#PitchWars – Let’s DO This!

Okay. I need a moment. I’m about to submit my application to #PitchWars.

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What is Pitch Wars, you ask? In short, it is an insanely cool contest for writers who are ready to seek representation for a work in process. But, for all the nitty-gritty details, please see Brenda Drake’s post all about the contest. Brenda hosts this contest, as well as many others throughout the year. (If you are a writer and you are not familiar with the name Brenda Drake yet, I highly advise that you change that immediately!)

I made a promise to myself New Year’s Day. I promised myself that I would take my novel GIRL UNPLUGGED to the next stage. 2016 was going to be query-year. I found beta readers, I did rewrites, I took a webinar on queries, went to a one-day conference on pitches, and I wrote my letter. I even purchased The Writer’s Market for agents. I was holding to my promise, I was going to send at least one query before 2017.

Then I stumbled across the hashtag #PitchWars while on Twitter. I investigated and found it was a contest to win a mentor — a live human being, who’s a published author — to spend TWO MONTHS working WITH ME on my book, my pitch, and my query letter. I have no idea if I will win a spot, but lord knows I had to try.

So here it goes.

I’m about to hit send. and I’m nervous as hell.

Wish me luck. Send the good vibes.

#PitchWars Let’s DO this!

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Honoring my Reality as a Mommy-Writer

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300The DIY MFA book by Gabriela Pereira is coming out soon. I was lucky enough to gain access to an advanced copy and I am loving it. I have been a fan of Gabriela since stumbling upon her DIYMFAradio podcast after reading an article of hers in WRITER’S DIGEST. One of the things that hooked me from the get-go was Gabriela’s philosophy of writers having to “honor their reality.” As a voracious reader of books on the craft of writing and memoirs of authors concerning their writing life, I started to beat myself up over my inability to “fit in” to any of their writing worlds. I started to think, If I can’t write like them, if I can’t create writing schedules like them, then maybe I can’t be a writer at all.

Thanks to Gabriela I learned that I don’t need to fit into anyone else’s mold of what writing is. I learned that I needed to honor MY reality.

Gabriela’s third question to the DIYMFA Street Team dealt with this topic head-on.

QOTW 3: Tell a story about a time when you had to honor your reality.

unnamed(1)My reality has been a bit of a bitch. Please excuse my French, but there it is. I “became” a writer in the midst of the worst of it – two chronic conditions were kicking my butt, threatening my vision and had already stolen the career of my dreams. I was home, on disability, lonely, sick, and scared. I started writing. There was no big publishing end goal – there was only a desire to connect with humanity. There was also a desire to prove that I still mattered. The words came, my story was told, and then I began to make up other stories. Writing filled my days and nights. Audiobooks fueled my imagination and the Internet kept me connected.

There was no question of when or how I would write, I just did. It was all I could do in the beginning – with my zoomed computer screens and inability to walk without getting dizzy – there was no question of honoring my reality, my reality offered me nothing else. For this reason, since writing came as easily as I desired it, I never foresaw the obstacles that may arise in my writing in my future.

In 2013, with both of my chronic conditions deciding to take five at the same time, I became pregnant. I felt healthier than I had in YEARS. It was magnificent for so many reasons. I laughed. I danced. I partied. I enjoyed every aspect of life but one:

I could not write.

I couldn’t tell you why. My theory is that my creative energies were too focused on the human-building project within me, but I have no scientific proof that such things happen. At first I battled. I tried forcing myself to the page. I began so many stories and finished none. I continued attending my writing group meetings, but not regularly. The guilt crept in, but then the joy overwhelmed it. I can’t say that I honored my reality at that time, I was too busy celebrating it.

I didn’t discover DIYMFAradio until my son was already born. It was a year after he was born and the writing was still spotty. I had told myself that the path to being the best mother was being the best me. I told myself I needed to embrace my writing for my son’s sake. All of that clicked and made sense, but the writing was still not coming – that’s when the guilt came in. That’s when I looked to other’s writing lives and wondered why I couldn’t fit mine in. Just about when it was all about to crush me I heard Gabriela’s podcast episode about Honoring your reality.

I reassessed my situation: giving birth, no sleep, breastfeeding, no sleep, fever/sickness, surgery, colicky baby, teething baby, exhaustion, quality time with my son, old illnesses reemerging, new ailments presenting themselves, juggling chores with a newborn… my reality had a lot going on. A lot of brand new things showed up that required my attention to ensure I learned the new rules. I decided to give myself a break. I was still a writer, but I needed a bit of a sabbatical to figure out what had become of my life.

My guilt was lifted. I told myself my job was to look for where I could fit writing into my new life – little by little – and to practice new routines. I scheduled writing group meetings that worked for my whole family and made those days a priority for me.

