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Archive for the ‘choices’ Category

This Saturday, I went to the Orange County Christian Writer’s Fellowship Conference. I’d been nearly coming out of my skin for weeks, excited at the prospect of my first-ever real writer’s conference. I told you about submitting the first 20 pages of my manuscript into their contest back in February, and although I’ve managed to contain myself somewhat, I’ve been alternately excited, terrified and like a little kid on Christmas Eve for months. There would be experts! Editors! Agents! Helpful talks! Sweet people! Gobs of inspiration! I couldn’t wait.

Luckily, I wasn’t the only crazy one, since Sam registered with just as much gusto, gamely sent her writing in to be reviewed and contested and met me at her front door in a barely post-dawn sunshine, giggling like no one should before 7 a.m. on a Saturday. Her husband sleepily smiled at our fervor, reminding me of my own husband’s excited grin – the smile of a man who’s not sure why we’re so jazzed at the idea of taking notes all day, but who loves us enough to humor our wild whims. After the obligatory stop at Starbucks, we were off, Venti lattes in hand and jabbering away like two kids on the first day of school. Who would we meet? What should we say? AAAAAAAHHHHHHSOEXCITED. (That could have been the Ventis talking).

We arrived and found our monthly writer’s critique group, a lovable bunch of journalers, poets, writers and bloggers from all walks of life and every generation. After hugs and exclamations we settled in, and one of the veteran conference attendees told us what to be prepared for and how to pick out our consultations – 15 minutes of fame with the agent, editor, or writer of your choice.

I picked an agent and one of the women at our table – a passionate, empathic prophet – said she got a “witness” when I said the agent’s name. I grew up in a church that swung wildly between being slain in the spirit and contending that logic conquers all, so I could only assume this was a good sign. We sat through the first session and ate our mass-produced pastries in silence until one of our number returned from a consultation with tears in her eyes and a potential book deal.

Decorum was long gone and the excitement only bubbled at a more fevered pitch.

The morning wore on and I headed to my consultation. I had started to feel a bit nervous – writers are not always the most joyous bunch – eyeing each other critically from our sensible shoes and making snap judgments from the long practice of being more frequently watchers of people than lovers of them, and I’d started to feel both judged and judge-y myself.  Iwalkedinandsatdownallinarush, spilling out my words with eager enthusiasm. I have a dream and story to tell, see, and I blog and I write and I’ve yearned for this chance and now I’m laying my soul bare, like me, won’t you?

She didn’t.

There are a host of totally legitimate reasons why she wouldn’t take a chance on an unknown author with a harebrained idea, but what I heard was, “Nice try, but you’re not enough.”

I left the consult with a host of solid pep-talks in my head. I’m pummeling my dreams into submission, dammit. One agent doesn’t speak for the whole industry. I write because I must, and that is enough. I walked around the beautiful campus at Mariners Church, soaking up the springtime warmth and allowing hot tears to well up behind my sunglasses, in a moment of freedom. After a brief indulgence, however, I pulled myself together and went back in for another session, finding Sam again as my rock. “How’s it go?” she asked. Well, bummer.

She didn’t have any way of knowing that such a supportive question would send her into a solid hour of therapy for her needy friend, but I am sorry to say that it did. We both pitched ourselves to the sweet editor who taught our class and we both got very kindly shot down. The editor said something to me, however, that particularly stung. “Just write your blog as yourself. If you’re authentic, readers will flock to you.”

It almost got nasty, y’all. WHAT DO YOU THINK I’VE BEEN DOING FOR THREE YEARS?!

I shook her hand and said thank you and walked outside with Sam, only to surprise my kind friend with “Maybe I’m done. I’m not enough, my blog is not good enough, and I personally have been rejected as not fun enough to read/hang out with/support. I think I’m not supposed to tell this story, and I think maybe I’m done trying.”

I wouldn’t have blamed Sam if she’d said, “Well, NOW that’s certainly the case, way to go, Sunshine. I’m going to go talk to someone who hasn’t jumped off the Crazy Bridge.”

But she didn’t, sweet friend that she is. She stayed with me as we ate our lukewarm pasta with hundreds of other hopeful writers, and helped me stay afloat in multiple conversations when I would abruptly drop out in order to Not Cry. She and Todd, one of the guys from our critique group, both nodded knowingly as I told my story and encouraged me not to give up, honestly being so kind that it almost made me cry again, because here I am being so lame and needy and everyone is SO FREAKING NICE, how did I deserve this?

I finally rallied enough to help her hone her own consultation pitch, and continued to tell myself to quit being ridiculous already. (Berating myself usually works well. Sarcasm intended.) After lunch, they announced the Memoir Contest winners. As the judge preambled, Sam squeezed my arm and the other sweet people at the table grinned knowingly at me. I shook my head as they did so, snorting a little bit to myself in my self-deprecating wisdom. “It’s not me,” I thought, “because I’ve already been told multiple times (by the experts) that I suck.”

