Learn how to recognize and understand your map of life

About two weeks ago, I was taking part in a short, guided meditation. During it, the speaker asked participants to imagine the turning points in their life… and suggested visualizing these moments as the connecting dots of an upward trajectory—and the creation of “the map of your life so far.”

For many of us, one or two or more of these turning points involve challenges and experiences so painful that we are not sure we can face them again—and certainly not with our eyes wide open.

A movie in my mind’s eye

While I had much joy in my life, about a decade ago, this is how I felt. And yet, now, for me, the experience of visualizing the turning points in my life, joyful or painful, was like watching a fast-paced, yet smooth progression… a movie in my mind’s eye… one that indeed revealed an upward trajectory.

I am not so sure this upward progression would have been obvious to me had I tried this exercise years ago.

I will never know. The “movie” might play, but I think I might have become stuck within three or more of the turning points because, in real life, I truly was stuck.

What happens when you’re stuck?

When stuck, the links in my map of life became obscured; the connections became severed, interrupted by my unchecked chattering mind. Left unobserved, my thoughts sometimes made an abundance of painful memories become overwhelmed by sadness, resentment, confusion, fear, or anger.

Back then, to me, my map of life might have resembled a crumpled piece of paper that when unfolded revealed a scribbling of detached lines going in all directions.

Now?

Now, things are different, and pleasantly so.

I have done the arduous work. I poured the results into my novel: REASONS Three Lives One Soul.

I have looked inward and scraped the darkest shadows for substance and definition.

What “works” for each of us is as different as we are from each other

Some of you might be ready to stop reading. I get you. I understand. Once, a therapist, recommended to me by a good friend, pulled out a scarf from her desk. She held one end, passed the other end to me, and asked me to pull on it as hard as I could.

Nope.

Not for me.

Fine for someone else, but not me.

My pain was deep, and I was so far from it, I did not know what it had in store for me then, and past then. Still now it holds mysteries.

Yet through all the flux, my map of life was growing and making connections, anyway. It did not need my permission.

The creation of your map is unique to you

This post, however, is not about my healing journey. I tell you a bit about my experience with pain because it is important to say that I know this journey well—and like many of you, the creation of my map formed from personal experience with both joy and pain—and not an assumption of what they might be like.

Besides, this healing journey of mine? I am still on it.

The remarkable change for me over the years is that I no longer fear my journey. Instead, I am grateful for it. Yes, that too might trigger eye-rolling. But, for me, my journey is a path to the truth; it is a path to my truth.

My journey has expanded my perspective, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

Okay, back to the map of life. Your map is unique to you. And, yes, my map is unique to me.

When the visualization suggested by the speaker unfolded in my mind, I saw myself in these fleeting yet obvious moments of my past. There I was as a child, as a teenager, as a young adult, as a woman forging her career, as a sister, a daughter, middle-aged—all coming and going through triumphs and failures, through trauma, through deaths of this and that… and of friends and family…

And yet.

And… yet.

A thread runs through it

There, whirling about these images, threaded throughout them, tying them all together into one long flowing line, was an underlying peacefulness, a rising joy… an opening up and unfolding of me.

And the thread? Well, that ‘essence’ was… is… who I am: the witness.

I discovered, no, I continue to discover that as the witness… I remain whole and true… as I have always been from the beginning of my existence.

During the meditation exercise, at the time to my surprise, in my mind’s eye, the visions of past to current turning points literally and effortlessly ran in an upward trajectory—like dots on an upward pointing arrow… with me the essence that breathed life into the whole of the movement.

The map of my life, so far, has led to authenticity, integrity, self-compassion, forgiveness, self-love, acceptance, letting go of what is not in my control… and so much more—while all the while clarifying that the unknown path ahead, even in the certainty of impermanence, has an infinite quality to it.

Now you have an idea of how to: Learn to read your map of life.

Learn how to enjoy having your creative work critiqued

Learn how to enjoy having your creative work critiqued might sound like an impossible assignment, but, in my experience, releasing the dislike or fear is about mindset.

As I’ve mentioned in an earlier blog post, the value of creating relationships with critique partners, I remember the jitters that came when first handing off a manuscript for critique.

