Just a Start (How a Writer Builds Confidence)

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Today's guest post is from the lovely Jane Koenen Bretl—an aspiring author taking one day at a time, and
writing about it. Her blog, jane, candid, is a sometimes funny,
sometimes thoughtful, often irreverent account of one mom trying to
start a writing career and make the kids ca
tch the bus. Really, it’s
just one jane’s look at life.

As someone just embarking on a new writing career, I am hard-pressed to offer hard-earned wisdom or sage writing advice. I have, oh, maybe 20 more years of rejection letters to look forward to before I will feel qualified to offer those nuggets of wisdom to the readers of this blog. What I can share is one jane's journey to become an Author, the kind I think of with a capital A.

Technically, I have no formal writing education. A business degree, ten years in the food industry, nearly a decade as a full-time mom, a children’s photography business of my own—none of these pursuits specifically qualify me to write more than newsletter cover articles and the Christmas card letter. Still, through career after career, one thought returns time and again—the desire to express myself through writing, and to ultimately be published. Sometimes it is better for me not to know how much I don’t know. The publishing industry might serve as a good example. However, a series of serendipitous events landed me in a writing course last June, where I finally found the courage to pursue my dream of becoming an author—to step off the ledge of comfort and face failure as a viable, admittedly probable, option … at least, I thought, until I figured out what I was doing.

Start by starting.

I worked on a few children’s book ideas, and threw myself into my new career the same way I did each one before it—by researching and reading and absorbing everything I could find about the topic. I had bookmarks of writing websites; the list was a mile long. I bought lots of books and writer's market guides and reference materials. The Elements of Style sat on my bedside table, as if the contents would continue to seep into my subconscious while I slept. All this research quickly led to lots of thinking about writing and reading about writing and planning for writing—without much actual writing about writing.

Did I mention start by starting?

I did submit one story to an anthology, because a writing instructor advised that anthologies were a good place to start building clips for a resume that had none. I wrote a second anthology piece but never bothered to send it in, since by then I hated the first submission and was seriously questioning the sanity of breaking into the publishing world in the first place. The more I read, the more intimidating the whole proposition seemed.

But I continued to read, read, read about writing until last December, when I signed up for the Writer’s Digest Editor’s Intensive event. How lucky that the F+W Media office is in my hometown! Serendipity strikes again! In my newbie enthusiasm, I glanced over one little detail: it is a really, really, REALLY good idea to have actually polished something before I sit down for 30 minutes with an editor.

Good thing we don’t know how much we don’t know or it would be hard to ever try something new.

So I showed up at the event, all bright eyed and shiny, ready to learn, learn, learn. It quickly became obvious (at least to me) that most everyone else in the room had several novels under their belt, had paid their dues, logged their hours, and were blogging or freelancing or had been writing full-time for years. I swear some attendees had tattoos with long-suffering potential book titles on their arms, and those were just the ones I could see. Oh, and they had actually written something great to discuss with the editor the next day.


When I arrived for my 30-minute time slot, I wasn’t feeling so shiny. I did have a crackin’ query letter that received good feedback, but my chosen editor kindly and gently indicated the actual story needed a lot of work. Like the “start by starting over” kind of work. Not a surprise, really—after only a few months working on the story (in between all that reading), I already knew it was not ready for prime time. I did receive a wealth of helpful information and actionable advice from the editor. It was a great experience, even though I was secretly hoping the work contained a glimmer of brilliance somewhere deep down. Well, not this time. But the good news? I now had my first (albeit unofficial) "rejection" under my belt. Now I felt free to make more mistakes along the way. Rejection in any form, even the most kind, is painful yet still liberating. It was like that first scratch on a new car—it took away the need to worry about my mental bumpers.

So I listened, and I walked out the door with a new focus. Jane Friedman and the rest of the staff inspired me to join some social networks to build contacts and connections with other writers and potential readers. I could commit to writing (something) daily. I would start a blog (as soon as I figured out what a blog was) and use that as part of my daily writing practice, and as an idea incubator and network builder. I would start visiting lots of other blogs, leaving comments, and building up my own readership while creating more and more contacts along the way. Learning something new every day.

The fellow attendees of the conference? Several of them formed a Facebook discussion group, invited any attendee to join, and shared a heap of experience and information. And, of course, I learned that some of them shared my state of mind, the writer's blessing/curse to never think the words are quite right, yet. To keep revising and rewriting and wondering when. I wasn't alone with my doubts, or my over-active imagination. (I still wonder about the tattoos.)

That anthology piece? It was actually published this spring, and that gave me a shot in the arm. Actually it is still an IV drip of confidence as I keep the book next to my computer, there to remind me how I felt the day that book arrived in the mail. The book with my name in it. And my little story. Someday, my name could be on the cover, if I work hard.

Using Jane's advice to become more productive while becoming cyber-savvy, I started using (for the love of god) an RSS reader. Now I could satisfy my need to read voraciously about writing and still have time to write something. And, four months after its launch, I can say I truly enjoy the process of blogging and have, through that social media, found a new voice within myself. I just passed the 5,000 hit mark for jane, candid, a small number by many blog standards but a big milestone for me. I am not sure yet where this voice will take me. Actual income is a rational goal. I have to start by starting …

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