One of the things I’ve been most looking forward to about our new house is the fact that we’ll have two extra bedrooms — and one of those rooms will be my office.
I’ve been writing off and on since I was eleven, so I’ve scribbled down and tapped out passages and paragraphs in my fair share of random places. First in the margins of my notebooks in school, on the bulky, Windows 95 PC in my parents’ basement, at the dining room table in our old house, or sometimes even on napkins pulled from the center of a restaurant table or my glove box. Most of the progress I’ve made over the last five years took place by staring at the laptop in the dining room or our old bedroom, so I know an office isn’t an absolutely necessity for success, but I’m hoping that having a designated workspace leads to even more opportunities and more publishing credits!
Over the last few weeks, I’ve sorted through the maze of boxes to make the space as usable as possible “for now.” It still contains an old dresser we’re eventually donating, my new (fancy) chair isn’t built yet, and it really needs a coat of paint, but I’m getting there!
My bookcases are assembled and stocked (though I’m almost positive there’s another box of books floating around somewhere . . .), the printer is hooked up, my desk lamp is filled with actual seashells from past vacations to the Outer Banks, and my grandparents’ photo looks on encouragingly from the corner of my desk. I even have a happy little storage box that my husband presented me with as an “office warming” gift when we moved in.
Getting back in the habit of writing has been a bit tough after taking nearly two whole months off to deal with the selling/buying/moving process. And I’m sure it’ll be fragmented for a while as J & I tackle more home improvement projects and perfect our daily routine.
But I feel really comfortable here. Last night when I finished “phase one” of the room setup, I sat in the busted old chair and looked around with a smile on my face for about fifteen minutes, thinking about the fact that I finally had a space to call my own — where I could concentrate, create, and hopefully keep racking up those writing achievements and milestones.
“I want to be a writer,” I’d say — to my friends, my family, guidance counselors, coworkers. Between the ages of eleven and twenty or so, this is what I’d tell people when they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, what my favorite classes were in high school, and what I wanted to go to college for.
And after the muddled confusion and disappointment cleared from their face, they would give me a small smile and reply, “Oh. So you’re probably going to be an Englisher teacher? Or maybe a reporter?”
“No,” I insisted. “A writer.”
At eighteen, I was absolutely terrified over the prospect of graduating high school and facing the intimidating monster that was college. To make matters worse, no one seemed to be able to tell me what to do with my desire to pursue writing. Somehow, even though I’d wanted to be a writer since sixth grade, even though I excelled at English, Literature, and Writing classes, even though people told me, adamantly, admiringly, you should be a writer, no one could tell me how to make this happen.
And the summer that I graduated was such a time of emotional trauma that I didn’t have the drive or confidence to find out for myself.
Fast forward nearly twenty (GASP) years, and part of me wishes that I could tell that eighteen-year-old girl to pursue creative writing. Grant writing. Professional writing. Literature. Communication. I wish I would have told her that the choice of a major didn’t mean she’d be destined for one particular path, but rather that investigating any of these subjects would have opened the doors to several paths — editing, copy writing, technical writing, business writing, journalism. And that yes, even these more “logical” paths might have even helped her craft novels.
You see, up until the last several years, I thought that if you weren’t making money with your writing, or if you didn’t do it eight hours a day, that you weren’t a writer.
When I decided to get back into writing back in 2015/2016, I still called myself an “aspiring” writer instead of just a writer. And it took some time before I felt confident enough to acknowledge that I was truly a writer, despite the fact that it wasn’t my profession and I hadn’t made a single dime spinning these tales.
While this is probably the single most important realization I’ve had over the years, and I’ve inevitably stumbled upon heaps and heaps of advice about writing, the next most important thing I’ve learned is to find what works for you.
If you’re a new writer, or getting back into writing after a hiatus (like me), one of the first things you’ll realize when you start perusing writer websites, newsletters, and Facebook groups is that everyone is full of advice. From Stephen King to Internet trolls whose only purpose is to bash others for having different opinions or priorities, everyone seems to think they know what’s best for everyone else.
And though I’m about to dish out my own amateur, naïve advice, I’d like to think that mine has some merit, if only for the fact that I believe in finding out what works for you.
Naturally, and to the horror of diehard academics, pompous literary geniuses, old-fashioned professors, and ubiquitous Internet demons who lurk on message boards, what works for some people does not work for others.
This is true when it comes to exercise, learning a new skill, dating, paying bills, traveling, raising kids. A routine or method that someone else swears by may not work for their neighbor or best friend or sister. So why would it work for writing?
There are writers who insist that in order to be a “real” writer, one must write every day. Ideally, that would be great, especially if you’re already getting paid for your craft and your livelihood depends on your production. But what about the young man working two jobs in attempt to pay off his school loans? What about the new mom struggling to put 200 words a day together while catering to a newborn? What about the middle-aged hopeful taking care of their dad with Alzheimer’s? What about the twenty-something coping with PTSD? Even if you aren’t a writer whose life is currently effected by extreme circumstances, no one’s life or schedule is cookie-cutter perfect. Even when my mental health is pretty well in check, I still have days that do not allow me to write — when I go to the pool right after work and want to spend a few precious hours with my husband before bed. When family is in from out of town and they want to have dinner. When a friend is having a crisis and they just need to spend a few hours with me venting and eating ice cream. When I bring my dog home from a day-long procedure at the vet and I cuddle up around her in bed, holding her as she trembles through the pain of heartworm treatment. As far as I’m concerned, attending to other parts of my life does not make me any less of a writer or a “bad” writer by any means.
