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There should be a joke that starts like this: “An introvert went to a writing conference…” Heck, maybe there is. Today, I think I am the joke.  I feel like I need about two weeks cloistered in a silence observing monastery somewhere.

However – although I feel like I’ve been boiled for hours and forced through a colander afterward, the PNWA conference was a lovely experience and I am so glad I went. As I sit down to write this post I hardly know where to begin – there is too much to hope to share all of it with any coherence.

It seemed that all energy was focused on pitching, at least through ’til Sunday night. Writers met – in the hallways, at lunch, waiting in lines for one thing or another – and jockeyed for the opportunity to pitch each other their stories. Agents looked a bit like deer in hunting season, wide eyed and vaguely alarmed, hoping to meet a marvelous author and get an awesome pitch, and at the same time fearful of being trapped in a corner by a rabid writer with a three page written pitch and the burning zeal to deliver every detail of a 300,000 word fiction novel.

As it turned out, agents and editors are very human after all (who knew?) and were, I think, as nervous and overwhelmed by the whole event as the writers. Some of them were chock full of intelligence, grace, and generosity, with just a few who were, well – never mind. I didn’t meet anybody who might have been a tiny bit egocentric. Not at all.

What did I learn? I don’t know yet. There are bits and pieces of wisdom bobbing around in my head, none of it coalesced just yet, but I would guess the most important things are the ones at the top, the ones that have already moved me to action.

From Bob Mayer – Have a Plan. After listening to Bob, the very first night I opened up my calendar and put some dates on it for goals. The manuscript should be done by this date, revised by this date, queried by this date. I want my book to be published within three years. That sort of thing. Of course, by the end of the conference I had completely revised my goals and added a few new ones, but the lesson remains the same.

From Andrea Hurst, agent extraordinaire – The first sentence and the first page of your novel might be all you get to impress an agent. Does it stand out from the crowd? I actually stopped several hours into my drive home yesterday to revise my first sentence, and am still pondering the first page. Also from Andrea – the reminder that your book should be connected to your blog, and your blog should be drawing people to your book. I have some ideas about this that excite me, although there is a fair bit of work attached.

From my writing friends – one agent might be totally blase about your pitch, the next excited. It’s a subjective business. You need to find the right person.

From editor Paul Dimas and agent Rita Rozenkrantz – I may have a non-fiction book in me. I am inspired enough to do some research, to investigate this niche, to see whether the need I think is there truly exists.

Other random things – have fun. Follow your imagination, but pay attention to the market. The world is changing. We need stories, and will continue to need them whether in book or electronic formats. There is money to be made in the non-fiction market.

Well, I have work to do: material to send out to agents; real life tasks put on hold for the last few days while I focused completely on writing. And, I have writing to do. That doesn’t ever stop, no matter what.

Outside my window today, the world is beautiful and white. The cat curls into the chair next to me, recovering her composure after a disconcerting encounter with snow. As for me, I inhabit a small bubble of peace in the middle of work, holiday baking and decorating, and the other real life pressures that have chosen to present themselves during this very busy month of the year.

There’s a manila envelope on my desk addressed to me in my own handwriting, containing a dream that once again has returned to me rather than reaching the desired destination. It sits there as a reminder, not yet put away, that dreams perhaps would be better invested in other aspects of my writing and my life.

Long ago, an exercise meant to be taught to my counseling clients taught me a very important lesson, which I’m about to share with the rest of you. Maybe you know this already – it seems simple, on the face of things, and yet most of us live our lives disregarding a simple principle that makes a world of difference in the thought processes.

Make a quick list of the things you worry about. Mine would look something like this:

1. Finances

2. Getting senior to college next year

3. Finding an agent for Filling in the Blanks

4. Finishing Swimming North

I won’t bore you with more. The next step is to break each one of those elements down into units of responsibility. For example:

Finances:

Q. How much of this is my responsibility right now?

A. About 60%

Q. How much time do you spend worrying about it every day?

A: Not a lot. A few minutes here and there, more when I’m paying bills.

Q: Are you doing everything you can to fulfill your part of the responsibility?

A: Yes.

This is a fairly healthy ratio of responsibility/worry. Now let’s look at finding an agent.

Q: How much of this is my responsibility right now?

A: About 50%, I guess – the part about getting the queries out to appropriate agents.

Q: And how much time do you spend fretting about it every day?

A: Do I have to answer that? (A lot)

Q: Are you doing everything you can to fulfill your part of the responsibility?

A: Yes.

And here there is a problem. The reality is, I only have control over maybe half of this process. I can research, I can send out the query letters. That’s it. I can’t make an agent fall in love with my book. And yet, I’m expending a tremendous amount of my energy on worrying and fretting and angsting about this. Where the energy rightfully belongs, is on the things that are under my control, and that are my responsibility. Energy expended where it doesn’t belong takes away from proactive and productive work on other fronts, rather like spraying a fire extinguisher into the air when there’s a fire in my kitchen. Nothing productive is done, and I get burned, along with everything else that is important to me.

Writing another and better book, now, that is another story. Fully 100% of that is in my power. Any energy I expend toward the writing of that book goes directly to an effective place. I can learn, I can study, I can perfect my craft.

