Riding Bitch

The daily musings of a writer.


Get Ready to Rumble (day 1/30)

Greetings, people. Can you believe it’s November already? I can’t.

I have been sorely remiss here on the blog lately, but no more. In fact, the blog is about to go from feast to famine – rather, from famine to feast, as I am joining the NaNoWriMo bandwagon train and committing to writing every day for the next 30 days.

As of today, November 1, the train has left the station.

NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) is a month-long writing extravaganza whereby writers all over the world attempt to write a 50,000 novel in the 30 days of November. This means an average of 1666 words per day, which is a lot when you count the million and one distractions called LIFE.

Like most things that sound impossible, it CAN be done. It can even lead to published work. Here’s a list of novels that started off during NaNoWriMo. Here’s another list. And here’s a list of novels that are around 50,000 words (Fahrenheit 451 among them!).

All that to say… (surprise!) I will not be writing a novel. But I am committing to writing every single day for the next 30 days.

I will write on the blog. I will write creatively. But I will write. Where I am in 30 days is still TBD. I want to finish my memoir, but I’m not setting that as the only goal. Most importantly, I’m going to write EVERY DAY.

If it sounds weird that I keep repeating that, it’s because I am fairly certain that writing every day will be extremely difficult.

As you can see from the month+ since my last post, I am an inconsistent blogger. “Write a blog post” is always at the top of my To Do list. Yet it’s the first thing that I ignore when I get busy with work and life. This past month I was hustling for work, renovating my apartment, updating my website (check it out!), traveling to the city… blah blah blah. This coming month I’ll be doing more of the same, PLUS dealing with a little holiday called Thanksgiving where (like many Americans) I’ll be driving many hours to eat an enormous sleep-inducing meal with family.

I know I don’t have to blog. But honestly, when I don’t blog for a long period of time, I really feel it. Which is to say, when I don’t write for a long period of time, I don’t feel like myself (writing for work doesn’t count).

So, I’m doing this crazy thing called NaNoWriMo… and these are my personal goals:

  1. Write every day. This is the greatest challenge for me.
  2. Write faster. I’m a terribly slow writer, which hurts me financially and professionally. If I can learn how to write a story in fewer hours, I will make more money per hour and be able to write more stories. My brother is a professional journalist and writes up to three stories a day!
  3. Write more freely. Part of the reason why I’m a slow writer is my tendency to second guess and edit as I go.
  4. Finish a writing project. Another huge challenge.

And that’s it. (haha)

I’m feeling nervous, excited, determined and proud. I CAN do this. I WILL DO THIS.

To all my fellow writers on this crazy train, WE CAN DO THIS!!

Hoorah! Hoorah! Hoorah!

Incidentally, this is how Ruby feels about NaNoWriMo (and most things).

Ruby asleep


13 Steps to a Writing Milestone

As some of you might have recently read, the essay I wrote for Narrative.ly published last week. This was only the second time my work has been published somewhere other than on the blog, so it was a really big deal for me both personally and professionally. It also turned out in a way I never anticipated. Here’s what happened:

1 – The (blind) pitch

I’m new to freelancing, so pitching is still a new and scary process (does that ever change?). I pitched the idea for the essay at the suggestion of a friend. Usually pitches are sent as emails directly to editors. This one was an online form, which added to the “shot in the dark” feeling. When I didn’t hear back for a few weeks, I figured that was it. Then I received an email from the editor saying otherwise. My first thought was:

2 – Pitch accepted?! Holy shit.

Within the span of a few minutes I went from elation to panic and back, until I was somewhere in the middle. Of course I wanted to write the essay, but actually writing it was a different story. I reached out to my writer friends saying “yikes!” They replied with so much encouragement, I finally started to calm down. I had asked for this, and I got it. Now it was time to deliver.

3 – Procrastination Preparation

For several days I did nothing. Well, not exactly nothing. I was thinking… and reading other essays on the site… and thinking. Once I had a sense of how I wanted it to go, I started writing.

4 – Procrastination Scheduling

I tend to thrive under pressure, but there was no way I was going to self-sabotage by writing the essay the night before the deadline. I set a few preliminary deadlines so I would have time to write a bad draft, time to make it better, time to send it out for feedback, time for folks to actually read it, and time to edit.

5 – Mind Games 

The only way I could write freely, not obsess over every single word, and not chicken out was to pretend like no one would read it but me. Ever.

6 – Mind Games, cont’d

On the other hand, I was on a deadline and had certain parameters, so I couldn’t write with total abandon. A part of my brain had to remain objective. So, I took turns between wearing my writer vs. my editor hat. First I wrote to my heart’s content; then I read it as if I didn’t know the story or the writer.

7 – Feedback

I’m not at the stage where I can send something to an editor without having some other eyeballs read it (and not sure I ever will be). I sent the first draft to my writer friends, all of them award-winning, trusted colleagues. We have a joke that we’re the Shitty First Draft Club. In all seriousness, I cannot stress enough how important it is – and how fortunate I am – to have a safe place to send the first shitty draft.

8 – Editing

After receiving some feedback, I did another few passes, double and triple-checked everything, then sent it to the editor. We call this moment “thumb slam!”

9 – The Waiting Game

I admit, waiting is not my favorite thing to do, especially when it’s something important. To ward off the swirling in my head, I forced myself to stay busy with other things and told myself that even if the editor hated it, I wouldn’t get discouraged because I’m still learning.

10 – Response!

When the editor said he loved it, my heart started beating really fast. “Oh my g-d, this might actually get published.” He had a few minor changes and gave me a gentle nudge to go deeper with the essay (which I needed).

11 – More Editing, Thumb Slam #2, More Waiting

I sent the final pass, then again waited to hear back. At any point, the editor could have said, “Sorry, this isn’t going to work.” Instead, I received word the essay was a “go.”

