j’s Journey: Finding my stride

Previously on j’s Journey…

I have a theory. We attract people. All of us. All the time. We talk and tweet and blog and write, and we attract people. Best to attract people to the real me – not the neurotic, half-crazed me who worries about whether an agent will turn me down because I started a paragraph with a dependent clause. If an agent turns me down for that, I’m thinking we’re both better off.

I had no idea when I wrote that to all of you, the power it would have for me. I feel like a zealot, preaching the gospel of authenticity. Here’s the thing. There is a lot of advice out there – on how to write a novel, a query letter, a synopsis, a to-do list; how to find, woo, work with, and even break up with an agent; how to build a platform, self-promote, self-motivate, self-discipline, self-medicate. (Okay, that last one is actually my work in progress – it involves crayons, cheesecake and wine.)

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy all this wisdom is available, that people more experienced than I am are willing to share what they know. Some of it has been amazingly helpful to me, but sifting through it all has been exhausting and, frankly, counter productive.

My realization that it is in my best interest to be true to myself has been transformative. Honestly, I know right away what rings true for me and what doesn’t. Why waste time on the advice that makes me cringe? Why not listen carefully to the advice that resonates?

Which is exactly how I felt when I read a query letter featured in Chuck Sambuchino’s “Successful Queries” series. It didn’t follow the formula I’d been using. It was longer and more descriptive. It was personal and friendly; it talked about the novel’s themes in a way that felt natural… the way authors talk about their books. I loved it. Inspired, I rewrote my query. It no longer follows the rules I was trying to adhere to. It reflects me now. Me and my dark, quirky, sad, funny, infinitely hopeful novel. I have faith that the agent it attracts will be the right agent for me.

And so now I’m reading everything with a slightly more jaundiced eye. In fact, I’m not reading everything. There are certain methods of self promotion that don’t ring true for me, some tactics for platform building that make me uncomfortable. I’m trusting my instincts for now, my desire to form meaningful relationships with real people, some of whom are amazing writers and kickass creatives.

And… I’m having more fun.

How about you? How do you sift through all the advice out there… or do you? Have you stopped paying attention?


JUDY CLEMENT WALL is a freelance writer and Course Presenter for the Fear of Writing Online Course. She’s just finished her first novel, Beautiful Lives, and here at FoW is chronicling her quest to find a publisher. You can read more of her series here. Judy blogs about life, love, writing and cheesecake at Zebra Sounds.

28 Responses to j’s Journey: Finding my stride
  1. Marvin
    June 7, 2011 | 4:25 AM

    Hi Judy,
    Good question. It’s one that I’m trying to meditate over. If I can stop reading about meditation and actually do it. Just like my writing. lol! I’m interested to hear what others have to say, too.

    • j
      June 7, 2011 | 11:53 AM

      Ha! I have yet to master (or really even suck at) meditation. Sad when I can’t even truthfully claim suckage.I get restless.

      • Milliver's Travels
        Twitter: millivrstravels
        June 7, 2011 | 12:40 PM

        I’m in this group of non-doers whose non-doing of meditation is about being distracted by oneself. 😀 Too busy having an overload of ideas to clear my mind enough to meditate. Even though I know about, and believe in, the amazing benefits.

        • j
          June 7, 2011 | 7:28 PM

          Me too. I figure when I’m too old to fidget (if not before), I will master the meditation thing.

  2. Jon Penny
    June 7, 2011 | 11:13 AM

    Talking about writing is probably the worst thing a writer can do. Don’t try to intellectualize it or you’ll end up thinking about a list of dos and don’ts and right then and there you’ve gone and killed your voice. If you can write then you will instinctively know what works and what doesn’t. If you don’t have those instincts, find something else to do.

    • j
      June 7, 2011 | 12:11 PM

      I think craft can be taught. My college professors were invaluable to me in that regard, and writers groups and writing partners (and editors) exist because, even with strong instincts, there is value in receiving inputs.

      I think you’re right that writers frequently doubt themselves more than they should. Rejection is a regular part of most of our lives; it’s hard to stay sure in the midst of that. The key, as you say, is to trust our own artistic vision, and a creative process that takes us from shitty first draft to final (dazzling) piece.

  3. Ann Marie
    June 7, 2011 | 11:29 AM

    Since I’m an editor as well as a writer, one of the reasons I read that stuff is to learn how to talk about writing, process, and critique. What lingo do people use, for example? When writing, though, I’m most driven to that kind of reading when I have a specific problem, so it’s always been that one part of what a particular book says resonates strongly (and much of the rest can feel like “huh?”).

