Step-One Complete: Polished the Manuscript – Again

So in preparation for self-publishing for the first time I just finished an edit of my manuscript.  Now I’ve lost count of just how many revisions this book has been through, but this one had extra weight.  Every once and awhile while I had the thought, “People might actually read this,” and I felt a mixture of excitement and panic that almost got in the way of what I was doing.  But I kept going and, yay!, now it’s ready to go off to my two proofreaders.

It’s getting closer.

Now I just have to design a cover, figure out the marketing/pricing, do another edit based off the comments from my proofreaders, and probably six other things I haven’t even thought of get.

Excitement and panic seem about right.

The Joy of Editing

So about a month and a half ago I wrote this post about my decision to pursue self-publishing.  One of the biggest steps toward that goal is getting the manuscript as clean and ready as I can possibly make it.  I have help – a great critique partner who is giving me notes, and two good proofreaders who have volunteered to read the “final” draft for me.

Still I am doing a lot of editing.  It’s wonderful, painstaking work.  Tweaking a word or two, Googling (and texting my aforementioned critique buddy) about grammar, fine tuning the dialogue of multiple characters etc.   Yesterday I was particularly diligent, spending about five hours in the thick of it.

Now, I’m one of those weird authors who actually loves this process.  I love it so much that I wish I could have kept doing it deep into the night and all day today, and every minute until eye strain or comma consternation finally wore me out.

But like so many writers out there – I had to stop working so I could go to work, dangit.

Don’t get me wrong, my other jobs are actually pretty great.  But this week I’m loving editing and loving writing so much that I wish it was the only thing I really had to do.

And it’s an amazing feeling.

Writing Class – Revisited


The first creative writing class I took in college was a disaster.

Me, the girl who scribbled stories furiously in her notebooks between classes, got an F.  The professor was a stellar example of how NOT to be a writing teacher.  She’d missed the memo that criticism, especially directed at young writer, should be constructive not caustic.  After several assignments in which she made me feel like something she’d scraped off her shoe I quit going.

I was a young woman who desperately wanted to be a writer, and had no idea how to do it.  I needed a mentor, a guide, or at the very least someone to actually teach me how to get better – and the only thing that class taught me was that choosing to be a writer can sometimes be extremely painful.

Luckily, since then I’ve had better experiences.   While pursuing graduate work in another field I was able to sneak in a couple of writing classes.  And they were great.  I learned a lot, had teachers who actually taught, and even better, heartily encouraged me to keep writing and gave me every hope that I might be writing things other people would want to read.

Even that was a long time ago though. These days I’m the professor not the student.   I’ve pondered an MFA – but when you have a PhD in another field more school seems a little crazy, a little too extravagant.

But thanks to a tuition reduction from the college where I work, tonight I walked into “Intro. to Novel Writing.”  Just an undergrad class, of course, but I was so excited, like five-year-old on Christmas Eve excited, to be back learning about writing again.  Granted the ghost of that first infamous disaster class is always there, but n0w I have enough experience to have walked out if I caught a whiff of that kind of garbage.

Tonight was everything I wish that first class had been.  Fun, exciting, communal, inspiring – with just enough challenge to make it interesting.  I admit, it’s  hard sometimes not to look back and wonder what might have happened if I’d had a decent teacher in that first college class.  But I know it’s better to focus on the present, and on the good things in life – and I think my new writing class is definitely one of them.





Reading as A Writer – Part II

Last week I talked a little bit about what reading can teach you as a writer.  There’s also one or two other things that happen when you analyze a favorite book to figure out how it works.

  1. It can be terrifying to realize how brilliant the author really is.  There are some authors who pull off feats that seem beyond that of a normal person.  I generally have this experience when I think about Possession by A.S. Byatt – yeah there’s some content in that book that isn’t my favorite.  But to pull off not only multiple points of view in multiple centuries, but to write the poetry of two separate characters with two radically different styles?  I’m not sure I’m ever going to have what it takes to pull off something like that but…
  2. You also learn that they construct their books one word and one sentence at a time, just like you do – and sometimes they are average, normal, even (gasp!) occasionally clunky sentences.  I was doing a close reading of a book which I, as a reader, have always loved – but once I started picking it apart I realized that I would have jettisoned the prologue, and well, there’s a confusing sentence in the first chapter, and…it’s always extremely heartening to realize that maybe you don’t have to write the perfect book in order to write a great one.

