Embracing ignorance

I entered my first marathon as a favor for a friend. He wanted to surprise his girlfriend by running one with her, but he needed a training partner.

I was fueled by ignorance.

I didn’t train enough. I wore shoes made for running 5Ks. I knew nothing of protecting myself from chaffing and other long-distance injuries. My legs were leaden pegs when I crossed the finish. My toes bled through my sneakers (I eventually lost nine toenails.). I was so sore in the days after that even driving was difficult.

Still, I finished the 26.2-mile route in less than four hours, pretty respectable for a first-timer.

I wrote my first novel the same way. I knew nothing of novel writing. I had too many primary characters in the first draft. The pace in the first half differed from the pace of the second half. I edited as I wrote, which slowed me down. It took me six years to write my first novel, and I spent another two years revising it.

Still, it was a semi-finalist in the 2009 Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, respectable for a first novel. It remains my favorite and it has been the favorite of two literary agents. I have shelved it for another look at a better time in my career.

I credit ignorance for my success in completing that first novel, the same kind of ignorance that carried me through my first marathon. I believed all through the writing process that novel would sell, and I became more firm in that belief when I signed with my first agent. I even told the kids we would celebrate its sale by buying a Wii.

A year later, my husband and I caved and bought them a Wii anyway.

For first-timers, the novel-writing process can seem daunting and the goal, unachievable. The greatest obstacle is self-doubt and the greatest feat is pushing through that doubt to cross the finish line. So why not allow them that ignorance? Why clue newbies in on the perceived impossibilities?

Let them write. Let them make mistakes without knowing they are mistakes. Let them cross the finish line just once with pure joy, unaware of the bleeding toes, chaffed skin and torn muscles they acquired along the way.

I had started my next novel before I knew the first one wasn’t going to sell immediately, and that was a good thing. I had learned from my mistakes and inefficiencies. The next novel took two years to finish and that is a pace I feel comfortable with at this stage in my life, with young children to raise and elderly parents who need me.

I recently signed a contract with Black Opal Books for that second novel, a thriller entitled No Stranger Here, and for the two novels I wrote next, which are part of a mystery/suspense series. I am happy with my work and thrilled by the contract, but I’m not sure I would have made it to this point without the gift of ignorance that first time around.

I ran five more marathons after the first one. I trained smarter and ran faster for the second two. For the last two, I focused only on finishing injury-free, relying on my previous experiences as a guide. I ran a few minutes slower than my first marathon, but I finished without lasting pain and was able to hit the roads and the track again two days later.

I loved it.

I stopped running marathons when I started my first novel. The two decisions were unrelated, influenced by other factors in my life, but I am not sure I would have succeeded in one without the experience of the other. Marathon training prepared me for novel writing, but it was ignorance that got me hooked on both.

 

 

 

