On the Brink of NaNoWriMo

Tomorrow is November 1st, aka the first day of NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. I’m all set to go, but feeling very nervous. I’m G-d willing going to be trying out some new software, and I’ve got a partner and a couple online groups for support. And I’ll report back with progress in a week or so.

I’ve got a few tricks to help me out. My great friend, Devorah Talia, suggested an app to me. The app, called Toggl, is free, and helps monitor time spent on jobs. Not only is it helping me make my invoices for freelance editing jobs, it gives me a bit of accountability on what I’m working on. Since starting to use it, I can really see where I waste time, but actually how much time I’m productive, too.

Despite my big NaNoWriMo project, I’m doing other writing, too. I have to write two humor columns in November. And this evening, I spent a big chunk of time writing a dvar Torah to present in my synagogue on Shabbos morning to a group of women. It’s been a while since I’ve taught the parshah of the week, and I got very, very excited about my thesis. A long talk with my husband helped me formulate my ideas, he gave me an additional piece of evidence, and now I’m set to go. I’m hoping to get some feedback on an essay and rewrite it, too.

And I have a couple picture book ideas bouncing around my head, too.

Usually, I’m not exactly a font of creativity at this time of year. This is the season in which I usually start to fade into a hibernation that lasts until Tu B’Shevat, roughly at the end of January. I’m hoping to hold onto my energy and imagination long enough to complete some of these projects!

 

Considering my last year of literary pursuit

Since there are just two weeks left of the Jewish year of 5773, I’ve been looking back at the last year and evaluating my life on every level: spiritual, physical, and even professional. And one goal still stands out at unfulfilled:

I STILL HAVEN’T PUBLISHED BOOK #2.

This issue depressed me a couple weeks ago, as I sat in front of my journal on Rosh Chodesh Elul (exactly one month before Rosh Hashanah), scribbling about the past year. I’d submitted a few picture books and two novels to multiple publishers and had zilch to show for it.

But then I counted how many times I appeared in print in the last year for pay: over two dozen times (bli ayin hara).

And then, I counted how many words I’d written. Essentially, it was the length of a novel. Wow.

I realized at that point how many more readers — potentially thousands more people — read my work in magazines this year than in my entire previous professional life.

That’s when I felt blessed.

Okay, I still have a major unfulfilled goal. It will be top of my professional goals again for this 5774. But if success is measured in progress, I made a lot of progress last year. And I could only do it with G-d’s help, which makes the year feel very sweet indeed.

How are you feeling about your last year, professionally? What is your top goal for 5774?

Throwing down the gauntlet: I challenge you to write something different!

knight in armor

Be careful! If this guy throws down the gauntlet, it’ll probably hurt.

So yesterday I read this post by the Rubber Ducky Copywriter. In it, she posts about her first rejection letter after going out on a limb and submitting a short story. Despite her success as a copywriter, fiction is a new endeavor for her, and rejection hurt.

First of all, I’d like to cheer her on. Despite the rejection letter (and my readers will know I’m no stranger to them), the Rubber Ducky Copywriter did something a lot of us writers don’t do: try something new.

A lot of us avoid writing new things, especially after we find success (especially financial) in a particular niche. I know that it took me a long time to start writing for adults after I’d succeeded with kids’ lit. Other changes were also scary, because they carry risk. What if you invest time and emotions and no one ever publishes it?

But the pay-off can be big.

For years, I focused on my fiction. When I ventured on occasion to write a personal essay, it would inevitably face a quick rejection. Out of frustration, I gave up writing personal essays for a long time.

But, when I came back to it, I did better. My years of practicing fiction helped me hone my storytelling abilities. The first personal essay I’ve had published shows this and found a much wider audience than my fiction thus far has.

So here’s my creative writing challenge:
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How to Cope with Rejection When Your Colleagues are Coping with Success

“Expect rejection.”

     That’s what I was told as I entered the field of the professional writer. Sure enough, the vast majority of us do experience it—and in varied and often humiliating forms–and I was not exempt. I no longer sulk for days if I receive a rejection later (although it might cast a fog of discontent over an hour or two). The more mature of us move beyond tolerating rejection and even learn to appreciate it, and maybe someday I’ll reach that stage. Recently, however, I discovered a facet of the rejection experience that has been less commonly addressed, but needs some attention.
    In the space of a few days, two of my colleagues received contracts for their first books. These are two hard-working artists with talent and skill, who worked very hard to reach this point. I’d shared all the ups-and-downs of these particular manuscripts, so each phoned with their good news soon after they received it.
Meanwhile, I’d been tapping away endlessly on my first novel. I had come to a point where I feared it was unpublishable. What made it worse was that I’d been so preoccupied with writing that novel, I’d sent out far fewer pieces of writing than usual. Not one submission had resulted in a sale. I’d been feeling stuck and frustrated that week when my friends phoned with their exciting book deal news.
     In this situation, I had to make a decision.
     I could have hung up the phone and sneered, “But his book isn’t any better than mine!” or “Why is it always someone else?” I could have given the cold shoulder to my recently-successful friends. But the pleasure would be tiny, and it would be brief. Worse, it could cause the loss of a collaborator, colleague, or friend.
     But there was another choice. It’s best described by one (Yiddish) word: farginen.
     To fargin is the opposite of schadenfreude. Whereas the sufferer of schadenfreude delights in the misfortune of others, the person who fargins another delights in their good fortune.
     There is a tendency in artists of all kinds—writers are not exempt—to experience envy, envy in a deeply unattractive shade of green. Somehow, someone else’s success feels like it has prevented your own. Or maybe you believe your work is more deserving than your friend’s.
     You hear about “fair weather friends,” but some people are “foul weather friends.” There are individuals who like having other people around only when they can feel equal or even superior to them. They feel life is a competition, and they always want to be the one on top.  Taking pleasure in someone else’s successes and good fortune, regardless of your own state of being, is just as much of an expression of unconditional love as is sticking it out with a friend in need.
     To be fargin isn’t always a spontaneous emotion. In most people, it requires practice. You remind yourself that your friend’s success doesn’t prevent your own. You cheer for your friend. You spread the word about their new project. You buy the book as a gift for other friends. You let their success remind you that yours is possible at a future date. After all, G-d can hand out as many book deals (or sales or whatever) as there are people, all at the right time. 
     The more you practice this spiritual muscle, the stronger it will become.


(Update: I wrote the original draft of this piece a couple months ago. Don’t worry–I got some writing/coaching gigs after the dry spell.)

Identifying Your Life’s Mission

Identifying Your Life’s Mission

The above article (by Sara Yocheved Rigler and appearing this week on Aish.com) explains how to find your “tafkid,” that little sliver of the world that constitutes your mission in life. I encourage you to read it before Rosh HaShanah. I found it very inspirational and the perfect complement to a shiur I attended over the weekend.
Rabbi Simcha Weinberg was visiting our shul over this Shabbos. At seudat shlisheet, he explained that the Yomim Noraim (the Days of Awe) are the when we should not only think about what we’ve done wrong in the past year, but what would it look like if we did it right in the year ahead. He suggested that we should not imagine what we want, but what HaShem’s dream is for us. What does He want from us? Then we can establish some steps to take to get us there.
Of course, He wants us to make peace with other Jews (including family members!). Of course, He wants us to improve in how we follow his mitzvot.
 
But He also wants us to be the best people we can be, using our talents and skills. The article by Sara Yocheved Rigler will inspire you to do just that. What gets you excited about life? How can you use that talent and passion to improve your family, your community, your world?