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Cheri’s Note: This was an uplifting and inspirational way to end another great WD conference!

The Drive to Write–Chris Baty, Founder of National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo); author of No Plot, No Novel and Ready, Set, Novel

NaNoWriMo: Writers sign up to write a 50K word novel, from scratch, during the month of November each year. Baty and a few friends first experimented with the idea in 1999 (a total of 6 people). By 2000, 130 writers participated. In 2011, there were 300,000 participants in 33 countries. Six years ago, NaNoWriMo became a non-profit in Berkeley, CA, with a staff of seven. On Friday, January 20, Chris left the organization. On Monday the 22nd, he began his new job as a full time writer.  He explained his decision to make this change with this quote: “A ship in harbor is safe–but that is not what ships are built for.” –John A. Shedd, Salt from My Attic, 1928.

Baty said that a common trait in others who’ve left the shore is the drive to write. Something else they share in common–they’ve all packed the same four things:

  1. An established deadline.  Set a deadline and then share that date with someone (even a newly met stranger). Ask that person to hold you accountable for that deadline commitment. And don’t ask just one person. Invite several people to hold you accountable.
  2. Momentum. “A writer is a person for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.” –Thomas Mann, German writer. “Objects in motion tend to stay in motion. Objects at rest tend to stay at rest.” –Isaac Newton. Even if you don’t start out writing every day, commit to opening the document every day. That single motion of opening the document will automatically begin to expand and lead to writing.
  3. An appreciation for messes. Writers need to make as many messes as possible in both the writing and the business levels of this endeavor. Fumbling in the dark, on and off the page, is part of the process. The only way we can better ourselves is to make mistakes–trying and failing first.
  4. Faith. Faith that “our books don’t suck.” That we’re getting better as writers. That our work will eventually mean something. The world holds a lot of surprises–and success is often closer than we know.

If we give ourselves permission to take this crazy path, we have the power to accomplish unimaginable things. Baty says he’s watched hundreds of thousands of people write a book in one month that they didn’t even know they had in them when they started. That’s quite impressive and unimaginable. And we each have the power to do such things.

He offered to have faith for us, on our behalf, believing in our possibilities, because he’s seen them firsthand.

Cheri’s Note: As I said earlier, this was quite a moving and inspirational presentation, and the perfect closing for this conference!

And this concludes my series of summaries on the sessions I attended. But this exercise in sharing has accomplished something unexpected. One of my goals for 2012, as I complete and rebound from the chemo, is to get back to a more frequent and predictable blogging rhythm. Very much in tune with Chris Baty’s “objects in motion tend to stay in motion” point, my need to get these summaries out to you has put me on a daily blogging cycle that I’m hoping to sustain–unexpectedly meeting one goal by accomplishing another. And that, after all, seems to be the story of a writer’s life.

Wishing you all a happy, productive day!

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Writer’s Note: This morning I did get up at 6:00 to write my post on yesterday’s conference sessions. But I didn’t finish writing/editing before I had to get ready for the first of today’s sessions, which started at 9:00. Then the day turned out to be nonstop, without a single break except for the half hour we had to eat our box lunches. I stepped outside for a quick moment to take the promised pictures of the snow, but the snow had already stopped falling, and all of the streets had been salted. So there wasn’t anything pretty to capture. And this afternoon I decided to pitch my nonfiction book after all in the three-hour Pitch Slam. I’ll give you the details when I post about today’s stuff. Needless to say, I was really exhausted when I returned to my room shortly before 5:00. But I want to finish yesterday for you. Then I’ll grab a little dinner. Once I’m ready for bed, I’ll work on the post about today, which I can hopefully publish before tomorrow starts. 🙂

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Early Saturday, January 21, 2012

Good morning! Weather update: Although the sun isn’t up yet (6:00 a.m. as I start writing here), the view from my 27th floor window at the midtown Sheraton is magical. The snow is falling, and the streets below are definitely white. TV weather-casters are all acting like kids. For the past several years, by January 21 in this part of the world, people have been grumbling about the snow, and local towns have typically been running low (or out) of their snow plowing funds. But this year, we’re having our first storm, other than the Halloween weird show. So almost everyone who speaks is excited. This being Saturday helps with the light-hearted reaction! I’m anxious to talk with a lot of people at the conference. There are 600-700 of us in attendance (lower than last year), and we learned from one of the organizers last night that the world is represented–several places in Europe, South America, and 40-some of the United States, including Hawaii and Alaska. (I feel fortunate that I only had to drive across the river, which took a mere 20 minutes yesterday!) I’ll take pictures of the snow outside during our breaks this morning and will upload them for you later.