The Great (Writers) Depression

It seems that this recession is quickly giving way to a great depression.
And I’m not sure how to stop it.
Today, a woman posted on a writing forum that she is giving up writing for good. Her husband is unsupportive, her kids are unsupportive, the rest of her family is unsupportive.
She might as well focus on scrubbing floors, she said.
A good friend who has spent the past 20 years working full time as a playwright, posted his laments recently on a social networking site. I was surprised. He always seemed to be doing so well.
But he doesn’t feel that way.
He’s bumming.
I went through my own slump last week. The querying process had me down. Way down, even though I’ve had plenty of requests recently for partials and proposals. It just seemed like I’d been working at this for so long and getting nowhere.
Thankfully, a virtual intervention on a writers forum was successful.
I am much more cheerful now.
I hadn’t noticed this much negativity in the writing world before.
Maybe I’d just never opened my eyes.
Maybe it’s because the adrenaline rush is wearing off, kind of like it did after my first marathon 16 years ago.
I ran that first marathon on a dare.
I couldn’t resist the challenge.
I had run only 25 miles a week prior to the race and my only long run was a 19-miler three weeks before. I was out with an injury for the two weeks before the race, so I didn’t get any running in then either.
Yet I ran it in 3 hours, 58 minutes.
I ran on pure ignorance.
Pure bliss.
Pure stupidity.
I ran the last two miles on legs of lead.
Blood soaked through my sneakers as I crossed the finish line.
I lost nine toenails over the next couple weeks because I’d worn cheap cotton socks and 5K running shoes.
I didn’t care.
Not then.
I was gleeful.
I was ready to run another.
Imagine my surprise when, a week later, I was too sore to run half a mile.
My toes were too sensitive for sneakers.
My knees were a mess.
That adrenaline rush was gone.
But something else happened. As the rush subsided, my eyes opened. I began investigating all the things I did wrong. I started looking for ways to do it right. I read books. I developed a training method. I bought new sneakers and socks with Coolmax.
I ran another marathon.
This time, I finished in 3 hours, 42 minutes.
So maybe this is a good thing, this loss of adrenaline.
Maybe I was so blissful and so ignorant when I began this querying process that I didn’t notice all the writers struggling surrounding me. I didn’t see how hard it could be, how disappointing sometimes. Maybe, I was doing it all wrong.
Maybe it’s better that my eyes are open now because I find myself focusing more, targeting the right agents, working on my platform, freelancing, submitting short stories, starting another novel.
I was doing okay before.
But maybe now I’ll do better.
Maybe that great depression is always there for all of us, always threatening. Maybe that threat is part of what keeps us alive and hopeful and motivated. Because I sure as heck don’t want to fall prey to it.
Nope.
Not going to do that.
I am going to work hard and work smarter.
And someday I might even run one last marathon.

Giddy

For 11 years, I saw my name in print most every day.
Sometimes, I had several stories in one edition; I believe my record was eight.
I loved it, not because people knew my name, but because I believed in the power of writing. I believed in newspapers (and still do). I believed I was changing lives, even if sometimes that change was barely perceptible to most.
But none of that compares to the rush I got today when I received an email from an editor at Aethlon, a literary sports journal centered at East Tennessee State University. My short story, “Conquering Iwo Jima,” has been accepted for publication.
I was giddy.
Really giddy.
(Okay, so I’d had a little wine before I checked my email!)
This is different.
Different because this is fiction.
And this is my first.
I had stopped writing short stories soon after I finished my thesis for Binghamton University in 2000. My first son was two months old when I earned my degree and I had started teaching as an adjunct English instructor four months later. Then along came my daughter and, after she was born, I started the novel.
I freelanced (changed diapers), taught (changed diapers), and freelanced some more while I worked on the novel. Five years later, after a weekend of revisions, I was finally done.
Then I learned I was pregnant again.
No biggie, I thought (after the shock wore off).
Nothing was going to stop me.
Nothing except maybe twins.
They kind of brought things to a crawl.
But now they are two and, slowly, I am started to emerge from my mommy fog. One day in November, through that fog, I spied a folder on my laptop marked “short stories.” I read through a few of them, made a some minor revisions and started searching for appropriate markets on Duotrope.com.
Within 30 minutes, I found Aethlon.
I submitted “Conquering Iwo Jima” in November and forgot about it.
Then came the email.
And the giddiness.
Just a few weeks earlier, I learned that my novel, Spring Melt, had made the quarterfinals for the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award. I’m competing against 499 other writers, so my chances are slim. But I get at least one professional review of my full manuscript out of the deal and validation that I’ve got something good going here.
That makes it worth it.
I still love writing nonfiction.
I still love interviewing, investigating, creating.
But writing fiction is, for me, like that second child that you love with the same strength as the first, but you love differently. It offers a different path to change. Not better. Just different.
Fiction is a passion for me and one that I have not had the opportunity to pursue as fully as nonfiction. The giddiness comes from the realization that I might, just possibly might, finally get my chance.