publishing

My Life Is An Open Book

“You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare.” ~Georgia O’Keefe

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I recently had a novel idea. Not an idea for a potential novel, but the notion that I had more or less already written one. I began blogging in 2009 when our sons were 6 and 8 and I could cobble together enough minutes in a day to return to writing. I kept handwritten journals for decades, but when we had the boys that fell to the wayside along with exercise and sleep. For years, a nagging voice in the back of my head has told me I should write a book. My frontal lobe, however, had predetermined I had neither the time nor the talent to undertake the endeavor.

A couple weeks ago, I was sitting in bed with Steve at the end of another long day, doing a verbal dump about a writing group I was joining. I was, as usual, doubting myself. What made me think I had anything to contribute in a writing group? So many people call themselves writers. The title seems meaningless and arbitrary. I haven’t been paid to write in almost 18 years. I had the sense I would be out of my league in any writing group, and I said as much to Steve.

“It feels weird to call myself a writer. It sounds pretentious. Seriously. What have I written?” I whined.

“What about your blog posts?” Steve asked.

“What about them? That’s a hobby,” I dismissed.

“How long have you been writing your blog?” 

I had to think about that for a minute. I’ve had several blog sites. My first posts were on a blog I called Suburban Sirens, both referring to the sirens beckoning me back to writing a the time and the sirens I fully expected to hear in our suburb as the mental hospital ambulance arrived to take me away.

“Looks like I started in late summer of 2009,” I said, perusing the posts on that original blog.

“How many posts do you think you have written since you started?” he continued.

Another good question. I visited all four sites where I kept posts and checked for post counts. I did the math.

“It looks like it’s a little under 700,” I answered.

I let that sink in for a minute. Had I really written 700 short essays? Holy crap. A bold idea crept into my head, so I threw it out into the world.

“I should print them out so I have them somewhere other than online,” I said mostly to myself. “It would be fun to go through them and see where I’ve been and where I am now.”

“You should do it,” came the response from my ever-supportive spouse.

The negative thoughts snuck in.

“That would be a lot of money in paper, notebooks, and printer ink. And what would I even do with them? It’s not like anyone is going to sit around and read them. They will just sit on a shelf. What’s the point?” 

I’m back in therapy. One of the things I am working on is believing I am worth the effort. I am worth showing up for. I am worth asking for what I want, and I am worth not accepting less than what matters to me. I am worth taking a risk on. Wouldn’t printing out my blogs be a step in that direction? How bad is it if I think my own writing efforts aren’t worth the expenditure of time or money? Am I really worth so little? Perhaps growing my self-esteem begins with the simple act of cherishing my own thoughts enough to decide they are worth the money. No further justification necessary.

So, I bought a ream of paper, a few three-ring binders, and some page protectors, and I began the mundane task of copying, pasting, formatting, and printing each of my posts. It’s been an eye-opening endeavor. It’s allowed me to relive my experiences as the mother of young sons. I’ve been able to recollect some events I had long forgotten, and it’s been fun sharing these with my husband and my sons. It’s also afforded me the opportunity to witness my own growth. Like going back and reading my journals from junior high and high school, I’m seeing who I was and how far I have progressed. It’s been good for me on many levels, mostly in validating the hard work I’ve done both in parenting sons and writing reflections about my life. Some posts made me utter, “Wow…that was pretty good.” Those moments caught me off guard. I wouldn’t have owned that two years ago. Progress!

I’ve done a little more math since and determined I have written roughly 519,750 words about my life since 2009. An average book chapter is around 4,000 words. This means I have created what equates to approximately 130 book chapters. I guess it’s time to stop believing I don’t have the energy or time to write a book. I’ll also have to stop believing I have nothing to contribute.

By turning my life into an open book, I may have inadvertently written one or two.

