Writing

Picking Myself Up: The Ups and Downs of the Writing Life

 

Photo by Joe Silva

Like everything else, there are ups and downs to being a writer. While I experience much joy getting my thoughts down on paper, there are many instances that I have to write for free. How many professions require one to work for free? Writing even a short article requires a lot of time and attention to make the writing the best it can be and then one has to polish it up before it is actually finished. What often happens is my hard work goes unrewarded and my spirit sinks to the point where I cannot find a flow in my words. What is the point of all this hard work if nothing comes of it, I’ve asked myself. Many times.I wish I was good at something more marketable and practical.

In the midst of this negativity and pessimism I realize I need to take advantage of resources to boost my motivation and inspiration.

That’s why I signed up to attend a writers conference. I registered last December but I could certainly use the boost now. It begins toward the end of this week.

When writers get together, I have found they are not competitive but to the contrary, very generous with encouraging fellow writers. They exchange resources, give constructive criticism in writer critique groups and applaud each other’s accomplishments. The speakers offer a plethora of information and tips to help writers succeed. There are pep talks about not giving up, to keep plugging away and eventually all our hard work and the long hours of writing will bear fruit. We may not rise to the level of Stephen King or James Patterson, but each of us will see some success if we just hang in there. The writing life is a long, slow, arduous journey for most. Overnight success rarely happens.

I know many writers write in isolation. Many do well, but I personally love being in a writers group. I find the support, advice, and friendship to be invaluable. I often don’t meet others who enjoy writing, so when we writers get together, that time is uplifting.

Weather forecasts predict a snowstorm, so I’m just hoping I’ll get to the conference this year. Wish me luck!

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Thoughts about Family While Writing

Photo by Nicole De Khors

I just returned from Florida to attend my uncle’s funeral. He was 95 years old and totally devoted to family. He leaves a huge gap for all who knew and loved him. I may write about him someday but right now I am still processing his passing.

In Florida, I saw and connected with relatives I hadn’t seen in years. All of us used to live in Rhode Island but now we are spread out in different parts of the country. Of course, we still share our connection as well as beautiful family memories. If only we could all live near each other once again. Fortunately, I keep in touch with many of them through Facebook and feel they are still a part of my life.When I saw my cousins’ children, whom I hadn’t seen since they were toddlers, I instantly recognized them because we share pictures and tidbits of our lives on Facebook.

No, this isn’t a Facebook ad. I only want to emphasize how much I appreciate the blessing of connecting with family even though we are all busy and live in different places.

Actually, I have been steeped in memories of relatives for the past few years. You see, another uncle has been occupying my thoughts. In my next novel, one of the characters is afflicted with leukemia. This beloved uncle passed away from this disease in 1983 and while writing the story, my thoughts kept turning back to him, his wife, their sons, the sons’ wives and the grandchildren. Memories of family Thanksgivings, cookouts, and other get-togethers have been on my mind. While I was growing up it never dawned on me these days would end and we would all move on to new stages in our lives, no longer having opportunities for visits throughout the year. I cherished these memories while writing, even though my novel has fictional characters that have no connection with my relatives.

This is one of the reasons I find writing so rewarding. Though my uncle’s leukemia was a tragedy for him and our family, writing the story has returned me to those days. When we all got together, my sisters and I would take turns sitting on my uncle’s lap and he would shower us with attention. When one of his sons had a daughter, my uncle would light up whenever he saw her and she became the center of his existence. He loved to joke and I remember his wide, generous smile and the good feeling all of us had to be around him. His wife, my father’s sister, was sweet and whomever she was speaking to, she made that person feel they were the most interesting and important person to her. She was smart and talented and always down-to-earth. For years she looked like she never aged. Like her husband, the family was everything to her.

In my next novel, I emphasize the importance of family above personal ambitions and individual pursuits. Life with its unexpected twists and turns doesn’t always go as planned and there can be much heartbreak and disappointment along the way. But I strove to make the responsibility of caring and supporting loved ones paramount while on life’s journey, modeled after my own family and relatives. Truly, our memories are what makes us.

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Self-Publishing: A Learning Curve

As this year draws to a close, like many people, I am taking stock on how the year went. It was exhilarating to publish my first novel, True Mercy, although there were many snags with the interior formatting. But fortunately, the book was ready by the time of my launch party on January 11th, which is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. I was able to sell 24 books at that launch party, which I’ll always remember as one of the highlights of my life.

As my novel was getting published, I kept reading that marketing was even harder than writing the book. At first, I couldn’t believe it—writing the first draft of True Mercy felt like an epic accomplishment. Editing it felt like a marathon, but when the book was published, I finally understood how marketing is even harder. After all, an estimated 1 million books get published every year. The trick is how to stand out. I originally thought writing the best story I possibly could suffice, but I was wrong. Writers have a tremendous task getting their book discovered among all the competition. This is where writer conferences and writing groups are so important: writers need resources and ideas on how to get their books discovered. It is not a job a writer can accomplish alone.

