Tell the World You Are a Writer, and You Will Begin Acting Like One

Earlier this year when I was teaching fifth grade, I worked with my students through a unit on discovering one’s identity. After deciding on a class definition (being your unique self, and not somebody else), we delved into further exploration through reading, writing, and discussion. In the culminating project, students narrowed their own identity down to a few primary labels.

Applying this fifth grade exercise to myself, I can come up with a few labels of my own: mother, wife, teacher, runner, and even writer. I take no issue with telling the world I’m a mother, a teacher, or a runner. But the writer side of my identity is something I’ve generally kept on the down-low. It’s a scary thing, exposing this vulnerable side, for it opens your inner self up to some inevitable expectations, and maybe even judgement or criticism.

I’m excited to welcome author Francis Guenette today, who will offer her take on calling oneself a writer. What happens when we dare to don the writer identity cloak? Take it away, Fran!

Fran's cabin, nestled in the woods on Vancouver Island.

Fran’s cabin, nestled in the woods on Vancouver Island.

Hands, do what you’re bid:

Bring the balloon of the mind

that bellies and drags in the wind

into its narrow shed.

~ The Balloon of the Mind by W.B. Yeats

In bird by bird, an inspirational gem of a book, author Anne Lamont tells us that when we go out into the world and say we are writers, a cascade of things begin to happen.

I was reminded of Lamont’s words as I read Gwen’s recent post describing how she was pinned to the wall at a local book club when a ‘real’ author put this question to her, “So, you’re the writer. What are you working on?” Though filled with trepidation, Gwen came through with flying colours and discovered people were interested in what she had to say. She tried on the writer identity cloak and it fit just fine.

CDN Softcover Proof

Chasing Down the Night is Guenette’s third novel.

Getting comfortable with owning up to being a writer is a lengthy process with ill-defined signposts to guide one along the way. I’ve just released my third novel with another due to come out in the fall. I’ve sold a decent number of books, reviews have come in and locally, people I’ve never met act as though they know me. Now, that is a strange experience. My point is that even after all of the above, I hesitate when someone asks, “So, what is it that you do?”

As Gwen discovered, after going out on a limb and admitting that one writes, the invitation to elaborate might be right around the conversational corner. This is far preferable to another possibility – the blank stare. Believe me, that stare is a brutal thing.

I, like Gwen, usually stumble through a couple of incomprehensible lines before I hit my stride and realize that, yes indeed, I do have something to say. I know about my own writing process, and talking about the stories I write is not all that difficult. Shutting me up once I get going is a more likely scenario. You can ask my husband, Bruce, about that.

Writing is, in so many ways, a terrifying process. I wonder how any of us have the nerve to do it at all, let alone own up to that doing. We make things up … or at least that’s what we tell ourselves. The scary little voices in the back of our minds remind us that with every word we write, we reveal ourselves more plainly. How could we do anything else? If that doesn’t scare a writer into catatonic silence, I’m not sure what would.

Then we writers must accept that the story we have given so much of ourselves to tell only takes on meaning in the mind of the reader. Interpretation is theirs to give, not ours to impose. Out into the world, our fragile children wander and they will be judged by whatever lens a particular person brings to the reading.

So why, you may well ask, do I congratulate Gwen on taking up a writer’s identity? To paraphrase the Bard – if it were to be done, then better it be done quickly. Despite the many challenges, the urge to tell stories is so strong that we writers will simply disappear in plain sight if we don’t get on with it. And once we’re on the writing path, the desire to own that reality will come to all of us.

Embrace the inevitable. We only become who we truly are when the eyes of others reflect back to us that reality.

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Fran’s new release, Chasing Down the Night is available on Amazon, Nook, and iTunes

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Francis Guenette is the author of The Crater Lake Series – Disappearing in Plain Sight, The Light Never Lies, and Chasing Down the Night. Set on the shores of a Northern Vancouver Island lake, her novels are rich in rural life, family dynamics, and romance.

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , | 12 Comments

Discussing Your Writing With Others — Yes or No?

IMG_4184Spring Fever is in full swing here in Chicago, and with the new season comes the reminder that I’ve been a very neglectful blogger this year. In January, I detailed the reason for my lengthy absence, a temporary full-time work stint that has since concluded, and normal life has resumed.

On the writing front, I’ve been slogging away at rewriting the novel I began last July in Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve gone back to square one with this project, reexamining my main character and exactly what kind of story I want to tell, but it’s a been a slow process, plagued by the usual (boring) waves of self-doubt.

Recently, however, a bit of magic occurred: an unexpected scenario, in which my writing claimed center stage.

a-minor-novel1It took place at my monthly neighborhood book club, which I hadn’t attended in several months. I’d been looking forward to the discussion of A-Minor, about a teenage piano prodigy, because I enjoyed the story, and the author, Margaret Philbrick, would be present. Meeting a published author is always exciting, and this could be another great learning opportunity. You know, the behind-the-scenes scoop, and all those writer-ly morsels we crave.

What I didn’t know was this: our book club host had told the author that one of the attendees (me) was also a writer. So imagine my utter shock toward the end of the discussion, when the author turned to me and said, “So you’re the writer? What are you working on?”

All of a sudden, seven pairs of eyes fixed expectantly on me. I considered dismissing the question with the usual excuses: Oh, I’m not a real writer. It’s something I do for fun. Nothing serious.

But then, after bumbling about for a terrifying moment, I just dove in, stated my premise, and where I was in the writing process. I shared the general story arc and some of the plot points I’ve been struggling with. And here’s when the magic happened: the group members actually seemed interested! They asked me questions about my character and his background. They offered opinions on where I might take the troubling plot points, even began debating the merits of the story.