Well … enough of the weather report. Here are my notes from the sessions yesterday afternoon. I’ll be abbreviating and using incomplete sentences in the interest of time, and I’m not going to focus on putting things in bold. So please forgive the imperfections.

My Choice of the Options in Session #1. Writing About Yourself in the Digital Age–A.J. Jacobs, Author (and contestant on Who Wants to be a Millionaire?)

Jacobs has written three books that I’d never heard of but that I will now bring into my Kindle–The Year of Living Biblically, a NY Times bestselling humorous memoir about what happens when someone tries to follow every rule in the bible, and The Know-It-All, one man’s quest to learn everything in the world by reading the encyclopedia from A-Z. Jacobs referenced both books at the beginning of his talk as a basis for how to write about yourself if no one knows who you are and/or if you think no one cares who you are.

Lessons he learned about how to make people care about who you are and what you have to say:

  • Be expansive. Write about the world, your surroundings, “the setting and the characters” you encounter, in addition to yourself. Create vivid pictures for the reader and give them added value rather than just the rudiments of what you originally outlined.
  • Be compassionate and mindful of others when you’re writing about them in the context of your own story. Remember that once something is up on the Internet, it’s there forever. Maintain a “generosity of spirit,” and don’t use real names. He gave an example of his using a college classmate’s real name in one of his early books while telling a story that painted her as elite and self-indulgent. When he recently ran into that classmate at a reunion, she cornered him and said that his comments are the first thing that comes up when her name is Googled. So, be honest with your story, but be sensitive enough to use fictitious names.
  • Don’t tell every single detail. Memoirs can get bogged down (and thus make readers not care) when the level of detail and the number of story layers is excessive. The importance of omission is as critical as that of inclusion, and what you leave out can be as significant as what you tell.
  • Be totally honest. Readers appreciate (and thus fully engage) when writers have the courage to fully open the kimono. Letting the reader in on sensitive issues/events adds to your authenticity as a writer and is a risk worth taking.
  • Recognize and accept the fact that our job as writers no longer just includes writing. Whether we like it or not, being a writer has become an entrepreneurial business. We need to establish a brand/presence for ourselves, and we need to embrace the marketing elements as part of the creative process. For example, when his book about the bible came out, he wrote several articles for publication that drew from the bible as part of his promotion. One article for Glamour magazine was on sex and love, and another was for an MTV publication on music and dancing, both articles citing biblical passages. Whenever possible, he makes his promotional responsibilities part of his creative endeavors.
  • He views Twitter as a “creativity booster.” He didn’t tell us how he approached this, and the Q&A session didn’t afford enough time for me to ask him. He did reference a book, however–The Future of the Book, by Sam Harris. If I see him walking around this weekend, I’ll get more detail because I’m also trying to improve my Twitter activities. If I don’t see him, I’ll send him an email.

Suggestions for “getting noticed”:

  • When querying, make the first line of your letter/email the hook/lead.
  • Meet the people you’re targeting in person whenever possible. Don’t become a stalker, but be persistent. Tenacity can actually work (over time). And use compliments liberally (but authentically). Being a “KA” can also be very effective.
  • When writing a memoir, anyone can make him or herself fascinating and vulnerable with vivid language and great storytelling. You don’t have to be “famous or important” in order to make readers care about you and your book.

Creatively, Jacobs believes that this is the most exciting time to be a writer. Financially, not so much. Writers need to keep their fingers in every medium possible–blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and anything else you can manage. Self-promotion is a necessity. We just need to learn how to put ourselves “out there” in a manner that makes readers care about us.

My Choice for Session #2. Writing the 21st Century Novel–Donald Maass, Literary Agent & Author. (If I’m not mistaken, one of my blogging buddies–Jacqui Murray, www.worddreams.wordpress.com — had the amazing experience of reviewing one of Donald Maass’ books, Writing the Breakout Novel. For the record, I find him absolutely amazing. Pitched to him at a couple of conferences about five years ago, before Separation of Faith came together. And as I said last night’s post, his mission in life appears to involve an authentic passion about helping new writers create great novel. In person, the stuff just sort of oozes out of him. If you ever have a chance to see him in action or to pitch to him, don’t let the opportunity pass!)

Maass began his presentation by explaining the inspiration behind his 21st Century Novel book, which will be published by Writer’s Digest Books later this year. He said that over the past several years, he’s been noticing that a number of literary novels and unspecific genre books have not only been hitting the NY Times Bestseller list but staying there for as long as one or two years. The Art of Racing in the Rain was one example he cited, and that book just happens to be one of the best novels I’ve read in decades, or perhaps ever! Totally turned me into blubbering mush. Maass shared the emotion, which is created by other novels that had been catching his attention. So, he decided to begin doing research on the specific reasons why books like Racing in the Rain hugged the bestseller list for such unbelievable lengths of time when other genre-specific novels far more acclaimed and being developed into movies did not have the same bestseller list staying power. The result of his research turned into Writing the 21st Century Novel, and books like Racing in the Rain became what Maass now calls “high impact fiction.”

