Sunday, August 26, 2012


There is just no other word for it.  I am in a cold place right now.  For you see, I am not writing.  I’d love to blame it on the past couple of weeks being busy—the first days of a new school year are fun for masochists only—but in my heart I know no excuse is good enough.  I’ve eked out a couple of words here and there; gotten excited about a chunk of time for writing only to, you know,  actually sit down in front of the computer; bravely forgone working out or cleaning the house in order to carve out time to write.  But as my schedule settles down I have no choice but to face it. 

I am frozen.  And I know why.

Fear.  Sad but true that four little letters hold so much power.  I sit down to write and what Anne Lamott lovingly refers to as “KFKD” starts playing in my head:  “Hmm, that’s not very good, is it?” “What, you’ve only got 15,000 words written?  You’ll never finish this thing.”  “Ooh, your agent is gonna HATE this one.”  And then I back slowly away from the computer.  I do everything else on my to-do list.  I get desperate: I actually GRADE.  When a teacher is grading, she really wants to avoid doing whatever it is she’s supposed to be doing.

I know the only way to defeat this is to write—just get it out there, no worries about if it’s good or not, no worries about if/when I’ll finish.  But the only way to do that is for me to clear this enormous mental hurdle, and I just haven’t been able to catch any air this week.  I’m a perfectionist at heart, so letting go of expectations is difficult for me.  In the meantime I’m sharing all my insecurities with you.  Blogging is writing, right?  I’m building my platform, right?!  Ooh, did I grade that last set of essays?  I should probably do the dishes.  Maybe the dog needs dusting again. 

I saw two great plates at the British Museum.  The first was inscribed, “Nothing was ever achieved during sleep.”  Right now I’m “asleep”—I’m procrastinating, I’m fighting the work that needs to be done, and so the end result is a big fat nothing.  I need to wake up. 

The other plate said, “Everyone fears his destiny.”  At the time I thought it was a little dark, but now I feel like I understand it better.  My destiny is not some big shiny prize at the end.  No one is ever going to pat me on the back and declare, “You’re done with writing forever, thanks for your contribution!”  The hard truth is my destiny is the work. 

So my new to-do list is:
  1. Wake up
  2. Warm up
  3. Work
Not next week.  Not tomorrow.  Now.

Well, after I dust the dog again, of course.  

Saturday, August 11, 2012


I have found online writers’ communities, particularly AgentQuery Connect, to be absolutely indispensable in my (so far short) writing career.  I know there’s no way I’d be where I am now without the wealth of information and experience available on that site.  And it’s so cool that writers who have been in the game way longer, who have mind-boggling book deals or great success self-publishing, spend their precious free time offering free help to novices out of the goodness of their hearts. 

So now that I’ve said all those glowing things about my community of choice, I have noticed as I’ve flitted around some other writers’ communities that the positive culture at AQC is not necessarily the rule.  In addition some writers seem to keep blogs just to have a repository for their vitriol, typically directed at agents, editors, and what are ominously called “the Gatekeepers”.  Not going to name names, and no links.  They're easy enough to find.

No one understands more than me how humbling and sometimes demoralizing this process can be.  There’s something so gut-wrenching about a form reject with your name spelled wrong…and it’s, like, a really common name.  And the agent’s name is really unusual, and you checked it a million times to make sure you spelled her name right….  Ahem.  Hypothetically, of course.  But here’s the thing: agents are professionals, doing a job, and that is the way their job is done properly.  People blogging proudly about responding with a stream of invectives to those forms from agents baffle me. 

I so often see writers online ranting and raving about how foolish agents are, how they’re obsolete and who needs one in this day of self-publishing?  But then the same day they’re posting about how they can’t wait to query Agent X.  It’s enough to give me whiplash. 

I understand feeling hurt, thinking “if they just gave me and my MS a chance”.  But some things for writers to reflect on before spewing hate on the internet are:
  • If you really do want to contract with an agent, think about the fact that what’s on the internet today is there forever.  Yes, really.  Thanks to caching and Google your words live on long after you delete them.  And if they’re attached to your signature line with all your titles of all your lovely novels…what if Ms. Prospective Agent Googles your name or title and sees that?  Do you think she’ll be itching to work with you then, however much she loves your work?
  •  Along those same lines, think about your line of work.  Would you want to work with a customer/client/student who seethes with rage thinking of those who inhabit your chosen profession?  I know sometimes you have to…but if you had the choice? 
  •  Keep in mind that those agents may have passed on your MS for one of a nearly infinite number of possibilities, some of which have nothing to do with your genre or your writing.  If an agent signs a historical based on French royalty on Tuesday, did my historical based on French royalty sent on Thursday have a realistic chance with that agent?  She clearly likes the genre—it’s not you, it’s timing.  It sucks, but it’s no one’s fault.

