Sunday, April 29, 2007

Fear Falling

After two years of grieving for her husband, who had died of cancer, my friend, Sherry, decided it was time to come out of the dark and return to her first love, art.

A very talented photographer and artist she combined the two, in unique prints. She decided to take it a step further, to sell her work, having her first show and display in a sidewalk art sale.

She was a nervous wreck.

As I helped her set up. I watched her hands shake, as she fumbled over her display. When potential customers roamed by, she broke out into a sweat.

Drawing in a deep breath, she turned to me and said, “I feel so exposed. So very vulnerable. I’m hanging my heart out here for strangers to examine. I’m terrified. I need courage in large doses. I feel like I'm fear falling.”

Oh, how I know the feeling. Writing is not any different.

The first time I sent a full to an agent, who requested it, my hand shook as it poised over the send key. I had to shut my eyes, take deep breaths. It took long moments. I got up and walked up and down the hall, forced myself back in the chair to click, what I viewed as the most important click of the mouse in my life, as my heart turned into frolicking circus acrobats.

I clicked. My finger jumped up and down as it rattled with nerves. I felt sick when the confirmation of the e-mail came back.

I was there.

My first emotional response, I wanted it back.

When an artist, be it, writing or any other form of artistic endeavors puts their work out to the public, they expose the very essence of the soul.

As authors, our deepest feelings go down on paper. Some of it is lighter, others reaches into the depth of darkest part of our being to play in the devils chambers. No matter the writing, story, genre, or sex, it is the artist’s heart exposed. We’re on paper, either in emotional context or in the story, by way of the characters.

Those characters are often loved ones, or acquaintances never forgotten, to live on in print. My husband warns, "Its not wise to piss off a writer."

The trespasser could easily end up on paper for all to see in the most unfaltering way, forever.

Even entering a contest can be nerve racking. Wondering if the judges will like the story at all. Always fearing, some unknown person assigned a number will put too much personal opinion into the process. Or will the scores reflect the real value of the work? Which can also be dangerously close to heartache. One never knows. You have to have faith, and send it off, and wait as you hold a long breath.

As Sherry asked for courage, I knew she had it already, because she was there, shaking sweaty hands and all.

There are so many talented people out there, who don’t put forth their work publicly, or attempt to send it off to an agent or enter a contest. They hold back from the world often times incredible beauty out of fear of rejection.

Sadly, rejection is a big part of the process.

The agent who terrified me, rejected my work. The good thing, I got an encouraging rejection letter. One that complimented my effort, and offered sound advice. It was just what I needed to boost my lagging ego, giving me the drive to move ahead, improve where I could make my work better. Which in the end was what I really needed more then I wanted an agent.

Affirmation is invaluable.

Suddenly, I felt worthy of the artistic world of writing.

At the same time I got back my scores from the Golden Heart. They weren't great, but not too bad either. I drew in that deep breath and knew I could do this. I had a path to follow, and was hell bent on staying on it. Putting one foot in front of the other.

For Sherry, her first art show was a great success. She sold many of her prints, book marks, and cards. After seeing her display, a local store owner is now in discussions with her, about selling her work. And the art commission approached her about doing a show.

Just think if she had not taken the huge leap of faith, put her heart out there, and exposed her very soul. All those beautiful prints would be locked away in her camera, or on her computer, hidden away from the rest of us.

Writing is hard work. And it’s often times terrifying to take the leap of faith. Just close your eyes , listen to your heart pounding like a drum corp, put your toes over the edge, and slowly lean forward into a fear fall.


Sunday, April 15, 2007

Kurt Vonnegut 1923-2007

I have a confession to make. I’ve never read Slaughterhouse 5. Yes, I know, beat me with a wet noodle. It wasn’t on my required reading list for high school English, although that didn’t always curtail my reading selections, in high school I was more into biographies, historicals, and the beginning of my life-long love affair with the romance.

