What does it take?

"If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results." Emily Brontë. How would she view the cyber arena of writing?

Word count: 374   Reading time 1-2 minutes

The internet has moved the goalposts for 21st century writers. Now, among other things, we are now supposed to:

  • Read a lot.
  • Write a lot.
  • Write a mission statement.
  • Join a writers’ group (for fellowship)
  • Join a critique group (for feedback).
  • Take courses.
  • Join a book club. At least one.
  • Attend writing conferences and festivals.
  • Build a platform, a brand: blog, tweet, join facebook, LinkedIn, read other blogs, comment on other blogs.  
  • Build a professional bio.
  • Be camera friendly.
  • Pitch books in live situations or, at the very least, start the bruising process of querying agents and publishers.

After the book deal:

  • Teach or mentor other writers.
  • Organize a book launch.
  • Organize appearances and book signings.
  • Visit booksellers and book buyers.
  • Organize a book tour.
  • Start again at the top of the list.

While these suggestions only scrape the surface of the recommendations I’ve found, this list, even in its pared-down form, triggers a breathless claustrophobia in me. It doesn’t seem to leave a lot of room for the two essentials of writing and reading. What are the choices? Few, as far as I can tell, so I pick and choose the things that I hope will build a robust writing career.

Still, that list makes me wonder how the 20th Century’s five most reclusive writers would fare if they were to publish their books today. Georgette Heyer, who sold her first book at age 17 and wrote 55 more over the next 50 years, granted only one interview in her entire life. Would she have flopped in the cyber age?

In the end, as interesting as it to compare the current writing world to days gone by, it’s best not to spend too much time thinking about it. As L.P. Hartley said, “The past is a foreign place. They do things differently there.”

What are you doing to build your writing career? Are all these things simply too much for one person? How do you choose and what do you choose?


Photo from Wikimedia commons, Dan English

Magic Time

Word count: 478                  Reading time: 2 minutes

5:00 PM on Halloween afternoon I looked at the two pumpkins sitting on the kitchen counter. Should we bother to carve them? The weather was foul, not Hurricane-Sandy foul, but heavy-rain-warning-in-the-Pacific-rainforest foul. And rain it did. The downpour drowned the stereo and pounded loudly enough to suspend conversation. No trick or treaters were going to come out in this mess.

But still. Miss this holiday and it would be gone forever. So we rolled up our sleeves. When we were done, we set the two jack-o-lanterns on the front steps. Twenty minutes later our first and only callers of the night arrived: three young girls in garbage can costumes with big plastic lids for hats. I admired their tenacity and determination to celebrate one of the most fun holidays of the year. I also knew that two shining lanterns had drawn the kids to our house.

The next morning, November 1, marked the start of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) and I thought of many reasons not to participate this year:

  • I only have a story idea. It’s not fleshed out. There is no timeline or well-defined story arc. It’s just a fragment.
  • NaNo is hard. It takes a lot of effort and sacrifice even to write 50,000 words in 30 days. It means saying no to many things. Christmas fairs start in November. And I love Christmas fairs.
  • All I’ll have at the end of will be a SFD, the start of a work, not a finished product.
  • I can’t do it. It’s just not possible.

All of this, of course, is ridiculous. I’ve done NaNo for the past two years. It is a productive, intense experience. So many reasons to participate:

  • All stories start with a single idea; they have to be told to find out where they are going. NaNo is the chance to capture what Anne Lamott calls the ‘down draft’, the getting down of the story. The ‘up draft’ – when the story is fixed up – comes later.
  • Anything worth having is usually hard work and normally involves sacrifice.
  • At the end of the process I’ll have another SFD, the important starting point for another novel.
  • I can do it. I’ve done it twice before. In fact, my 2010 NaNo novel is currently under contract to Great Plains Publications. There are lots of published NaNo books.

Like Halloween, NaNoWriMo only comes once a year. A thirty day commitment isn’t forever. And if I miss it this year, I’ll have to wait twelve months to participate again. If I roll up my sleeves and finish a glowing jack-o-lantern for the front porch, who knows what fun characters might show up at the door.

How do you keep moving forward even when your psyche throws up the stop signs? How do you keep the prize of finished work in clear view?


Photo by: Alan Bolitho, LM


Signed, Sealed, Delivered

Word count: 437                                                           Reading time: 1-2 minutes 

How to get a book deal:

  • write a novel
  • give it to a few friends to read
  • revise accordingly
  • send a submission to an agent or publisher
  • sign the contract.

That’s how it works for some authors and there is an entire chapter devoted to them in the book Life’s Not Fair. If you google “how to get a book deal” (over a billion hits) you’ll quickly realize how elusive a contract can be.

Four weeks ago, on a cold, grey morning that was more like January than June, my phone rang as I was coming out of the dentist. When Anita Daher said that Great Plains Publications wanted to offer me a contract on my most recently-completed YA novel (tentatively titled Lockdown), I looked up at the cloud-shrouded mountains and decided that the weather had never been finer. Two nail-biting weeks later a soft copy of the contract arrived and there was my name, Maggie Bolitho, hereinafter called the Author.

 Last week, more thrilling still, the hard copy of the contract arrived. After another read, front-to-back, I signed page 8 and returned it. Scheduled release date for the book: Spring 2014.

I wrote the SFD of Lockdown just over 18 months ago (NaNoWritMo 2010). Unlike the lucky authors who hit their stride right out of the gate, it’s taken a while for me to get this manuscript ready for prime time. My warm-up included three or four dozen short stories, two other YA novels, two adult novels, and I even experimented with futuristic Sci Fi (the less said bout that, the better). When my energy stalled, I took courses and joined online and R/L groups. I paired up with a tireless writing partner who is both forthright with her insightful critiques as well as encouraging. For over a year I worked with writing coach, Bruce McAllister, who helped me polish my work and hone my query letter to the point where it finally became market-ready. I’ve scaled stout walls over the past few years. 

So now I’m at the next bend in the road and I can see a few hurdles ahead. I’m primed and ready. I’ve been preparing for this part of the adventure for a few years now.

Where are you in your writer’s journey? Are you laying track and looking forward to pulling the entire novel together? Are you finished and revising, getting as much feedback as you can before you submit the work to the market? Or are you in the arduous process called submission, waiting for your phone call?

Maggie Bolitho, Author