I am far more disciplined that I was several years ago. I’ve learned to recognize when I need a break from writing, when an emergency or special event takes precedence, and when I’m just being lazy and really need to buckle down and sit at the keyboard. I still have things to learn and goals I want to pursue. I’m still working on landing that first paid writing job and hopefully an agent or full manuscript request. I’d love to take a class on effective blogging, marketing, and social media presence. I can’t wait until in person conferences are permissible again. But at the same time I am damn proud of each and every one of my published works. Sometimes I can’t believe that I’ve managed to write two entire novels in as many years. Yes, I get frustrated, and yes I wish I hadn’t wasted all those years putting my writing on the back burner. But I no longer beat myself up for having a life outside of writing — and I definitely don’t put too much stock in not adhering to advice that simply doesn’t work for me.
Any time I peruse Facebook or Twitter, I see plenty of people, young, old, and middle aged, begging others for help with their writing. Most of them have full-time jobs outside of the craft or personal obligations like kids or aging parents that make it difficult to stick to a routine or to “WRITE EVERYDAY.” Because of this, they feel like failures — and there is no shortage of people who comment insisting that if these people don’t do things exactly the way that they do them that they are destined to fail.
Well, I vehemently disagree. As I mentioned earlier, just because yoga works to keep your best friend in shape doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. Just because some people I went to high school with had kids at twenty-one and twenty-four doesn’t mean I should have. Just because my husband and I own a house doesn’t mean that someone living in an apartment is wrong, or irresponsible or poor.
If writing every day works for you — great. If you can’t start your day without writing 2000 words at the ass crack of dawn — great. If instead you string together 10,000 words every Sunday and don’t write any other day of the week — great. If you stay awake til 1am every Friday evening crafting the perfect opening chapter — great. If you hole yourself up inside the library or local coffee shop, ignoring your cell phone and hunching over a laptop for hours on end — great.
If you, like me, write by the advice of one of my favorite groups, 10 Minute Novelists, and write as much as you can whenever you get a chance — great.
Everyone is fundamentally different — in how they think, how they feel, how they write, how they work. To assume that someone’s lack of success is because they aren’t doing things exactly how you do it is, at the very least, pure ignorance.
As someone who spent an entire decade thinking I couldn’t be a writer because I didn’t pursue a specific major, hold a certain job, or have endless hours of writing time everyday, I would never, ever want anyone else to feel like I did — that I wasn’t worthy of this craft.
When I first got back into writing back in 2016, every Facebook group and newsletter kept talking about something I’d never heard of — beta readers. What the crap? All I could picture was my mother-in-law’s poor, lonely beta fish (sadly named Fish), floating around all alone in his little glass vase with a pair of glasses perched on his nonexistent nose.
After a quick Google search, I familiarized myself with the term and was simultaneously intrigued and confused. What a great idea to get someone (preferably strangers/potential readers) to read your book before you send it to publishers or agents. That way you get unbiased feedback from people who may be your prospective readers.
But of course there were questions — do you pay these beta readers? Who makes a good beta reader? What if they steal your idea? Who qualifies as a beta reader? And most importantly, where on earth do you find them???
I managed to get a handful of betas for The Month of May, and while I had two that gave me helpful, positive feedback, the other two or three were all over the place — their opinions and suggestions clashed with everyone else’s, and that made it more difficult and confusing for me to know what to change and how to change it. This, of course, is the down side to beta readers. That and the fact that it took me the better part of a year to get four or five people to read my manuscript.
Now that I’ve finished Ocracoke’s Daughter, I sent it to one beta who absolutely raved about it, top to bottom. Of course this made me feel awesome, but if I was being fair and realistic, I had to seek out one or two more. One woman offered to read two chapters, which I didn’t really think was enough for her to make accurate comments, but hey beggars can’t be choosers and all that. Her comments were . . . bland? for lack of a better word? She offered to read a few more chapters, and I replied back asking what she thought she could handle time-wise, and never responded.
I’m starting to realize issues like this are par for the course with betas. To be completely honest, I’m not sure how I feel about the whole idea. I understand the theory and can see the potential value in it, but personally it’s been a rather confusing and frustrating process.
That being said, this post is not actually to just complain about the beta reading process. I figured that if almost 200 people follow my blog, some of you quite regularly, then that means you like me and my writing style, so I thought it was worth a shot to search for a beta on Word Press.
Ocracoke’s Daughter is a contemporary fiction novel with historical fiction elements, running around 105,000 words. Adopted at birth and raised by conservative, religious parents, Sarah Sullivan thought she knew her fate – to marry her childhood sweetheart and spend her life raising babies. But after a decade of miscarriages broke her spirit and exposed the flaws in her marriage to an apathetic husband, Sarah finds herself at the end of a messy divorce with no idea what to do with her newfound freedom. With her adoptive parents recently deceased and her house on the market, Sarah journeys to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to search for her birth parents. She combs the barrier island chain searching for clues about who she really is – why she has an inexplicable desire to be near the water, why her birth parents placed her for adoption, and if there’s any meaning at all behind the strange red birthmark on her shoulder blade. On the whimsical island, Sarah rediscovers her true self and opens her heart to people and ideas she never imagined — her ruggedly handsome neighbor is friendly and flirtatious but has his own painful past, an eccentric shop owner stirs up long-buried artistic ambitions, and she even stumbles upon evidence that she may be a descendant of Blackbeard the pirate. Ocracoke’s Daughter is the tale of one woman’s journey to discover the truth about her past and her seemingly endless journey to find independence.
