AW – Anticipatory Worry

For all intents and purposes, I really don’t consider myself a superstitious person, but I do have this annoying condition I refer to as anticipatory worry . Like, I’m always waiting for the proverbial other shoe to drop. Or I come up with these silly cause and effect scenarios in my mind as if something I say or do will cause a negative (very seldom positively) effect.

For instance, I often have this inner dialogue with myself. “NO, I can’t do that (insert anything for what ever circumstance) because then this (insert something negative and usually irrational) might happen.” Sometimes I even rationalize the irrational by thinking that if I say it out loud it will somehow reduce the negative impact I’m already worried will happen.

Weird? Yes, I know. And I bet if I could see all your faces right now, they’d be identical to the “Really” side-eyed look my mother shoots in my direction when I actually do say these things aloud. (so, go ahead an queue The Twilight Zone theme).

In reality, I know most of this stems from my General Anxiety Disorder with a healthy does of OCD thrown in for good measure. It’s been a part of my life for so long, I’d miss it if it weren’t there scratching at the back of my brain when something is on the verge of happening and I’m “what if-ing” it to death.

Which brings me to the why of this blog (I know you’re thinking, “Finally!”). A few weeks ago, I entered a writing contest. My main objective for submitting was to obtain feedback from published authors who know what sells. Even though I can admit I do have the ability to string together a few sentences that make sense and may be somewhat entertaining to a reader, I also realize there is a heck of a lot more I can learn to improve my craft.

Now, many writers would have announced to everyone who would even halfway listen that they’d entered a contest. Not this girl.  Oh, sure, I hesitantly mentioned it to a few people – a couple close friends, my writing buddies, and my mom. But even as the words came out of my mouth or were written in a text or comment, I was a mixture of apprehensive and embarrassed. Not because of what I had written or was ashamed, but because I worried they’d think me silly for daring to believe my writing was anywhere near contest worthy.

That I was just chasing rainbows?.

Of course, none did. Somewhere in the saner regions of my brain, I knew they wouldn’t. Still, that nagging AW was front and center. What if secretly they did think I was chasing a pipe dream? And surely, because I’d told them about entering the contest, I’d surely reduced any chance I had of wowing the judges who’d read my entry.  From there, the snowball of AW took off – The judges will think my writing god-awful. I’ll be mortified with the results especially when I’m asked how I did.

Yeah, by entering the contest, I’d pretty much just ruined everything.

Crazy, right?

Well, I wasn’t so sure after five weeks had passed, and I still hadn’t heard anything from the contest coordinator. In my world, my AW had become a reality. I’d jinxed everything by opening my mouth and confessing I’d entered the contest. Obviously, they found my work so terrible they didn’t even know how to respond. There was no help for me.

Still, I kept surreptitiously checking my email. On March 27, the response was there, and I couldn’t believe my eyes when I read the subject line:  “Congratulations! You’re a Finalist.”

Un-freaking-believable.

Immediately, I opened the email. In a nutshell, finalists were given about ten days to take the feedback we were given to make revisions (if we wanted, which I certainly did) and to resubmit for the final round. I spent last weekend pouring over the suggestions the judges had given. Reading, re-reading. Revising, polishing. Re-reading. Revising, Polishing. Re-reading.

On Tuesday night, I re-read it for what I was determined would be the last time before I re-submitted for the final round.  If I didn’t, I’d lose what was left of my feeble mind. As I read through the first 25 pages of Santana’s Redemption along with the four page synopsis, I made a few minor adjustments and finally hit the send button.

Relief poured over me like rain.

Only it was short-lived when I remembered that a writing buddy said I should blog about becoming a finalist. Sound the alarms. AW was on high alert. If I blog about it, I’ll be telling people. And if I tell people, I’ll jinx my chances. Or worse, what I’d revised, the new judges (an agent and a copy editor) would hate (hey, even I was getting a little sick of the first 25 pages myself). My scores would be worse. I’d be forced to admit my writing is just not good enough and I’d might as well just give up on my lifelong dream.

You get the picture.

But Wednesday, I started this blog. The more I wrote, the more nervous I became. AW was riding high.  I couldn’t finish the blog. When I read over what I’d written, it sounded stupid. Plus, my Chicago shows were getting ready to come on.  Best to get lost in Kelly Severide’s piercing blue eyes than continue the angst of writing a blog I’d probably never publish.

But here it is on Saturday morning. I’ve revised what I had written on Wednesday (hopefully, you won’t think me too cray-cray). Yes, my AW is still trying to override what I should be proud to announce to anyone who will listen. What I should be celebrating since it is a crucial step toward my dream of becoming a published author.

