Wednesday, August 15, 2007

A Savory Taste of the Writing Life

If you're a Diaries reader, you already know that when I'm not wearing my apron and swinging an ice cream spatula around like a crazy man, or sleeping, I try to sneak in a little time with my other passions, writing and photography. A few years ago, while still enjoying my sabbatical time between careers, I got to live the livestyle of writer. I was travel adventured out, having just returned from four months in Australia, New Zealand, and Hawaii, and before that a four month cross-country and Alaska adventure. Somewhere during that trip, I came up with an idea for a book and had begun scribbling notes and ideas in my journal. The book, which I early in the process named, "Hand-me-downs: Some Just Slightly Used Tips on Life for my Little Brother', was to be a collection of short essays about life and the pursuit of happiness. From the beginning, I liked the idea of creating it in the style of a conversation between two people. Like a father-son talk. Or from one big brother to his little brother. I'd been a big brother for a number of years, and since my biological brothers are far too 'grown up' to be needing any life advice from me, I decided it would be aimed at my little brother Ted from the Big Brother program. It really helped to think about what and how I might share my life experience with him. What stories a sixteen year old boy would find interesting. I thought it might make a pretty cool high school graduation gift for him the following year.

The process started on the road, deep in my journals. I wrote down one liners for all the ideas I wanted to share. For example, "There are plenty of unhappy people in big houses." or "Everyone gets a little something." I came up with sixty or so in pretty short order. Fast foward to the end of my journeys, I was still unemployed and liking it. And I had the bug to write. So I did. I got up every morning, drank coffee and wrote. For as long as I felt like it. Sometimes for ten hours, sometimes for two, followed by a bike ride or run, lunch, more writing, cocktails, write. Sleep. The travel during those two years off was pretty sweet, but there was also something really cool about being able to live the life of a starving artist. Writing for me is one of those things that when I'm in it, time stands still. I disappear to another place and don't return until my fingers stop pushing keys on my laptop. If you've had this experience while doing what you do - painting, running, doing yoga, you know how great and addicting it can be.

It took a few months, but I finished my first, second, and third draft. I went with the coffee table book format so I could include my favorite images (being the aspiring amateur photographer and all), so part of the process was to sort through my lifetime collection of favorite photos, especially the ones from recent travel adventures. I tried to match photos to specific themes. Some connections are subtle but most tie to its facing essay in some way. With the photos, Hand-me-downs became truly a labor of love, bringing together in one place my interests in photography, writing, travel, and self-discovery.

The final leg of the 'writing life' phase of my career break included learning how to market a manuscript. I bought a 'Guide to Literary Agents', write query letters to all agents I found who represented my type of creation. I sent out probably 25 and actually got a bite on one. The very first one I sent out, go figure. She requested a 'book proposal' and over the past couple years, has sent it out to a number of publishers. She sends me copies of responses, er rejections. Here's the latest, just got it today...

Hi Alison,
What a sweet project; unfortunately, it's not for us.
Thanks for the lookand best of luck with it.
I'll return the material by mail this afternoon.

Best wishes, Julie
Acquisitions Manager Ten Speed Press
Berkeley, CA 9471051

As with most endeavors not easily accomplished, especially in art, rejection is just part of the process. The life tip buried in my latest is this... Focus on the part before the semi-colon. And don't lose hope. In the meantime, I've self-published Hand-me-downs, and it sits majestically on my shop counter. Many persuse it while waiting for or while enjoying their frozen pleasures. I've even sold a few (73 to be exact). Financially, each sale is actually a slight loss for me, but I must admit it's still been one of the most rewarding things I've ever done. From start to finish.

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