The Hard Work of Getting Famous

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Most days I love to write. But some days I don’t love being a writer. Back when I was trying to be a writer, wishing I was a real writer, learning all I could, and writing- writing-writing all day long, it was hard—but it was good.

It’s still good, but it’s hard in a new way. Suddenly I feel this pressure. It’s not a pressure to write—I’m always happy to do that. It’s a pressure to become famous and sell books and build my brand.

I read blogs of writers who have, at least to my mind, made it. They are New York Times or USA Today bestsellers and they make a living at their writing. They speak at conferences, host writing retreats, teach online classes and appear in writing magazines.

Reading about these people and their success always takes me back to high school. My mother made me buy my clothes at JC Penneys and my weight did that adolescent expand and recede thing. I could write or sing my thoughts, but they stuck in my throat in the company of most people and pretty much all adults.

I still feel that way most of the time– as if I could never be  one of the popular kids/NYC Bestsellers. Most days I’m okay with that, because I like my life. But some days I get caught up in this pressure to make it. What does it take? I don’t know, so I study the people who have made it. And it consumes huge swaths of my time.

Take Tuesday. I decided to devote my morning to promoting myself the way all those bestselling writers say you should. I sat down with my cup of tea and contemplated where to begin. The options seem limitless.

I open a few of the famous writer newsletters I subscribe to, and study them.  How clever is that? Look at how well they engage readers! They’re so funny and humble at the same time. I make a list of what I should put in my newsletter (the one I have yet to make happen).

I click to my website editor and read through the help section on newsletters provided by my website host. My eyes glaze over. It makes no sense. I’ll get to it eventually. Just not today. I don’t have time.

So I head to my social media outlets. I follow successful writers on twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, and Facebook. Wow – they are so pithy and snarky, without offending. The pictures are amazing. The quotes motivating. How do they think of such clever ways to entice people to buy their books?

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What can I post? I haven’t posted all week. I scan through the pictures on my phone. Maybe I should post something inspiring or some kind of writing wisdom instead of another dog picture. I know! I read something last night…

I go in search of that clever line I underlined in the book I was reading last night. The book is upstairs next to the bed, but on the way there, Gracie wants to go out and I remember the laundry in the washing machine. So I hang out the laundry and check on my foster pups. They’re way too cute to just walk by, so I stay and snap a few pictures. Which reminds me of why I got up from my desk in the first place and I go look for that book.

After I’ve agonized over the font for my quote and searched in vain for a picture to accompany it, I realize I’ve wasted most of the morning.

I haven’t written a thing. Ugh.

But this stuff is important, right? This is how I get my name out there. This is how people discover my books. I go back to the blogs, the ones written by writers-who-have-made-it. Engage, engage, engage they all say. I have a few thoughts to add to one post, but after I figure out just what I want to say without sounding stupid or grammatically incorrect, I realize someone else has just commented with basically the same thought. Delete. More time wasted.

I need to do something to push this career forward. So, I work on a pitch to a blogger who I’ve never met, but who is open to guest posts and doing book reviews. I study her blog long enough to be able to make an intelligible comment, re-write my pitch so I don’t sound desperate and press send.

Now what? It’s almost lunchtime. I notice the post-it on my desk – mention Edith’s Heart in newsletter. I really should start my newsletter, but what’s the point in sending the newsletter to so few subscribers. All the succesful people say the key is to build your list. I open my website again. I need to think of some offer to get people to sign up for the newsletter I never send out.

I spend forty minutes shuffling things around on the site, adding events to my calendar and deleting the ones that have happened. I wrestle with the size and placement of a picture for WAY too much time. I look at the form inviting people to subscribe to my non-existent newsletter. It looks fine. Besides, I’m hungry.

I glance at the clock. Lunch time. And I’ve written nothing. But maybe one of this morning’s meager efforts will have reached a new reader. Maybe my cleverly illustrated quote on Facebook will garner a few more followers. And who knows, I haven’t checked twitter lately but maybe I’m closing in on 2500 followers. That’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Moving the career needle upward. Go me.

As I sit on my porch with my lunch, it occurs to me that when it comes to being a writer, the writing is the easy part.

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How Writing Can Make Your Life Happier (even if you aren’t a writer)

Last night I spent some time with a moms’ group through Wellspan. These were moms of babies and toddlers. I’ve been out of that scene for quite some time. The little cherubs swirled around us, while a few moms nursed and I talked to them about what writing can do for them as moms. I’ve had the chance to speak to this group in the past about raising healthy eaters, affording to eat organically, and keeping a green household. When their leader approached me to talk about writing, I was intrigued.

I’ve talked to lots of groups about writing, but this wasn’t a group of writers. This was a group of busy moms who were in the trenches of parenthood. They didn’t have time to brush their hair, let alone write a cohesive sentence.

I thought about my own years when my children were small. Some of that time I was working, sometimes not, and we moved twice. But I was always writing.

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In fact, I would say that writing is what got me through. My husband traveled a lot when my kids were little. Many times when I was overwhelmed with an overly-active, overly-creative preschooler, an independent-yet-demanding toddler, and a fussy baby, I turned to my journal to vent my anger and exhaustion and feelings of absolute and complete inadequacy.

In calmer moments, I wrote in journals to my children—telling them of my dreams for them, my observations of their emerging personalities, and funny anecdotes of their days. I’m not sure at what point in their lives I will give them these journals—because do we ever stop mothering?

When we moved to our current house, I struggled to find the kind of friends who had sustained me in our previous town, women I desperately missed. I turned to my laptop. I wrote a story about leaving because what I wanted more than anything was to leave. Escaping into that story during naptimes or early before anyone else was up, kept me sane in many, many ways.

When conflict arose between my beloved and I, it was rarely possible to address it in the moment, as the moment was full of three little people who needed me to push my anger aside and care for them. By the time everyone was put to bed, many times I only wanted sleep of my own, so I swallowed my anger or frustration with Nick and by the next day too much time had passed. Why bring it up again? I let it go, but it didn’t go away. Continue reading “How Writing Can Make Your Life Happier (even if you aren’t a writer)”

Going to the Dogs

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Having completed the third book for my three-book deal (due out June 2017!), I decided to take a short break from fiction writing to work on a project near and dear to my heart.

It’s a memoir about our family’s experience fostering 50 dogs. I love the dogs and I love my family, so you’d think this would be pretty easy, and it is, but there are complications. It’s fine to write about the embarrassing, stupid, and simply odd things that I might do, but what about all the innocent parties living in our household?

Writing real life gets tricky. With fiction, I could just make something up. Don’t like the way that looks? No problem, I’ll just change it. Bad resolution? I’ll re-write it so it makes more sense. Slow scene? I’ll just punch it up by making someone get pregnant or die or get arrested. Nonfiction is a completely different animal. These characters I’m writing about are real people whom I care about deeply. Probably more than anyone else. Certainly more than anyone reading my book. Continue reading “Going to the Dogs”