If you’re interested in reading, please let me know in the comments. You can also send me an email at StacyAldermanWriter@gmail.com.
Right now I’m just looking for general feedback — like tone, flow, and the all important “does it catch your interest enough to want to keep reading?” I’m particularly interested in thoughts on the first chapter and first sentence. Usually that first sentence is really easy for me but I struggled with this one for some reason.
By the time this post goes live, Christmas will be over and we’ll all be muddling through that weird final week of the year where we’re not sure what day it is, we’ve eaten too much rich food, and we’re waiting to ring in 2021.
Like most everybody else, I am sending 2020 into oblivion with hopes that the next twelve months look brighter and happier for everyone. While I know that the change of the calendar isn’t a magic wand that will make everything shitty suddenly go away, I’m trying to stay hopeful that we can put the ugliness of this year behind us and move forward to a more positive, inclusive, and healthier way of life.
That being said, I do want to take a moment to reflect on the fact that there were a few good things that managed to happen in 2020. These are the things that kept me going over the last twelve months, and I invite all readers and bloggers to reply or re-blog with the little things that kept them going in these unprecedented times.
I finished my manuscript! January of 2020 started with a slap in the face for me, and this was way before the word ‘Coronavirus’ was a thing. I wrote here about losing my (completed) 90,000+ word manuscript that I’d been slaving over for YEARS thanks to a USB crash. Also on that flash drive was the first draft of another novel in progress, as well as countless other short stories and nonfiction articles. I was devastated. I cried for two days and sulked for another week. But then I opened up a blank Word document and started all over again. Admittedly this was infinitely easier thanks to a very early draft that my friend (and lifesaver 10X over) had saved in her email, and I used that to rebuild the entire thing over the next couple of months. Being quarantined for spring and summer definitely helped the progress along, and I spent the second half of the year getting feedback from beta readers and editing. I plan on 2021 being the year of the query and already have my first five perspective agents picked out! Wish me luck!
We rescued 2 doggos! As if 2020 hadn’t started off crappily enough, and as if the beginning of the ‘rona pandemic weren’t scary enough, J & I lost our fur baby Comet in April. Saying goodbye to our fuzz bug was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do, and having a house devoid of any paws or barks or clumps of fur was beyond depressing — especially in the middle of quarantine. The silver lining to having a fur baby cross the rainbow bridge is, of course, welcoming a new one into your home. J and I happily welcomed Miss Kitty into our home in May, and Ghost joined us in October. It’s been a crazy ride with quite a few struggles, but overall I’m so happy that we have two crazy mutts sharing our home. Kitty is the epitome of a rescue dog — she was found lactating and emaciated on a four lane highway near San Antonio, TX, and clearly had a history of abuse and abandonment. Seven months in, she has made SO MUCH progress and is quite simply the sweetest girl ever. Ghost still has a lot to learn (we have puppy classes scheduled for January!) but he too has made lots of progress, including learning how to ‘give paw.’ Watching these two play and snuggle together absolutely warms my heart and I cannot say enough about how good it feels knowing you saved a life (or two) by adopting rescue dogs. If you’re searching for your own companion, may I suggest God’s Dogs in Texas? https://godsdogsrescue.org/ Both Kitty and Ghost were adopting through this nonprofit and they were awesome every step of the way. If you prefer to meet your 4-legged friend before adopting, I highly encourage you to visit your local shelter or rescue. There are so many animals out there who need homes!
I had 2 poems published! While I am most certainly a writer, I wouldn’t exactly call myself a poet. I dabble from time to time, and a few years ago wrote a couple of pieces about the Outer Banks. This summer, Capsule Stories published those two poems in their print journal, and I was super excited to be able to share my love of the barrier islands with strangers and other writers. Capsule Stories is a refreshing, accessible literary journal that actually publishes in print, so check them out if you’re looking for something new to read: https://capsulestories.com/
Joe Biden & Kamala Harris won the election! I still get emotional when I think about that day that my husband texted me the news — I was standing in line at the deli at the grocery store when I learned that love, peace, and integrity had triumphed once again and that Joe Biden & Kamala Harris would be the next pair to occupy the White House. While Biden wasn’t my ideal candidate and I know that his presidency won’t solve all the issues in our country, I am beyond relieved that we won’t have to suffer another four years of hate and lies. It is also incredibly refreshing and encouraging to see how much diversity Biden will have in his cabinet, and I look forward to seeing his efforts on bridging the massive divide that currently separates this country. Love trumps hate. Love trumped hate. Love is love.
We went on vacation! When our friends moved to Holland last year, I was hopeful that J & I would get to visit them sometime in 2020. Of course those plans derailed like a train running on moonshine, and god only knows when we’ll ever get to go overseas again. However we did manage to make it to the Outer Banks for the first time since 2017, and though this vacation looked different than any other, it was nice to get out of our zip code and feel the sand and sea on our skin, especially when we were so desperate for some type of peace and relaxation. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that travel won’t be out of the question for the rest of my life, and in the meantime am having fun living vicariously through books and movies and Facebook posts.
So did anything good happen to you in this mess of a year? Please share, even if it’s something as simple as buying a favorite shirt or learning to cook a delicious batch of cookies. Stay safe, stay healthy, and here’s to a better 2021 — whatever that means!