Do The Thing You Think You Cannot Do: A Coward’s Guide To Becoming Brave

Me with the lovely and talented Miss Vivienne VaVoom

Last weekend I had the opportunity to hear New York Times best-selling author Richard Paul Evans speak. Although he’s sold millions of copies of his books, I’d never read one of them so I had no idea what to expect from his speech or what, if anything, I might glean from it to help me on my own personal book journey. He spoke about the realm of self-publishing and what it takes these days to become a best-selling author. He was engaging and personable, full of positive energy and self-confidence, which is probably how he has gotten as far as he has because publishing is a difficult business that can diminish even the bravest souls. I watched him carefully, trying to determine if I had the same chutzpah he does, wondering if I could be bold. Then, he made a statement that caught my attention: “Every time I take risks, my life gets better.”

I’ve been repeating that statement to myself for five days now. As it has flipped over and over in my head like a rock in a tumbler, it has become shinier and brighter and more attention worthy. Life does get better when we take risks. We get nowhere when we are cautious or fearful. We stagnate when fail to use our imagination. The accomplishments in my life of which I am most proud were only realized after I’d been willing to move in a direction that made me uncomfortable in some way. I probably haven’t been uncomfortable enough often enough.

But, there have been moments when I did take what I felt was a personal risk. At those times, I’ve definitely come away a better person than I was before I began. I once took a dance class from burlesque queen Vivenne VaVoom. This required me to rehearse, create a costume and persona, and perform for an audience. I became much more self-confident after that exposure. And, there was my master’s thesis. It was a three year ordeal that I nearly didn’t finish because I had a child and then became pregnant with child number two. All the while my yet incomplete thesis postured on my desk and hurled taunts at me: You’re not good enough. No one really cares what you have to say, anyway. You think you’re special or something? Still, I pushed myself. I wrote while my son sat in his exersaucer in the room with me. I edited while he slept. I wrote four rough drafts before my thesis director was ready to let me defend. I flew back to Illinois for my defense, pregnant and nauseous, but I at last earned my master’s degree. In doing so, I learned that even with kids I could accomplish goals I set.

Now, I prepare for another uncomfortable risk as I stand on the precipice of authorship. It’s scary up here. I’ve started writing, but I’m not sure if I’m heading in the right direction. I do know, though, that my life will not get better if I don’t take this risk. Still, I’m talking to myself a lot to steel my nerves: You can do this. You’ve got it in you. Believe in yourself.  The part of me that is angry with myself for not taking this risk sooner gets a regular backhanded smack from the part of me that knows that I could not have attempted this in my 20’s because I wasn’t brave enough then. I needed these extra 20 years to set down firm roots so I could begin to inch ever so slowly up and out of myself. Above my head at my writing desk is this quote by Eleanor Roosevelt: “You gain strength, courage, and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face…do the thing you think you cannot do.” Writing a book has always been the one thing I was sure I could not do. I wanted to do it. I just didn’t think I could. I’m setting out and taking a risk to prove myself wrong and to create a better, stronger, wiser me.

What is the thing you have told yourself that you cannot do? Are you brave enough to risk it to see if your life gets better? What is one risk you have taken that made your life better? Please share your stories because I need all the inspiration I can get as I continue this journey.

Sometimes Even Thinking About Writing Is Hard Work

This is what my vacation looks like.

I spent all of today (plus two hours last evening) at an informational seminar geared toward helping aspiring writers publish their book. I heard about this seminar through a Facebook friend who has actually managed to do just that. He and his wife published their book called Have Kids — Will Travel, all about ways to see the world with your children without having to sell the family home to do it. With all the changes in the world of publishing today, with the proliferation of eBooks and with the possibilities created by the self-publishing industry, it got me to thinking that perhaps the idea of publishing a book of my own might not be such a lofty dream. So, Friday morning I boarded a plane to Salt Lake to attend this seminar. I wanted a chance to talk with other authors, to find out what has worked and not worked for them. I wanted to catch a glimpse of what I might be getting myself into before I invested hundreds (or, god forbid, thousands) of hours of my precious time here on this earth writing something that perhaps not one other person will ever read. I thought I would look before I leap.