Summary of Maass Conclusions:

  • There’s a rise in cross-genre fiction.
  • Straight genre fiction is declining and is being replaced by “high impact fiction,” which is a hybrid–telling a great story that reaches readers in powerful ways while also using old-fashioned, classically beautiful writing.

He then walked us through several plot and character development exercises, asking us to use/visualize elements of the novels we’re currently writing. He said that his 21st Century Novel book will contain close to 400 of these exercises, and he gave us a good taste of what those would be like. Even though I’m focusing on my nonfiction book right now instead of my third novel, I found his exercises very effective and invigorating. Made me want to get to work on that novel sooner than later. Can’t wait to see what else will be in his book.

Summary of Maass comments as he was putting us through the exercises:

  • “High impact fiction” writers are writing from a place of personal experience, revealing things that are “hard and difficult” through the characters.
  • Author authenticity reaches through to readers’ hearts.
  • Make character emotions big.
  • Excite reader imagination and emotion with something different, something not only unexpected but big. If you think the climax of your novel is aready big, jolt the reader by creating something even bigger.
  • Create an inner-journey story where true change [in characters] takes many steps. Deepen the character. Think “flawed,” “human,” “brave.”
  • Things need to happen in a novel!
  • Recommended reading: The Virgin of Small Plains by Nancy Pickard. Author intentionally put the biggest event she could think of in the middle of the novel so she could outdo herself at the end of the book.
  • What fiction lovers are willing to pay for in this tough economy is the combination of great stories powerfully told with incredibly beautiful writing.
  • The focus on the craft of writing is back! (Yay!)
  • Authors are what make a novel great, not any promotion or marketing. (Yay again!)

My Choice for Session #3. Pitch Perfect–Chuck Sambuchino, Agent, and Editor of Guide to Literary Agents (This was a basic/beginner session, especially useful for those who’ve never pitched before. But there weren’t any other choices during this time slot yesterday afternoon. The choices started today, which you’ll be receiving later … 🙂 )

A “pitch” is basically a spoken query letter (or what you find on the back of a book jacket/movie DVD box. (So, this summary can work for you/perhaps help you, if you’re dropping into this blog and just happen to be focusing on querying right now.)

Basic beats of a pitch:

  • 3-10 sentences in length
  • For fiction (which includes memoir in terms of pitching), do not reveal the ending. Peak the agent’s interest.
  • Do everything possible to cut down on confusion. Whether fiction or non, open with a) genre, b) book title, c) word count, d) whether or not the book is complete.
  • State your “log line”–Your story described in one single sentence.

Next:

  • Intro main character(s).
  • Intro something interesting/unique about protagonist, or what that character wants.
  • What is the inciting incident (the event/issue that propels the story into motion)?
  • What happens next?
  • Present the stakes (what happens if the character fails).
  • What other “wacky” things happen?
  • Describe the character arc.
  • Present a non-specific wrapup (not revealing the ending, but creating a sense of intrigue).
  • Remember that the entire pitch should only be 3-10 sentences in length.

For nonfiction:

  • Start with the same “basic beats of the pitch.”
  • What is the book about?
  • What are the author credentials?
  • Present the author platform. Visibility as an author, including blog, Web site, speaking engagements …  What concrete abilities exist right now to sell the book?

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Okay, that completes my notes from yesterday’s three main tent sessions. My promise to you is that, before the weekend is over, you’ll also have my notes on the three sessions this morning, the Keynote Address right after lunch, my details about the Pitch Slam this afternoon, and then the three sessions tomorrow morning as well as the Closing Address. The stuff is really interesting and, I believe, of great value to us as we each pursue our literary journeys. So, my notes are extensive, and I don’t want to shortcut the transcription for you.

Since I don’t have any pictures of the snow, I’m closing with a shot of me in my room after I came up from today’s sessions. Have a great night!

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In a Nutshell, Three Elements to Launch 2012’s Writing Year:

1. The third annual Writer’s Digest Conference begins tomorrow (January 20) at the Sheraton in Manhattan, and I am extremely excited, as usual! Those of you who are familiar with this blog understand my affinity for this particular conference and the impact that the first conference in September 2009 had upon my publishing decisions relative to my second novel (Separation of Faith). That first conference also marked the motivating moment for the launch of this blog, among other social media outreach activities.