Like most things precious to us, we don’t want to have our work dissected, altered, and criticized. We want it to remain whole, unchanged, and pleasing just as it is. And sometimes, we believe that our creation reflects us; so, critique it, and you critique us. We don’t enjoy hearing about the parts of our creation, and thus about us, the creator, that might need improvement.

But why are we so fragile about this? I can only speak for myself. Maybe you can relate.

When I first received a critique of the first draft of my manuscript, the many red markings in the margin (or wherever they fit) rose from the page like warning signals of personal failure. Even when I told myself I’d be okay with whatever came back to me, those pages of red markings were difficult to digest… at first.

The next day, after I’d slept on the comments, interestingly, I felt differently about them. One or two of the comments immediately stood out; their improvement to my work was undeniable. If one or two comments made that much of a positive difference, what might all the rest do?

And just like that, I transformed from a wounded ego to an eager creator once more—more excited about my project than ever.

Instead of fearing failure or personal judgment, I experienced renewed excitement about my manuscript, and deep gratitude for the person who’d taken the time to read it, and the care to comment so generously.

My mindset had changed. The critique experience became thoroughly positive; it became a lesson in which I quickly found great value. I was now excited to contemplate and evaluate each thought or suggestion given to me. I moved through each comment with care and consideration. For each critique provided, one of the following occurred:

  • I accepted a critique suggestion outright.
  • I used the clear misunderstanding of a critique remark to change a manuscript description, plot element, character intention, word choice, or another such manuscript-related component. Each change brought a noticeable improvement.
  • I reworked a critique to better suit the intention of my manuscript.
  • I altogether discarded a critique.

Sometimes, well… I’d say, most of the time, we’re too close to our work to see objectively where it needs improvement.

Here are a few examples of errors or omissions we can too easily miss:

  • Words that don’t convey the meaning we intend.
  • Improper use of pronouns.
  • Improper use of tense.
  • Repetition of phrases or words or overused expressions.
  • Use of cliches.
  • Misspelled words.
  • Holes or gaps; the missing bridges that connect the plot or scene structure.
  • Creation of a character who lacks depth or isn’t relatable to the reader.
  • Inconsistencies in the timeline or other details.

In time, handing a manuscript or some other heartfelt creation over to a peer for critique becomes easier. We,

  • Move past worrying about being judged and get back to the business of producing the best creation we can.
  • We see the remarkable value in each critique—even the critiques that at first seem too heavy-handed or harsh.
  • Each remark becomes a path to improvement of creation and craft.

To enjoy having your creative work critiqued might sound like an impossible assignment, but, in my experience, releasing the dislike or fear is about mindset.

Here’s a link to a critique partnering website I found helpful: CritiqueMatch

Discover how to describe you without I, me, you, mine, ours.

Discover how to describe you without I, me, you, mine, ours.

This is a writing exercise I heard about while attending an online summit during the height of the pandemic. I put it in my back pocket. Until now.

Here’s my attempt at the exercise, and what I learned:

Here’s my attempt at the exercise, and what I learned:

Each morning, the day pulls. It brings a golden glow and awakens the senses. Even if the mind has been active all night long, daylight calls on the spirit to pull itself out from beneath the covers; to shake off the drowsiness of slumber, and to rise. And so, eyes open, legs bend, arms move, hands grasp bed sheets, and out from the warmth they go.

What is ahead? What comes after stretching limbs, brushing teeth, feeding cats, sitting quietly in meditation, eating oatmeal with berries and maple syrup?   

A day of writing awaits. It starts with the opening of a laptop and the preparing of other electronic devices; the arranging of writing utensils; the placement of a cup of tea.

Before the writing begins, is the watching and listening and absorption of… the news.

The news. Sigh.

The news. Defeating.

The news…

Witness. Pause. Regroup.

What were the day’s plans?

Silence…

                        sort of.

Ah, yes. Write.

Just write.

But first… wait. Is it okay to carry on writing a novel while the world sits on the brink of a third world war? And while so many are suffering?

Yes.

I think so… yes.

The world watches. The world pays attention. The world must pay attention. And, at the same time, the world must keep going. It must keep creating, writing, dancing, and singing.

But it must also continue to bear witness. And, it must do more. It must help where and when it can. Not just talk. Help! Be present and help. Reach out. Give. Open doors. Connect and reconnect.

Remember, when one suffers, all suffer.

Could have been born anywhere. There. Could-have-been-born-there! And… would fight, too.