My son just turned two and sometime since he was born and now I have done three revisions on a novel I wrote before he was born. I have already pitched it and I have plans to begin the query process before the end of the year. I can honestly say that if I did not allow myself the time and space to honor my reality, none of this would have happened. I would still be spinning the wheels of guilt trying to figure out why I have not been as productive as Stephen King and Neil Gaiman!

QUESTIONS:

Do you honor your reality?

Have you ever looked to someone else’s writing life as a model to follow? Whose life? How did it go?

 

How Did I Become a Writer?

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300This summer Gabriela Pereira will be releasing her DIYMFA book. I am super excited for it because I have been a fan of DIYMFA and DIYMFA radio for quite some time. As we build toward the release of this book, Gabriela has asked us to answer some questions about our own writing journey. Here is question #2:

QOTW 2: How did you become a writer?

imageIt is without question or pause that I say I was born a creator. Invention, the arts, storytelling – they all spoke to me. I had dreams of being a scientist, a journalist, an artist, and, above all – the one that won the day – a teacher. I never dreamed of “being a writer.” Even as a child I had no concrete idea of its possibility. I loved books. I even loved inventing stories to entertain my little brother, but the idea of making writing a part of my life plan wasn’t something I ever consciously thought about.

And, yet, it permeated every stage of my life. In my elementary years I invented stories for my younger brother and loved my creative writing assignments. In middle school and high school I constantly wrote endless “notes” to my friends, and kept a diary. In high school I added to that by writing poetry. In college the poems continued and the emails began. Upon graduating I found a job as a high school mathematics teacher – a place often bereft of writing – but I wedged it in. I created math worlds for my students with characters and problems of their own, inciting them to mathematical action in order to save said worlds. When illness stole that life from me I found my salvation online where I first wrote my story of loss, and then began to create fictional tales as well. It was then, when every other mark of my identity had been torn from me, that it finally occurred to me that – maybe – I was a writer. And, when my son was born two years ago, I decided that part of being the best mother possible meant being the truest form of myself possible. In searching my soul for the answer to what that meant, one answer rang truest:

I must write.

So when the question is asked of me: “Nicole, how did you become a writer?” there are a number of answers, but the truest one of all is that I became a writer by allowing my truest self free.

 

QUESTIONS:

When did you become a writer? Was there an exact moment that you can point to?

If you have long thought about becoming a writer, but have been holding back, why? What is stopping you from being a writer?

Why I DIY my MFA

DIYMFA-Book-Cover-201x300This summer Gabriela Pereira will be releasing her DIYMFA book. I am super excited for it because I have been a fan of DIYMFA and DIYMFA radio for quite some time. In an effort to boost our excitement about the book’s release Gabriela has asked some of us on her DIYMFA Street Team to answer some questions and share those answers with the world. As with all things in my life, I have been running a little late with these answers, but here’s my stab at question #1.

Question of the Week: Have you ever thought about getting an MFA? If so, did you pursue it? (And what was that experience like?) If not, what have you been doing instead to enhance your writing education?

WHY I DIYMFAAs a former educator, my love affair with school seemed to have no end. I was addicted to education. I stepped out of college, got a job as a teacher, and spent every single summer off in another school of higher education learning more and more and more.

Then I got sick and everything had to stop.

When I was home, recovering, I found my writer’s voice. I began to blog, and stretch myself creatively. I loved what I was doing, but felt like a fraud. I called myself an “aspiring writer” – as if the act of writing itself did not bestow the title upon me. I started to research my educational options – where could I go to become a writer? That was when I learned about MFA programs.

I’d scroll through admissions pages, program descriptions, and I would dream. In between I would fraudulently continue to write – not only on my own blog, but now on other people’s blogs! What was I thinking? At every step I’d think, I have to start applying, but there were so many obstacles – my finances and inconsistent health leading the pack.

I couldn’t stop writing, though. I was drawn to it with such a ferocity. I started reading books about the craft, following writers and becoming friends with writers online, and then I joined writer’s communities. Online I became a member and writer for StoryDam, in “real life” I joined a local writer’s group.

I kept aspiring to be a writer. By writing. Then one day someone on Twitter saw that “aspiring writer” description in my bio and they called me on it. It was in the middle of one of #StoryDam’s weekly chats. The person asked why I wrote that I was an aspiring writer. They asked, “Do you write?”

I said something like, “Well, on my blog, sometimes.”

And they said that they didn’t care if it was on a scrap of paper that no one would ever see. If I wrote, then I was a writer. They explained that I was confusing the term writer with published author.

And they were right.

I started to wonder what else I was confused about. Did I really need an MFA to accomplish my goals? The answer was a resounding no. While I will never rule out anything completely, I can say that I now understand that I was never truly addicted to education – I have been, and always wil be, addicted to learning, and learning can happen anywhere!

