Meet Casper, a resident of the Wolf Sanctuary of Pennsylvania and one of the major-minor characters in my latest novel (to be released April, 2009). She's a lone wolf, and has to fight for every scrap of food, every treat, every nanosecond of human affection and visitors' attention. (Personally? I think the other wolves are just jealous cuz she's a natural blonde...especially the girl wolves. But
if knowing what a human woman is thinking and/or feeling is tough, imagine trying to figure out what's goin' on in the mind of a female wolf!
What's that got to do, you ask, with today's topic? I thought you'd never ask!
In order to learn all the fascinating and amazing facts that're now stored in my thick-skulled head, I've had to do some serious research, which has included hanging around with people who, thanks to decades of one-on-one work with the magnificent creatures, understand what makes wolves tick...individually and as a pack. So in addition to their limitless patience and deep love for all things wild, these amazing men and women have been excellent teachers.
I can almost see the glare of that light bulb that just lit above your li'l noggin! Yep...right you are...the professionals and volunteers who care for wolves are teachers, just like li'l ol' me. Teaching folks about writing isn't all that different from teaching wolf enthusiasts about canis lupus. We're all a little wild and crazy the first few times we park our butts in front of a computer screen, paws hovering above the keyboard to craft our debut novel. (Oh, who am I kidding? We're always a little wild and crazy...we're writers!)
But I digress....
While we're in the process of 'learning the ropes', we don't know who 'in the industry' we can trust. How much research is really necessary? What's the right balance of dialog and narrative? Should we join a critique group? Good idea to attend conferences? Smart to enter contests? The list of questions goes on and on!
Then we get a lucky break. An agent or editor takes a chance on us. We sell something! And oh, what a wake up call, seeing the 'offer' on our first contract. It's never as much as we'd hoped. It's definitely not as much as friends and relatives presume, but we're thrilled with our paltry advance check. Sadly, the thrill wears off as we grind through the process, from Idea to Development to Submission and the long long editing process that precedes publication. The real eye-opener is trying to make that advance check stretch until our first royalties payment arrives. (Those of us who've distanced ourselves from church find ourselves back in the building, down on our knees, praying the check will have a comma in it!)
We have to learn about marketing and promotions, because these days, unless your name is John Grisham or Ann Tyler, publishers do not invest in cross-country book tours. There are book signings, bookmarks, postcards, newsletters, and a dizzyingly lengthy list of 'stuff we must do' to help sell our books.
So how do we make ends meet while all that's going on? Between the advance and royalties checks? (Between 'this' book and 'that' book's advance and royalties checks?)
I have writer pals who don disguises, so their friends and family members don't recognize them in their waitress aprons, McDonald's caps, plumbers' tool belts, and cleaning lady sweatsuits.
Me? I do stuff that relates to writing.
I write articles about writing. I give speeches on writing. But mostly, I teach writing. Everything from Where Do Writers Get Ideas to How to Submit a Professional Proposal. Fact is, I've been teaching my "Build a Better Novel" classes since the 1990s. I've been to Canada and Europe and a whole lot of cities in the good old U S of A, sharing learned-the-hard-way lessons about the craft and the industry with members of a whole host of writers' organizations. I've taught online. In college and university classrooms. At corporations that encourage their employees to write. I've taught one hour classes. Three hour sessions. Weekend workshops. Founded "Leading Edge Writers Studios" to help writers at every ability level figure out what's missing from their own learned-the-hard-way lessons...things that keep them getting that first contract...or switching gears to make the leap from one genre to another...or stall careers.
Teaching paid a few bills at my house over the years. It also helped garner some free publicity (as schools and organizations 'hawked' the upcoming events in an attempt to increase attendance). I've loved every blessed minute, loved seeing those 'light bulb moments' in the eyes of my students. Loved reading their manuscripts. Loved sharing the joys of their victories. And loved 'being there' to assure them that even the agony that accompanies every rejection is temporary.
But teaching, sadly, hasn't kept up with inflation. These days, believe it or not, it's actually costing me money to teach. And since I'm whittling time from my writing schedule to update and photocopy handouts, to show up on time for every session, to edit and critique student submissions...well, I think you can foresee where I'm going with this....
So when the local college approached me to see if I planned to re affiliate in 2009, I had to ask myself a tough question: Could I afford to say yes?
The answer was even tougher than the question. Because if I hope to stay on the right track in this oh-so-competitive industry, I literally can't afford to say yes!
Will I miss sharing things with hopeful, talented writers? You bet I will! Will I miss seeing their eyes light up every time an "I get it now!" moment happens? Absolutely! Will I miss helping them understand that with perseverance, persistence, and patience, they'll achieve their goals? Sure I will!
I'll have to do all of that from a distance now, in a 'word of mouth' kind of way. And isn't it a dirty rotten shame that this part of my writing life...the 'play it forward' part I've so enjoyed...must end!
I refuse to see the situation as a slamming door. Instead, it's a different door, opening to a whole new phase of my writing life. Just as my students hope for that magical moment, when an editor or agent calls to say "We want to offer you a contract!", I hope that along the way, I can continue mentoring and making friends with those who share my publication dreams.
In the meantime, I'll keep cranking out blog posts we can share triumphs and tragedies of The Writing Life. Come back often. Come back soon. Share how you handle victory...and defeat. Keep letting me know when I've hit the proverbial nail on the head...and when I've banged your thumb, instead.
Next post? The launch of bright shiny new contests where you can win cool stuff. No...not just novels by Loree Lough (though, to be sure, there will be a few of those!), but how-to books, jewelry, wolf collectibles, and more. Share the contest info with your friends, family, and neighbors. Spread the wealth!
Until next time, keep writing, m'friends, and as they say in Ireland "May you never miss a rainbow because you're looking down".
All my best,