12 – Anticipation 

The days leading up to this very personal essay going out to thousands of people, I was filled with terror nervous excitement. One non-writer friend said I shouldn’t share the essay on Facebook. Another friend told me “but that’s what Facebook is for.” I decided to only post the essay on professional pages and see what happens.

Within hours of the essay going live on Friday morning, people (who don’t know me) started tweeting me, sharing it on Facebook, and leaving the most beautiful, heartfelt comments. By noon, I decided to post the essay on my personal page. Then I sort of held my breath as… one by one, friends and colleagues shared the essay and showered my page with supportive comments, all of which totally blew me away.

13 – Conclusion

On Monday, an author friend of mine who had read and loved the essay made an email-introduction to her book agent in NYC. On Tuesday, the agent and I spoke on the phone — by the time we hung up, she was my agent.

So, there you go. From blind pitch to book agent. It was a crazy, emotional, awesome and truly humbling ride.

Now there’s a ton of work to do, and I can’t wait to get started. As The Alchemist says: “It’s the possibility of having a dream come true that makes life interesting.”

One week to freedom!



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10 Problems/Solutions for Writers (Industry Friday Series #5)

This post is a bit late for Industry Friday, but technically it’s still Friday in my time zone.

In the previous post “To Vermont or Not to Vermont” I debated whether or not to go to a writer’s residency and the possibility of quitting my job if they didn’t grant me a leave of absence. Well, the good news is they did grant me a leave of absence. But of course this means, now I actually have to WRITE SOMETHING… which brings me to today’s post.

These are my top 10 problems/solutions as a writer (perhaps you can relate):

Lack of inspiration – Staring at the page or screen, not knowing what to say, hating every idea that pops into my head OR loving every idea that pops into my head and not knowing which one to commit to. The worst is when there is a looming deadline.

Solution – When not feeling the muse, basically I write anyway. I’ll write in my journal, write an imaginary letter to one of the characters, write a potential scene, write some dialogue, write even a few words of the idea. Sometimes I will talk with others about the project. Other times I’ll walk around the block and talk to myself, or I’ll talk to my dog. The main thing is to write something even when the well is (or seems) dry.

Lack of discipline – Not writing every day, but writing when you feel like it.

Solution – I’ve tried writing at different times of the day but it seems I’m the most productive in the morning. These days, I’m waking up at 5:30am to write. I have been known to write at night into the wee hours of the morning, but this is only when I’m in an obsessive state.

Obsessing about what to name my characters – Believe it or not, not knowing what to call my characters can sometimes totally stump my creative flow. I have been known to spend hours trying to find the perfect name for a character.

Solution – If I really can’t find a name I love, I force myself to use a temporary name, like of an actor, friend or family member who reminds me of the character, promising myself that I can and will change it later.  

Feeling like I need to read or watch other books/films in order to write my own – It can be helpful to reference other material especially when seeking inspiration. But it can also be very time consuming and easy to feel discouraged.  I start thinking, “well, what’s the point of writing this if so-and-so wrote it and so much better?”

Solution – Monitor how much time is spent reading/watching other people’s work instead of creating my own. When it feels like I’m just using it as an excuse not to write, I stop.

Being distracted – This is a huge problem for me. Sometimes I think the hardest part of writing is just sitting in the chair long enough to get anything done! I’ll come up with any excuse to get out of it, physically or virtually (via the internet).

Solution – Turn everything off! I will turn off my cell phone and even disconnect the home phone and the internet. If I need the internet for research, I’ll turn it back on only for that, but basically I have to sequester myself. I also find that music helps to get me into the mindset of the piece – and stay there.

Being a perfectionist – Another huge problem. I’m a slow writer in part because I am constantly self-editing, going back over the same sentence to phrase it better or differently. On the other hand, it is good to be an excellent proofreader. Sending work out that has all kinds of typos is never good.

Solution – When I sit down to write I allow myself a little bit of “overlap” (i.e. starting a scene or two from where I stopped) so I can get into the world again. But when I find myself obsessing about a sentence that I already wrote, I have to literally force myself to stop and move on, telling myself “I can always fix it later.” Also, I get other people to help me proofread. A fresh pair of eyes is always good before sending out work.

Fear of showing anyone what I’ve written – I don’t feel this as much as I used to, but earlier in my career I used to have panic attacks when I would give work to mentors or colleagues I thought were better writers than I am.

Solution – I try not to put anyone on a pedestal anymore. Also, I try not to be as emotionally invested. Just because someone doesn’t like what I wrote, doesn’t mean I’m not a good writer. I have trained myself to actually love getting notes and be able to weed the stupid/bad ones from the real gems.

Inability to rewrite – Ugh. Rewriting is seriously painful but, as all writers know, absolutely necessary.

Solution – Whereas in earlier years I would get emotionally invested in my first drafts, now I don’t. As previously stated, I am eager to receive notes so I can get on with the rewrite. Also, knowing that rewriting is necessary allows me to mentally prepare. I have grown to love it, up to a point.

Inability to finish – I have several scripts which needed one more rewrite to be great but I never did it, usually because I had already moved on to another.

Solution – While it’s easy to beat myself up for having unfinished material, I also feel like not all material is meant to be finished. Some will be revisited later. Some work is also meant to be a learning experience. That said, it is something I still struggle with and am trying to improve. At least I finish posts!

Inability to write something new (i.e. “fall in love again”) – When I finish a piece I have loved and lived with for a while, it’s hard to jump into another one right away. Also, I’m usually depressed.

Solution – I like to go out of town to clear my mind, or at least allow myself a brief “mourning period.” Now I actually plan for them.

 What are some of the problems you face as a writer? And what are your solutions?

Happy creating!