riding bitch

The life of a writer and survivor of loss.


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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!