Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Dear Editor; the Tao of Manuscript Submission 2015

Somewhere around mid-December a word will pop into my head that symbolizes the year ahead for me. December 2013 brought me the word "Completion." It was a good word for 2014, encouraging me to finish, polish, and prepare my novel The Abyssal Plain for 2015 submission. The year before that, the word was "Focus," another good direction that brought me to where I am today. 

This year, for some mysterious reason, my word is "Tao" as in Taoism. At first I thought it had something to do with my upcoming trip to Taiwan, but then I thought it might be connected to my current art project of sketching and painting doors, i.e., Tao being related to "the way," or "the door." Whatever the reason for it coming into my life, I like it. 

To me, the Tao means "go with the flow," a much-needed quality as I begin submitting my manuscript. It's a scary process and I need all the help I can get, from chanting "nerves of steel" as I seal up my envelopes, to occupying my waiting time with revising and polishing yet another WIP.

This morning as part of my daily morning pages routine I brainstormed some of the ways using a Taoist approach could help me get through my submission angst. My biggest fear is getting to the post office and then tearing open the envelopes because I'm certain I've "done it wrong" and have to check everything one more time. After all, submission holds so much baggage: fear of rejection, bending one's will to another, even the idea of "breaking your spirit" altogether. Except, according to my brainstorming, it doesn't have to be any of those things. Rather than believing that submission is about being meek, mild, and a total  doormat, it's about saying "Yes!" with total confidence. It's about believing that:
  1. Yes, my work is finished to the best of my current ability.
  2. Yes, my work is sale-worthy. If I were a publisher, I would pay to have it published.
  3. And, yes, I can let this piece go because I have many, many more books and stories to write and prepare for publication. So, let it go!
It's a whole new publishing world out there, with new editors, agents, and publishing houses. As modern writers and authors, we really do have a myriad of fresh opportunities at our fingertips, e.g., e-books, serialized novels, on-demand printing, audio-books. The idea of allowing the Tao to support and maintain our submission efforts is an attractive one, helping me to remain (relatively) calm and centered, the very best way, I would think to approach any task, starting with writing those manuscripts in the first place!

Tip of the Day: Okay, so what if a manuscript submission really does "go wrong"? It happens: a typo in the cover letter, addressing an editor who left the house long ago, sending the manuscript to the wrong department, a confusing pitch. Believe me, I've been there, and more than once. But none of these things are worth agonizing over. A mistake is a chance to learn and get it right next time. Do your best to move on and . . .  let it go . . .

P.S. Over the next few months I'll be examining and reporting on my experiences of working with the Tao as a writer and artist. Stay tuned--and be sure to drop me a line if you have any questions or thoughts to share on the subject. Thanks!

Thursday, January 8, 2015

New Year, New Goals

Here we are—a new year, a clean slate, all kinds of good things on the horizon! I have so many plans and ideas, but as I mentioned in my last post I want to pace myself a little better this year, and keep my goal list down to just three items. Over the weekend I had some time to sit down and make some decisions about what those three goals would be. In no particular order, the winners are: 

1. Edit and rewrite my next novel. As soon as my synopsis and outline for The Abyssal Plain--the literary novel I finished last year--are ready for submission (hopefully by the end of the month) I want to start working on book #10: Ghazal.  Last fall I re-read the first draft for the first time in a year, and was happy to discover that most of the editing will simply be improving some of my word choices (stronger verbs, etc.), cleaning up typos, and adding a small amount of text to help clarify the plot.

2. Work on a long-term art project. Prior to this year, the best word to describe my approach to art-making would be “scattered.” “Unfocused” might work even better. My haphazard style (aka "dabbling") is the result of loving absolutely every art material and technique I can get my hands on: collage, watercolors, acrylic, clay, every type of pencil or crayon or pastel imaginable that I then use on so many different types of papers, boards, and fabric supports that I could probably write a comprehensive thesis on the subject. 