Writing is tough. Unearthing your subject is difficult. Finding your muse is time consuming. Putting words onto a screen is work. Self-editing is tedious. Professional edits are heartbreaking. Revisions are exhausting. The entire writing process is tantamount to giving birth, but instead of the birthing process taking somewhere between a few minutes and 36 hours, writing a book can suck years out of your life. Years. Several authors I talked to today said their books took them between 6-8 years to complete. Wow. Am I really up for that? That’s a lot of freaking time to spend on something that may not ever earn me a greenback. At least at the end of my previous two deliveries I had another human life to show for my effort.

The main thing I learned today is that sometimes even thinking about writing is hard work. My head hurts. I learned a great deal over the eight hours I spent at Book Camp this weekend…how to format my manuscript, how to prepare it for submission to publishing companies, what options exist in self-publishing and eBooks, how to format a pBook, and ways to market and sell my work. I took copious notes on both paper and my laptop. I did research on my iPhone while listening to the instructors. There is so much for me to mull over. Not right now, though. Right now, all I need is a glass of wine to help me shut off my brain. So, since I am on vacation (my kids are at home with their very accommodating father while I take this personal time), I am going to find myself a state liquor store, pick up some take out, and settle down for the evening with a good book. After all, this journey was all about books. I should toast to that, right? If all goes well, maybe someday another woman will sit in her hotel room reading my book and while sipping her sauvignon blanc.

 

 

Excuses, Excuses

What was that you said I couldn’t do?

 

“If you really want to do something, you’ll find a way. If you don’t, you’ll find an excuse.”       ~Jim Rohn

My friend Lisa posted this quote on her Facebook wall the other day. I’ve seen it before but never given it much thought, probably because I’ve never thought of myself as an excuse gal. I like to believe that, as a rule, I make things that I want come to fruition. I am determined by nature. Tell me I can’t do something. I’d love to prove you wrong.

In high school, our marching band was going to a competition in Florida over Spring Break. I wanted to go to Florida. I didn’t play a musical instrument, though. Problem, right? Wrong. The band needed a cymbal player. I could play cymbals. I mean, how hard could it be? Well, I don’t read music of any sort, including percussion music. Problem, right? Wrong. I simply got a recording of the songs we were going to play and memorized where the cymbal crashes occurred. I can walk and chew gum at the same time, so marching in formation while banging some cymbals together would be no problem for me. I was golden. So, I went to Florida with the band. I marched. I splashed in the Gulf of Mexico. I got a ridiculously painful sunburn. I went on a Journey Into Imagination at Epcot Center. It was awesome, and well worth the very early morning band practices on a cold, frost-covered field in Castle Rock.

Thinking back to the quote, though, if I’m honest with myself I must admit there have been a few times when I made excuses about things I should have attempted to achieve. I choose not to acknowledge those times, however, because I don’t consider them to be traditional excuses. I know this sounds like semantics, but it’s not. Here’s why. Sometimes an unconscious lack of confidence in my abilities convinces me that I cannot reach a particular goal. Because I inherently know I can achieve anything I want, my brain simply chooses not to want things I’m convinced I could never achieve. It lets me off the hook. I don’t have to find a way to do something if I convince myself I never wanted to do it in the first place. It’s an incredibly brilliant rationalization, but a rationalization all the same.

The reason I bring this up is because of my recent decision to brave my fears and attempt to write something other than a blog. If I’m being honest with myself, I’ve always wanted to be published…and not just by myself on a page I slapped up onto the Internet or via a bound copy of my master’s thesis housed in the library at Illinois State University. I’ve always wanted it. I’ve just never believed I was capable of it.

When I started this blog back in January and committed to writing every single day without fail, I thought I was doing it to get back into writing, something I’d given up when my oldest son was born almost 11 years ago. What I didn’t imagine, however, was that by practicing writing I would find some measure of confidence in myself. By writing every day, I was able to overcome my self-imposed road block. I realize now that the only current difference between me and published authors is that they tried and I did not. I may not write the next classic American novel. I may not become the next J.K. Rowling or Suzanne Collins. But, I will never know for sure what I might be if I refuse to allow myself the opportunity to find a way to do the thing I have forever longed to do. I look at it differently now. That is all that has changed. If I try, I might fail. But, if I don’t try, I will have sold myself short. That, I now believe, is a far worse fate than failure.