Well, peeps, I’m only 2 months late, but here it is — my recap of our vacation to the Outer Banks, 2020 edition.
Better late than never, I guess, and I figured most of us could use a dose of the beach considering winter is rearing its frigid head in most parts of the world right now. Plus, I know it’s been hard for a lot of people to travel what with the pandemic and all, so if you haven’t been able to leave your zip code in the last eight months, I hope this post helps you live vicariously through the Internet for a few minutes.
This trip was originally supposed to take place in May, but got postponed because of COVID, so our vacation looked nothing like we initially anticipated. Virus aside, we planned this excursion with every intention of taking our dog Comet, of course having no idea that he’d end up passing away in April. We ended up taking our new fur kid, Kitty, and as an added surprise our latest (and a bit unexpected) addition Ghost came along too. Considering virus precautions and having two new dogs in tow, my anxiety was pretty high in the weeks leading up to our departure.
We did have a few hiccups along the way — somehow missing the exit for our first traditional rest stop and driving an hour out of our way & Kitty nearly jumping out of the car unleashed — but the journey went relatively smoothly, all things considered. Finding food and bathrooms during the six hundred mile trek required a little more planning with COVID shutdowns, and we had to be hyper vigilant and cognizant of hand washing and sanitizing and pay attention to the differing restrictions in each state. Once we reached out destination, we found that North Carolina’s restrictions were very similar to those in PA. We had to wear masks everywhere we went, capacity limits at tourist attractions were small, and restaurants only offered take out or sparse outdoor seating. Still, I felt safe all week and following these extra safety steps were in a beach town didn’t take away the relaxing and freeing feeling of being on the coast.
The only major disappointment was our beach house. After two decades of visiting the Outer Banks and staying in everything from mansions to modest cottages, this place was probably bottom of the barrel. The house was old and in dire need of dozens of repairs, and I was not impressed by the cleaning staff, COVID aside. Still, we made it work as best we could, and the drawbacks at the house did not detract from the stunning views and quiet, peaceful location in the southern town of Frisco. We spent hours wading, discovering seashells, watching pelicans and dolphins, and marveling at the stunning sunrises and sunsets. We took the nearby ferry across the Pamlico Sound to Ocracoke Island twice, where we made sure to patronize local shops and restaurants effected by Hurricane Dorian and the virus, and walked the haunting trail at Springer’s Point, where Blackbeard’s body is said to have been thrown after his last battle off the coast. Our dogs particularly enjoyed the sugary soft sand, where they dug holes and chased birds.
Back in Frisco and Buxton, I explored a beautiful church, Our Lady of the Seas, to get inspiration for a pivotal scene in my WIP, Ocracoke’s Daughter. I browsed a cool little bookstore called Buxton Books, housed in a pre-civil war building with each tiny room dedicated to a different subject. We made plans to attend a ghost walk on October 30th, but it ended up getting cancelled due to high winds and power outages from a storm off the coast (2020 strikes again). We visited the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, where I did some additional research on Blackbeard, again for my WIP, and as usual spent my last night walking solo on the beach, feeling the rush of salt water run over my ankles and wiping my tears as I said a temporary goodbye to the sea once again.
This vacation was definitely different from any other I’ve had in the Outer Banks, being in a much more remote location on the southern beaches as opposed to the more populated, touristy spots further north. Still, the whimsy of the island did its job in healing my world weary body, mind, and soul . . . and I already miss it.
Guess I’ll have to live vicariously through my WIP until I can return.
Ever since COVID hit the US and changed everyone’s daily life, I’ve been doing A LOT of writing. Since I’m no longer working my second job and I can’t go to the pool because it’s STILL closed thanks to both construction and this pesky virus, I’ve been spending so much time behind a computer screen I’m starting to think there’s going to be an actual imprint of my ass on my dining room chair.
Anywho, I realized that despite all this writing that’s been going on, I haven’t really talked about it at all on my blog. Which I totally should be doing since, you know, I am a writer and aside from blogging about mental health and connecting with other mental health warriors, I also want to connect with other writers.
So what kind of ventures are in that folder marked “current writing projects?”
For starters, I managed to completely rebuild the 90,000+ word manuscript that I lost back in January thanks to a USB crash. Luckily one of my friends had the first draft saved in her email and I rewrote the entire thing from that in 4-5 months. The Month of May follows Ella, a young woman who unexpectedly inherits her grandmother’s house and must return to her hometown of Pittsburgh where she is overcome with both beautiful and horrible memories of her first love and her late grandparents. As Ella navigates these complicated emotions in the steel town that raised her, she ultimately has to decide if she’s strong enough to let love in all its forms back into her life again. I sent it out to 2 beta readers who were actually helpful, and am going over their comments before making some ‘final’ corrections and touch ups. I’m hoping that I can start querying again by the end of the year and keeping my fingers crossed that I can come up with a 280-character pitch to participate in my very first #PitMad on Twitter on December 3rd.