    As to the advice on promotion, yeah. It’s already a lot of work, so if it’s stuff you hate on top of that, yeesh. (Plus I think it’s a lot of bad advice 😉

    • j
      June 7, 2011 | 12:18 PM

      On promotion… I think it’s bad advice too, but I’ve realized while writing this series, it might not be bad for everyone. If you’re purpose is to amass huge quantities of followers on Twitter and FB so that your platform is “impressive enough,” then a strategy of following indiscriminately will meet your goal.

      My approach, for now, is much less numbers-based because my purpose is to promote my work while interacting with smart, funny, warm, interesting, challenging, expansive people. (I don’t ask for much.)

  4. Peggi
    June 7, 2011 | 11:33 AM

    j – i’m glad you sifted and sorted enough to find a format for an inquiry letter that suits you. i firmly believe that if it feels good to you then it is the right choice and will provide you with a wonderful outcome. as always i am thinking good thoughts, have my fingers crossed, saying a prayer for you now and again and, of course, sending you big hugs!

    • j
      June 7, 2011 | 12:19 PM

      I hope you’re right. I’m working from the same theory. (And thank you for the supportive thoughts and prayers and hugs. I’m so grateful!)

  5. Milliver's Travels
    Twitter: millivrstravels
    June 7, 2011 | 12:36 PM

    Adored every word of this! Your series gets better and better each week as you gather momentum. I feel like I’m being gently led by someone who’s ahead of me in the learning curve, but not so far ahead that I can’t get there too. With lots of baby steps. 🙂

    Practically this whole post was quotable but this was sublime:

    “My realization that it is in my best interest to be true to myself has been transformative. Honestly, I know right away what rings true for me and what doesn’t. Why waste time on the advice that makes me cringe? Why not listen carefully to the advice that resonates?”

    I absolutely agree about reading selectively. If I don’t feel good about the advice, I won’t be able to love myself while putting it into practice.

    Thanks for the heart-felt inspiration! ~ Milli

    P.S. You’re becoming my block quotes hero. 😀 And I loved, loved, loved reading about self-medicating that involves “crayons, cheesecake and wine.”

    • j
      June 7, 2011 | 7:23 PM

      You had me at “adored.” Thank you, Milli.

      “If I don’t feel good about the advice, I won’t be able to love myself while putting it into practice.” Yes! Exactly. Over at Tribal Writer, she warns writers to find the platform that feels right for them. If you set up a blog, for instance, because you think you’re supposed to, but you hate writing posts, it will always be a chore, and your content will reflect that. Find what works for you and then celebrate it. Enthusiasm is contagious.

  6. Tricia
    Twitter: Tricia_Sutton
    June 7, 2011 | 3:02 PM

    I remember that query and had added it to my favorites. Something I do when I find agents who seek family sagas. Since we both write family drama, I can share with you all my favorites I had collected for future querying. Half of them were lost when I saved to the now-dead laptop. I handwrite now as a backup.

    • j
      June 7, 2011 | 7:18 PM

      Awww. Thank you! I will happily take advantage of any research you’ve already done! xox

  7. Lois
    June 7, 2011 | 5:52 PM

    Great post! 😀

    You know, they don’t say “honesty is the best policy” for nothing. 😉 I don’t like doing anything that makes me feel awkward, especially when it comes to my writing. I have to be me!

    • j
      June 7, 2011 | 7:19 PM

      Thank you, Lois!

      I don’t usually go astray in the actual writing, but this new terrain has been a little tricky for me. (As new terrains tend to!)

  8. Simon K Lloyd
    June 7, 2011 | 6:36 PM

    A great post. The best piece of advice about writing is to remember that it is that, advice. There are no rules to writing just different ways of doing it. The best way is to practice and see what works (or just as importantly, what doesn’t). I also find it easier to polish up a piece of writing I’m not happy with than facing the blank page.

    Writing is such a unique art as it’s like creating in the dark. With music you can hear the results, with art you can see but you can’t see the effect you have on the reader (good or bad) until you have that precious reader and even then, they may not quiet that nagging voice in your head that tells you it’s not good enough.

    Now. How do I get on the list to buy your book when it’s published?

    • j
      June 7, 2011 | 7:27 PM

      Ha! You are so on the list already, Simon, like it or not.

      I think you’re right, about the process being different for every writer. The trick, I think, can be figuring out (and then trusting)whatever your process is. (I’m a reviser too. I do not hate the editing process.)