But instead of shutting off the computer and deciding “Nah, it’s not worth it,” I’m still tapping the keyboard. Realistically, I have no expectation of winning The Catherine contest. Heck, I’ve already done far better than I ever thought possible. Plus, I received some amazing and invaluable feedback from the two published authors who judged my work.

Feedback, I will definitely utilize to improve everything I write. (even this blog!!)

Whatever the outcome, I do feel as if I’ve made two huge breakthroughs. First, I put my work in the hands of strangers to dissect and critique, and second, I didn’t let the anticipatory worry keep me from sharing one of my proudest moments with my friends, writing buddies, and my mom.

Although my anxieties have lessened over the years, they’ll never completely go away. Like a necessary evil, that’s probably for the best. Besides, they keep me on my toes. Sometimes help me laugh a little at how irrational I can let them get. But probably most importantly, it gives me the opportunity to fight through them. To beat back that old nagging AW and let progress prevail.

It’s not a huge breakthrough, but it’s a step in the right direction. And like everything, I thank the good Lord for that.

Write on!

PS:  here’s the link to the Toronto Romance Writer’s contest result site. My name is listed.  Wow, it’s for reals!!  http://torontoromancewriters.com/contests/contest-winners/

 

 

 

Rejections

In early December, I submitted three chapters of a manuscript (For the Love of Hope) and a synopsis to a Carina Press Open Proposal call. This particular book is the first in a series about four brothers. Being the quasi-pessimist that I am, a large part of me suspected the manuscript wouldn’t get a nod, but I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t been hopeful.

Last spring when I submitted to the Harlequin Blitz (my first ever submission), yeah, I was disappointed when it was rejected, but I was over the moon when the editor also included a mini-critique and offered some valuable advice and suggestions. Maybe if Carina Press had offered some insight as to why my manuscript wasn’t what they were looking for or how I could improve, the rejection wouldn’t have stung quite so badly. 

But I’m sure they’d gotten a boatload of submissions they needed to review in twelve weeks time. One word of advice included was that all editors have different tastes therefore my story might be exactly what another editor wanted even though it wasn’t that particular editor’s cup of tea.

At least that was a little encouraging. 

Since I’ve been writing since my teenage years, stopping all these years later isn’t what I want to do. Sure, getting a rejection is deflating, but it shouldn’t be defeating. If it were, we probably wouldn’t be given the chance to read some of our most favorite author’s works. 

That would be a shame. 

I don’t know if I’ll ever get published. Currently, I have twenty-five pages of another manuscript entered in a contest. It’s one I entered in a previous contest where I received three reviews, two of which were very encouraging and one that wasn’t spectacular but offered some good insight and constructive suggestions (which I incorporated before entering the latest contest).  I am anxious to get the feedback from the judges in this particular contest. To compare with the other contest, for sure, but also anything to help me to improve. 

Presently, I am editing the first forty thousand words of a brand new manuscript. It’s not finished. As I near the point where new words will need to be written, I’m beginning to be overwhelmed with doubts and worry. What’s the point? Am I good enough to become a published author? Am I wasting my time when there are so many other “life” things I could/should be doing? Am I too old to pursue this dream I’ve had for nearly forty years? 

But I had those same thoughts, concerns, and worries before I ever received a rejection email. Maybe as a result of Friday’s, sorry, but your manuscript is not what we’re looking for at this time, I’m a bit more over-sensitized on the matter. Second guessing and doubting everything. Boy, if I could make a career out of that, I’d be a millionaire!!  

I don’t write to become rich though. Not that it wouldn’t be a much-appreciated bonus, but mainly I write because it’s what I love to do. Being published would definitely be a dream come true, and I do hope that someday it will happen. And I know for that dream to become a reality, I have to keep writing. Keep doing whatever I can to improve. And keep submitting. 

As I told one of my writer friends, it’s like the lottery – you gotta play to win. I just hope the odds aren’t as stacked against us fledgling writers being published as winning the millions seems to be. 

Regardless though, we must Write On!!

 

Frustration

  For three weeks, I haven’t written anything that wasn’t primarily related to education.  Semester exams. Emails to parents, counselors, fellow staff, and administrators. Constructive critiques on student projects. You know, teacher stuff. 

   Sure, I made a few Facebook posts and wrote a few Christmas cards. But with everything going on – drawing first semester of year thirty to a close, ordering, shopping, and wrapping presents, and getting ready for Christmas, there just wasn’t any time to devote to writing manuscripts. Okay, so there were probably some minutes in the day to write, but by the time I sat down to do so, my brain as well as my body had seriously powered down. 

    Finally, I decided, I’d concentrate on school and the holidays. Since we have an extended winter break (I still consider it Christmas break), I figured I’d have time after the 25th to write and write and write. That was my master plan anyway. 