While May was out to the betas, I turned my attention to another manuscript I lost in the great USB crash of 2020. At the time, Ocracoke’s Daughter was 30-40,000 words, another contemporary fiction novel that I’ve rebuilt to around 55,000 words. Here’s a pitch I randomly wrote — Adopted at birth and raised by strict conservatives, Sarah Sullivan always thought she was destined for two things – to marry the boy she met in middle school and raise his children. But after a decade of miscarriages and indifference from her overbearing husband, she files for divorce and travels to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to find her biological parents and herself. On the serene shores of Ocracoke and Hatteras, Sarah befriends a man with his own secrets, and an eccentric woman who claims to be her aunt – and the descendant of one of history’s most notorious pirates. I’m really happy with the progress I’ve made with this one too, but I’m feeling a bit stuck with certain aspects, particularly those that require lots of research — and possibly involve traveling to parts of North Carolina that isn’t really plausible right now with budget and travel restrictions. Thanks again, COVID. Basically I need to do a bunch of historical research on Blackbeard the pirate and should probably travel to the town of Bath, NC, which I have no idea if I’ll ever have the opportunity to do anytime soon. Fingers crossed that I’ll get some research completed when we (hopefully) vacation near Ocracoke this October.
I’ve also got a handful of other smaller projects I’ve been toiling with —
Summer Essays— Since this summer was essentially void of any typical summer experiences, I lamented those warm, sunny hours away by tapping away at my keyboard on my porch. Instead of lounging by the pool, riding roller coasters, or attending concerts, I wrote about past summers instead and came up with a series of ‘Summer Essays’ that I hope to find a home for someday. These include summers in my parents’ backyard pool, long days exploring the hills at my grandparents’ house, four years of band camp, decades of long weekends at a friend’s cabin in the mountains of northwestern PA, memories of dozens of vacations on the Outer Banks, and the summer of 2003, when my life changed forever.
Lunch with Miss Kitty — This is a piece I’ve been working on that I hope to pitch to a handful of dog-focused publications, this one in particular about my new fur kid, Miss Kitty, and our developing bond as she adjusts to her new life in her forever home. I’m pretty happy with it but am struggling with an ending.
Sweats — I decided to try my hand at a flash fiction piece that is told from the view point of a hoodie that a tourist buys on Westminster Pier while vacationing in London. I actually love 2/3 of this piece, but again am struggling with the ending. It took on an entirely different direction than I initially intended, and I’ve always had a hard time wrapping things up in less than 1000 words, so this one may take a while before I’m ready to submit it.
I’m also still trying to find a home for the following — Light of the Fire, a short story I wrote about the bond of female friendship after one of my friends lost everything in a house fire last year; Comet is Cupid, a non-fiction narrative about how our late dog Comet brought me and my husband together; and a short poem called Stained Glass Window about how people in my life who used to be my biggest cheerleaders faded away when I finally began standing up for myself and pursuing my dreams.
Bridges to Beaches— Aside from the novels, this is probably the project that I’m most excited about, yet is the least complete. Right now it’s just a cluster of unorganized ideas in a Word Doc that have been floating around in my head for a few years now. I love writing about traveling and visiting lesser-known places in and around my hometown, so I decided that I wanted to start a travel blog from a local and down to earth perspective. So many travel blogs seem focused on unattainable destinations — far away, exotic islands, expensive hotels in European hot spots, or remote, sometimes dangerous villages in the middle of nowhere. As someone with a limited budget (and travel anxiety), I want to write about accessible, affordable, and unique experiences that the average person can enjoy. Since I’ve lived in Pittsburgh my entire life, I figured I’d start with my hometown. Everyone knows about our champion sports teams, our three rivers, and our myriad of museums, so my blog would focus on the hole in the wall, best keep secrets of this thriving, revitalized steel town. The best places to go kayaking. A tiny, but impressive collection of antique cars and carriages. A $10 tour of one of the MLB’s most beautiful baseball parks. Farmers markets. Secluded walking trails nestled amid the campus of The University of Pittsburgh. Fascinating historical spots. The blog would also include write ups about nearby destinations perfect for day trips or long weekends, like Lake Erie and Presque Isle, Columbus, OH, Pennsylvania’s Laurel Highlands, Lake Canadohota, and New York City. Since North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a popular tourist destination for Pittsburghers (and it’s my favorite place on earth), I also wanted to include a section dedicated to vacationing there. Again, anyone can find articles about the beaches, the popular museums, and typical tourist attractions, but I’d want this part of the blog to focus on insider tips, hidden gems, and best kept secrets of this whimsical chain of barrier islands.
Just last week I had an idea for a fourth part of the blog, and that would be a section focusing on small businesses in the Pittsburgh area — a real estate agency, a salon, a photographer, painters, musicians, restaurants, non-profits — the possibilities are endless. I think it would be a really exciting way for independent entrepreneurs and artists to make connections and get their names out there.
Wow. Sometimes I get overwhelmed at all the ideas my brain can conjure up. It’s exciting, but it’s also intimidating. I still work a 9-5 job and though it no longer controls my everyday life, my anxiety is always at the back of my mind telling me that I’m being overly-ambitious or that I’m not good enough to have any success with these projects. I’m also still struggling with the technical aspects of ensuring that any of these ventures are a success, like social media presence, SEO, and being relevant on the internet, but hopefully I’ve recently found some resources to help with such obstacles.
In addition to all of these projects, I’m still trying to educate myself about being relevant and present on Facebook and Twitter, and I’m seriously considering starting a Linked In page for my writing. And holy crap WordPress has been telling me about its new formatting and offering me tutelage for months now but it’s finally here and now I have to figure out all this new crap on my own. Oops. (BTW does anyone know how to link prior blog posts on here? I found the “embed” button but can’t figure out how to change the text of the hyperlink). I’ve also GOT to figure out how to link my blogs to Twitter. In the words of Kimmy Gibbler, Sweet Cheese.