Oh, Canada. The True North, strong and free…

Breathe.

Come back.

Write.

What did I learn from this exercise?

The first thing I learned is that it’s an ongoing learning experience, like life.

For me, to discover how to describe myself without I, me, you, mine, ours, freed me from… well… superficial me. And instead, put an honest essence into the phrases created.

The writer is no longer separate from the creation.

There occurs a sort of re-connection with that which is embodied and always has been…. but is usually overwhelmed by a cerebral experience… when one becomes lost in thought.

Writing without pronouns is liberating.

A sort of rough poetry… a flowing of the senses from within the whole being emerges. And the writer leaves the ego behind.

What arises is the gleaming illumination of truth.

Try it. Discover how to describe you without I, me, you, mine, ours.

“Tend to the garden of the area you can reach.” Jack Kornfield

I’m published! Now what?

I’m published! Now what?

Time to just sit back and relax, right? Pardon me while I chuckle…

An author’s work doesn’t end when the book goes live—not if she wants her book to be noticed.

Without marketing the new release, it’s just lost in a sea of books; an enormous sea.

So, off goes the writing hat, and on comes the marketing cap. The writing hat is never far away because the next book is already in the works. And you know what? I’m cool with the workload, excited really.

The marketing aspect is difficult and fun. It’s another creative outlet.

Learning the ropes of Amazon Ads and Facebook Ads and such, while writing copy, is pretty darn challenging. But it can be fun. And writing the new book? Well, that’s a bit like starting a new book as a reader. Everything is fresh; a clean slate; a dawning of new ideas, characters, and plot. As a fiction writer, whether Plotter or Pantser, starting a new novel is thrilling.

And yet, each task, marketing or novel writing, is a full-time job. So, planning and balance are key. And when I say balance, I mean taking time off, getting outside, visiting friends. You get the idea.

I started marketing a year before my book was ready for publishing. As a new author, every step was a steep learning curve. Whether Indie or traditionally published, the author is often responsible for most of the marketing. And as an Indie publisher, the creation of the book’s interior and cover, as well as the coding for the eBook version, is in the hands of the author.

I read so much material and watched so many videos, I couldn’t possibly accurately list them all here. But I assure you that nowadays, good articles and ‘how to’ videos are pretty easy to find.

I created binders of information and sometimes wondered how I’d get through it all. But, bit by bit, I got more and more organized and my publishing and marketing plan took shape.

It started with an author platform—which is an ongoing project.

I learned how to create my website and social media presence—Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn. My website traffic grew slowly, but it grew (even without a product yet to sell). Social media presence is trickier. Authentically engaging with people while learning how to tell them about you and your book, without becoming a nuisance, is… well… often hit and miss. And, sometimes, the friends and family we thought would support us don’t always come through. Learning how to move forward without them is, at times, difficult, but critical. Believing in and trusting in yourself and your book is important. You put a lot of work into your book, every word chosen with purpose. So, support your efforts with self-compassion, and, well, heart-full, mindful intention.

An unknown author doesn’t build a fan base overnight. It takes dedication and effort and humility and patience.

Having said this, I’m glad I created my website when I did, and I’m proud of my efforts. Now that I’ve published my book, visitors to my well-established website have both my blog and my book to consider.

I’m published!

Time to keep at it. Pardon me while I smile…

I’m published! Now what?

How do we find time to write?




Like so many things we enjoy doing, writing can fade into the background of our busy lives. How do we find time to write?
 
In this post, I’ll share what’s helped me.
 
An important first step is to ask ourselves why we write—taking our time to answer; going deep.
 
A key second step is to take stock of what is making our lives so busy.
 
As the things we collect over time can become clutter in our homes, making it hard for us to maintain good health, find space for comfort, or function efficiently, our daily routines can become cluttered. We often mindlessly fill daily schedules with overvalued, unnecessary tasks. And other tasks that once held value develop into habits that no longer serve us.
 
Like the clutter that can accumulate and fill homes wall to wall, and sometimes, floor to ceiling, multiple tasks can creep into our lives and jam it; blocking the way toward doing what we truly value and enjoy. But, like when we take stock of the things in our homes, dividing these things into categories of keep, sell, or trash, we can examine our daily routines and put our tasks into categories of keep, delegate, or cease.
 