    Yet here it is, the 26th of December. I was up at 5:20. Had some coffee. Ate a little breakfast. But did I write? Nope. I looked at Facebook. Finished a book I’d started reading Christmas Eve. Had a few sugar cookies. Downloaded another book to read. Posted on Facebook how I’d been looking forward to this day of writing for weeks, but for some reason couldn’t get myself motivated to even make the bed. 

    Enough, I thought and kicked myself in the butt. Got up and got dressed, opened my computer, and pulled up the last story I’d been writing. The one that’s nearly finished that’s been a WIP for several years and has gone through so many transformations and edits, it’s barely recognizable from its origin. I know where I want it to go. Even how it’s going to end. Should be easy peasy to finish it up, huh?d. Should be easy peasy, huh?

    Wrong. Since 10:00 this morning, I’ve struggled to write 459 new words, and I’m not even sure they’re any good. I so want this story to be finished so I can either move on to another WIP or begin a whole new manuscript. I know that’s the problem. I’m trying to force the ending which is only making it harder to find the best words. Then I get frustrated with myself and begin to feel guilty because it’s a good story that I don’t want to shortchange. 

    If that’s not bad enough, I, then, get anxious because there are only so many days off before it’s back to the educational grind that saps my creative juices before I can get home in the evening to open my personal computer and write.  Seven and a half hours a day with high schoolers can put a drain on brain power, let me tell you. So, it’s even more imperative to get those words down now while I’m on break. 

    But they won’t come! At least not easily. 

    I know. I know. I’m my own worst enemy. Always have been. Probably always will be. Instead of embracing the moment and doing everything I can or am able to do, I get antsy, worried, and frustrated. Then I end up with nothing but a massive tension headache and an overall feeling of blech.

     Oh, and the never ending lament that I’m just wasting my time anyway. 

    In retrospect, what I should have asked Santa to bring me for Christmas was the ability to take things one step at a time. To live in the moment. To extinguish my uncanny ability for anticipatory worry. And to just focus on one job at a time. Just rein in all that other unnecessary junk cluttering up my head and concentrate on the task at hand. 

   Like I just did with this blog. 

   Proof it can be done, I guess. Just have to get my head in the game. Somehow though, I have a feeling when I go back ot the manuscript open in the other tab, I’ll still struggle to find the right words. But that’s likely because I want to rush the story to get to the next one taking root. 

  Patience. That’s what I need to cultivate. Not just in my writing, but in most aspects of my life. Just slow down and allow everything to just unfold without trying to force it. And just accept that that’s perfectly okay. 

   It’s worth a try, huh? Especially since my “go to” method certainly isn’t working. Yeah, perhaps a different, more patient tact is the ticket. Think I’ll give it a whirl. 

   Wish me luck!


   


Revisions and Edits and Drafts, Oh My!

Last night, I was in a group chat with some writer friends (two of the ones mentioned in my inaugural blog). All three of us are doing the NaNoWriMo November challenge. For those of you unfamiliar with NaNo, it’s a platform for writers to help them set a goal and work toward it. Then, each day, we enter how many words we accomplished. This month’s goal is to hit 50,000.

Everyone in NaNo writes in different genres, but my writer friends and I all write some sort of romance. Some start fresh with a new project and some build on one that’s already started. That’s me – using one I started before I began to edit my series. Or maybe I even started it before I’d finished the last book in the series.  Who knows? Especially since after a while, with all the changes, additions, deletions, modifications, et. al., everything tends to blur together anyway.

Couple that with old age, and well, you know.

But I digress.

In chat last night, the ladies commended me for the progress I was making on my NaNo project. I reminded them those were edited words and that when I caught up to where the story has stopped, the words will slow down considerably (which will likely be this week – yikes).

Anyway, at that point we began discussing editing. Both my writer friends indicated editing was often harder for them than actually writing the first draft. One said she added a lot of words in her revisions while the other tended to pare hers down. They also mentioned grammar, mechanical, and tense issues that also needed correcting after the first draft.

Now, I’m not saying I don’t have some of those same issues because I do. But instead of just writing now and fixing later, I tend to write, read, fix, read, fix, and write some more as I go along. Probably why it takes forever to get words on the page (like this morning, 855 new words on another WIP, but it took me four hours). And tomorrow before I write a new word, I’ll reread what I wrote today, edit and revise, and then start the next scene.

I think this method of writing harks all the way back to junior high school and diagramming sentences. Yes, I was the one who loved it (thanks Mrs. Keebler). But it wasn’t until high school that I learned how to put it all together into a semblance of words that actually made sense (special thanks to Ms. Buckland, Mrs. Kable, and Mrs. Snyder for teaching me what I needed to know and instilling within me the love I have for writing).  In tenth grade, I can still remember turning in my first annotated bibliography with pride and was so excited to get it back to see how I’d done.

