Hello, Good-bye: Changes Are Good for the Soul

One of the benefits of living in the 112 degrees of Las Vegas is the conservatory at the Bellagio Hotel. At least it’s cool in the hotels!

I recently finished my first year as a doctoral student in the Teacher Education program at UNLV. I even ended up with a B+ in my Statistics class, which for me is like an A+ for anyone else. For someone who has had to retake every math class she’s ever taken in her life, finishing the first time with a B+ was a definite personal best.

Recently, I made another change as well, which was resigning my full-time teaching position. Where at first I was going to apply for a leave of absence which would allow me to return to my position after a year, I realized that, when all is said and done, I’m not going back to traditional K-12 classroom teaching. Was it hard to leave behind the career that paid my rent and other assorted bills for the last 20 years? Well, it was a hard decision from the standpoint that I’ve made my living as a classroom teacher since 1994, and yet it was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made. It was time to move on. I just knew it. I had felt it in my gut for several years now. I knew I had gone as far as I could as a K-12 classroom teacher, and I needed some new challenge. It took me a few years to figure out what my next line of action would be, but I figured it out, and when it was time to go I knew it. Where normally leaving behind the job where I made my living would cause me no end of stress or worries, I found myself surprisingly calm as I made the decision to resign, which only further proved to me that I was making the right choice. I am still all in praise of day jobs, but I also believe that the day job should be one that makes your heart sing. There’s no worse feeling dragging yourself somewhere every day where you don’t want to go, and no better feeling than giving yourself a chance to do something different.

I thought I would feel more nostalgic than I did as I packed up my classroom. I had materials from all grade levels to weed through since in 20 years I’ve taught everything from kindergarten through high school, as well as a number of writing workshops for adults. And while some of the files I went through brought back a lot of good memories from some amazing years teaching great kids, mainly I felt relief that I was finally getting the change I craved. I gave away my reading books, posters, and teacher guides to a friend who is switching grade levels, and I recycled my paper files. It was like that feeling you get when you finally clean out the clutter from your closet—as though I felt physically lighter without the unnecessary baggage. I wasn’t particularly emotional when I handed in my keys for the last time. For the first time in a long time, I was looking forward to the changes and the challenges in the future. To me, that was yet another sign that I was headed in the right direction. For years, I had held onto that teaching job as though it was the only thing between me and financial oblivion. It’s amazing what a little faith can do to your outlook.

Waterfall at the BellagioIf you’re not familiar with Sarah Rudell Beach’s website Left-Brain Buddha, I highly recommend it. She talks about living with mindfulness, which is something I’m struggling to do every day—some days with more success than others, but it’s the intention that counts, right? In her post “Leaving the Classroom,” Sarah talks about her own journey leaving the classroom after 17 years of teaching. And like Sarah, it’s not that I’m no longer teaching, but simply that I’ll be teaching differently. Instead of one full-time job I’ll be working as a Graduate Assistant at UNLV, where one of my duties will be teaching a class called Teaching Writing Secondary School, which is right up my alley since that’s what I’m studying for my degree. I’ll also be teaching over the Internet, which is very interesting to me since I think, based on what I’ve seen as a public school teacher, that technology is the way we have to go if we’re going to capture the attention and curiosity of our 21st century students. I read in Stratosphere, Michael Fullan’s book about technology in schools, that we’re trying to teach 21st century students using a 20th century model. I couldn’t agree more. Through my studies at UNLV, I hope to find a way to prepare preservice teachers (fancy-speak for university students studying education) to become effective writing teachers. So, no, I’m not leaving teaching at all. I’m simply hoping to reach a larger audience now. My goal is to help others realize how strong writing skills can help us, all of us, not just those of us who want to write for a living.

I know the power of writing, as many of you do. I count myself among those who believe that writing helped to keep me sane at various points of my life. Writing is more than any essay (though no one could deny the importance of being able to write a well-argued, well-organized essay). Writing is big, and it should be treated, and taught, as such. I’m excited at the prospect of being part of that conversation. The freedom I’ll have due to my change in jobs will only give me more time to pursue my studies.

An another note, for you Loving Husband Trilogy fans out there, never fear. “Down Salem Way” is not forgotten. For those of you who have been contacting me with questions about the story’s publication, thank you so much for your messages, and I do apologize. I had optimistically said Spring 2015 for the release date, but the time came and went and the story isn’t ready to be published. “Down Salem Way” is high on my priority list, and it will be out early 2016. See, even with all these career changes, writing fiction is too much a part of who I am to be left aside. I think that goes back to the old writers’ adage that if you want to write badly enough you’ll make time to do it no matter what. I firmly believe that.

The Courage to Let Our Light Shine

quote

Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.