When I worked as a Project Manager in the custom-exhibit manufacturing industry, with its crazy deadlines and overlapping projects, I’d began working many an evening and weekend. Initially, during the truly busy times, these extra hours were necessary and useful. But, when the extra demanding projects ended, I’d keep working these additional hours, mindlessly giving up the time and energy I needed to take part in my personal life—the extra hours of work becoming a habit.

It wasn’t until I took mindful stock of how I was using my time that I realized what was once valuable was now just a habit with no true usefulness, and instead, was costing me too much time and energy and taking me away from what I truly wanted to do.
 
With the same method in which I examined my work habits, I looked at my daily tasks, taking stock of how I filled my daily routine.
 
Here are some questions I asked myself:
 
What purpose does this task serve? Is it still useful? Has it ever been useful?
Has this task lost its value and turned into an unnecessary habit?
Am I enjoying this task? Does it give me satisfaction, pleasure, or joy?
Can I do this task more efficiently? Can I do this task less often?
Can I stop doing it altogether?
Does it matter if I postpone this task? Who benefits from it?
Can another person do this task and free up my time?
 
The answers to these questions, and others you may come up with, can be enlightening. Often, the results are dramatic and immediate… with positive intention, of course.
 
Many of us remember to every so often remove the clutter from our homes, thus freeing up both physical and emotional space—and providing the breathing room we need to move about with comfort and ease.
 
In the same way, learning to evaluate regularly our daily routines can better organize, and often eliminate unnecessary tasks, and make room for experiences that give us a genuine sense of fulfillment—which for some of us, includes writing.

Why isn’t my finished book self-published yet?

Why isn’t my finished book self-published yet? Somehow that needed repeating. First of all, I may not self-publish. I’m still open to continuing to query for a few months longer (especially since I’ve improved my novel since sending out some of those early query letters).

For some, once finishing a book, the move to self-publishing is a fast process. For me? Well…

I finished the first draft of REASONS a long time ago—a very long time ago. I knew I’d be in for many weeks, possibly months, of revisions and edits. However, I did not imagine that, for me, this process would end up taking years.

My novel is twenty chapters long and amounts to approximately 105,000 words. The writing community considers this a fairly “big” book. The genre is literary fiction, and likely, speculative literary fiction (with magical realism).

I worked through each chapter not once, not twice, but three times before I had what I considered a fairly polished product. This initial editing process took two years to complete. It’s important to note that during the second and third drafts of REASONS, I worked with a retired English teacher. So, with two people reading each chapter and then discussing each one, the work took almost twice as long—but was well worth the extra time. I will also add, because it applies to the timing issue, that I have a chronic illness that prohibits working for long periods. So, it’s fair to assume my illness caused this time to stretch. But, being that my working method is naturally slower-paced, I don’t think the time used for this stage would reduce significantly if I’d been completely healthy. I worked steadily and every day.

So, now I have a “polished” novel. Right? What’s the next step?

Some writers, long before a second or third draft, will have already engaged with a Beta reader, sometimes referred to as an ‘Alpha reader.’ Beta readers don’t necessarily have a writing background, though they are usually avid readers. Often, the Beta reader is receiving a first or very early draft of the author’s work—and giving feedback from the “point-of-view of an average reader”. Their comments pertain primarily to a general sense of the plot, pacing, and consistency—and importantly, emotional impact. My English teacher editor was essentially my Beta reader… with benefits—knowing grammar and writing skills.

So, back to the next step. For me, the next step was to find critique partners.

Critique partners are other writers who help to improve the quality of another writer’s work. Critique partners provide feedback that is thoughtful and informed. Each critique partner will provide criticism and advice based on their skill set as a writer—in exchange for the same from you.

Developing a successful critique partnership sounds easy, but finding the right critique partner takes time. It’s very important to work with compatible writers who are familiar with your genre, and who will provide the specific skill set and critique you’re expecting. For me, I wanted an in-depth review, one that included proofreading and grammar (which some critique partners do not do), along with thoughts about character believability and development, plot understanding and pacing, writing style (pointing out passive voice and show vs tell), to name a few. And, I wanted a critique partner who would provide positive comments along with the criticism.

Now, let’s say we find a well-matched critique partner. Let me correct that… critique partners, plural. We need several critique partners, at least three. In the end, I had ten. I think my number of partners is probably high. But I am grateful for the significant number of critique partners I had because the partners were diverse in experience and critique.

