoy friends and family over the holidays, to submit stories and write blog posts (this one!) and maybe dabble in finishing a flash fiction or two. And then in January, the revising will start. Maybe it will happen at my desk in the mornings… maybe not. But it will happen. It has to.