I am grateful for the family and friends who came out to support me, bought the book and told others about it. I have also become immersed in support groups for the prevention of human trafficking because it is a much larger and growing problem than I ever realized when I wrote a story about a young woman from Moldova who is kidnapped and escapes from a human trafficking ring. Also, as difficult and challenging it is to have a child with autism, I hope my focus on the sweetness and innocence of the 18-year-old with autism in True Mercy gives families and caregivers a reason to appreciate those inflicted with this neurological disorder despite the hardships.

In 2018, I plan to continue to seek help and advice on marketing my novel while working on my second one. Marketing True Mercy has been trying, yet I’ve been making progress the more I learn. What I must keep in mind, as everyone who faces a new challenge, is not to give up—however difficult it is, luck can always change and the rewards can be just around the corner.

Wishing Everyone a Happy, Healthy, and Successful New Year!

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My Writing Journey Part I

Writing and finishing the novel True Mercy was a major achievement in my life. I wrote about issues that I care deeply about and I always love a thriller, a story that I cannot put down. So I decided to use this blog to write about how that journey began. Every writer has a story about their personal writing journey and all are unique in how they reached the point of writing a book.

When I was younger, I never thought I could make a living writing, so I pursued other careers. When I wrote papers for college, people remarked I was a good writer, but I never thought it would lead anywhere.

I didn’t try to actually write a book and get published until my twin sons were born. I would read them children’s picture books every day when they were still babies because educators told me this will help them develop a love of reading. We read children’s classics like Where the Wild Things Are, Berenstain Bears, and my childhood favorite, Hats for Sale. Reading to them was our special time as they would sit on my lap, stare at the pictures, and listen to my voice. What ended up happening was the more I read to them, I more convinced I became that I could write a children’s book myself.

Once I made this decision, I checked out books from the local public library on how to write children’s books and get them published. One resource I remember very well is the Writer’s Digest Children’s Book and Illustrator’s Market. I also subscribed to Writer’s Digest magazine and poured over it every month. I learned that the children’s market is very competitive, it is important to carefully read the requirements of each publisher, and I needed to become familiar with the word length for each age group.

While visiting the public library one day, I met a librarian who was a retired kindergarten teacher. She told me about her interest in writing children’s books, particularly the story she always dreamed of writing: when she was still teaching, a student once came up to her and asked, “What would you do with me if you were my mother?” So she and I began collaborating on this picture book for young children. Naturally, both of us had different ideas, but we were able to coalesce our versions together to write a story. We researched the Children’s Book and Illustrator’s Market and began sending it out.

We received many rejections.

Undeterred, we kept on writing children’s stories. We composed three stories about a character named Petey that we believed had potential.

But again, more rejections.

A few years later, although I moved to a different town, I still continued to edit and send out the Petey stories. I would inform my writing collaborator what I was doing and we remained hopeful. Unfortunately, she passed away, but I still tried to get the book published. I figured her name would appear on the cover posthumously and her four children would be paid half the profits.

It was only when I went to a Writer’s Digest Fiction Writing Conference in New York City that editors and agents informed me they didn’t see these stories getting published. And when I read them to one of my writers’ groups, they didn’t appear impressed and hearing myself read it, I knew it still needed some work.

More years went by. My twins grew up and I lost interest in writing children’s books. I even gave up trying to get published—I compared the odds of getting published to winning the lottery. But despite all the discouragement, I continued writing. My writing goals shifted; I became interested in writing an adult novel. After many fits and starts, I finally completed one. And that will be the subject for my next post of My Writing Journey. But I will end on the positive with a quote from Confucius:

It does not matter how slowly you go as long as you do not stop.

Idelle Kursman is the author of the thriller novel True Mercy.

Notice to readers who are also writers: I would be interested in learning how you began your writing journey.

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Interview with a Poet Friend

For this week’s blog, I interviewed my friend and fellow writer Sue Rutan Donald. Sue is a contributor to the Mighty.com, writes poems for friends and family, and has her own blog, Some of Sue’s Thoughts.

First is a sampling of Sue’s poems and my interview follows.

SUNNY SIDE
Even in the rain and gloom,

I love how still the flowers bloom,

They stored up sun from other days,

To continue sharing in their own way,

The hummingbirds still flit and sip

The nectar there as around they flit,

Let us then be flower-like,

Presenting, still, our sunny side.

 

HEART OF SUMMER

Here in the heart of the summer,

Some of us think it’s a bummer,

We have frizzy hair,

Due to air you can wear,

Less humidity sure would be funner!

 

BE BRAVE

The sun comes up,

The moon retreats,

Time for stars to go to sleep,

Our eyes open,

Alarm clocks ding,

In the shower,

Some folks sing,

Hot brew’s ready,

Juice is cold,

Off we go now–

Be brave! Be bold!