So while I wait for my finances to bounce back, my health to cooperate, or my son to be old enough to not need me 24/7, I have found countless ways to create my own writing education through podcasts, books, magazines, and a writing community. Anyone can do it, and you can personalize it your own needs. It’s pretty awesome. Just to give you a taste of where I find these inspirations right now, here are some of my favorite resources in each of those categories:

PODCASTS FOR WRITERS

  • DIYMFA radio – obviously one of my favorites. Gabriela has great interviews with creatives, and a number of episodes focused on writing tips of her own.
  • Writers on Writing – each episode has two interviews with current published authors, focusing discussion on the craft of writing.
  • Magic Lessons – this podcast will be coming back this summer, but in the meantime, treat yourself to going back to the beginning and listening to all that Elizabeth Gilbert has to offer. Each episode Gilbert helps an author with an issue blocking them creatively. She follows up each discussion with the writer in need, with an interview from a professional who can give targeted advice to the person she’s helping. There is too much awesome in these episodes!

BOOKS

  • On Writing by Stephen King – not a how-to manual, by any means. This man is a writing monster. However, it is an inspiration to read, and has lots of great tips about how to get through big writing projects.
  • Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg – a really fast read filled with gems to wake up your muse.
  • Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott – this book is the perfect follow up to On Writing, or at least it was for me. Lamott is (probably unintentionally) brilliantly forgiving when she describes the reality of “shitty first drafts.” She drives a perfect balance between the splendor and torture of the writing life.
  • Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert – well, I can’t recommend the podcast, and then not recommend the book that inspired it, can I? I listened to the audiobook version of this book – it is every kind of wonderful for all creative souls, not just writers.

MAGAZINES

  • WRITERS DIGEST – I don’t subscribe for one reason: I like to have something to grab when I sit down at the cafe in the bookstore. I grab it, sit down with it, and tell myself I will leave it there so I’ll have something to read when I come back. That never works. I buy it. Every time. The articles are that good.

WRITING COMMUNITIES

  • StoryDam – this is a great, relaxed online writing community that holds weekly Twitter chats on Thursday nights at 8PM EST. Follow along with #StoryDam to see all of us checking with each other throughout the week, but be sure to tune in Thursday night to make some fantastic connections.
  • 10MinNovelists – another great online community that also has a presence on Twitter – and a Thursday night chat (9PM EST), but I tend to connect with them more on Facebook. Either way, this is a growing group of writers at all differnt levels who are very active all week long.
  • My local writing group – nothing, and I do mean NOTHING has helped me grow more as a writer than my own group of humans that I meet face to face with on a monthly (if not more frequently) basis. I wrote a series of blog posts about putting together and maintaining a writing group, so if you don’t have one yet, you might want to check those posts out.

 

So, if you are waiting for your acceptance into the writing community, and looking for where you can learn more, join me in our endeavors to create our own, personalized education!

Looking for Magic from Elizabeth Gilbert

cover170x170This weekend I submitted my current creative issue to Elizabeth Gilbert in an application to be on this summer’s edition of her Magic Lessons podcast. I loved the topics she tackled last year, and have felt buoyed by all the advice she and her friends doled out. I knew I’d feel honored if I could get her advice on what holds me back – it just took me a little while to figure out what it was.

First, I thought it was my issue with becoming a “jack of all trades, but master of none.” Since my curiosity drives me in so many directions – writing, blogging, writing group, reading, etc – it often feels like my energies are being split. I wrote up the statement and let it sink in a bit more before sending it out. Then I realized, no – it’s not that exactly – it’s the balance of mommyhood and writing. The issue with my curiosity driving me in so many directions is that it steals time from my family! I wrote that statement up and thought about it some more.

Then it hit me: my passions will not drive me away from my family. My family is one of my passions, so that can’t be the source of my fear. When I cleared all the cobwebs enough to find the truth, I realized I am afraid that I will repeat my personal history. I am terrified I will drive myself back into the clutches of my chronic conditions (Intracranial Hypertension and Crohn’s disease) and right out of remission because I don’t know how to pace myself. I have no idea how to be patiently passionate. When it comes to my passions I don’t rest. I am driven – which should be good – but I only have so many spoons (see the story of the Spoonies – The Spoon Theory). I need to find a way to be patient with my passions.

With that discovery, I finally came up with the following 100-word statement I sent to Elizabeth Gilbert describing my plight:

I have a problem with being patiently passionate. I dive into my passions – body whole – and apologize for nothing sacrificed. I did his with teaching, for 12 years. My reward? It was amazing. I was amazing. Then I got sick, really sick. Hospitals, surgeries, blindness, leading to the defeat of applying for disability. This pheonix burned to ash and swore she’d be blown away until she found writing. After 6 years home I have two novel first drafts, a 22-month old son, and organize a writing group. I’m ready to fly. How do I save myself from burning?