  9. Dana
    Twitter: danapittman
    June 7, 2011 | 9:43 PM

    I love….LOVE…this. It’s about authenticity and letting your creativity just be. And man oh man (or woman oh woman) does it feel good. Thank you. Another awesome post!

    • j
      June 8, 2011 | 12:17 AM

      Ah, Dana, thank you! It is a relief. What happens now will happen but I’ll be more relaxed… there is a lot of anxiety in trying to fit into the expected, most successful mode, especially when you’re unsure about which mold that would be!

      • Dana
        Twitter: danapittman
        June 8, 2011 | 4:00 PM

        Well, if it means anything I’m cheering for you. 🙂

  10. j
    June 9, 2011 | 11:25 AM

    It is. Thank you.

  11. Michael
    June 10, 2011 | 4:46 AM

    You make a good zealot.

    We’re pretty sympatico on this subject, although I’ll arm-wrestle you for the zealotry badge any day. I think that we short change ourselves by buying into the “platform is all” meme. It’s a prop, one that might help sell something, but won’t make that something intrinsically any better.

    You connect so well here and on Zebra Sounds, and it’s part of who you are. Your platform building is organic because it’s sincere. For those of us who aren’t as gifted in this regard as you are, it’s important to remember that the authenticity is more important than the stats, that the journey is more important than the destination.

    Huge platform, signing with an agent, even publishing, is far less valuable (I’d say value-less, but that’s me) if we lose ourselves anywhere along the way.

    Love this series, j. Thank you.

  12. j
    June 10, 2011 | 1:27 PM

    Yes! The revelation for me (and it shouldn’t have been a revelation, it should have been obvious) was that only I can decide what’s authentic for me. And you for you. I think what happens is someone says, “You can never expect to be successful in today’s publishing world without a ginormous, sparkly, awe-inspiring platform.” It feels kind of icky, but times are hard and the publishing industry as we know it is struggling (some say, crumbling), so there may be truth to this point of view.

    On the other hand you have “the art is what matters” zealots (wink) and of course what they’re saying makes sense. It resonates. “Absolutely,” you think, “we should all be focused on creating the best, most original, most grab-your-readers-by-the-heart-and-soul work we can, and let the people who know how to sell do the selling.”

    Both approaches feel wrong for me. I want to write the amazing stuff AND connect with my readers in some way that is meaningful and expansive and fun. And yeah… I love to play – here, on ZS, on Twitter, in FB. It’s not hard work for me most of the time, and when it is, I’m learning to unplug, go out in the world and spread some love.

    I totally agree with you that whatever you do, it has to feel “organic.” That’s a perfect word. It has to feel absolutely authentic… or you’ll never be able to keep it up anyway.

  13. joannefirth
    June 10, 2011 | 3:33 PM

    I love this. Truly. Remember, we are all the products of our unique set of life experiences. All educated with knowledge to get to the next step, whatever that may be. Advice is wonderful, but when you get down to it, advice is based on someone else’s unique life experiences, not yours. Go with what is deep inside your gut, be true to yourself down to how you dot your j’s. If it comes out of your pen, it is coming out of your heart. Your own complicated, broken, repaired, always ready to love, beating steadily heart.

  14. j
    June 13, 2011 | 12:28 PM

    How I dot my j’s made me laugh. And this: “If it comes out of your pen, it is coming out of your heart. Your own complicated, broken, repaired, always ready to love, beating steadily heart” is BEAUTIFUL. Thank you, Joanne.

  15. Estrella Azul
    June 13, 2011 | 2:00 PM

    That is so uplifting to read, j, love your journey and especially your findings.
    Like I said before, it’s so true that when we let our true self break through – in a query, a blog post, a poem, even a piece of fiction – we’ll attract the people who are right for us as agents, as friends and more.

    About all the advice out there, I tend to also read and listen to only things which resonate with me. I don’t see the point in trying to write the way it doesn’t seem comfortable to me, to be something I’m not.

  16. j
    June 16, 2011 | 9:01 PM

    It’s definitely a learning process. After this post, someone (much further up the literary ladder than I) offered to read my query. She had suggestions which I agreed with… so, another revision. And then after her another reader, and finally the current version, which I feel solidly represents the novel.

    I think you’re right about advice. When it feels right and good, you go with it. When it ties you up in knots, you don’t.

    I’ve barely been at this for any time at all, and already I can’t wait until this part is over. 😉

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