Apart from a select few writing friends and some very close family members, I’ve never talked about my writing out loud, so having it dissected and analyzed among readers, who are not necessarily writers, was rather surreal. I’ve consciously avoided this avenue in the past, because it’s far too frightening. Or so I thought.

What I learned is it’s actually a very freeing experience. My neighbors now know I’m a writer; the secret is out. But they cast no judgement. They were supportive and kind and posed some great ideas. Some even said they look forward to hearing how the story progresses.

I also learned that once again, my fears held me back. Discussing my writing with others has opened the door to possibilities. Perhaps my book club members can be a sounding board in the future. Perhaps I’ve found a batch of beta readers — who knows? But this is an exciting step in a new direction.

Do you discuss your writing?

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , | 47 Comments

When Writing Dreams Become Reality

One of the most rewarding aspects of the writing life is celebrating successes. If you’re a writer, you understand this all too well. We toil on through the valleys and live for the peaks.

The-Girl-Who-Ignored-Ghosts11Today I want to celebrate the success of my author friend, K.C. Tansley, and the upcoming release of her YA time-travel murder mystery, The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts.

Tansley’s journey to publication was no smooth ride. It was years in the making, marked by hundreds of rejections, not to mention some incredible bad luck. Yet somehow, she found the will to persevere. The story of her success is an inspiration to any writer who dreams of landing a traditional publishing contract, and she’s here to share the details with a little Q&A.

*****

No two writers follow the same rituals and methods, but we can still learn so much from each other. Could you summarize your personal writing process?

For the first book in a series, I usually spend three months story-storming. This is where I build the story world in my head, figuring out the rules of my world, delving into who the main characters are and discovering their personal histories, and playing with the plot. I imagine how the story could go and follow a plot thread to its end. Many times, I don’t like where everything ends up, so I go back and see what happens if my characters make other choices. It’s kind of like a choose-your-own-adventure book inside my head. And I keep changing things up until I get the satisfying ending that I need.

As I story-storm, I takes notes. Usually my notes evolve into a synopsis or an outline that’s three to five pages. Once I have the general concept nailed down and I know the main character’s emotional arc and the plot arc, I start drafting. I aim for 1500 words a day, 5 days a week.

Usually around 25k, I pause and do some editing and make sure I’m on track. That’s a week of going back over things. Sometimes two weeks. Then I draft another 25k. I do some editing. Then another 25-30k. Most of my books come in at 75-85k in their first draft.

Once I’ve got the rough draft down, I make one pass through it for clarity and general edits. Then I put it aside for two to three months and work on another project. After a breather, I come back and do a serious revision before I send it to beta readers for their input.

 

The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts endured some deep potholes on its road to publication. Can you give readers a feel for the journey that led to this traditional publishing deal?

I spent years cold querying, pitching at conferences, getting manuscript critiques from agents and editors, and entering it in contests. You name it, I tried it.

It took me six years to finally sell the book to an editor at Harlequin. Soon after, I signed with an agent at ICM Partners. I was finally on my way!

My agent negotiated a great contract. But then she left agenting. I was assigned to an interim agent, who took good care of me. I thought we’d recover from that hiccup. My publisher assigned the editor and we got to work on editorial revisions. I was waiting for line edits from my editor when my agent told me that the publisher was shutting down the imprint that was publishing my book.

My book wasn’t going to be published, and the rights were reverting back to me. Everything evaporated. Gone. And then my agency and I parted. It was a time of utter uncertainty. I really questioned why I was doing this.

At my lowest moment, a couple friends passed my manuscript along to a few people they knew in publishing and I got lucky. A small press, Beckett Publishing Group, really liked my story and offered to publish it.

 

As a hybrid author, what are some key differences you’ve experienced between traditional and self-publishing?

In self-publishing, everything is on the author. You have to be the writer, the promoter, the publisher, etc. You have the final say in every aspect of book publication and marketing. It’s a tremendous amount of pressure. You live and die by your vision.

With traditional publishing, you don’t have the same level of responsibility. You also don’t have that kind of control. The publisher has the final say over the vision for the book. They can change the title, they can alter the plot, and they decide on the cover art. They also determine where the book will be shelved and how it will be marketed.

 

Would you share some words of encouragement for writers feeling disheartened by the process?

I’ve been rejected hundreds of times. It only takes one yes to change your entire life.

There is one way to win and that is to stay in the game. When you give up, you lose. Permanently. When you persevere and stick with it, there’s a chance you can still win. Any day, a win can come your way.

*****

The-Girl-Who-Ignored-Ghosts11The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is available for Pre-Order on Amazon May 2!

Summary: Prep school junior Kat Preston accidentally time travels to 1886 Connecticut, where she must share a body with a rebellious Victorian lady, prevent a gruesome wedding night murder, disprove a deadly family curse, and find a way back to her own time.

Want a chance to win a FREE copy? Enter here!

Add The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts to your Goodreads here!

 

kctansleyauthorpic(1)K.C Tansley lives with her warrior lapdog, Emerson, and three quirky golden retrievers on a hill somewhere in Connecticut. She tends to believe in the unbelievables—spells, ghosts, time travel—and writes about them. The Girl Who Ignored Ghosts is her debut YA time-travel murder mystery novel.

As Kourtney Heintz, she writes award winning cross-genre fiction for adults. You can find out more here: Website; Facebook; Twitter .

Categories: Reading, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 28 Comments

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