Wednesday, February 18, 2015

On Putting Yourself Out There

In 2014 I set a writing goal to finish first drafts of a short story and three novels. It was ambitious. I was pushing myself, trying to see if by using a new writing method I could increase my productivity. At the end of the year I had a 12k word short, two full-length novels, and about 2/3 of the third novel. Remember, these were first drafts. But it was a huge increase in my usual writing time.

I used Alan Watt's wonderful book The Ninety-Day Novel ( to make my goal happen. I can't say enough good things about his book. It sounds like a formulaic write from an outline kind of book, but it's nothing like that. For the first 30 days Watt guides you through a series of questions from the points of view of your protagonist(s) and antagonist(s). You begin the rough draft on day 60, and you write every day without looking back or editing. His daily entries coach you expertly through the doubts and difficulties you face as you go. 

I couldn't believe how well it worked. I couldn't believe how deeply I delved into the characters and their motives, how little miracles of plot and structure happened along the way as I raced through the first draft. It was my method, the one I have always used, but it was my method distilled to a fine and efficient liquor.

The longish short story that came out of this method came out almost perfectly. I took it to Weymouth Center with the goal of editing and after the first day's read through, asked my fellow writers-in-residence if I could read it out loud during our critique time. When they gave me their feedback it was unanimous: they all felt it was not only ready to go, they encouraged me to send it to literary journals as soon as possible.

The next week I sent it to Paris Review. After about a month, they sent this:

I sent the story on to Granta, who just yesterday said it wasn't right for their publication. So off it has gone to AGNI Magazine. 

My point here is that in life as in writing we have to put ourselves out there over and over again, in little ways, in bigger ways, in order to get results. It's so easy to remain safe and still and maybe stagnant and stuck. It's nice when things work out and we get the result we want, but even when rejection comes, it's a testament to the fact that we put ourselves, our work, our wishes, OUT THERE in the first place. 

I was wondering as I started this post how it would wind its way around to horses. Not that it needs to, but most things here usually do.

This one winds back to a frustrated night searching for a first pony, when I threw my hands up and typed in all the criteria for my ideal horse - and found him. And called the next day and made the appointment to go meet him, even though we weren't looking for a horse for me. And instead of letting reason take over, instead of canceling the appointment, I went, and I met Keil Bay. 

There was a moment when I nearly stopped myself from putting my dream first that day. After I watched him being put through his amazing paces, when it was my turn to get on and ride, I said, no, I'm not a good enough rider for this horse. But his trainer said, come on, you'll be fine, and I got on. What if I hadn't? The idea that I might never have had Keil Bay as my riding teacher, life coach, beloved friend, and handsome companion brings tears to my eyes.

Many of you know the ending to the story. I did get on and I had the best ride of my adult life. And Keil Bay came to live with us and every good riding day I've had since is because of him.

Whether it's books or stories or horses or anything, put yourself out there. Take a chance. The end result is always going to be better than if you didn't.


Anonymous said...

Very wise words . . .

billie said...

Thanks, Kate. I'm thinking of you and Arlene and a few other horsewomen who live in cold places today. We had sleet and ice last night, snow today, lows tonight with wind chill in the negative numbers. I do not know how you all make it through more than a few days of this!

Grey Horse Matters said...

I applaud you for putting yourself out there. It can lead to disappointment but also can lead to wonderful experiences. If you hadn't taken a chance you wouldn't have found your Keil Bay.

As for the weather is depressing. I don't mind the snow but I'm not used to these freezing temps. I thought about you and CFS when I saw you were getting unusual weather for the south. Hang in there it can only get better as time marches on.

billie said...

A, it is crazy weather here. We had sleet and then ice, then a slight warm-up with a little melting, then snow, now lows in single digits with wind at night and 20s for the high. I have never found so many hoof packs of snow/ice in my life! In spite of the cold and having their blankets off for the day, they are all preferring to have hay out in the sun on top of the snow. I am keeping ice off all the water and thankfully the water in the barn is not frozen so they can have their well water at its usual temp. But I'm also taking out buckets of warmer water with apples sliced into it to encourage drinking. Keil Bay just picked all the apples out and left the water, though, so I'm not sure I can pull that one over on them!

Matthew said...

Thank goodness you went for it :)

And the King came to live with us!

billie said...

You were not amused that day when you came to pick me up after the ride and I said "I Am Buying This Horse." But I think he has grown on you. :)