Welcome Author Susan Schoenberger

watershedyear-200x300Connecticut author Susan Schoenberger’s first novel, A Watershed Year, was published in March 2011 following, as she puts it, “many years of writing and editing and many rounds of publisher submissions.” On her website, Susan says the novelat its heart, is a love story, and a story about all the ways that we interconnect in this world of both too much and too little communication.”

Hard at work on her second novel, The Virtues of Oxygen, Susan took a few minutes to share her thoughts on writing and the reality of the publishing business. Susan has been a writer, editor and copy editor at various newspapers, including The News and Observer, The Baltimore Sun and The Hartford Courant. She’s done all this while raising three kids, a feat we at Write Despite (with three kids between us) truly admire.

Please welcome Susan Schoenberger to Write Despite.

1. What’s the best writing advice you’ve ever received?

I’ve received no shortage of writing advice, but the best nugget was something Richard Ford said about his own work. He described his process of re-reading his entire manuscript with an eye toward strengthening the verbs in each and every sentence. Now I do the same thing.

2. Please tell us your favorite three authors

Richard Ford (obviously), Don Delillo, and Ann Patchett

3. Briefly describe your journey to publication.

I wrote a novel that didn’t go anywhere, then attended the Wesleyan Writers Conference in 2001 and began focusing on craft. I had several short stories published over the next few years, then attempted a novel again. This one — now called A Watershed Year — won the William Faulkner-William Wisdom prize in 2006, which helped me get an agent in 2007. My agent finally sold the book to a small publisher and it was published in 2011. Luckily, the same editor who bought the book moved to Amazon Publishing and convinced them to re-release it and buy my next book. A Watershed Year will be re-released on Nov. 26, 2013, and my next novel, The Virtues of Oxygen, is due out in the summer of 2014.

4. Advice for those now on the road to publication?

We all want to believe that the “ready for publication” standard for submitting to agents means that the book is actually ready for publication. In my case, anyway, I needed to do major rewriting and editing before the book sold and then more rewriting after it sold. It was painful, but in the end, the book was better for it.

5.  Do you write every day?

With a full-time job (and two kids in college plus one in high school), I don’t get to write every day. But I think about my story and my characters every day.

6. What are you writing now?

I’m working on the manuscript for The Virtues of Oxygen, which is due to Amazon in October. Having a deadline is a big motivator.

SusanSchoenbergerbirches1-300x199

A Watershed Year will be re-released in November by Amazon. You can pre-order a copy here: http://www.amazon.com/A-Watershed-Year-Susan-Schoenberger/dp/1477848010/ref=sr_1_4?ie=UTF8&qid=1371477953&sr=8-4&keywords=a+watershed+year

Halfway There!

We’re halfway there! A joint post from both of us today. Thanks to all of you who have stuck with us so far. If you’ve written every day for six months (or even more than you would have for six months), congratulations! Raise a glass (or four) to yourself tonight, and imagine us toasting you.

toast

Clink!

And if you’ve just joined us, it’s a great time to commit to the next six months–or whatever amount you can manage. Pick a date, follow along, and write every day! Good luck!

From Cathy:

How, in the name of all that is holy, did we arrive here?

cicadaSix months in! Six months that flew by like one of those creepy little cicadas that we were supposed to be all plagued-out by here in the east but that apparently decided that no, thank you, we’ll just stay holed up in the ground a few more years. (And with this whole Paula Deen scandal raging, who can blame them?)

Six months, and we have written our little arses off, and created fan-effing-tabulous works of literary genius, and gleaned a whole truckload of useful advice, and learned that this writing thing is a big jacked-up piece of cake with half-inch buttercream icing on top.

Haven’t we?

