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It is with great pleasure (and apologies for the lateness) that I introduce back to The Revenge special guest pirates and co-authors of The Everything Guide to Writing a Romance Novel Christie Craig and Faye Hughes.
Are you on the right path to meet all your writing goals? I’m a firm believer that if we are trying to live our authentic lives, if we are following the right path, we will get a little help from the universe. I’m not saying it will be easy, or that it will happen over night, but I think if we watch closely, we see the signs that can help guide us and those signs can help us keep going.
Below is an example of one of my personal stories about gut instinct and about being on the right path.
I met Wilma when I was doing an all-day workshop. She was in her eighties, bright, funny, and beautiful. Wilma shared that her husband had recently died, and practically with his last breath he made her promise three things, that she’d start back golfing, that she’d try really hard to get published, and that she’d learn to balance a checkbook. She told the class that day that she hoped two out of three was going to be enough, because she didn’t think she’d ever balance her checkbook.
Later when talking about how to turn the little nuggets of your life into stories, Wilma held up her hand and shared her own nugget. Her story was so engrossing, so compelling that I went up to her afterward and told her that if she didn’t write that story, that I was going to steal it. Oh, I was serious, too.
I also told her that I felt her story could be a Chicken Soup For the Soul story. This was in the mid-nineties, and my mother had given me that book for Christmas. In January, another writer friend had called me and asked I’d ever submitted to the Chicken Soup to The Soul books. I hadn’t submitted, and I hadn’t even read the book yet. But the second mention of the book had me pulling it out and reading it. And oddly enough, when Wilma told her story, my gut whispered it was right for them. I even told Wilma that I would see if I could find who she needed to send the story to. And that if she would send me the written story, I would help her polish it.
Months passed, I got busy, Wilma didn’t send me her story. Then at another conference I ran into Wilma again. I reminded her that I was going to steal her story. Another month passed, but I didn’t forget about her or that story. Finally, one day, after again remembering it, I wrote it down on my day planner. Once things were in my day planner they always got done. The note read, “Call Evelyn about Chicken Soup.” Evelyn was another writer I knew had submitted to the Chicken Soup publications.
Imagine my surprise when the most amazing thing happened that morning. Before I called Evelyn, I got a call–a call from a Chicken Soup editor. They had read some of my stories in another magazine and wanted to know if I had anything that would fit their book.
I stood there in awe that she was calling me and that she wanted me to submit. Then I remembered Wilma. Wilma’s theme was so right for this particular Chicken Soup book. So, on the phone that day, instead of telling the editor about my work, I told her about an amazing woman I’d met. I told her Wilma’s story.
The editor was as blown away by the story as I was, and she said, “I want to buy that story.”
I called Wilma, “Wilma, an editor from Chicken Soup is going to call you. They want to buy your story.” Wilma was shocked.
Wilma called me back after she spoke with the editor, and asked if I would critique her story. I did. It needed tweaking, and I did it for her. Then because the editor had wanted the story immediately and Wilma didn’t have email, she asked if I would send it. I did.
Wilma got the call within a week, that they were indeed buying her story.
I remember thinking after I hung up with Wilma that day, that perhaps I should have also pitched a couple of my own stories to the editor. But I wasn’t really sorry. Somehow I knew in my gut that I’d done the right thing.
Two weeks later, the same editor called me again. She said, “You know, I got so excited about Wilma’s story that I forgot to ask about your own stories.
I went on to sell five stories to Chicken Soup. I was even the leading story in their Chicken Soup for the Mother’s Soul #2. And I just got another call from Chicken Soup that two of my stories are being reprinted and honored as some of the best Chicken Soup stories published over the past 15 years.
* * *
Guardian angels. ESP. Or just ol’ fashion gut instinct. What ever you want to call it, I’m a firm believer that it exists and the Wilma story is just one of those examples of this. I sincerely believe that if we keep our eyes, ears, heart and gut open, we will receive clues. Clues like road signs, giving us insights to detours we might need to take, a new path that will take us to a different, but better place, a sign that leads us to the best rest stops, places we can refresh, fill up with go juice, and recharge our creative batteries.
Okay, maybe I’m an optimist. But I believe that when I’m doing my part, when I’m on the right path that there’s something out there besides just luck, that offers me a helping hand.
And as with the Wilma story, I’ve experienced this helping hand many, many times. I’ve also had hindsight and realized the hand had been offered, but because I wasn’t on the right path, or wasn’t open to receiving the help, I lost an opportunity. We don’t have to miss opportunities.
So, how do we gear ourselves up for these opportunities? Below are tips to help us recognize those little messages that our gut might be trying to tell us.
Make sure you’re on the right path.
One book I’ve read through and through and am returning to again, is Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. It really helped me stay on path. Funny thing was, I was reading it daily when I met Wilma. The book is a daily meditation that in many ways changed my life. It’s a book that gives clues on how we can live more authentically. I highly recommend it.
Living an authentic life means you are being true to yourself, living your life the best you can. Being on the right path is felt within. It’s a feeling of contentment, of passion for what you do, and gratitude for what you have. If you have any questions about whether you are on the right path, pick up this book, I can assure you, that you won’t be disappointed.
Make sure you’re actively pursuing your goal.
It’s not enough just to be on the right path, you have to constantly move on that path to the next place you need to be. Life is about learning, growing, and living through the lessons life offers. To become stagnant is the first step to death. The poet, Wendell Barry says, “The life we want is not merely the one we have chosen and made. It is the one we must be choosing and making.”