Okay. Now, let’s say we are well into our critique partnerships. How long does this part of the process take?

For me, the critique partnership took about 12 to 18 months. Yes. That’s a long time. But, the pace and attention to detail were well worth it. Fewer partners will mean less time put toward this stage, but less time could mean missing out on some fantastic suggested improvements.

So, what about that polished third draft I had before critique partnerships were even a thought? Well, that was then. Now my novel is truly polished. Or is it?

Before critique partners, I had created a decent book. Now, after critique partners, it’s a much-improved book. Am I ready to self-publish?

No. Not me. Some authors, yes. But for me… no.

Now, I’ll do the final proofreading. This shouldn’t take long, right?

Sigh.

I used two proofreading software programs. One is called Grammarly, and the other is called ProWritingAid. I’m using the free portion that Grammarly offers, and I purchased ProWritingAid for an annual fee. I’m happy with both. But why did I feel I needed them? Well, now I’m looking for the errors and poor writing habits that no one, including me, found.

And what have I discovered?

Well, I found so much more during his stage. These programs found commas to remove, and commas to add, spaces that needed fixing, quotation marks to fix, overused words, overused phrases, adverb overuse, and so much more. So, sigh, I realized I still had work ahead of me.

Now, many writers would not go this far. But I wish they would. Because there are too many self-published books that are rushed and presented for sale with these kinds of poor habits and mistakes. And, well, the whole self-publishing industry suffers.

Back to timing. How long is the proofreading stage going to take? Well, it depends on how deep a writer wants to go. I’m the type of writer that goes deep. So, this means weeks of work (because every error, every passive voice or show and tell, every word that needs changing or omission, every overused phrase takes time to correct). I’m guessing another two to three months.

Am I done now? Can I finally upload my edited and critiqued and improved manuscript to Amazon and be on my way?

Nope.

Now I need to format my book. And, this means, I need to create formatting for both e-Book and paperback. Many authors will hire someone to do this work. But not me. I prefer to learn these skills and to know how to do this bit because if I need to make changes later on; I don’t have to rely on somebody else to make them when and how I want them done. Doing my own formatting is a learning curve for sure, but for my personality, it’s a learning curve I have thoroughly enjoyed.

But, how long with this part take? When can I finally start selling my book? Geeze.

Formatting a book involves designing an attractive and engaging interior with properly structured chapter titles, page numbers, headers, and footers… and it also means creating front matter and back matter for your book. Open any books on your bookshelf and you’ll see what some of these things mean. You’ll find a title page and a copyright page, and sometimes, a unique introductory page—say, with a famous quote. You’ll find acknowledgments, lists of the other books written by the author, contact information, and so forth. And in the electronic world, a writer uses back matter and front matter to further market and promote their work. For instance, this sometimes includes a newsletter sign-up page. Wow. Lots to learn. Lots to do.

So, how long will this take? The answer depends upon the writer’s available time, experience, preferences, and the desired amount of effort he or she wants to put into it. And, if you’re like me and have a design background (or a family member in design), you might also choose to create your book cover (which is a whole other process—including studying trends for one’s genre). For me, learning from scratch for this stage means I’m looking at a couple of months at least, probably three by the time a cover design is completed.

Where are we at now? Let’s add it all up:

Revisions after the first draft: 2 years.
Critique partners: 1 to 1-1/2 years.
Proofreading: 2-3 months.
Formatting: 2-3 months.

So, yes! I finished my book years ago!

And when people ask, “Where is it?”

My answer, for a while yet, is, “I’m working on it.”

The value of creating relationships with critique partners.

Creating a critique partnership is worthwhile. Here’s my experience:

When I finished the first draft of my novel, REASONS, I was fortunate to have a retired English teacher as my neighbor. He graciously and patiently gave me his time and his wisdom… and helped me to improve my writing.

I remember the feelings of vulnerability and nervousness that came with having someone read my novel for the very first time. But my excitement and desire to make my book the best that I could make it outweighed these early timid emotions.

It was time to turn a roughly written draft into a book I’d be proud to share with the world.

My neighbor and I worked side by side for a long time. And when we were done, I had a much improved book. I had a finished book. Well, almost finished. The time had come to find an audience with fresh eyes, people who would be willing to read and critique my book. It was time to create relationships with critique partners.