 

WELCOME SUMMER

Welcome Summer,

 You are hot!

Some of us like that a lot,

Some prefer dear Autumn’s ways,

With cooler air and shorter days,

But Summer now that you are here,

You’ll go too fast is what I fear,

I love your sunny, longer days,

And in the twilight how fireflies play,

I will enjoy the parts I like,

But Humidity can take a hike!

 

FRIDAY RAIN

Friday morning rain

Makes things a little hard

Drivers do not like it

But it is good for the yard.

 

1.) Q: Sue, when did you start getting interested in writing?

 A: For as long as I can remember I have written little rhymes and kept a journal.  I always loved writing stories in elementary school and used to submit poems to the school newsletter.  I began writing stories for myself in high school.

2.) Q: What inspires you to write your poems?

 A: The poems that I post on Facebook are inspired by my desire to find common ground with everyone.  There is so much negativity and things that divide us, especially lately, and I wanted to add something positive that is relevant to daily life. Many of my poems celebrate the mundane, such as looking forward to coffee in the morning, feeling unready for the workweek on Monday, and complaining or expressing pleasure with the weather.  The poems that I keep for myself are more emotional in nature and are inspired by what is happening in my life; both the good and the bad.

3.) Q: Which poets have influenced your own poetry?

 A: I’d have to say that Robert Frost influenced my poetry and also Dr. Seuss! Robert Frost seems to be the poet for the common man and woman, and I love the sing-song rhyming and made up words that you find in Dr. Seuss books.  Both of them get their point across in a pleasurable manner.   

4.) Q: What time of the day do you usually write?

 A: I don’t really have a set time of day that I write, it’s usually just whenever the opportunity presents itself in between work, my family, and household responsibilities. The little Facebook rhymes are usually written in the morning and many of my blog posts are written early Sunday morning on my old iPod touch, believe it or not.  Other writing, such as an article for The Mighty or some writing exercises are typically done in the afternoon between getting home from work and my daughter coming home from her day program.

5.) Q: You have a blog “Some of Sue’s Thoughts.” How did you decide to begin this blog?

 A: I started my blog because I had all these stories written and no place to keep them, plus I wondered if I was able to get my point across to others with my writing. The blog seemed like a good place to share them.

6.) Q: What do you write about on your blog?

 A: My blog isn’t about one specific thing, as the title implies, it’s simply whatever I feel like writing about at the time.  It contains stories about everything from my life with my daughter with special needs, my other daughter, my husband, memories from my childhood, to poison ivy, poetry, spiders, and technology.  The most read post on my blog is “I’m Not Always Gracious” which is short, but is about my feelings when my youngest daughter graduated from middle school.  The least read is the very first post “Broken Shells” which is about both my daughters and is also my favorite.

7.) Q: We are both members of the same writers group. How does this group help you with your writing?

 A: The writers group keeps me motivated to keep writing when I get into a funk and I think that everything I write is garbled nonsense. It also has helped me learn some writing techniques and gives me feedback about whether or not I’m successfully getting my point across to the reader.

8.) Q: Do you have specific writing goals for this year? If so, what are they?

 A: My writing goals for this year are to submit and (hopefully) publish four articles on The Mighty and also to find one other publication that will use my stories occasionally.  I also am trying to be more consistent about posting on my blog once a week.

9.) Q; What is your favorite part about writing?

 A: I like focusing my thoughts on something and then exploring different aspects of it when I write an article or a story.  With the poems, I like that I am connecting with people and am not above a rhyming challenge.  I love to play with words and their order and try to say something in a way that has some rhythm and rhyme. 

10.) Q: I know a German company saw one of your articles in the Mighty.com and used it for a promotion. Can you tell us about that?

 A: I wrote a story for The Mighty about the ways that my youngest daughter, who has multiple disabilities, is the same as neurotypical people of all ages.  A few weeks after being published I received a message in the comments section of my blog from a representative of a German based production company.  They wanted to know if I would give them permission to use some of the points of my article and the pictures of my daughter and me that were with it to make a short video to raise awareness of disability issues and specifically the ways in which we are all the same.  After doing some research on the company I gave my permission and they sent me a link to the finished product.  It was in German and was about 30 seconds long, but they did a nice job and credited both me and The Mighty as sources.  It was a surprise when it happened.

11.) Q: Would you like to conclude the interview with some of your thoughts?

 A: I’d like to thank you for interviewing me, and for sharing your publishing journey with me and the members of our writers group.  Writing is a good way to exercise the mind, and I think it’s fun to do.  The way some people feel about buying shoes is how I feel about notebooks and pens–that is, every pretty or unique one I see I want to have.  Nothing is more pleasurable than opening a brand new notebook or journal and writing in it with a brand new pen.

Keep writing, Sue! You brighten your readers’ day with you wit, keen observations, and rhymes.

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