Here we go…

I’ve never had my own blog before, nor written a blog post. I’ve never even been a particular fan of reading them.

However, my previous life and career(s) have never warranted one.

In my most recent position, I was a Chief of Staff to a Michigan State Senator. That particular job was wonderful — the Senator was fabulous to work with, and we built a capable, intelligent and incredibly fun team. We provided not only excellent legislation, but superior constituent services as well.

But then term limits forced the Senator out of office, and our team to seek new jobs.

I decided I was going to use the time to do something I’ve always wanted to do — write books for Middle Graders. I went back into consulting — helping businesses/non-profit/government/faith-based entities improve via becoming temporary management or else via workshops — which offered a flexible schedule and enabled me to start writing.

Now, I’ve always been a reader. I can easily go through a book per week when I’m not concentrating on writing one. But I never, EVER realized how much work goes into the process.

First there’s the coming up with the story. I started out being a “Pantser,” meaning I wrote the story by the seat of my pants. There are also “Plotters” out there — those individuals organized enough to actually plot their story out scene by scene, or chapter by chapter. I have discovered issues with being a full-fledged Pantser, so I have worked hard to become a “Plantser” — a hybrid of the two.  It seems to work better.

So my creation turned out to be one long story broken into two, 60,000-word books. It took me about six months to actually write each of the two,  usually consisting of writing like mad for a week, then taking a couple of weeks off.

When they were finished I really thought the difficult part was done, and the rest would be much easier.

Au contraire…

I spent another couple of months researching “what next?” And learned there is more to the next steps than the initial writing portion.

I learned about the magical, mystical “Query,” or the one-page-ish sales pitch you write to interest an agent. I read all kinds of articles on writing them, then did the smartest thing I could have done —  I took a few professional workshops on writing them. Since liking or not liking queries is a subjective business, there is no such thing as a one-size-please-all query. But my last several critiques have been very positive, so I think mine now has some good bones.

There’s also an evil villain called “The Synopsis,” which is a summary of your story’s highlights from beginning to end. This one I’m still struggling with, but like the query, I’ll keep going until I get a good one.

I learned that agents are wonderful people who are very, very, very busy and don’t have time to help every single writer who send their story, hoping for representation. However, if you follow them on Twitter and/or their own blogs, lots of times they’ll offer helpful advice.

That brings up social media. I’ve been on Facebook for years, but have never jumped on the Twitter bandwagon.

Until recently.

Twitter has been a huge source of support and information. I’ve only been active a few months and I’ve made some wonderful writer friends, learned many helpful do’s and don’ts from agents and editors, watched other writers proudly announce they’ve accepted representation or have a book release, and picked up some great critique partners.

Twitter is also a good source for contests. First-page contests, seventieth-page contests, first-X-amount of word contests, 140-character pitch contests, 35-word pitch contests, mentoring contests, etc. The prize can be a short or long critique, a revision of a work-in-progress (WIP) or it can result in representation by an agent. But regardless of the prize, participating in Twitter contests offer excellent opportunities to polish your words.

The editing and polishing of a WIP takes a great deal of time and effort — much, much more than I would ever have envisioned. One of the hardest things I have had to do is cut a bunch of my story out because it was unnecessary. I learned I don’t have to say “he said” or “she said” EVERY time a character says something. Nor did I need to walk a reader step by step through every action. Words like “just,” “and then,” and “well” were way overused and I had to seek them out and abolish them. Learning the rules on how to write numbers, then going back through two novels and changing them took more time than I would have liked. I successfully trimmed 15,000 words from my manuscript.

Then, after purchasing a live critique from an editor at a writer’s workshop, I learned something horrible — I was guilty of making my main character “too perfect.” She very kindly informed me it was a common rookie error, but I had to give him flaws or nobody would be interested in him.

GIVE MY BABY FLAWS?!?!?!?!? HUH?!?!?!?

Of course, she was right, but it initially felt horrible. It was like setting up one of my children for failure!

So I had to go back and revise again, this time making my character flawed. And that editor was right — he’s much more interesting now.

Then I learned the elusive term “voice.” Oh this one was tough, because nobody could seem to define it. I took a workshop, read a book and went through endless articles on voice — but the first thing they all said was it was very hard to define.  Then they all tried in different ways.

Since I’m a person who learns more by doing, I decided to try an experiment — I asked several agents/editors on Twitter to offer a middle-grade title they believed had a strong voice.  Then I read several of the books they suggested, paying attention more to the voice than to the story.

Then I went back and changed my entire WIP from a third-person point of view, to a first-person point of view. And I found my voice.

At this time, I’ve won a few contests and have been shortlisted in others. The feedback I used to get covered my submitted material — now I receive a couple of tips. And the last two agent critiques I’ve received told me the voice was good.

I’m getting closer.

I’ve created this blog because it’s part of the process. No, “process” isn’t the right word. I’d say a better word is “journey.” Because when you start a new career in your mid-to-upper 50’s, it is a journey. I’ve travelled to a place where a different language is spoken, unfamiliar tools are used and unknown rules seem to pop up every time I turn around. There are times I feel as though I was dropped onto a new planet and I am struggling to make a new home here.

But one of the positive things about being in my 50’s is that I am centered. I’ve been in unfamiliar places before and have successfully maneuvered them. I’ve long ago learned how to not get sidetracked by drama, get discouraged by something not going the way I wanted, or letting one rejection get the best of me. Most of all, at my age I know how to learn from both acceptance and rejection, and that perseverance is key.  I’ve learned how to be a rock.

I. Won’t. Give. Up.

I invite you to hang out with me during my journey. I am still polishing my manuscripts, but I have also begun plotting a new book.

I’m excited.

I’ll share my experiences as well as what I learn along the way. Hopefully, another writer dropped into this planet will gain a few tips that will help them navigate.

I’ve learned one new thing today — I’ve enjoyed writing this blog post.  🙂

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