What I haven’t done is follow any kind of serious idea or direction. I like painting cats, dogs, landscapes, faces, flowers, trees, ferrets, even my art supplies when I'm desperate—but none of it really makes for a coherent body of work. Although I never want to box myself in to the point that I give up drawing ferrets, I still want to find some kind of artistic voice this year. In other words, I want to create a series. And the strongest subject that is calling to me right now is: doorways. Using a variety of mediums and supports, I want to explore open doorways, closed doors, antique doors, doors decorated for the seasons, doors in foreign lands and climates. The concept of doors (and the houses they belong to) is so rich in metaphor and possibility that it will be a challenge to know when to stop!

3. Sketch as much as possible, and add freewriting to my drawings. Despite my concentration on doorways, I still want to keep up a sketching habit, hopefully with even more vigor than in previous years. After all, a series of doors all on their own can get a little stale. For that reason, each door will need it’s own personality: a kitty on the stair, a container of roses under the streetlight, a basket of freshly-picked tomatoes. To do that with any kind of finesse, I’ll need to practice. And to make sure I get in my daily writing practice, I plan to add freewriting to my sketches. 

I can’t tell you how energized I am about these goals and plans. The best part is I don’t need any new supplies, LOL! Just the faith and confidence to say “yes” to every new drawing, every new page.

Tip of the Day: Never underestimate the power of brainstorming. To make my list of three goals I actually had to brainstorm a list of about twenty. There was a lot I wanted to do—way too much and much more than anyone could handle with any kind of joy or enthusiasm. But I couldn’t have found the three that really appealed to me without writing it all down first.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Wishing You a Wonderful New Year!

Happy New Year, everyone! May 2015 be a fantastic and inspired year for all of us. This morning I woke up to snow, a beautiful and refreshing sight, especially on a day off. The "blank slate" symbolism of seeing vast fields of white outside my windows has also been the perfect backdrop for reviewing the past year as I gear up to experience the new. Some of my 2014 highlights included:
  1. After a long absence, I rejoined the Society of Children's Book Writers and Illustrators. This time I enrolled myself as both a writer and as an illustrator, a rather bold step, but one that has opened many new possibilities for the future.
  2. I must have been in the mood to join groups, because I also became a member of the Colored Pencil Society of America.
  3. April found me blogging every day for the 2014 April blog challenge. A fun exercise, but it also taught me how hard it is to be a "daily blogger."
  4. I moved into a new house! We're still in the middle of remodelling, but every day we get a little bit closer to being "finished" (whatever that means . . .).
  5. Following through with my goal of illustrating, I took a fantastic summer class on "Drawing Cats and Dogs." I learned so many valuable tips, especially on the importance of keeping a reference notebook I can take with me wherever I go (no excuses not to draw).
  6. October found me at the SCBWI Albuquerque conference,  having a grand time meeting editors and fellow writers.
  7. Which then prompted me to write my first picture book for submission--a task I'll be starting this month.
  8. For some crazy reason I signed up for NaNoWriMo again, and actually reached 50K!
  9. At long last I obtained jewelry tools and supplies and can now officially call myself a "beader." 
  10. I started taking a Saturday morning drawing class--which means I have to get up on Saturday mornings (brrrr.) But I love the weekly discipline of joining other artists and focusing on a set project.
  11. My writer's group continued to meet regularly and happily at our new home: the Albuquerque Museum. What a treat it is to go there for writing, friendship, and coffee every other week!
  12. I finished all my edits on my new novel, The Abyssal Plain, preparing it for 2015 submission. Whew.
Reading through this list makes me both happy and already a little nostalgic. The year was imbued with such a sense of new beginnings and creative purpose. I have yet to set my goals and plans for 2015, but they're something I'll be working on this afternoon. As soon as I narrow them down to a do-able list, I'll be sure to let you know. Thanks again for visiting--Happy New Year!

Tip of the Day: New Year's Day is such a great time to make notes and road-maps for the days ahead. Several years ago I decided to turn the whole idea of  "New Year's resolutions" into one that's more about goal-setting rather than being overly-strict (and restrictive) with myself. This year I'm going to limit myself to just three goals--anything else after that can happen, or not, depending on my time, energy, and circumstances. With that I'm inviting you to join me--what are your three goals for 2015? Feel free to list them under the "comments' section. And have a cup of cocoa while you're there--that's what I'll be doing.