Teaching and encouraging other writers has always been important to me. Helping Wilma felt important and by pursuing that goal, and merely by taking steps to make that happen, look what happened. I’m a firm believer if I hadn’t put that in my day planner, if I hadn’t been about to do it myself, I would have never received the call. Set goals, and meet them. Rewards await you.
Make Sure You’re Giving Back to the Universe
We’ve all heard it, it’s better to give than to receive. But I have learned so many times that giving is almost a selfish act. When I give, the most amazing thing happens: the kindness seems to return to me twofold. My Wilma story is a prime example of this.
Listen With Your Heart
If something for an unknown reason tugs at your heart, or gives you a moment of pause, pay attention. Wilma’s story touched me. Only by listening to my heart, to that little emotional tug, did I hear the little voice that said, “This is a Chicken Soup story.”
Pay Close Attention to Repetitions
If something is put into your awareness more than once, take notice. It could be the universe trying to tell you something. I received the Chicken Soup book for Christmas, but it took another friend calling me about the book before I picked it up and read it. If I hadn’t paid attention to the coincidence and read the book, I wouldn’t have known Wilma’s story was perfect for them. Wilma may have never met her promise to her husband, I may have never published in Chicken Soup, I wouldn’t have had this story to share with you.
Ride the Elephant When it Shows up
I read it in Simple Abundance. I can’t remember the exact story, but it was something about the author taking her little girl on a trip. And her little girl was a little bored, and then a hotel clerk called and said a man had brought an elephant and was giving elephant rides. And the moral of her essay was, “Sometimes when you least expect it, when life seems so mundane, suddenly an elephant will show up for you to ride.
The story touched me and I shared it with my husband and to this day we are always looking for elephants to ride. In other words, we look for the opportunities in the everyday moments. And when they show up, we get on their backs and see where they might take us.
Recognize Opportunities in their Varying Forms
You may have heard the story about the man who lived in a flood area and the weather had predicted a flood. The man was a devout Christian and he believed God would protect him.
When the storm started, it was announced on television. When his son called to warn him to get out, the man said, “No, God will protect me.”
The rain started and the man’s neighborhood started to flood and the police showed up and told him he needed to leave, and he told the men, “No, God will protect me.”
The streets became flooded and impassable and National Guards showed up in boats and told the man to get in, but he said, “No, God will protect me.”
The water continued to rise and the man was forced up on top of his roof. And a Red Cross helicopter showed up and told him to grab a hold of the rope and the man said, “No, God will protect me.”
The water got worse and the man drowned. When in Heaven he looked at God and said, “I thought you were going to protect me.”
And God said, “I put it on television. I had your son call you. I sent the police with a car, the National Guard with a boat, the Red Cross with a helicopter. You never once accepted my help.”
Sometimes, we refuse to see what is or isn’t an opportunity. Don’t become so close-minded that you think one way is the only way. Be flexible in this path called life.
When I stopped writing novels and started focusing on my freelance, part of me wondered if I was giving up a dream, but looking back at where I am now, and where that detour took me, I don’t think it was giving up, I was simply taking the path right for me. Writing non-fiction all those years, not only paid the bills, but I was growing and learning as a writer. I was becoming stronger in the face of rejection, and I was learning to listen to my gut instinct. Even more importantly, I was learning, and am still learning, to live my authentic life.
What is it you need to be doing? Should you be writing in a different genre? Should you be adding humor or should attempt to write a sexier story?
Only you can really know what is right for your path. Only you will know if you are you living your authentic life? Are you watching out for the road signs on your path?
Stop Worrying About “the Market” and Labels – Start Thinking About Possibilities
So, what kind of a book do you want to write?
The truth about publishing today is that sometimes, you have to compromise. If contemporary romance is your passion, or if cozy mysteries are your cup of tea, what do you do if the market goes soft?
Notice how I didn’t say, “the market has died”? That’s because markets never die. They just sometimes go through a slow growth period. Of they get a new name. (Think Chick Lit, now know as Women’s Fiction, among other labels.)
But back to the original question of what you should do when your market goes soft. Well, that depends. Are you writing traditional versions of this dead-in-the-water genre? If so, you may have a problem. When the market is soft and editors aren’t looking for “those kind of books,” your book really has to be exceptional, as in genre-changing, to sell.
If it is just a well-written, well-plotted version of the genre . . . well, the odds aren’t in your favor. But you can change that by changing genres.
Say, for example, you’ve written a chick lit novel about some young twenty-something. What other genre does it most closely resemble? Start to brainstorm. Does it have a mystery? If so, can you increase the mystery and market it as a mystery? Does it have a Young Adult vibe? If so, can you revise and market it as a YA?
In other words, take a look at the work in question and figure out what options you have for it.
Sometimes you may have no options at all, and that is okay. Just shelf it until the market changes. Then ask yourself what you want to work on for your next book. Don’t make the same mistake you did with that book you have to put on the shelf. Take the strengths of your writing and see how they can apply to another genre.
Explore your possibilities. You might be surprised at what you find.
Now that you're incredibly inspired, grab some rum and fire off with the questions. I'm happy to say one lucky commenter is going to win one of Christie's previous published books, Weddings Can Be Murder (2008 RT Romantic Suspense of the Year Nominee!!!) or Divorced, Desperate and Delicious plus adorable Christmas cards and a pen. I got one of the pens earlier this week and it's the cutest thing!