Well, it’s been real anyway. Real hard. Real work. Real enlightening. Real annoying. And from it, I’ve been through some real transitions. Here are some of them:

1. In January, I started the new novel. I was all like:

excited vintage woman

2. By April, I was so bogged down by the whole thing, I was all like:

Crying Kim Kardashian

3. So I started rewriting novel #1 and that perked me up and I’m still at it, but I kept feeling like a failure for giving up on novel #2. So then I went back and reread it, and guess what? Not so crappy. So I was all like:

girl thinking

Because, hmmm. Maybe I can do it after all. After I get this damned rewrite done. Which I’m not even halfway through with yet. But it feels kind of do-able now, not because I’ve figured out what was bothering me about it, but because, after six months, I’ve actually kind of gotten into the habit of producing stuff, no matter what.

Wow!

And even better, it’s half over and I’m feeling like, hell yeah I can do this another six months. Because that will be gone too before you can bat a cicada away. All we need to do is hang in there, my friends.

How’s it going so far for you? Progress to report? Stories to share? Failures? Suggestions? We’d so love to hear.

From Karen:

Six months into the Write Despite challenge. Who has managed it every day? Please let us know who you are, so we may commend you.

I have written a whole lot and thought about writing a whole lot and made substantial progress. The glass is totally half-full, halfway in. And what’s more important, I’ve embraced a more refined understanding of the writing process: It’s hard, maybe harder than I realized. This is because I’m applying a new level of scrutiny to my work.rigor cup

My day job is at a very fine university, one of the finest in the world. One of the terms I hear batted around a lot here is rigor. Rigorous standards for academic performance. Rigorous curricula and an overall rigorous approach to tackling problems and producing work. There are no short cuts on the road to excellence.

That is the approach I’m now taking. I’m digging deeper and trying harder. I’m undertaking that additional edit. I’m rewriting and rewriting and taking one last look to be sure I haven’t missed anything. When you’re tapping into everything you have, drawing on all your abilities and feeling challenged to the utmost, you’re doing it right.

Share your progress reports from the last six months. How have you grown as a writer since January 1?

Our First Guest Blog! Meet Writer Adrienne Kerman

I’m a writer. Like most writers, I’ve never actually written a book and I probably never will. I jokingly say I’m too ADHD to write an entire book … and that might actually be true. I think and write in bits and pieces … an article painting a piece of my day in vibrant swipes of color, or a blog entry detailing a bit of a harrowing experience in the harshest black and white.

As the mother of teenaged twin sons, I often write about parenting issues … the joys, the toys, the very smelly boys. For almost two years now I’ve been writing a parenting column for Boston area Patch sites.

You know what that means?

It means that for two years I completely chronicled the ridiculousness that is this parent’s life, and the pure beauty that is this parent’s life.

It means that I’ve produced a very tall stack of descriptively documented chapters in my children’s lives.

Why, some people might even call that a … book.

Take THAT, ADHD!

But I’m executively dysfunctional, which means I work best if someone else provides the structure. It’s why I have a day job in a professional environment that comes complete with detailed policies and procedures already outlined in neat little handbooks with convenient tables of contents; Microsoft Outlook Calendar already installed on my computer; and assistance with the administrative organization.

Write Despite provides that same structure for my writing. Twenty minutes a day is not overwhelming or overflowing. I can commit to that. I did commit to that, and it helps me consistently produce and honor deadlines.

Note From Write Despite: We’re so glad to have helped bring about some amazing writing, like this piece from Adrienne’s Moms Talk column, posted on Massachusetts area Patch sites. (Grab a tissue.)

It’s Not You, It’s Me—And Other Forms of Rejection

Springtime, and I’ve been going through old papers here at my house, trying to decide what to toss and keep. One file drawer holds nothing but fiction—my stories, ideas for stories, friends’ stories, handouts of stories from past teachers…and one big, fat manila envelope marked Rejections.

