Real Authors Welcome Conflict: Learning to Grow Up as an Opinion Writer

The great news is, another piece of mine got published last week. It’s called “Real Boys Wear Dresses”. (I know; great title, right?)  It’s in a great publication called Mamapedia.

The problem, for me, is that it’s generating discussion among readers.

This sounds like a good thing, but I am only just now realizing…when I write pieces that have an opinion in them (as this piece does), I need to be emotionally prepared for disagreement. Now, if you head over to read this piece, and you scroll down to the comments, you’ll see the push-back is only two comments, both from the same person, but when I discovered them I still felt compelled to shake Erik, who was just falling asleep next to me in bed.

“Wake up!” I said, hitting his leg for emphasis. “Listen to this! What should I do?”

In trying to figure out why conflict makes me so uncomfortable, I remembered that a friend of mine once called me “smarmy”. Then he said, “I mean that as a compliment.”

Which is a bit like punching someone in the face, then saying, “I meant that as a hug.”

The thing is, there is some truth to what he said. I am, at heart, a peacemaker. I like people. I mostly get along with most of them, most of the time. In casual interactions, I avoid conflict.

People who know me are already shaking their heads, because I’ll also say the thing that no one else wants to say, the thing that people are avoiding, but that’s different. That happens in settings where we all agree there is a problem, and we’re trying to find a solution. So, even if I upset some people, we’re all still on the same team.

I love being on your team! I love being on anyone’s team! So much so that, in daily life, I actually work pretty hard to be flexible. Accommodating. Nice.

It’s weird to have an alter ego, but in my writing, I feel free to just come out and say what I actually think. Now, I need to learn how to prepare myself for disagreement. It’s another area of growth as an author, a friend, a human.

Meanwhile, I’m going to resist writing a note back, apologizing for offending anyone with my essay. In fact, I’m going to learn to be more like my son Angus, the star of “Real Boys Wear Dresses”, who is a master at being himself, no matter how others feel about his wardrobe, his favorite color…or his opinions.

Check out my new poem at Eunoia Review!

Quick update — I had a new poem published today* at Eunoia Review, called “Christmas in Japan“.  Please check it out — and the wonderful literary journal the editor, Ian Chung, puts together.

If you care to submit your work there, it’s worth it; Ian puts up two pieces a day and he responds to submissions within twenty four hours.  That’s got to be some kind of industry record.

Let me know what you think of Eunoia Review, and best wishes with your writing and submissions!

 

*Ok, technically yesterday, as he is in Singapore, but still.  It’s not my fault he lives in the future.

 

I’m Sorry, But I Have “Teacher’s Block” : Treating Writing like a Real Job

Last week, I told my husband I was staying up late to write.  He came out into the living room, only to find me working on a puzzle.

“I thought you were writing,” he said.

“I am.  I’m not sure what my characters should do next, so I’m letting my brain think about it for a minute.”  He raised his eyebrows at me, but I am good at ignoring this kind of behavior.

Sure enough, after five minutes, I was back at the computer.

Most people would say I had writer’s block – but I think that is a myth and an excuse.

Here’s why: we don’t accept this in other professions.  As most of you know, I was a high school English teacher for fifteen years before I became a full-time writer.  In all that time, I never once looked at my class full of students and said, “You know, I’m having teacher’s block.  So, I guess I’ll catch you all tomorrow.”

It was tempting, but I resisted because I am an amazingly exceptional person!  No, actually, I resisted because otherwise I would get fired.

Somehow we assume writing is different.  My students would always, always, complain of “writer’s block”.  I would tell them not to give up.  I would tell them they had to write anyway.  I would explain that, in my class, writing was their job; they didn’t have a choice, really.

For my former students, there is some sweet justice in me having to grapple, daily, with writing.  For me, I am happy to report: writing is a real job for me, which means – just like the teacher or construction worker or waitress or receptionist – I don’t get to just give up when I’m not feeling it.

Here are some strategies that have worked for me and my students when our writing gets stuck.