Once out of school my reading grew more inclusive of romances with sporadic jaunts into the worlds of Koontz, King, and Saul. With a limited budget for reading materials I was very selective of where my book dollar went. Hence, the overabundance of romances. They were guaranteed keepers for my bookshelves.

As the literary greats are passing away I’m coming to the realization of what I’ve missed by limiting myself and not finishing college. Luckily, reading is something we can do until the day we die. Even with failing eyesight, readers have large print and cassette recorders for books for the Blind.

Each day is a new chance to discover the classics or rediscover them if you were lucky enough to find them during your early years. Delve into them and find out why they are classics. Why they will be read for decades after the passing of their authors.

Gotta run, tracking down Slaughterhouse 5.

What classic do you most remember? What classic do you wish you had read?

Monday, April 9, 2007

Of Perfectionism, Procrastination and Perdition...

I’ve been noodling all weekend with this blog entry. It’s my maiden voyage into this world, you see. And I want so very much to honor the work done by my fellow Diamonds that I think I have succeeded in giving myself an anxiety attack about it.

Sounds silly, I know, especially for someone who has been writing for years, who has spoken before crowds and even appeared on TV (in another life) – but there it is. Traumatized by the blank page. And burdened by super-high expectations and demands (all in my own head) that I be outstanding at this, even though I’ve never done it before, simply because I might disappoint those I respect and care about who will be reading this.

What to do, what to do? And then it hit me: talk about it to all of you. Now, this dithering might strike you as foolish, but you know – a blog is writing, after all. Perhaps I haven’t hesitated to pitch to agents and editors in the past, and succeeded at it. Perhaps I’ve had stories of mine published years ago. You can pile up the “perhapses” until they make a damned impressive mound. But in the last analysis, everyone who is in this business seriously will reach or has reached a clutch point, a moment of frozen inaction. For me, the Rubicon I was scared to cross – today -- was this.

When you get down to it, this isn’t any different, in its own way, from writing a manuscript, revising it to make it the best it can be, and then sending it out. The problem, wherever you encounter it, is really the same, though it appears to wear a different face. It’s those pesky expectations and demands. It’s being a perfectionist to the detriment of any possibility of success. It’s beating yourself up because you aren’t the indefatigable Nora Roberts. (I’d like to think she would laugh out loud at that notion; I hear she has a pretty good sense of humor.) It’s stalling on the launch of even something as minor as a blog entry because somewhere you were poisoned by the “it has to be perfect, or it isn’t worth doing.” Result? The dreaded blank page. Or screen, in this case.

Hockey great, Wayne Gretsky is credited with one of those stop-you-in-your-tracks statements that says it all in a few words – “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.” The obverse of that, of course, is that, even if you take one hundred shots, you will miss some of them. However, in this society, we have a tendency to immortalize those who succeed in big ways, shoving them onto pedestals too impossible for any of us “mere mortals” to scale. We forget that they all were where we are at some point in their lives. Roberts, like Gretsky, has taken scores of shots that missed. We just don’t hear about them. And once such individuals have reached that pinnacle of super success, the fact that not every shot they take now is the most superb act of grace they ever performed is pretty well disguised by the light of the halos that crown them. Halos we put there, by the way.

So, when it comes to our putting on our skates and taking up our hockey sticks to venture out onto the ice, we scare ourselves spitless with the specter of Mr. Gretsky, at al. We think nonsense like – “Oh, I’ll never be that good!” which quickly translates into “Maybe I’d better not go out there right now -- my skates aren’t the best -- I have lousy hand-eye coordination anyway – my friends will laugh at me, or worse, they’ll pity me for having pretended I could do this when it’s apparent I can’t.” And presto, we find other things to do, the most extreme being, in my view, to choose some form of house cleaning because we have terrified ourselves about that empty ice rink, or the blank page.