Osmosis and Analysis: Reading as a Writer

One of the universal pieces of advice for aspiring writers is to read as much as possible.  I’m always thrilled with this advice, because I am a crazy voracious reader and this gives me even more justification for it – I’m “working” right?

I think you do unconsciously  absorb things just by reading a lot of books – almost an osmosis kind of thing.  What you love and what you hate, what works and what doesn’t, all find their way into your brain to be stored and sorted when it comes time for you to write your story.  In addition I think reading widely can prevent you from getting tunnel vision or becoming too much of a mimic of any one particular style.

I also think you can learn a lot from a close analysis of certain books.  For example, I dug into Maggie Steifvater’s Scorpio Races because I admired how strong & beautiful a role the setting played in the book – and the slow building love story.  I underlined, wrote margin notes, and learned some really practical things from the close read. Of course, I only did this after I’d read the book for pure enjoyment a few times – I wouldn’t have wanted to lose the forest for the trees, so to speak.

So I’d like to think that every writer I’ve ever read has taught me something about how to write a book.  Thank you.



To Self-Publish or Not To Self-Publish

A couple of weeks ago I went to dinner with some friends.  One of these awesome women has read one of my novels and the other has built a wildly successful business in a creative field.  In the process of this dinner the idea of potentially self-publishing my work came up and they both strongly encouraged me to do it.  Their basic argument was why not put yourself out there and see what happens?

Follow that up with my critique partner, another brilliant friend, and my husband all being uber-supportive and even offering help to figure out the editing if I want to go that route.

I have been contemplating self-publishing for a couple of years now, but have reluctant to go that route for several reasons:

  • One of the key hallmarks of a successful self-published author is the fact that they eventually got a traditional publishing contract.  So why not put your energy into that in the first place?
  • The level of editing and marketing involved in creating the kind of professional project I would want has always felt a little daunting, expensive, and out of my comfort zone.
  • The fear that my work just simply isn’t good enough – and that’s why I haven’t been able to find an agent/publisher.

I think these are all still legitimate concerns, but in addition to the support from my friends and family, one other realization has pointed me in the self-publishing direction –

The thing I want most in my writing life, that I don’t currently have, is more people reading my work.

Don’t get me wrong I’d love to be a New York Times Bestseller and win a Newberry Award and have my novels made into movies – but really I just want people to read, and hopefully enjoy,  my stories.

To share those imagined friends of mine with the world.

So I’ve started mapping out a plan to self-publish one of my books.  That plan has literally dozens of steps – some of which I don’t even know how to do,  but I admit I’m officially working on it.

Scary stuff.



Angst & Gratitude: This Week in my Writer’s Life

Over the last week I’ve been listening to archives of Sara Zarr’s podcasts called This Creative Life It’s one of those wonderful things that you discover after it’s been running for years and you wonder why no one has ever told you about it before.

Zarr interviews all kinds of creative people (with a heavy dose of writers) about their creative process, the roadblocks in their work, and how they manage the joys and challenges that come from being a creative professional.

This experience has stirred up mixed emotions.  On one hand, I love being able to listen to these podcasts during the slow moments of my non-writing job. It keeps me thinking about my work and makes me feel like a writer even when I can’t physically be typing/scribbling away.  I also like that many of her guests have “day jobs” and talk about how to fit the writing life in around them.

The tough part of these podcasts is how much angst I feel listening to these talented people talk about doing serious creative work that has found an audience.   I’ve received two particularly tough rejections in the last month (tough because in both cases there had been some actual hope).  As a result I’ve allowed myself a few weeks to back off the submissions roller coaster and focus on writing my current novel.  But there’s a little part of my brain, that annoying practical side, that reminds me if I don’t submit, no one is ever going to read my work.

I tell people I’m a writer because I am.  I’ve finished three novels, a dissertation, over 100 poems,  and over the years in my other work life I have been paid to write blog posts and act as an editorial assistant.   But there’s still some disappointment and envy for the pieces I don’t have yet.

I know that the writing life I have now is a blessing – I have time, the basic resources, and at least some degree of skill for which I’m extremely grateful.  I also know that even once someone is published there’s still plenty of opportunities for angst and envy.  But I have to admit if I’m being honest about my experience right now –

I want more.

However, until then I’ll just keep writing – and being thankful for people like Sara Zarr and her guests who remind me about what I want, and why I’m doing this.