With any luck, and a lot of hard work, I hope at least two or three of these projects see the light of day in the coming months or years. I’d love to hear what you guys think of any or all of them, and would also love to hear what you’ve been working on! Feel free to comment with a link to one of your projects if you’d like.
I mentioned in one of my previous posts about my mixed feelings towards this writing class I’ve been taking. One of the things I find myself asking — before, during, & after class, as well as anytime I’m scowering the submissions opportunities on any given website, blog, newsletter or Twitter feed is — am I boring? Is my writing boring?
I mean, I know I can write. I’ve known that since probably before sixth grade, that day when I realized that not only was I already a writer and always had been, but that I wanted to do it for the rest of my life and try like hell to make a career out of it. It’s the only thing you’ll ever hear me say I’m truly good at. I have my battles, like all writers, and I’ve certainly been struggling to find my place in the writing world recently, especially since I don’t fit into the coveted literary fiction box. But it’s the only thing I feel (mostly) confident about and the only thing I feel I can passionately pursue.
But what if I’m just plain boring? I write what I know, which is one of the first rules of writing. But what if what I know is irrelevant? What if it’s not throught-provoking? What if it’s not insightful or deep? What if it’s not mindblowing or truly unique?
A few weeks ago in my writing class, one of the girls was explaining her absence from the week before. She had apparently taken part in some sort of “retreat,” where attendees travel to some remote southwestern town and pay an exorbitant amount of money to take some sort of mushroom-like, mind-altering drug and spend the next several hours vomiting into a bucket and experiencing a life changing trip that blurs the lines of reality and the expands the mind in ways you never thought possible.
Everybody in class peppered her with fascinated, curious questions. A few talked about their own experiences with mind-altering drugs. Most of them spoke as if she had just scaled Everest or killed a lion with her bare hands. These people with MFAs and high-paying careers and children and expensive shoes and dozens of stamps all over their passports were enthralled by her experience. And I just sat there, mouth hanging open slightly, coming to the realization that I was, quite possibly, the most boring person on the planet.
I won’t even sip an energy drink because I’m petrified of what it’ll do to me. And these people were talking about mind-altering drugs and bad trips as though they were popping a couple of aspirins.
In our first class, during the inevitably uncomfortable “getting to know you” phase, our instructor had us go around the room and tell a “crazy story” about something that had happened to us. While everyone else spoke about living in foreign countries and nearly freezing to death on an abandoned train car in the middle of some obscure part of Russia, the best I could come up with was the time I’d ridden in an elevator with hockey great Mario Lemieux.
Jesus, I’m boring.
I find myself thinking the same thing as I read through the submission guidelines of nearly every single publication I explore. Everyone is looking for stories about life-changing vacations, near death experiences, bizarre encounters or drug-induced musings. Everyone wants work from writers who look at a rubberband and see an alternate universe. Everyone wants to hear from writers who have lived abroad or lived in the tundra or been a guide on an African Safari. They want work from people who have been imprisoned, abused, addicted, raped. They want work from people who are immigrants, biracial, LGBTQ+, some sort of minority, disabled, rehabilitated.
I’m not saying that writers from these backgrounds don’t deserve to be heard. They absolutely, 110% do. And I’m so glad that our world is finally being inclusive. But . . . what if I don’t fit any of those categories? What if I’m just a below-average white girl who has never lived anywhere but the suburbs and thought that five days in London was the trip of a lifetime? (please don’t take this is a “woe is me” from a privileged white woman. I promise you this is not an attack on inclusion, just a personal reflection from the anxiety-riddled mind of a below-average college drop out trying to find her place in a world of extraordinary people).
What if writing about mental health is a fad that fades away? What if it doesn’t fade away but I get lost in the shuffle? What if my triumphs and struggles with anxiety aren’t raw enough? What if I haven’t overcome enough?
What if my passion for traveling to the Outer Banks is too boring? What if nobody wants to read about a sleepy beach town that thousands of Pennsylvanians flock to every year? What if nobody cares that Blackbeard the pirate used to roam the beaches or that the iconic lighthouses might be haunted? What if nobody cares about the wild mustangs that have lived on the beaches of Corolla since the 1500s or resilient spirit of those who call the barrier islands home?
What if nobody wants to read accessible, contemporary/commercial/genre fiction about a young woman clawing her way back to life and love after running away from her hometown in the throes of heartbreak, anxiety, and depression?
What if nobody wants to read a short story about a young man who is planning the perfect proposal while also struggling to start his own business, only to have the love of his life say no when presented with a diamond engagement ring?
What if no one wants to read about two best friends who grow apart through life’s changes, only to reconnect over the tragedy of a house fire?
What if no one wants to read about a recent high school graduate who comes of age the summer after her grandfather’s death?
I know none of these ideas are earth shattering. I’m not gunning for a Pulitzer Prize or a Pushcart nomination. I don’t want to meet celebrities or wrangle with the rich and famous. (although it would be cool to be on Ellen … )
I just want to write relatable fiction for the everyday person. I want people to see themsleves in my characters and their experiences in my plots. I want people to laugh and cry and escape from the world while they’re reading my words.
I certainly didn’t forget about the blogging community, but I know I haven’t been around as much as I used to. I’ve been hyper-focused on one project as far as writing goes, and that is the rebuild of 95,000 word manuscript that I lost in the the great USB crash of 2020.