  1. Reread what you’ve written, looking for ideas on what to do next.
  2. Move to a different part of the same project. Stuck with the intro?  Write the end.  Not sure how to end?  Go back and revise the middle.  Unsure what a character would do next?  Write part of the character’s backstory (something that may not even make it into the final draft) as a way of getting to know the character better.
  3. Work on a different writing project. Uncertain how to finish that short story?  Write your college essay.  Confused about what’s wrong with your article?  Re-read one of your poems.
  4. Research new markets for publishing your work. (This one is my own personal nemesis; I can waste hours doing this.)
  5. Look back over the list that you (of course!) keep, looking for ideas, or reprint opportunities, or work in progress.
  6. Freewrite for three minutes. Set a timer and follow the only rule: you must continually put words on the paper or screen until the time is up.  Even if all you can write is “this blows, this blows, this blows” for the first minute, eventually your brain will get bored and spit out an idea.
  7. Make a list. Ten favorite people.  Five best songs ever.  Seven things you’ll never do to your kids.  Then pick one to write about.
  8. Reread your writing notebook/journal, if you have one, looking for ideas.
  9. Steal some headlines. Set a timer for five minutes, and read the news – headlines only!  Choose three, and write a paragraph about each – whatever comes to mind is fair game.
  10. Trade your writing with a friend, and get some feedback.
  11. Take one character and introduce her to someone from a different story, or a different part of the story. What do they do?
  12. Finally, take a mini-break. Get a drink of water, go to the bathroom, stare out the window for a minute, pace the room.  Put ten pieces into a puzzle!  Our subconscious is designed to process ideas for us.

 

These strategies are real, and they work – not all of them for all writers, but the point is to experiment until you find what works.  In the course of my day, I will write between 500-1500 words on my novel, and then, when I’m out of ideas for that project, I get out something else I’m working on.  It saves me from feeling frustrated with myself or my projects.

The main thing is to think of writing as a real job, one that we are responsible to show up and do.

Otherwise, the next time you’re in line for coffee, you may just hear the barista tell you, “I’m sorry I can’t make your latte’; I’m having Barista’s Block.”

A Trinity of Good News: a Published Piece, a Writing Group, and a Successful Query

I have three quick updates for this week — all of them really wonderful.

First: another essay is live today at Mothers Always Write.  It’s called “Making Peace with Sponge Bob”, and I warn anyone squeamish: the words boobs, uterus, and poop all make an appearance.

Second: I am now one week into the successful launch of an online writing group and I love it!  I have a feeling that the feedback is going to sharpen my writing into something better than it could have been otherwise.

Third: Last week I mentioned that I had sent out my first query.  As of today, I’ve sent four — and one got picked up!  By Parent Map!  If you aren’t a parent in the Seattle area, a “That’s great” will be sufficient.  The rest of us are throwing our hats into the air and high-fiving strangers.  This is really huge, and I feel humbled and challenged by this assignment.

This is a new kind of writing for me — basically, instead of selling an already finished piece of writing, I sold a future piece of writing, a proposal.

So, today’s post is short.  Once this piece gets published, I will post details about the process for those who are interested.  Until then: I’ve got work to do, and I am so excited to do it!

The Query Letter, or: There is a First Time for Everything

So, in my quest to become a “real” (vs. wannabe) writer, I’ve done the following:

  • quit my paying job so I have time to write
  • written almost 30,000 words of my novel’s first draft
  • joined Duotrope (to track my submissions)
  • read a ton of professional literature on how to make it as a freelancer
  • ghost-written a book
  • researched markets
  • joined a writing group
  • written and submitted 48 pieces (both essays and poetry) 126 times
  • received acceptance letters for eight different pieces — and counting!

What I hadn’t done, till earlier this week, was written a query letter.

Basically, there are a few ways writers can try to get published.

  1. To publish a book, as a first-time novelist, I really need to have a completed, wonderful, amazing novel.  All done.  So I have months to go before I am ready with that one.
  2. To publish essays and poems, writers send in the completed piece to publications — this is called a submission.  I’ve been doing that.
  3. To publish non-fiction articles of all genres, most publishers request queries.  These letters remind me a ton of the cover letters we all write at some point, to get scholarships, jobs, or college acceptance letters.  A good query letter grabs the attention of the editor with a great idea and even better writing, explains how the article will play out, and ends with why the editor should trust me with the assignment.

Well, today I stepped up my game and sent out my first query!  I am very excited and have my fingers crossed.  I spell-checked it, read it three times, and prayed before I hit send.

I’ll keep you posted on how this goes!  And, if you want to read more about how to submit your own writing, here are a few of the resources I used.  You’ll read about submissions, queries, and letters of introduction, a fourth way to get published that I’ll explore…later!

  • The Renegade Writer by Linda Formichelli has a great page called New To Freelancing? which has tons of helpful information — and if you sign up, she’ll send you weekly motivational emails with action items!
  • Though she no longer maintains it, the blog Dollars and Deadlines by Kelly James Enger is full of useful tips — including The Essential Query (with a template and sample query).
  • Finally, The Writer’s Market — which I checked out from the library — includes chapters on querying, creating websites, and more, as well as listings for markets.