                        ~Marianne Williamson

I often spend my Sunday mornings watching Super Soul Sunday, which is how I’ve been spending my Sundays for as long as the show has been on OWN. I remember once when the show was about The Shadow Effect, a book by Debbie Ford, which is about acknowledging the darkness within ourselves so we can bask in the light. I was particularly struck by the quote about our deepest fear from Marianne Williamson.

I’ve read A Return to Love, the book from where the quote comes, but recently I realized that the quote spoke directly to the part in me that has been struggling the most lately—the part that feels like it needs to dim the light I have been striving for years to ignite. Williamson says, “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you.” I had what Oprah calls an “Aha! moment” as I realized that I’ve been playing small to make those around me feel better.

A friend at work was so happy for me when a local magazine featured an article about me that she posted a link to the article on our school’s message board. As soon as I saw her post, I thought, “Oh no. This isn’t going to be good.” I learned a long time ago that people aren’t always happy when good things happen to someone else. When I was still living in California, an article about my writing and publishing appeared in The Los Angeles Times, and I told a few teachers I worked with about it. I thought it was cool, that’s all. I had worked hard to get some notice for The Copperfield Review and now there was an article about it in a major newspaper. The next day I heard from a friend that the talk in the staff room was about me: “She thinks she’s so special now?” As an intensely private person, I shuddered internally at the knowledge that people were speaking negatively about me, especially over something I meant to be positive. That’s when I slipped the dimmer over my light and stopped sharing anything about my writing or publishing successes with anyone except a trusted few.

The story hasn’t changed. After my friend posted the link to the article on the school message board, a few teachers went to her with the same “Who does she think she is?” One teacher congratulated me, but otherwise it was silence (crickets) from the rest of the staff. I tried to explain to someone that if I’ve had writing success it’s because of my life choices. Most people marry and have children, but I didn’t marry and I don’t have human children (my children say meow and sit on the keyboard while I’m writing). I can spend my free time however I choose, and I choose to write. In retrospect, I realize my response doesn’t really work since there are plenty of people with full-time jobs, spouses, and children who manage to pursue their dreams. But at the time I thought I could explain away why I was receiving attention for my writing.

Suddenly, I began slinking around, my head hung low, avoiding eye contact with anyone. I was embarrassed (again) that anyone had been talking about me. Finally (I’m a little slow sometimes) it occurred to me—why am I the one trying to hide? What have I done wrong? Does the fact that I’ve stayed stubbornly true to my dreams mean I have to feel embarrassed about it for the rest of my life? Seeing Super Soul Sunday simply expounded the “light bulb moment” I already had. Why do I feel the need to explain away my successes when I don’t expect anyone else to explain away their successes? I’ve been letting others make me feel small, but that’s my fault, not theirs. People can have whatever reactions they want. It’s up to me to remember to, as Marianne Williamson says, “make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” When I’m writing, I’m manifesting the glory of God that is within me. It’s what I’m called to do. No apologies required.

I’ve decided that I will no longer hide from my successes. I’ve earned every single one with years of hard work. Whenever I’m tempted to cower from public acknowledgement of that hard work, I’ll remember Williamson’s words: “And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

Amen.

How to Get Published

Allard Writing

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak at Writers Block, a group of young people studying the craft of writing. When I asked what the group wanted to learn about, the answer came back overwhelmingly that they wanted to learn more about the publishing side of writing. It took some thinking to figure out how to condense what I’ve learned about publishing into an hour workshop, but I managed to come up with a few thoughts. Here are some of the ideas I shared about writing for publication. There’s nothing earth shattering here, but I think the young writers found it useful because it opened their eyes, perhaps for the first time, to the fact that writing for publication is hard work.

How to Get Published

To Begin:

  • Write something wonderful that someone will want to publish. This sounds obvious, but oddly it’s the step that some writers skip over in their rush to be published. Yes, wonderful is subjective, but if you have a strong grasp of the art and craft of writing, then you’re more likely to win fans with your work. It also helps to learn to be the best judge of your own writing.
  • Find your own voice and your own perspective. What do you have to offer that no one else does? How are you different or unique? That’s your strength. Use it.
  • Read a lot. If you don’t like to read, then writing is not for you. Read stories similar to the ones you want to write. Read about writing. Read about writers. Read the classics. Read your favorite genre. Read the cereal box. Read everything.
  • Be sure to proofread your work—check for spelling errors and grammatical mistakes. Don’t rely on spell check. I can’t stress this enough—sloppy writing will get your work rejected as fast as editors can hit the delete button. Yes, I speak from experience (as both the editor, and, I’m sure, as the writer whose work evaporated into cyberspace).
  • Have someone else (or many someone elses) read your writing and listen to what they have to say. Often, as writers we get stuck in our own heads and we forget that the point is to communicate with others. Remember, just because someone offers a criticism doesn’t mean you have to listen to it; however, if more than one person has the same suggestion for improvement, it might be worth seeing if there’s something to it.
  • Read your writing out loud to listen for the music of your language. We write for the ear, not for the eye. You could have the most perfect looking story or poem—sharp margins, professional looking layout, lovely font—but if the words don’t sound right then they’re not right.
  • It takes time, sometimes a lot of time, to create something publishable. Give yourself time to grow into the writer you want to be.
  • First drafts are never publishable (or usually even second drafts or third drafts or fourth drafts…).
  • If you’re not willing to take the time to make sure your writing is the very best it can be before you send it off for publication, then writing is not for you.