So far I’ve rewritten about 40,000 words in about 5 weeks, which is encouraging, but I still have a long way to go. Considering that I had just started querying agents a month before the crash, I’m eager to get this thing rebuilt ASAP. Then I’m going to try getting beta readers again, even though my last experience with them was more confusing than anything else. I’m hoping I can start querying again by summer — fingers & toes crossed.
This also means that I haven’t been submitting anything. It’s frustrating because I haven’t had an acceptance email in about 6 months and I’m really starting to feel overwhelmed by rejection and the idea that maybe my short story work is simply not suitable for the “literary” community. Which brings me to the next item that has been keeping me out of the blogging loop — my writing class.
After attending the best conference EVA in October, I felt the need to seek out a community of writers, whether in the form of a workshop or a formal class, but was having trouble finding something that fit my budget and schedule and didn’t require a two-hour commute.
Then in December, I found something that worked for me, so I took some funds out of my savings and signed up. I was giddy with excitement for our first class at the beginning of January, but if I’m being 100% honest, the class has sort of fallen flat for me.
The instructor that was listed in the brochure (who I researched and had some influence on my decision to sign up) was replaced at the last minute, and I’m not sure how I feel about the new guy. I found myself a bit bored halfway through the first class, and considered backing out. But I told myself to suck it up and give him and the class another chance.
The next two classes were better — my classmates and I got to know each other a little more, we did fun exercises, and critiqued four short stories submitted by the braver students who didn’t mind being the first to put themselves out there.
Then it was my turn. I struggled with which piece to submit, mainly because everyone in the class was submitting work written in a literary style — which we all know is my worse enemy. They were also submitting short stories, which I’ve always had a hard time with, hence my need for the class. I contemplated sending the first two chapters of my novel, but that seemed like a cop out. I considered submitting a 3800 word short story based on the house fire a friend of mine experienced last year, but although I love the story and am still looking to get it published, it didn’t seem “deep” enough for the people in this class. So I submitted a shorter story that I wrote on a whim based on my experience working for an elite non-profit in my hometown that turned out to be a total disaster of a hot mess.
It did not go well. I honestly don’t think anyone had anything good to say about the piece. No one was rude or condescending or discouraged me, but they all just seemed bored and confused by every aspect of the story. The conversation that followed my submission was the least engaging and least productive of all the other classes. It was really embarrassing. I have yet to salvage the printouts peppered with my classmates’ notes from the floor of my car.
I know that part of being a writer is about having thick skin. And for someone like me who has always been pretty sensitive, I think that most of the time I cope pretty well with the rejection I face. But getting a form rejection email is entirely different than being in a room with seven people whose writing has blown yours out out of the water and they’re all looking at you wondering how you managed to graduate kindergarten.
The other part of this fiasco with my manuscript rebuild and the class that I wasted $300 on is the fact that I’ve had NO TIME whatsoever to focus on my “resolution” of devoting more time to freelance work. So — Stacy 0, Writing World 3.
While I don’t believe in “signs” as much as I used to, and certainly try not to base important life decisions on symbolism anymore, I can’t help but wonder if all of these obstacles are trying to point me back towards my original writing goals — to be a novelist.
In the five years since I’ve re-entered the writing world, I’ve tried my hand at all kinds of other things — flash fiction, creative nonfiction, poetry, travel writing, and of course blogging. Some I’ve enjoyed more than others, some I could take or leave. But one thing I always come back to is writing novels. Once I finish the rebuild on my manuscript that was essentially completed, I’m actually looking forward to outlining and rewriting the two other novels I lost from the USB crash that were only about 25,000 words each. There’s just something about a novel that I can’t stay away from. And to be honest, I’m having just a touch of fun getting back to my manuscript, despite the fact that I lost 14 months of work.
I guess the biggest takeaway from these experiences is to remain true to yourself, even if that means abandoning what is normal or popular for other writers or other people. We shall see.
I typically don’t post a lot of book reviews, mainly because I think they’re overdone and they tend to get too detailed and skew the potential reader’s interest.
But I recently read a novel that was so on point with anxiety and other mental health disorders that I absolutely had to tell you about it.
The Girl He Used to Know by Tracey Garvis Graves is one of the best books I’ve read this year. You can read the synopsis on her website, and if that description isn’t enough to send you rushing for a copy, let me persuade you further.
The author absolutely NAILS what it’s like living with anxiety and other mental health problems. She addresses sensory issues, depression, and being on the autism spectrum with such a respectful, open-minded voice. The main character, Annika, seems so real it’s like she’s sitting right next to you, waiting to go out for coffee once you’ve finished her chapters. I don’t think I’ve ever had the pleasure of reading about a character like this who has been so beautifully and attentively portrayed.
This raw honesty and simple validation of people with mental health disorders as real people had me tearing up as I devoured the pages of this book. It was touching and eye-opening reading about a character who had some of the same thought patterns and mannerisms as me (finger flicking, constant second-guessing myself over social norms, etc). But it was also funny, sweet, sensitive, sad, and sexy all at the same time. I even found myself developing a literary crush on the MC’s love interest, Jonathan, something I haven’t had the pleasure of doing in years.
As I got further into the story of this page-turner, I found myself becoming emotional for another reason — realizing that this was the sort of fiction I want to write. Stories that are raw, accessible, and relatable, stories about people with anxiety and people who have experienced loss and trauma and somehow come through stronger on the other side. I want readers to know that there’s someone out there who gets it, who knows what it’s like to feel isolated and lost and defeated but somehow claw your way back.