That said, I think it’s time to move on with the day. Time to go to the storage unit, and load the trash into the truck for a trip to the dump. Time to do some Christmas shopping. And later, time to finish editing this draft of Swimming North and get ready to move on to querying.

Yes, it is that time again. Time to take stock of where I am in my writing life, and where I am going. I would prefer to just keep on writing and believe that somehow, magically, one of my books will be published. The fantasy goes something like this:

I’m sitting outside on a sunny afternoon with a cup of coffee, writing away on the newest manuscript. The words are flowing freely, the characters are brilliant and witty, and I’m completely immersed in the creative process.

My phone rings.  I do not leap out of my chair and spill coffee all over my laptop because I am not on call, and have learned to accept a ringing phone as a harbinger of human relationships and maybe even good news, rather than a signal of disaster. I answer the phone, and a pleasant and professional voice inquires,”Is this Uppington Smythe?”

“Why yes, can I help you?”

“Ms. Smythe, this is Agent X – of Prestigious Literary Agency Y. I stumbled across your manuscript this morning – pardon me? Oh, no – you didn’t send it to me. I believe that a friend of a friend of yours, who happens to be my identical twin sister,  was so impressed by it that they brought it in and urged me to read. I dropped everything and fell instantly in love.”

“I’m – speechless, Agent X.”

“I believe your book can be a bestseller. I am prepared to offer you a contract, right this moment. In fact, I have a publisher standing by with a lucrative advance in hand.”

Yeah. In my defense, I’ve been working on Swimming North, which involves surreal reality shifts. But I am not demonstrably insane, and I know it will never go down this way. When I find an agent, when I get published, it will be because I worked hard at perfecting my craft AND paid attention to the business of publishing. I wish that the writing were enough, but I know that it’s not.

And so. What are the next steps I need to take?

  1. Query widely. Yep. It’s about time to send out more queries on Filling in the Blanks.  Every agent from the last mailing who is going to respond has probably already done so. Sadly, the blank spaces on my tracking sheet that indicate ‘no response’ should probably be interpreted as ‘NO.’
  2. Finish Next WIP. I’m actually on this one. Swimming North is undergoing the scrutiny of my beta readers as we speak. As soon as the critiques roll in, it’s back to revisions and edits (hopefully the final draft).  While I’m waiting, I’m running edits on my first novel ever, a YA Fantasy, which has been dust gathering for several years. When I brushed it off, I decided it deserves a shot at the spotlight. There is a problem though – when I set out to write it I was oblivious of the publishing industry and just wrote a book. What I now have is a YA fantasy of about 95,000 words. Yeah. I’m paring it down as much as I can, and I will query it, but I know it’s likely to get turned down sight unseen due to length. The good news it – I am capable of learning. I now know better than this. If I write another YA Fantasy, it will be shorter.
  3. Write Queries and Synopses. While I am working on revisions and edits, I will also be working on queries and synopses for both Swimming North and Losaria. This way, as soon as the manuscripts are polished and ready to go, I can begin accumulating rejection letters on three novels at once.  Because I believe that with every new novel I write, and every new rejection letter I receive, I am that much closer to YES.

As always, I’m interested in every body else’s progress toward goals. Where are you at, and where are you going?

I have very little to say today.

It’s Friday, in case nobody has noticed.  My weekend has started early – at 8:30 this morning, to be precise.  Now don’t be jealous – I’ve earned it. My on call shifts have been – interesting – lately, and I am exhausted.

Still, I have dragged myself to this blog site, (cue cartoon of half dead character crossing a bone littered desert, vultures circling, trying to reach the last Oasis) for the sole purpose of checking in with everybody else and seeing what is going on in your various writing worlds.

Not a lot of writing for me this week, but I’m still chipping away at Swimming North, while continuing the query process with Filling in the Blanks. The WIP has taken some interesting liberties with its own structure and story line, as I mentioned previously. As it turns out, I thoroughly approve of the direction things are headed.  As usual, the writing knew what it was talking about.

Since I really am grasping for words this morning, I’d like to share a couple of other blogs with you.

First, for some hilarious takes on the whole query process, go to Julie Butcher’s website and check out the guest posts on the Seven Stages of Query Grief. (The link should take you to # five, anger.  Make sure to go back and read the others, as they are truly funny and insightful.)

Second, another publishing blog I ran across recently is the often darkly irreverent The Rejecter, subtitled “I don’t hate you. I just hate your query letter.”  Good insights into what might be going through the mind of a Query Reader.

So, now, to the challenge. What are your plans for your WIP? I think it’s about time we shared some specific, time anchored goals for what we’re working on and where we are going.  Unfortunately, as soon as I wrote that sentence, I realized I haven’t got such a goal.

Honestly, my goal for the weekend is to do as little as possible while keeping my head in the creative novel space, editing and formatting the WADMHP newsletter, doing regular household chores, and getting three teenage boys ready for the first day of school on Monday.  Beyond that, I’m not prepared to think.

I hope the rest of you are braver and more organized. Please dive in.  Don’t be shy.  Maybe you’ll inspire me and others in the writing world.

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