Then:

When you’re convinced that your writing is the absolute best it can be, you’re ready to start submitting to journals, magazines, and newspapers.

  • Figure out what genre your piece belongs in (Is it action adventure? Science fiction? Historical?) and research journals, magazines, and newspapers that publish the type of story you’ve written. God bless the Internet. When I first started writing, we had to do things the old-timey way—we had to actually look through books! Now a list of literary journals is just an Internet search away.
  • When you have your list of journals, read their submission guidelines carefully and follow those guidelines exactly as written. Again, I can’t stress this enough. You want to give your writing the best chance of being published. Editors receive many, many submissions, and often they’re looking for easy reasons to reject a piece. To make your work stand out from the crowd, show the editors that you’re a professional writer and you take your submission seriously.
  • Be prepared for rejections. Sorry, but it’s part of the process. If you don’t have the stomach to deal with the rejections, then writing is not for you. If it makes you feel better, you can find many examples of famous authors who received hundreds, sometimes thousands of rejection letters until they were finally published. Jack London was rejected many times, as was J.K. Rowling, as were countless others.
  • No matter what, keep submitting. It took me four years to get my first piece published. If I had given up three and a half years into it I never would have become a published writer.

However:

If you’ve written a novel, then the process is a little different. If you want to pursue traditional publishing one route is to find an agent who will represent your novel to the publishing houses.

  • You can find agents the same way you find literary journals and magazines—by looking them up online.
  • You need to finish your novel before you start contacting agents because if agents are interested then they’ll often ask to see the whole manuscript.
  • Like with submitting to journals or magazines, you need to be prepared for rejections. If the rejections will deter you, then, once again, writing is not for you.
  • To catch the attention of an agent, you’ll need to write a great query letter. Here’s an article from Writer’s Digest about how to write the perfect query letter.

If you have more of a go-getter’s heart, you may want to look into indie publishing.

  • Indie publishing is a great option for writers these days. Many best selling novels are indie published.
  • You can create your own e-books on Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing. You can also publish your books to BN, iTunes, and Kobo. The entire process takes about five minutes per retailer. The directions are easy to understand. You can also create your own paperbacks on Amazon’s CreateSpace or on Lulu. Again, the directions are pretty easy. Best of all, it’s free!
  • If you’re self-publishing, then everything that would normally fall on the publisher (cover design, interior layout, editing, marketing, etc.) falls onto the author. You have to make doubly sure you’re putting out a quality product if you’re indie publishing so readers will take you seriously.
  • The Creative Penn (www.thecreativepenn.com) is a great resource for writers who want to publish their work independently.

Once you’re published you have to learn the ins and outs of book marketing and publicity and you have to deal with the naysayers. You need a strong constitution to be a writer. It takes courage to put your work out there. I think the young people I spoke to were surprised at how hard it is to be a writer. I think they thought, as I did when I first started, that being a writer meant sitting at your desk scribbling out your crazy ideas and somehow all the other things (getting published, getting publicity, hitting the best seller list) just magically happened.

I wanted the young people to understand that becoming a writer, as in making a career for yourself, takes time. Even the indie authors who are hitting the best seller lists these days are often people who have been writing for years, and I include myself in that list. I’ve been at this since 1994 (21 years now), and it took me four years to get my first publication—a short story in a small literary journal. Then I wrote three novels before my fourth (Her Dear & Loving Husband) hit the best seller list in 2012. Now over 175,000 copies of my books have been bought or downloaded worldwide (that’s 187,683 copies to be exact–yes, I counted).

Was it worth it? All those rejection letters, all those worries that no one would ever read my stories, all those times I very nearly gave up writing for good? Of course it was worth it. If someone had said to me that it was going to take 20 years to get everything I wanted as a writer, I probably would have said, “No thanks. It’s going to take too long.” But the 20 years passed anyway, as time will, and because I didn’t give in I ended up where I wanted to be. That’s really the lesson I wanted the young writers to take away. Don’t quit. Not ever. If you have a vision, a calling, whatever it is, keep going. It will be worth it in the end, no matter how long it takes to get there.