Third place.

Second place.

The people at my table are in a frenzy of winks and smiles and shoulder rubs.  I don’t know why they’re being so nice, it’s obviously NOT ME.

First place.

DANI NICHOLS.

Sam squealed, Todd said, ” I knew it!” and I burst into tears.

I walked up in a daze and collected my prize money, shaking the judge’s hand clammily. I shakily stumbled my way back to our table, hid my face in my hands and tried not to sob uncontrollably. Someone was saying something on the microphone and I have no idea what it was. The unbelievably kind woman who won second place came over and gave me a tissue, and the lady seated behind me handed me her napkin. Our table was in an uproar, giving me winks and smiles and being SO GENEROUS with their congratulations.

Then Simon Tolkien (J.R.R.’s grandson) got up and spoke, and it finished off the surreal sense of the day. The judge of the memoir contest wants to help me polish my book and publish it. The editor who had (in a nice way, but still) shot me down earlier shook my hand and said congratulations. My friends did not begrudge me my victory but wholeheartedly rejoiced with me. Sam’s hugs sent me soaring.

I’m so blessed, you guys. Even though I, once again, foolishly allowed self-doubt and crippling despair to grab my soul, I got an umpteenth chance to persevere and do it right. It seems silly to let another person’s opinion crush or validate my dream, but it just reminded me of how fragile the creative process is, and how jealously I have to guard my hope.

I’m not done. I have tons of work to do, loads of edits, hours of continued doubt and dreams and sweat.

But I WON. And for today, that’s more than enough.

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…and I need you all to tell me what you think.

(Sorry for the shameless self-promotion lately, but this IS MY BABY.) (Honestly.) (So much sweat was involved, you have no idea.) (Ok, maybe not sweat.) (Just concentration.) (I’ll stop now.) (Sorry.)

Clickity-click!

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Moment of Truth

I submitted the first 20 pages of my book to a memoir contest.

HOLY COW, I’m terrified and excited all at once. How ever will I contain myself until April?

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Hello my darlings. I have things to do, but instead I’m talking to you, because I have got things on my mind that need your input to be resolved.

So I’ll get straight to the point. Have you ever been to a blog conference? Was it totally awesome or just eh? Is it worth a couple hundred hard-earned bucks? BlogHer is coming to San Diego, so I can hardly miss that, right? I mean, it’s practically next door! Or should save my money to fly across the country to smaller, more focused conferences?

Clearly I have no idea what I’m doing. What do you guys think?

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One of the prettiest and most poignant commercials in recent memory:

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It’s nearly 8 p.m. on a Monday, which means I should be driving over to a friend’s house to hear Brad say super-intelligent things about all his certifiably insane girlfriends. Instead I’m home, looking at the pile of receipts and papers and bills and inexplicable things that make up My Taxes, AKA The Scariest Thing in Life, Like, Ever. And I’m writing, because writing has gotten lost in the Scary of owning my own business and the Busy of keeping said business running and the Iffy of paying bills, and I need to remember why I want to do this, why I’m willing to sit down with a cup of coffee and a blank page, what it feels like to write something particularly great, even if I’m the only one who thinks I’m funny. I changed my header to “In a constant search for sunshine” because, well, it’s true, and it seems like the most fitting motto for this time in my life.

Because the beautiful things, the funny things that I manage to write about are seldom what I want to write about. Oh, I dredge them up out of a corner somewhere, but the things that weigh on my mind and want to ache themselves onto the page are petty little concerns. They are daily things: to-do lists, worries, gripes, pessimistic pieces of my heart that I don’t really want to remember, let alone publish.

So, when I control myself, when I see the humor in a burnt dinner or trafficky drive, when I tell the story of the student who grinned and clapped and hugged my neck after I finished her lesson and not the one who melted down in tears, when I feel redemption in a friendship instead of expecting to be hurt – that’s when I can write pieces that I’m proud to publish, pieces that deserve a voice, pieces that grab the messy bits of life and stir them in with the pristine ones until it’s all mixed in and delicious and you can’t tell the good from the bad.

So, I guess what I’m saying is, I’m trying to be a better writer. The kind of writer who’s honest without letting that honesty become simply a vomit of the Bad Stuff, who clings to what is good, who passes on humor and who (you knew this was coming) searches for sunshine.

So, I’m not laughing at the Bachelor tonight, but I’m still looking for joy. Hang tight while I attempt to see the humor in my tax preparation and check back for a riotously HI-larious post on 1099 forms and W-2s and Idontknowwhatanyofthismeans. (Or not. I’m only human, dangit.)

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The Christmas tree comes down today, an event that always sorrows my sentimental little heart. But in its wake are goals for this next year – plans for fitness and freedom, for growing up and going big, for expanding and reaching and dreaming.

I’ve never been so excited for a new year.

Buckle up, Dorothy, because Kansas is going bye-bye.

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