To find critique partners I:

  • Joined the Canadian Author’s Association.
  • Researched and joined two local writer’s groups.
  • Became an active member of Critique Match online.

By joining these varied groups, I was able to meet other writers, share my writing experience, and learn from theirs. In time, from within each group I was able to find wonderful critique partners.

Here are a few of the things about critique partnering that I’ve learned along the way:

When creating a critique partner relationship, it’s important to start by sharing a sample chapter with your potential partner, to see if the two of you are compatible. Sometimes critique styles are too different from one another, or experience levels are too far apart.

Be sure to tell your critique partner exactly what type of critique you want, and what type of communication you expect. Do you want proofreading? Copy and line editing? Plot or character critique? Some of us want anything and everything a critique partner has to give, while others want a more narrow and specific type of critique. It’s important to be direct with your critique partner, and to be clear as to what he or she expects from you. For example, I enjoy being able to engage in a dialog about certain critique comments that seem to have misinterpreted my writing intentions, or seem noticeably subjective. For me, the point of a discussion is always to improve my manuscript.

During my critique partner experience, I’ve had some wonderful discussions that led to fantastic improvements to my manuscript (or to my critique partner’s manuscript). Other times, an open and courteous discussion led a critique partner toward a different point of view. But some critique partners have the view point that the writing should “speak” for itself, that any critique that is a misinterpretation of the work, is the fault of the writing. These particular critique partners are often not open to discussion. So, it’s good to have an upfront conversation about your critiquing style and your expectations.

Be open, and stay open to your partner’s critique. Remember, your goal is to improve your work. So, set your sensitivities aside. Sit with a critique for awhile. Let in settle. Very often, there’s something to be gained even if, at first glance, the critique seems off base or too harsh.

It’s okay to change critique partners. Sometimes we just don’t click.

Sometimes our work habits are just too different from one another, or our skill levels are too far apart. It’s better to politely end a non-productive relationship early, rather than get too far into the process to comfortably back out.

Always be courteous. There’s absolutely no good reason to give a mean-spirited critique. To do so is hurtful and off-putting. Even the most difficult of critiques can be balanced with what is working. Don’t be that critique person who only looks for what’s wrong. Critiques are as much about supporting what is working as they are about pointing out what needs improvement.

A good critique partnership is one where each person is encouraged and inspired to keep writing.

Critique partners give us a fresh look at our work. Speaking for myself, my manuscript improved in ways that only happened because I chose to participate in critique partnerships, and because my critique partners were a wonderfully varied group. Each partner gave me something worthy and unique. It’s not easy putting your work out there to be judged. But the end result is most often well worth the initial uncertainty. And remember, if your first critique partnership turns out to be a negative experience, the next one is a whole new opportunity. So, shake off what didn’t work and go into your next partnership with a mindful heart and mind.

Not every critique has to be accepted. Some critiques are simply subjective opinions. If, for example, you disagree with an issue your critique partner has presented, you can just let it go and move on, or you can wait to see if your other critique partners provide a similar critique… and then make the appropriate changes. In the end, you’re the author. It’s your book and your decision.

As a critique partner, your own writing skills will improve through your critiquing of your partner’s work.

Whether you’re critiquing grammar, sentence structure, character development or plot structure, you will steadily increase your own knowledge of the art of writing. This is a wonderful and often unexpected benefit.

There is great value in creating relationships with critique partners.

In this post, I’ve tried to describe some of this value as I have experienced it. Frankly, I personally had no idea just how valuable the critique partnership was… until I encountered the benefits for myself.

I hope your experience is as rewarding as my has been. Keep inspired, and keep writing. Creating a critique partnership is worthwhile.

Query for agent representation or take the self-publishing route?

I am in the process of querying my manuscript. So, for me, the question is not about whether or not I query. It’s a question about how long I query?

I’ve only just begun to look for agent representation and I’m patient. But querying takes a lot more than patience. It takes time to prepare a great query letter, diligence to search for an appropriate agent, focus to research submission guidelines, and care to keep it all organized.

And sometimes, after all of that, some of us find only one or two agents that seem like a good fit.