I don’t know if I can fully express how much I want this, how much I want to share it with people and let them know they’re not alone in this battle that so many people fight yet so few talk about.
I only wish I had a better handle on how to make it happen. It’s frustrating to know that you have a niche, that there’s an audience and a market for stories and articles and books about mental health, but the fact that you’re qualified to write about it is the same reason you can’t — fear.
The anxiety I feel over writing and submitting isn’t as fierce as it used to be. Obviously I’m blogging about it on a regular basis and two of the three pieces I’ve had published center on mental health. But I want more. I want to reach more people, I want to write books about it. (technically I have written books about it. Both of my works in progress center on characters in different types of battles with mental health, self-worth, and overcoming trauma). But I’m still so afraid I’m just not good enough. I don’t want to fail. I don’t want to be scared anymore.
This book gave me a lot of hope in more ways than one. Not only did it solidify the fact that writing stories like these are marketable and desirable, but when I flipped to the back flap for the author’s bio I discovered — with soaring, excited intensity — that she started as a self-published writer.
It’s truly inspiring to see that amazing things happen to good people and good writers and gave me hope in some moments when I needed it most – not just about my writing, but my anxiety as well.
On March 9th, I attended a one day writers’ conference hosted by Writing Day Workshops in my hometown of Pittsburgh.
Since this was my second conference, I was considerably less nervous than I was for my first one, even though this would be my first time pitching to an agent (more on that later). In general, I walked away with lots of resources from this conference, and it wasn’t the least bit overwhelming considering it was only eight hours instead of three days. Most of the speakers were extremely informative and motivating, and they did a really cool session where several agents read “blind” copies of the first pages of some attendees’ manuscripts and gave a quick critique as to why they would or wouldn’t continue reading had the manuscript come across their desk. I was disappointed my first page wasn’t one of the randomly selected, but it was helpful to hear why an agent may decide to continue to read or pass on a submission.
Lucky for me, one of the first speakers of the day gave a lot of good information about pitching to (or querying) an agent. My pitch was scheduled for 10:10am, so her words were fresh in my mind when I exited the conference room and headed to the other side of the hotel for my very first pitch.
If you read my blog regularly (thanks BTW!), you know that these last few months have been a challenge for me, anxiety-wise. A week prior to the conference, I was seriously considering skipping it because I was having tons of random panic attacks and couldn’t concentrate on something as simple as a recipe, let alone preparing a pitch. I spent days writing and re-writing a script for myself, and probably had about twelve incomplete versions before I gave up completely. A mere two or three days before the conference, I got a very helpful message from another writer in a Facebook writer group saying “Stop. Just tell yourself, like a mantra, ‘I know the words that come out of my mouth are perfect. I give the best pitch.’ Say it with total confidence and trust.”
And this is what I did. I of course had a general idea about what I was going to say, but I had been obsessing over what order to say it in and what to emphasize. Eventually, I limited myself to one practice run a day. Then the morning of the conference, I rehearsed it in the shower and once more when I parked my car. I didn’t think of it again until I sat down and shook hands with the agent I’d picked out three months ago when I registered.
Leading up to the conference, I’d heard some horror stories about new writers butchering pitches or completely blanking out once they sat down, regardless of how prepared they were. A friend of mine pitched to an agent last year, and she said the woman was like talking to a stone and seemed shocked when my friend offered her hand and introduced herself. And when I attended a webinar last fall about what to expect when pitching to an agent, the host warned that most agents simply sit and wait for you to start talking with no prompts or questions whatsoever. I did my best to prepare for these scenarios, but I’m so glad my experience was totally different.
The agent I pitched to was young and friendly, who smiled throughout the entire ten minutes. She nodded as I spoke, asked me questions, and told me she was looking for stories with several specific elements mine just happened to have. She seemed intrigued and excited that my novel had some mental health themes and focused on a woman in her mid-twenties, both of which are apparently under-represented. We seemed to click right away and I was completely GEEKEDwhen she gave me her card and asked me to email her my query and first three chapters. Somehow I was able to contain my excitement and ask relevant questions, like whether or not it was okay for me to send the apparent dreaded prologue that so many people in the writing industry detest, and scribbled down her instructions so I could refer to them later.
After the pitch, I took a timeout in the ladies room, where I very briefly cried tears of joy and reapplied the deodorant that hadn’t held up a lick while I was pitching. Then I strode back to the main conference room feeling like I had just won the Academy Award for best screenplay.
The rest of the day flew by, and I’m proud to say that I initiated several conversations with other writers sitting near me. Although I still only gave out one business card, I spoke to another young woman about writing about mental health, and lamented with a few others about finding reliable beta readers and critique groups while holding a day job.
The last speaker of the day was JD Barker, an international best-selling author who was somehow both inspiring and discouraging. He gave hope to us amateur writers by telling us that he was sitting at a conference as an unknown writer a mere five years ago, and he threw out some great resources for us to research. But most of those resources were websites and services that, quite literally, cost hundreds or thousands of dollars, which he just happened to have even before making millions selling books. So. There’s that.
On my way home, I texted my husband to order pizza and stopped to pick up a six pack of my favorite beer to celebrate my successful pitch. That night, I began working in the necessary evil that is the query letter, and am hoping that by the time this post goes live, I will have sent my best to the agent.
WDW hosts conferences in several cities throughout the US every year. Check out their website if you’re interested!