Writing in Truth: Staying in the Race Well Past the Pain

“…we are writers. We earned the title. We stay in the race even though it hurts, and damn it, it hurts. Sometimes, a helluva lot. Can we just acknowledge that? Of course we can. It doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human. It makes us real. It makes us writers.”

When people tell me they don’t like to run, I often ask how far they ran. They usually respond two or three miles, to which I respond, “Oh, you just didn’t run far enough.” Stay with me here. I promise this analogy circles back around to writing.

They just look at me like I’ve lost it. After all, if they didn’t like running two miles, why would they like five? But there’s an interesting phenomenon that takes place while running. After a few miles, I stop thinking about wanting to stop. I stop thinking about the pain, the gasping, and perseverance becomes a habit. So goes the writing journey.

When I wrote my first book, I believed that was THE ONE I would succeed with. No, not at all. I succeeded with the fifth book I wrote. For you Office fans, think Michael Scott Paper Company as he names his fifth business. I can still revise and shop those earlier books, of course, but the point is, I kept going, kept writing. Perseverance is a habit. During that time, I went to hear many authors speak. The themes and genres they spoke about were different, but one thing they often danced around was just how painful it was to experience rejection. Some of them had gotten lucky on the first meeting or query with an agent or editor, while others had queried for years but usually wouldn’t talk about how painful this experience was. They would simply offer the platitude, “You’ve gotta develop a tough skin.” Trust me, there’s no need for self-flagellation, the journey itself will take care of that.

I suppose many of these authors feel that being honest about how bad this rejection hurt (and for self-pub authors, I imagine negative reviews can have the same effect) would cause writers to wallow in these feelings to the point where they would become paralyzed. However, I think the opposite can be true. Feelings of isolation can cause a person to give up, and perhaps quicker. Just knowing there are other authors out there who understand what I am going through can make all the difference in the world. So, if no one has told you lately, allow me to be the one: it’s okay to feel the hurt now and then. You’ve poured your heart and soul into your writing. It hurts when your work gets rejected, when someone doesn’t get it, when yet another year goes by and there is nothing to show for your efforts but an inbox full of rejection letters. In fact, I’d argue this pain is a good sign. This means you care very much. There’s beauty in this, and we authors know the value of feeling. It’s the difference between a flat character and a character who makes a reader want to turn pages well into the night. Experience the sorrow. Hell, let it soak into your being; let the tears run down your face as you have a cathartic cry.

And while I’m on my soapbox, let me address the idea of authors getting up and telling a room full of writers they cannot yet call themselves writers. Here’s the thing: have you experienced any of the above? If you answered yes, you’re a writer. Period. Honey, you’ve suffered for it. Call it like you see it. I’ve got your back!

It means everything. It means nothing. We reach a point where we may need to let a project go, but we grieve it and start another one. Why? Because we are writers. We earned the title. We stay in the race even though it hurts, and damn it, it hurts. Sometimes, a helluva lot.

Can we just acknowledge that? Of course we can. It doesn’t make us weak. It makes us human. It makes us real.

It makes us writers.

With a Little Help from My Friends

“So, when I open that box of books in a couple of weeks, it isn’t just my victory; there are others who deserve a big thank you. ‘I get by with a little help from my friends…’ And find a new way to strand a few thousand colonists now and then.”

My first box of books for Stealing Ares is on the way as I write this, and among the people I want to thank, and Lord knows there are many, my podcasting friends, The Wild Women Who Write, are at the top of my list. To get even more specific, Kathy Nichols—who conceived of the Wild Women podcast—is responsible for me dusting off Stealing Ares when I had placed it firmly in the recesses of a drawer.

One evening when we were recording Episode 3: Characters Take Over, a podcast where we opted to just talk among ourselves, I was reminded of the old SNL Coffee Talk episodes when Mike Myers, as a suburbanite woman with a Long Island accent would say, “I’ll give you a topic: Dogs, daughters, no big whoop. Talk amongst yourselves.” Kathy, not a Long Islander but a Tennessean, told us about this great exercise for writers where they’re given a topic and must answer questions as their characters. At the time, I was concentrating on writing an OCD memoir, along with my daughter, Sloane, but because the Wild Women were supposed to be answering these questions as a fictional character from our writing, I decided to answer them as Harlow Hanson from Stealing Ares. As the podcast progressed and we got further into our characters’ heads, I realized something important: I missed Harlow.