I racked up 150 rejections—some because my MS was still laughably amateurish, some because they could not care less about royalty, some because they read the first page and their attention drifted to their game of Draw Something (which, in all fairness, is an awesome game).  But I can say with absolute confidence that not one of those 150+ agents passed on my manuscript because they don’t like good writing, or don’t recognize quality when they see it.  They passed because, for one reason or another, it wasn’t the right project for them.  That’s why you see that phrase in the form rejects, and the kind rejects, and on every post about what a bummer querying is.  Because it’s sad.  But it’s true.  And that form reject doesn’t mean it’s over.  It just means you’re on your way.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Introverts: a book you must read

My husband and I listen to non-fiction audiobooks on car trips (when we’re not reading fiction to each other).  Nerd power!  Anyway, one of our choices this summer was Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can’t Stop Talking.  I have to admit, I was astonished at the depth of the book.  I’d long known I was an introvert (thanks Myers-Briggs!), but I’ve never gone so far into understanding my own life and needs. 

One of the most astonishing things I learned was that "introvert" doesn’t mean "shy".  That goes a long way toward explaining why I’m so comfortable in front of a classroom or on a stage, but feel totally unanchored in a small group of new people at a party.  It turns out I’m not shy, I just don’t do well in a group of new people where one is expected to make small talk.  Small talk is tough for me, and I’m not one of those people who needs contact with others.  I’m content to spend hours on my own.  It’s usually my preference. 

That was my main takeaway from the book—it’s not weird at all that I don’t mind being the center of attention, but in intimate situations I’d rather be on my own.  Shyness has nothing to do with introversion—introverts want to be alone most of the time, but that doesn’t mean they can’t deal with an audience.  It explains why I do so well with job interviews.  In fact, I love job interviews.  I love talking in-depth about things I care about.  I just can’t engage with people I don’t know well on a superficial level.  

The point is, it’s a great book, well-researched and fun to read.  I recommend it for anyone with an introvert in her life, especially for families and teachers.  As the author points out, our world is geared toward rewarding extroverts, but the value in introverted natures is clear and worthy of further inspection.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Home again, home again

My poor blog, along with everything else in my life, has been a little neglected as of late.  Late July/early August has been a whirlwind: several trips (including one to meet my lovely and amazing agent in London!), an online class, tutoring, writing/editing, and preplanning week at school.  Now that it’s all listed out like that I’m starting to wonder how I got any sleep.  No wonder I’m exhausted!

But now I’m starting to catch up (tell that to the pile of laundry haunting my hamper), so no more blog neglect.  I have a couple of things I want to post about, but since the most exciting thing that happened was London that gets top priority.

It started with a whim.  I get regular emails from Delta airlines with info about sales, and one came the first week of July advertising a sale for one day only, and only to London from certain cities.  Long story short: the rates were bargain basement, the timing was right, and Atlanta was one of those cities.  How could my husband and I not go?  So we booked it—completely oblivious to the fact that we’d be going the day after the Olympic opening ceremonies.  I was 100% focused on the fact that I’d actually get the chance to meet my agent, Clare Wallace of the Darley Anderson Agency, in person. 

My husband spent a semester abroad in the UK, so he chose the hotel and we were off.  Clare generously offered to take me to lunch, so I met her at the agency on Tuesday afternoon.  I presented her with a bottle of champagne and chocolates for the agency to share, as well as genuinely tacky “Georgia: Peach State!” shot glasses for Clare and Vicki.  A good Southern girl never shows up empty-handed. 

I got to meet a couple of people, including Darley Anderson himself (though sadly some of the agency was out of town hiding from the Olympics, so I didn't get to meet everyone).  I got to have a nice conversation with him, as he was kind enough to drive me and Clare to our lunch.  He is really such a fascinating man, a wealth of information about publishing.  Even in a twenty-minute car ride he had a lot of great advice to offer.  The agency is currently preparing for the release of the Jack Reacher movie, starring Tom Cruise and based on one of Darley’s client’s books. 

As Clare and I had lunch we discussed the latest iteration of Blessed Among Women.  I had to pick my jaw up off the floor when she said it’s ready to go out to publishers.  I know that’s always been the endgame, but it always seemed so abstract (a separate post on that later).  Now it’s happening: Blessed is going out to editors in September in advance of the Frankfurt Book Fair in October (again, I’m feeling a lot of feelings about that, they’ll get covered in a later post). 

The thing that struck me most as we chatted was that I couldn’t have dreamed up an agent that would suit me better than Clare.  She really gets my writing and feels so passionately about her work.  As we discussed it I could tell that she understood on a deep level what I was trying to say with the novel, how I wanted to present the characters and their world, their triumphs and failures.  I’m going to stop gushing, but I’ll just say if I was happy to be working with her before we met I’m ecstatic now.

Okay: gushing over.  London was spectacular, although the closest we got to any of the Olympic events was the TV at the pub (hey, we just wanted to experience the games like true Brits, okay?).  We did get to spend several hours at the British museum, which is where I spotted the plate in the picture at the top of this post.  Guess who that is?  That’s Diane de Poitiers.  Of all the treasures the museum could contain, and of the very few I got to see, I stumble on a portrait of my inspiration.  And it’s probably a plate she owned.  

I like to think it’s a sign.