Not so long ago, I was firmly set on traditional publishing. My plan was to query for a year, maybe eighteen months, and if nothing came of my efforts, I’d consider self-publishing. But I’ve become more flexible in my thinking. I’m not so sure that I want to wait that long, especially when I’m sending out fewer letters than I had hoped. I realize that many writers query for much longer than a year or two, but that’s not my preference.

My evolving opinion has been influenced by the ups and downs of my everyday life. As time passes, and I experience path-altering, life-changing events, I find myself with a much more simplified perspective.

I used to believe that traditional publishing was the only way to go. I regret to say that I used to perceive self-publishing as a negative last resort.

Admittedly, some of the self-published work I come across today can still spark this negative point of view. Too many self-published books seem rushed. They are presented with typos and grammatical errors, badly formatted, or have non-professional, clumsy covers. With so many glaring issues, it’s hard to imagine that these same books contain well thought out plots or engaging characters. Maybe they do, but the thing is… many people will likely never find out because they’ll have trouble getting past the mistakes and issues.

Now, having said that, it’s fair to say that even the most thorough among us can miss a typo or two, or overlook a grammatical error. But that reality is quite different from a so called finished book chocked full of problems.

Self-publishing is hard work. But to make one’s book the best it can be before putting it out there for all the world to read… is well worth the effort. A good self-published book gives the entire industry a well-deserved boost.

Okay, so, what about traditional publishing? There are indeed some truly great benefits to having agent representation. Here are a few of them:

  • Literary agents are positioned to take care of the business side of writing.
  • Agents know the publishing business and they have established relationships with major publishing houses. They know who’s who.
  • Agents know how to get an author a book deal because they know how to get the ear of the right person for a particular book.
  • Agents know how to negotiate the best deals possible. They know how to troubleshoot and how to fix problems.
  • Agents are the conduit between the writer and the editor.
  • They know how to talk the talk.

Knowing the above, why would anyone go it alone?

Well, because it can be really hard to get an agent’s attention… and then keep it… and then receive an offer of representation.

After a writer has slugged through the many drafts of a query letter, and finally settled on the version she hopes will work, the rest of the query process isn’t all that difficult… but it is definitely a challenge.

Finding the most appropriate agent to query is hard work and time consuming. The process appears straightforward: research agents, read their manuscript wish lists, read what they like and what they don’t like, read their submission guidelines… and when a writer finds an agent who’s seeking the kind of book he’s written… he’s sends off his query and can give himself a well-deserved pat on the back!

But I’ll be frank, not all agent wish lists are as direct as I’d like. Too often, I find myself trying to interpret what an agent has described… deciphering their character and topic preferences, or translating their colorful genre descriptions… and wondering if my manuscript fits. If I find myself wondering for too long… I’m off to the next agent… and hoping to find a clearer connection. I don’t fault the agent for this complexity. It’s the nature of the business! But I do appreciate when I come across a clear and concise wish list.

Added to the challenge of the query process is the fact that literary agents receive thousands of letters each and every month.

Agents are really busy. Weeks or months might pass by before a query letter is located and read. More time will pass, and then a letter of rejection will show up in a writer’s inbox. And when an agent does ask a writer to submit part or all of a manuscript, the request is certainly exciting, but the overall process remains relatively unchanged… time passes and the writer waits. The harsh reality for most of us writers is that more than not, absolutely nothing happens. We hope and we wait. And sometimes, as the days pile up, we writers have been known to wonder if our query letter was received at all! Odds are it was.

For most of us, we understand why the query process takes so long, and why we don’t always hear back from a potential agent. Agents are human beings too. Not only are they busy, but they have lives to live just like we do. But, what now? We’ve queried a few select agents. What do we do now? What if we don’t hear back? What if we do hear back and the news is negative?

Well, while we writers are waiting for a reply… we send out more queries.

And, if we do receive a rejection letter, it’s best to be genuinely grateful. A rejection letter is proof of receipt. And a reply from an agent is that agent taking the time to respect and acknowledge us. Sometimes, if we’re really lucky, we may even receive a rare and valuable critique, or a word or two of encouragement.

If we happen to receive a request for part or for all of our manuscript, fantastic! And, for some presumably talented writers, lightening does strike more than once. For them, it’s appropriate and respectful to inform all of the agents involved that multiple requests have been received. Oh, what a problem to have!

Okay. Great. Our book is complete. We’ve made it the best that it can be, and we’ve been querying. That’s good. That’s great. That’s amazing! Right?