My greatest fear is that there is no answer to this question. Or, to be more precise, my fear is that the answer is that I can not do it all. That I should – once again – accept the limitations my body has strung around my life. That I should settle for whatever little happiness it allows. My fear is that the real answer is: Be god-damned grateful that you got your sight back, that you have a son you started to think would never be possible, and STOP BEING GREEDY! This is what the voice says whenever I am feeling especially defeated.

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How I meditate

But there is another voice that is so persistent. It is the voice of my soul and, let me tell you, that little girl never shuts up. Years ago, when I first came home from teaching, I took a stab at meditating as part of the healing process. That’s when I first heard the mantra, “I am not my body, I am my soul.” Ever since my soul never shuts up about it. You are not your body, Nicole, let me do my thing! Nothing would make me happier than for her to be right. I am so rooting for her to win this fight. Here’s hoping that I am close to figuring out how to help her do so.

In the comments:

What holds you back from fulfilling your creative journey?

Have you listened to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Magic Lessons podcast or read her book BIG MAGIC? What are your thoughts about her advice?

 

 

Project Dawn – Day 1

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This is not glamorous.

I call this “Day 1” of my Project Dawn, but, really, this is at least my fourth try at this experiment.

What is Project Dawn? A desperate attempt to find the quiet time in my day to get some writing in – whether it is here on the blog, or devoting time to my fiction projects. You see, for the last 22 months, I have been struggling to find the quiet I once took for granted. Motherhood, in all its wonder, has its own special hum that permeates every waking hour of my day in ways I never once knew possible.

So I went to an expert, my best friend Dawn – mom for over a decade  – and asked her how the hell she gets everything done. Dawn is one of those miracle moms, who not only manages to keep her household afloat, with a husband who has many business trips throughout the year. two school-aged kids, and two extra-large dogs and a cat, but she also manages to do charitable work, cook exciting dinners, and – god help us all – she feeds her creative muse through exciting (and gorgeous!) DIY projects. And – oh yeah – she’s an avid golfer, who has garnered a respectable reputation on Twitter as a reputable voice in the golfing world. I figure, if she can do all that, I should be able to find a tiny bit of writing time for myself each day with my teacher husband who’s home by four daily, my ancient half-blind ShihTzu, and my one child who isn’t even two yet.

No excuses.

That was until Dawn gave me her secret, “Nicole, you have to wake up earlier.” She sounded just like my mother (which makes sense because my mom always loved Dawn, particularly because she was such a “good influence”). She half laughed at the suggestion, because she knew it was the last thing I wanted to hear, but she kept on, “There is no way to do everything while they are awake.” They being the family.

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This is my calendar.

I knew she was right. Nothing is quite like conquering your to-do list while the house sleeps. There was only one problem with Dawn’s suggestion – it pertained to the wrong end of my day. I AM NOT A MORNING PERSON (see embedded picture of the calendar I purchased for myself this year).

My greatest issue with being a writer-mommy has been that I have been unable to do what I do best: create into the wee hours of the morn! I am a night owl. In my 12 years of teaching, I’d work through the night, crashing at around 2, 3, or even 4 in the morning before catching a couple of hours of sleep and then heading to work ready to conquer the world.

But teaching was wildly different than motherhood. For one, I got breaks during the day. Secondly, I was a lot younger and healthier then too. My body is not interested in functioning on little sleep. This is, in fact, one reason I have been so uninterested in Dawn’s proposal. I mean who in their right mind would set an alarm to wake on a day they didn’t have to?!

Today’s answer? Me. Because, at the end of the day, when it is all said and done, I do have to. Not writing consistently for nearly two years now is grating on my soul. And, after actually making it to a #StoryDam chat last night on twitter, it appears more than a couple of writers find it to be the best way to approach our passion.

And then this one really caught my eye:

Because it didn’t only underscore Dawn’s sentiments, it expressed my deepest desires: to stop treating my writing like the ugly stepchild of my life, to give it my full energy and attention. I know, on the days I do that, it infuses everything else I do with joy no matter how tired I am.

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Don’t you wake up tiny mister!

 

So here I am – an hour and half into my early wake up on Project Dawn Day 1. I didn’t wake at dawn, as I originally tried and failed to do. I woke with my husband, made him coffee, said good-bye and sat down to write, while the baby and the dog slept. Sure, I’m clinging tightly to the cup o’ joe I made for myself, and there are an infinite number of chores I could have done in this time, but no. I am so happy right now. This was the right thing to do. Thanks, Dawn – though I won’t wake with the sunrise, my project keeps it’s name in honor of you. Lord knows my mom would be proud today.


In the comments below:

Fellow writers, when do you find/make your writing time?

Fellow mommies, when do you find your quiet time?

To the morning people reading: any advice for surviving this new way of life?