So exactly why did I put Stealing Ares, and by extension, my kickass heroine, Harlow, in a drawer in the first place? Well, I had written it more than three years before COVID began, and because I had always been fascinated by the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, I wrote a pandemic into Stealing Ares, where it created problems for the Mars colony that still needed help from Earth. However, when I was querying agents during the pandemic, they began posting on their websites “no pandemic stories.” Because, you guessed it, they were getting inundated with them. It didn’t matter that I had written this story almost four years prior. Discouraged, I knew I would have to go through the entire manuscript and rewrite. But hey, writers are a resilient bunch. I’ve written six books. Why in the world would switching out one disaster for another knock me for a loop? Well, it shouldn’t, I decided. And there you have it. The manuscript came out of the drawer.

That’s when the caldera blew! I replaced the virus with an eruption. There’s a caldera underneath Yellowstone National Park that could go up at any time, and ash would circle the Earth for generations and cripple the world. This would create hardships for those Martian colonists as easily as a pandemic would.

But the point is this: we need each other. As solitary as we writers can sometimes be, hunched over our computers, the glow of our monitors illuminating our bloodshot eyes, we need the fellowship of other writers. We need the encouragement, the ideas, the networking. Most of all, we need the support—and occasionally the kick in the pants—we can only get by showing up for each other. Maybe we even need each other to remind us that the manuscript we’ve placed in a drawer is still very dear to us.

So, when I open that box of books in a couple of weeks, it isn’t just my victory; there are others who deserve a big thank you. “I get by with a little help from my friends…”

And find a new way to strand a few thousand colonists now and then.

woman in black coat standing near body of water
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Fried Shrimp and Dreams of Freedom

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“‘I just want to be at the beach eating fried shrimp,’ I tell my husband…. I’m guessing what I have going on is a pacing issue. Like any good story, life requires pacing, too.”

I’m at the kitchen table clunking my spoon into a bowl of lukewarm oatmeal and waiting on the coffee to clear the fog from my brain as I verbally work on defragmenting the cache of debris built up in my head over months of editing for my sci-fi romance, Stealing Ares, which releases in September, writing the second book in the series, writing a blog for a memoir that is under consideration with a different publisher, and taking care of my duties as VP of Operations with the Atlanta Writers Club. Add to that list: promoting my writing through social media and reading advance reader copies and doing promotion for the podcast I collaborate on with some amazing writer friends, and I feel, well…fried, spent, wrung out. I haven’t even mentioned the fact that I have two children. One is old enough to take care of herself, but the other is still young.

tempura on ceramic plate
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“I just want to be at the beach eating fried shrimp,” I tell my husband.

“I get it. That sounds good.”

We’ll be going to the beach soon, and I won’t be taking any work with me, unless the latest podcast gets edited while I’m at the beach, in which case I’ll feel like I need to get the clip done for social media while I’m there. Oh, and I’ll also need to check email in case the publisher gets back about the manuscript. Well, you know, I don’t plan on doing any work.

faceless woman using laptop while sitting on bed
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“Take a break. Don’t do anything,” one might say. But can you truly rest if there’s something you really want to get done? I’m choosing this. No one is making me do any of it. I’m happy about the success that I have, and I didn’t get it by ignoring emails and blowing off deadlines.

“Then don’t complain,” one might reply.

That’s a legitimate argument, but keep in mind the same person will also tell you to be sure and talk to someone if you’re feeling stressed out. We all have scripts we like to regurgitate for certain occasions when honesty might serve better. Something like, “Hey, I get it. By the time we figure out what we really want out of life, and we aren’t afraid to go after it, we realize our time isn’t unlimited and we need to get to it while we still can.” That’s where I’m at. How about you?

I’m guessing what I have going on is a pacing issue. Like any good story, life requires pacing, too.

I think what I need is more breaks for fried shrimp now and then. Perhaps freedom has to do with letting the story breathe. You know, those moments where the pace slows, and the characters have a cup of tea or talk while looking at blouses in a department store. Whatever it is, they breathe.

Here’s to a life well-paced.

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