In the end, I decided, what is worse? Putting out something that can’t possibly qualify as “great” and may be only “passable”? Or leaving the page blank because I have created demons to torment myself, and thus cannot put anything out there at all? We won’t discuss the fact that, if I did that – ducked the task, I would have welched on a commitment, a responsibility, a trust with my fellow Diamond bloggers. No, let’s just focus on the fact that it is far more likely that if I succeeded in backing away from this page, I would find it that much easier to back away from the next task: revisions, editing, bouncing the mss. off my crit pals, prepping my query letter, entering that contest, pitching to the next agent or editor. And then the question I think I would have to ask myself is “Am I a writer, or am I only pretending?”

Well, I am actually pretty happy to say that, given that I have had something to write here, I have succeeded in defeating the demon for yet another day. Yes, he or one of his foul ilk will try to scare me into silence and non-performance tomorrow. But, and this is a very big “but,” at least right now I can say – “Today, I am a writer.”

Today, I have taken a shot. I’d like to think Mr. Gretsky would applaud.

--Juanita Salicrup

Sunday, April 1, 2007

What comes first? The manuscript or the sale?

I have heard it debated on how much work an author should do on an unsold, or unagented manuscript. So what should come first the sale or manuscript.

The first argument: Get it done, just in case there’s a request, especially if the author is actively seeking an agent/editor.

The second argument: Don’t get it done until there is a request for a full. Why put so much effort and time into something yet to sell and may never sell.

Both make sense, and after this week I learned a valuable lesson, that I’ll never forget. Get it done, polished ,completed, in the best possible way, without rushing. This week I got a request for a full, for a manuscript, that was finished but only partially polished. I had every intention on finishing it, but was lazily taking my time. I was having too much fun with lunching, shopping for shoes, playing with grandkids, and a good old fashion choir practice with my former co-workers. Yep, life was good.

The first thing to happen, after I stopped jumping up and down, calling all my friends, the realization hit me, I had a lot of work ahead of me. My life figuratively and literally came to a screeching halt. I canceled everything I had planned in my very busy retired life, and put my butt in the chair and worked none stop for ten days. Although, the agent didn’t put anytime limit on the delivery of the WIP, I put it on myself. This was a wonderful opportunity, I was not going to let slip through my fingers because I wasn’t expecting the request for a full or a request to come this soon. The usual turn around is weeks, this was just a day.

There is only one reason an author queries an agent, and it’s to SELL! Not to ignore the request and let the story collect dust in your disk case, or just dream about the what if’s. I wasn’t just testing the waters, I want this. Agents are busy people, VERY busy people, and don’t have time to wait on someone, who might be toying with the idea they ‘might’ want to be published. It’s a competitive, no-none-sense business and its best to be prepared, then not. Because those agents/editors will move ahead in their cluttered lives of manuscripts and clients who are pumping out work and forget your name in a heartbeat. So I had to get busy, and do what I set out to do, finish my WIP and get it out there.

So after I stopped freaking out, I responded to the agent and said I wanted to get to them the best possible example of my work, so they’d see it in two weeks.

I got it done in ten days.

But to tell you the truth, I would never do it again. Life is full of lessons learned, and I’m a shining example of you can always teach an old gal a new trick or two. I can be very stubborn to that concept at times, but not with this. What is at stake is something I worked very hard to learn, how to write in this business

Fortunately, I new this story well, put my butt in the chair, my fingers went to the key board and I wrote like my life depended on it. The story was there, so I just needed to add some, take away here, polish there and send it off. It was hard work. Creative energy under these conditions is exhausting.

I polished over 200 pages, and thought I never wanted to type my hero and heroine’s name again. I was really beginning to dislike historical paranormals and especially mine. Deep breath more then just a few times, keeping my eye on the brass ring, I put everything aside and forged ahead.

So for those of you with a dozen or so partials and proposals lying around, waiting for that magic moment, don’t. Get it done, polish it, than as you move on to the next project, start to submit on the completed one. You won’t regret it. The agents will get your best, where you can really shine, and you’ll have some fun while you’re working.