Stumbling   2 comments

This week on the Open Book Blog Hop we’re discussing common writing and author obstacles. Suffice it to say, I have faced challenges as a writer. I’ve been rejected and I’ve had to decide what I was going to survive those challenges. So have my fellow writers. Check what they have to say and then come back for my thoughts on this topic.

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Don’t get me wrong. I LOVE writing! A day writing is better than a day doing almost anything else. Writing is a great relationship with my inner self and I plan to have a long, stimulating relationship with writing. Like any other relationship, this one involves a lot of challenges, a lot of hard work, and also  a lot of rewarding experiences.

Writing comes with challenges and in order to achieve the awards, you must overcome the obstacles and make the most of the journey.

The first challenge of magnitude for me has always been time. I’ve never been independently wealthy. I could never just sit down and write without worrying about the time it was taking. There’s always been school or a job to go to or a kid with a wet diaper thinking her needs ranked above the story I was formulating. I’m sure most indie authors can relate. There may be a few out there who don’t have to go to work, but there are always time drains in our lives. We have to wash the dishes and shower sometimes.

Every minute I spend writing takes time away from something else. I think I’ve found a balance, but I have to acknowledge that my husband might sometimes wish that I would spend evenings hanging out with him without a laptop out and my tapping on keys. Time is a thief and it steals our lives one second at a time.

But sometimes I steal that time from myself. I love to procrastinate. I’m like a raven in a stainless steel factory, chasing the shiny research topic that leads to another research topic that leads to another research topic that …. What was I doing? I can burn daylight as well as any author can.

Image result for image of stumbling blocks in writingSince writer’s block was in the OP, I thought I would address it. I don’t really believe in writer’s block. The idea of staring at a screen or piece of paper for longer than about 15 minutes unable to start writing is giggle-inducing for me. Why? Because that’s not how I was trained.

I started out wanting to be a reporter. I trained as a journalist and I worked in the field for a while. One of the lessons in newswriting was that there’s no such thing as writer’s block. If you can’t think of how to start, type out the facts according to the five W’s (who, what, when, where, why … and sometimes how much) and that whole process will get the article rolling. You’re under deadline. You have to produce an article every week or every day. You can’t afford writer’s block. And, so … you write. I had a highly rated article that “went viral” (in 1980s fashion) that was actually the hardest article to start. If anything ever ranked as “writers block” it was that article. Under that 15-minute rule, I stared at the blank page (this was still typewriter and physical paper day), just not sure how I could start this thing. It was a controversial topic and it had a lot of moving pieces. My personal feelings were conflicted with the editorial policy of the newspaper I worked for. At the 15-minute mark, I wrote the 5Ws and the article flowed from there. Then I went back and wrote a catchy lead. It got picked up by other newspapers and Alaska Magazine. Writers block is a myth. And that has been my philosophy ever since and it works. I’ve published four books in two years.

I didn’t publish a book until I was in my 50s. I’ve been writing since I was 12. In those 40 years, I wrote a lot of stories. Under my real name, I published by-line news and magazine features and I had some short stories published in anthologies that are no longer in print. I submitted novel proposals to a couple of publishers and got no bites from Lower 48 publishers, though Ptarmigan Press (an Alaskan company) told me they’d be interested if I wrote something Alaskana. Yeah, I still have yet to write Alaska fiction. I really wasn’t hurt by being turned down by those publishers. I’m really eternally grateful for the extra time to become a better writer. Some of those stories are under redevelopment now and they will be so much better than they would have been had I published them decades ago.

About four years ago, I felt like The Willow Branch was nearing readiness, so I contacted some agents. Most just said they weren’t taking clients. One of them liked it, but said she would need me to remove the Christian elements in order to sell it. If I was seeking a Christian agent, she would forward the book to a colleague who represents Christian authors. That agent said I needed to remove the referential sexual conduct in order for him to sell it.

I considered rewriting the book, but that didn’t feel right. I could have kept submitting to agents in hoping I’d find one who thought like I did. I could have just given up. This happened to occur just as self-publishing was becoming a topic of discussion in the online writers community. I took a deep breath and wrote a pro and cons list and decided to be modern and independent (I am, after all, a libertarian). I made the decision to self-publish.

I submitted to a couple of more agents while I collected beta reader evaluations. I re-wrote the book based on their guidance. I ruthlessly edited the book. I retaught myself formatting. I talked our daughter (an artist) into designing a cover for me. And I found an author’s cooperative to provide the support I needed to be an independent author.

There was a little voice in the back corner of my mind that kept whispering “You can’t do this. You don’t know if what you’re writing is any good. You need a gatekeeper.” Then there was another voice that remembered that article that went “viral”. Okay, that was non-fiction, but I really knew that I’m a better fiction writer than I ever was a journalist. Finding confidence in the path I had decided to travel was a challenge. I held a 30-year dream of being a traditionally published author, but I had to reconcile that dream with reality. What I really wanted was for my novels to be read. Trying to get past the gatekeepers meant those stories were likely to remain on my hard drive. If I wanted to be happy in my life’s journey, I now had new options that would go around the gatekeepers. All I needed was the confidence to take the big step.

October 20, 2014, I became an independant published author. My fourth novel publishes next week. I’m featured in the Echoes of Liberty anthology, which publishes tomorrow. I’ve overcome a lot of my stumbling blocks. Now if I can just overcome the marketing and promotion obstacles ….

Who knows? If I overcome a few more stumbling blocks … maybe a bestseller is in my future.


Lela Markham is an Alaska novelist whose books of speculative fiction are available on Amazon and through Createspace.

2 responses to “Stumbling

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  1. We’re lucky that we’ve all been able to get around the gatekeepers! Keep writing, Aurora!


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