Was it perfect? Heck no. But grade and the comments were positive enough that I couldn’t wait to write something else.

I also think my revising while writing comes from the fact that back in the day, all our work had to be typed on an actual typewriter. There was no backspace, delete, or insert keys. If the mistakes were more than a misspelled word here or there, we often had to start the page over. Our rough drafts were handwritten and edited on paper before we even thought about typing it out on our portable Smith-Coronas.

Today, I read an article about editing that said we should never use the backspace key in our original draft. We should just keep writing and clean everything up in the edits. With my OCD, if I even tried to do that, I’d lose my freaking mind especially since I can’t tell you how many times I’ve already used that glorious backspace key in this blog alone.

By coupling all of the above with the fact that I teach high schoolers by day and have to write many things on the fly, I think this is just the way my brain is wired. I simply can’t leave the misspelled word in the sentence if I see it while typing. If I think of a better way to phrase something, I just can’t wait until editing to insert it. For one, I’d forget it, and two, well you know, the OCD thing. And sometimes, I just need to make sure it all makes sense and flows together nicely before I can move forth.

Basically, do it now while it’s fresh in my mind. Later, when the first draft is finished, the manuscript can be tightened up and revised further. But I simply can’t wait till it’s finished to even begin that process.

But that’s what makes us unique as writers. Just like the genre we feel most comfortable writing, whether we’re plotsers or pantsers, or even if we write in long-hand, on a computer, or use speak to text, our editing and revising has to be what works for us.

Like my grandmother, the Isabelle portion of my pseudonym, always said, “It wouldn’t do for us all to like the same thing.” Right again, Grandma. Right again.

 

 

 

I’ve Come a Long Way, Baby

For as long as I can remember, writing has been something I’ve always loved to do. Over the years, I’ve dabbled in a few things – poetry, a weekly column about our high school football team in the local paper, grants, educational curriculum, individual education plans, and a few other odds and ends. But even though most of my writing has been done as a high school educator, my passion has always been for contemporary romance. 

     Until a few years ago, I had about fifteen WIP’s. Self-doubt, boredom, life’s interruptions, and new ideas all had me stopping mid-way in each of them. I’d either start something new or if there were too many extraneous demands on my time, I’d just stop writing for a while. There just weren’t enough hours in the day to work a full-time job, care for my family, and have enough brain power to write (even if I could squeeze in an hour to do so). 

     About three years ago, I decided to get serious. I had a work in progress that I intended to be a series about four brothers. So, I picked up where I’d left off with Jack, did a few hundred rewrites and heroine changes, and determinedly finished his story. And for the first time EVER, I decided to let someone read one of my “stories.” There was only one person I considered – a dear friend and voracious reader who I knew would be honest to a fault. 

     To say I was nervous when I approached her about reading my work would be a gross understatement. Yet she was eager and willing. I made her promise she’d be brutally honest with me, and she readily agreed. After handing over my manuscript, I waited with bated breath for her review. 

    Long story short, she loved it, assured me that she truly thought it was as good as the published romances she read, and told me to get to work on the other three brothers’ stories. (Sidebar- they’re all finished, she’s read them all, and wants to know when I’ll have something else). 

     Unfortunately, I still have several WIP’s that need to be finished. It’s not that I’ve stopped writing. Far from it.  I’ve been in editing mode so I could enter a content, send something to a Blitz that Harlequin promoted, and submit Drew’s story (Jack’s brother) to the Special Edition line. And for the past several weeks, I have been trying to move at least one of my other WIP’s forward, but with a full time job, it’s difficult some days to find any leftover brain power after a day teaching high schoolers. 

    Lucky for me though, I have connected with a fantastic group of romance writers on Facebook. They are the best voices of reasons, shoulders to cry on, motivators, cheerleaders, and inspirational humans I’ve ever connected with as a whole. Together, we keep each other on track, pick each other up when we falter, commiserate with each other about shared fears, doubts, and anxieties, and validate each other for doing the best we can do each and every day. 

      And from them, I’ve learned so much.  This blog is a prime example. I’d never had known how to even start one, but we’re all on the road to creating and developing one of our own. Plus, I’ve learned how important it is to promote ourselves and our work. So, now I also have a writer page on Facebook and at the urging of one of the members in our group, my next venture is to step up my twitter game. 

     As the saying goes, if your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to meet it. For any of us to even have a chance of getting our work published, we need to do whatever we can to promote it. I don’t know if I’ll ever be a published author. I hope so, but one thing is for certain, in the last eight months, I’ve expanded my horizons as a writer exponentially. And I have Ann, Ashley, Jade, and Heather to thank for that. 

    Sometimes, we can be our own worst enemies. Instead of letting that happen, find yourself a group like I was fortunate enough to luck into finding. Champion each other. Learn from each other. And most importantly, write on!!