Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Keep the Fire Burning (Guest Post by Laura Lee Perkins)

NOTE: I'm starting the brand new year with a post that warmed my heart. Laura Lee Perkins sent this to me during her recent writing retreat that she won after finding it in FundsforWriters. We struck up a conversation, with me congratulating her big time, she commenced to telling me what  FundsforWriters has done for her. I was in awe of this woman. As a result, I asked her to pen her thoughts into a piece for my blog. THIS IS WHAT YOU CAN DO IF YOU PUT YOUR MIND TO IT!  Bless you all, and I hope this piece lights a fire under you for 2014. I know it made me awful thankful. ~HOPE

In Gratitude -
by Laura Lee Perkins

Keep the Fire Burning

I love to write. Whenever life gets really good or really bad, I have to write. Writing is how I deal with joy and with sorrow. I imagine that many of you are the same: the highs and lows of life are processed through written words.

Sometimes it is a long time between the burning desire to see my work in print and having that actually happen. Sometimes, with some pieces, it never happens. Some days I feel filled with hope and anticipation, maybe after entering a lucrative contest with what I think is one of my  very best pieces. And then I wait and wait and wait, while I continue writing. The silence can feel deafening as it smothers me with nothing „Ÿ much like a mistress waiting for the phone to ring to inform her that her lover's wife has died! It just isn't going to happen.

C. Hope Clark entered my life just when I had decided to make a 10-year commitment to improving my writing output by entering even more contests, applying for more grants and submitting more applications for artist-in-residencies. That was more than 10 years ago, but C. Hope Clark still sits on my desktop every single day. Whenever I need to remember that I am not alone in this writing struggle, when I feel like bursting into tears after another rejection, or when I simply cannot stand my office space and feel like I'm going to scream, I open the 25-30 page document that I have created titled "HOPE" and my world is transformed from despair into opportunity with one simple click. 

Here I find every snippet of fodder that I have carefully cut and pasted from C. Hope Clark's weekly Funds for Writers email to feed my hunger for publication. After doing this for several years, adding on each announcement that looked appealing, this document was pretty messy.

One day when I needed encouragement, I thought that I would divide the many opportunities into categories, which meant more cutting and pasting. Finally the document was organized into: Book Publishers, Magazines, Grants, Jobs, Artist-in-Residencies, Workshops/Classes and Wisdom perhaps the most important section because it included tips for remaining sane while striving for success. Within each category some items appealed to me more than others, so bold and italics  and underline entered the document. Deadlines passed and things had to be deleted or "un-prioritized" until the next year's deadline was announced. I started sending out more of my writings, so I added a Submissions category where everything had to be carefully documented: fee paid, date, title and word count for each entry. Then I quickly discovered that I needed a Rejected category which would include any comments offered in the rejection email or letter (if there even was a notification). 

And then a hallelujiah light went on in my "HOPE" file, and I added a YES/Accepted category. I made a list of  my successes, however small they might be. The list began to grow and I began to understand the aspect of practicing, practicing, practicing our craft...perhaps much longer than I wanted. Writing is not a goal„ writing is a process. It isn't like baking a loaf of bread which immediately rises, gets baked and brings joy through eating.

Every week I carefully cut and pasted anything that looked like it might be a chance for me to be published or to grow professionally. I began to ask for opinions, joined a writer's group and began to speak in public more and more often. But I always kept the "HOPE" file updated every week. I never  missed. I would sit at my computer late on Friday afternoon, waiting for the email to arrive. Anticipation was my middle name, and gradually I learned to keep that document open on other days besides just Friday. It added more kindling to my inner burning desire to write.

More than a decade has gone by and I have received ten grants. The first and second ones were $10,000 each and came just a year  apart. Those jump-started my grant applications! I came in 3rd in the Writers' Digest Inspirational category, and I missed the deadline for collecting my prize check because I was off traveling in Europe and thought the announcement email was an "ad" and deleted it several times. That made me feel really stupid. I've self-published five books (with sales of 5,000)  and had one published by Focus on Excellence. I've completed four Artist-in-Residencies for the U.S. National Parks and am just completing a fifth one for the Turkeyland Cove Foundation on Martha's Vineyard, where I am writing this. I have published 150+ articles in my areas of specialization (music/education/spiritual development) and last month my book Lighting Your Spiritual Passion was published by Maine Authors Publishing. When it appeared on Amazon in Kindle, then in paperback and finally on Smashwords sites, I cried for joy. Those 160 pages were edited and rewritten more times than I dare to admit, but I knew that the only way I could be sure of failure was if I stopped trying. The first newspaper article about the book's release ran yesterday in the Sun Journal based in Lewiston, Maine (pop. 30,000) and 423 people "liked" it on Facebook the first day!

Remain determined, committed, and willing to grow in ways that might feel horribly uncomfortable at times. Learn to be able to look at yourself with humor and understand that writers have to be passionate folks who are willing to make big sacrifices in order to keep on writing. The words flow in our veins and arteries...and the heart beats the "drum of life" to keep us dancing, moving forward. We always hear, "Don't take things personally." Writers have to take things personally if we are going to improve. Learn to take a deep breath and leap. It is worse to remain frozen in fear. Writing forces growth.

I take Hope's email very seriously, every week. When it has been late arriving (a few times), dinner is delayed. It is that important.  I reduce the font size down to 9 so that I can get more opportunities on one page and create a page view with the widest margins my computer will allow. And I have developed my own style of shorthand so that each opportunity can be reduced down to just two lines if at all possible. Why? Because I learned that once the document is over 25 pages long,  it felt too cumbersome to peruse for the next opportunity. Some weeks I only do one category for the week, but about once a month I save an afternoon (usually Friday while I'm waiting for her newest email to arrive) and I read through the entire document, slowly and carefully. I use text colors to make things pop visually, and then, for the best opportunities, I add highlighting. Now I have bold, italics, bold-italics, colored text, underlines, a variety of font styles and highlighting. Then I am ready to choose what's next in my writer's "wish list".

Every time I travel, I take along a double sided one page document that has the most appealing and/or impending deadlines. I carry it in my purse and I read and reread those little two-liner opportunities. On airplanes I have noticed seat mates glancing at my multi-colored two-sided page.  These are times to dream, when I am on public transportation, out of my office and "in motion." I memorize the opportunities, wait until I am internally prompted and then I sketch out my thoughts about how to apply. I allow those thoughts to ferment in my mind and soul while I am out of my familiar office, and by the time I return home I am ready to begin the next application. Writers are never alone because we are always accompanied by the sacred feeling of choosing words to offer to the world. Writing takes courage and imagination, but marketing takes guts and stamina. Happy Writing!

Laura Lee Perkins


Audrey said...

Thank you Laura...thank you Hope!!If I'm not inspired by this, I need to take my pulse and make sure I'm still alive. Writing is a process that is so hard to explain to someone who doesn't write. I keep wanting it to be easy, yet I know that it isn't. Thanks for the motivation I need as I enter 2014. Happy New Year to both of you!

Hope Clark said...

Happy New Year to you, too, Audrey. Laura's words really perked me up!