But for how long? How long does the query stage last before a writer chooses to self-publish? I don’t think there’s a universal answer. But, here’s mine: I don’t know.

I really don’t know. It’s a personal choice. And I can definitely sense myself leaning closer and closer toward the idea of self-publishing. My increasing lean is less about the possibility of never receiving agent representation, and more about believing that I can create a solid self-published product.

I’ve been researching and studying the self-publishing option. Recognizing the hard work involved, I’m starting to see the potential for self-publishing success… and I’m discovering the benefits. I’m one of those people who enjoys marketing almost as much as writing… almost… certainly enough to enjoy the business side of the work. So, I just might give it a swing!

And another important aspect to remember about literary agent representation is that if we find an agent to represent us, the hard work is far from over. Many more months can pass before that agent finds a publisher interested in publishing our book. And sometimes, despite their best efforts, our agent can’t find a publisher for our book. Literary agent representation does not guarantee a published product. But, don’t let this stop you from querying. It’s just something to keep in mind.

In a future blog, I’ll share what I’ve learned about self-publishing. In the meantime, I’ll be sure to keep you up-to-date as to how the querying process pans out for my novel, REASONS.

Cheers and keep at it! Like fast ed in the image below… if you stay dormant for too long, a tree might grow through you… and then what?

And now a few words about my writing process.

In short, when I wrote REASONS, I didn’t have a writing process. It’s true, I didn’t. But my lack of a plan didn’t stop me from writing a novel. I wrote every single day… adding words, sentences, paragraphs and chapters bit by bit until I had a complete first draft.

That first draft wasn’t pretty, but it was a finished story. My lack of a laid out plan hadn’t made the act of writing any less satisfying for me. And for that particular novel, it hadn’t made the overall story any less worthy.

When I decided to write REASONS, I simply started writing. And I wrote as often as I could… squeezing writing into my day whenever a free moment presented itself. I added to the story as the ideas came to me. When I say, as the ideas came to me, I mean the ideas that connected the important parts of the main plot of the story… a plot that I had already formulated in my mind.

I knew the story that I wanted to tell, and I knew the message that I wanted it to convey.

The basic story line, and the lessons learned in REASONS, came from my own life experience. And because of this fact, the real-world characters in the story had been floating around in my head long before the actual writing of these characters became a reality.

Having said that, the story of REASONS is told through the genre of literary fiction/magical-realism, and all of the magical-world characters in the novel were created as the story unfolded.

The ideas would come to me at all times of the day and night, as they do for many writers. And the tiniest of observations could bring on the full development of a character or even a whole chapter.

I understand now that there’s a term for my kind of writing process (or lack thereof). I’m what’s called a pantser. According to The Write Practice: ‘A plotter is someone who plans out their novel before they write it. Whereas a pantser is someone who, “flies by the seat of their pants,” meaning they don’t plan out anything, or plan very little.’

That’s me folks… door number two: Pantser! And I didn’t even know it, which seems to prove just how committed I was to non-planning. But seriously, I simply wrote the story as the connections unfolded.

To be frank, I knew very little about the process of writing when I started writing REASONS. However, after editing the novel twice through, and then a third time while working with various critique partners… boy oh boy, I learned a lot!

And still, I wouldn’t have wanted to write my first novel any other way.

Now, in saying that, the writing process for my next book will be different. The new novel will involve more planning. But not because I’ve changed my ways. No. The new novel simply naturally requires planning. Unlike REASONS, the new story does not have its roots squarely planted in my personal life experience… where the characters and basic story line sort of had a head start. The new story line, and each character, event, and connection will stem from pure imagination… no drawing from my life this time.

So I’ll plot and plot and plot. And you know what? I’m excited about plotting.

I think it’ll be a nice change to have some stepping stones in place before I begin venturing across the river of brand new story building.

We’ll see. When I’m done, I’ll let you know how the two ways of working compare: pantser vs plotter.

Either way, I’ll keep writing and I’ll enjoy every single word… no matter how I come to write it. I believe there’s no right or wrong way to write. The important thing is to do it. Just write. Get that first draft done. Have a chuckle at how much work it needs, and then get to fixing it.

Like a new flower in the early morning light,
fragile and fleeting and full of life…
imagination blooms in all of its glory…
when words come together, and you write your story.