Why did I keep them? Hey, in college, I knew someone who actually papered a wall with rejections, and I’ve taken the same sort of pride in mine. Most of them are standard form letters, but some editors wrote personal notes, and I have to give them credit for scribbling a few thoughts down for me. Especially the ones from high-brow pubs, like The New Yorker, The Atlantic, Harper’s, Esquire, and a whole slew of literary journals: Crescent Review, Story, Grand Street, Crazyhorse, Glimmer Train (I would still commit a misdemeanor to get into Glimmer Train). And then more obscure ones like Bottomfish, Common Touch, and Dodobobo (?). Yes, I spelled it right.

The editor of that last one sent me a very lengthy, handwritten rejection, which ended with, “Your story is too long. Do you have anything shorter?”

It took you nearly two pages to call me long-winded?

Another said, “We were very interested in your story and had hoped to use it—but found we couldn’t schedule it in a reasonable time.”

Schedule it? Hey, no rush. I would wait for, um, ever.

A third said my story was “Impressive. It came CLOSE. I especially liked the ending. I’m sure you will publish this story, as I nearly did.”

Okay, that one was just cruel.

My favorite was the one pictured here.

rejection envelope 001

This is the original envelope I mailed a story in. Back in those days, I would send printed pages with enough return postage for the story’s return, along with any comments. And I would turn down the corners of a couple of pages in the middle, and near the end (oh, so tiny folds, as not to be noticed). That way, if the story came back, I could see if it the “seal” had been broken, and verify whether it had actually been read. (Anyone else do this?)

Anyway, there was apparently a team of editors at this particular journal, and they all read my story, then passed around my envelope and wrote their “votes” on it—each stating why it was good or bad. Some additional votes were written on scraps of paper that fluttered out when I pulled the pages from the envelope. Now that is a memorable rejection.

Only a few of my stories actually got published—one after getting rejected 63 times. My Rejections folder contains 117 letters—my Acceptance folder six. But I can’t allow myself to part with any of them, since they are evidence of the fact that I actually did do some writing, and spent a fair amount of time working to send that writing out into the world. When I look back some day, maybe I’ll at least be able to say I tried.

Most of my rejections these days are from agents. A few are standard form letters, and some actually give me the equivalent of what I’d guess a handwritten note would be these days—a personal apology and best of luck with some other agent (read: sucker) who might have lower standards.

But I’ll keep trying, keep writing, and no doubt keep getting rejected. It’s all part of the life we’ve chosen, right? And if I ever get my office clean, I may just start putting up that wallpaper.

–Cathy

Do you Shift F5?

keyboard

If you use Word to write your documents, like most of the free world, Shift F5 is the best little trick ever.

I used to put symbol markers in my long writing projects. At the end of each session, I’d slip in an asterisk so I could search for it when I revisited the piece to find where I left off. But when I started to use asterisks to denote breaks in time, that got confusing. I finally settled on a percent sign, which I would never use in regular text and was easy to find. This worked great, except I’d forget to delete it, and have a sentence like, “She turned off the light and shut the door.%”

Uh. No.

So I may be the last person on the planet to discover Shift F5, but I’ll relate this news just in case you also live in a cave. Hold down these two little keys when you first open your Word document, and you will be magically spirited to the exact spot you were working on when you left off. No hidden symbols! No searching for your last entry (and invariably getting caught up reading old stuff when you should be WRITING).

Shift F5 has made this book just a little bit easier for me to work on. And it’s got me to thinking about all the things–large and small–that we struggle against as we try to squeeze in some kind of writing every day. To be able to effortlessly skim past what’s been done before and start fresh where we left off is not only convenient, it’s kinda’ breathtaking.

Because, Jay Gatsby aside, it really may not be such a hot idea to relive the past, getting lost along the way.

Gatsby

Better to look ahead to the next great thing. That won’t happen if you can’t get past your beginning pages.

So I’m going to do my 20 minutes (or more!) now. And see if I can Shift F5 my way to accomplishing something.

What keeps your writing moving forward?

–Cathy

(P.S. So psyched to have a shot of Robert Redford in a post! Didn’t see that one coming.)