Throughout the multiplying years in which I’ve been pursuing this literary dream, I have no idea how many sizes and shapes of conferences I’ve attended. A bunch, for certain! And a number of those were actually produced every year by Writer’s Digest in conjunction with Book Expo America (BEA), the publishing industry’s annual convention event. But Writer’s Digest broke away from BEA in 2009 and began holding their own conference. And that’s when everything changed for me. You can read about the reason’s for the metamorphosis in this blog’s Launch posting (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/).

Since then, the WD conference has become the best one out there, in my opinion. For writers in search of the truth about the publishing world and practical information/tools that help us navigate through that world, this conference is “the” place to be. If you’d like to explore the conference agenda and sessions, here’s a quick link: http://www.writersdigestconference.com/ehome/27962/52254/?&. And for those of you with a sustained interest, I’ll be blogging throughout the three days, giving you the inside scoop from the sessions I attend and from other attendees and presenters with whom I have the opportunity to chat.

Regarding the Pitch Slam session on Saturday afternoon, I’m not sure yet if I’ll be pitching. Part of that decision will depend on how I’m feeling (see point #3 below). If I do pitch, I’ll be focusing on my nonfiction project, which isn’t finished (nonfiction books don’t need to be finished before pitching, but I’d prefer that mine were). Still, if I’m feeling empowered by Saturday afternoon, I might run the project by a few of those agents just for the practice. At this writing, I’m fairly certain that I want to move forward with that project on my own, publishing an e-book first followed by print options. I’ll know more about that direction once the conference is over, since I’m attending several sessions on how writers can navigate the wild and ever-changing publishing world on their own. Stay tuned for my blog posts on the subject as the conference unfolds. If you happen to be at the conference yourself, please let me know so we can connect somewhere!

The opening address will begin at 4:00 p.m. EST. You’ll be on my mind! 🙂

2. New Year’s Inspiration can be found almost everywhere we look as writers. People in my life are constantly telling me about someone they know who’s in some sort of jam that could be tweaked and woven into a novel’s plot or subplot. And I recently sat at the pharmacy for 90 minutes where I observed no less than a half dozen interpersonal scenarios that could be spun into fun stories. If we’re alert, there will never be a shortage of material. But as 2012 gets underway and we are all still focusing on our resolutions, I’d like to share a few links I’ve been collecting that I hope will offer you a nudge, an idea, or a little inspiration, if you’re in search of such things.

Please let me know if you find anything helpful in these lists. Since creating consistency in my writing routine is one of my 2012 resolutions, I have the “Reboot” list posted on the wall close by.

3. Where Am I in the Treatment Part of My Life? Currently, I’m in the middle of Round #5 (of 6). The effects became noticeably cumulative, beginning with Round #4, so I’ve been struggling a bit, especially through the holidays. But the good news is that #6 will happen on January 30, followed by the standard three weeks of not-so-hot, which will then be followed by … nothing else! Yay! When this process began with Round #1 on October 13, today’s point on the calendar looked like a millennium away. And yet, here we are, about a month away from being completely finished with the process. And I’m going to the Writer’s Digest Conference, which I wasn’t sure I could make even a few days ago. Lots of blessings to start the New Year!

Two more photos are attached, both of which were taken a week before Christmas. These images seem to be a good way to mark the progress of this journey within a journey.

All the best to each of you as the New Year becomes fully launched. Wishing for each of you that your dreams come true in 2012! Talk to you soon from the conference!

Holiday Thoughts & New Year’s Wishes

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This past Monday, November 28, turned out to be an extraordinarily long day.

And yet much progress was made on the new book!

Although the arrival time for my chemo appointment on Monday was a couple of hours earlier than normal–which would have led one to believe that the day might end an equivalent number of hours earlier–alas, that was not to be. Because last week was Thanksgiving, lots of people like me opted not to have treatment on that Monday or on Thanksgiving Thursday (the only two days of the week that chemo is administered). Instead, a whole gaggle of us shifted our appointments to this week. That, as you might imagine, led to a backup of gargantuan proportions. I arrived shortly before 10:00 a.m. and left the chemo suite that night at 7:30.

Adding to the unusual nature of the day was the fact that this was the first time I’ve gone through the process alone. Normally, my daughter is with me. But she had an unmanageable conflict at work, so I went solo. Admittedly, that is not my favorite way to experience the experience, and yet I was able to make good use of the quiet time by writing a substantial portion of the chapter on the “hair thing” associated with chemo. Of course, the part I wrote during the 90 minutes following the IV bag of Benadryl wasn’t completely intelligible … or even exactly legible … since I had been making notes earlier in a spiral binder and decided, for some unknown reason to keep writing instead of plugging in my mini. But those pen strokes (and, believe me, I use the words lightly) marking up and down (and across and sideways) on the page did make me laugh. And then I got serious when the Benadryl began to wear off and the chemo drugs started infusing. In fact, I wrote for the entire four and a half hours of the infusion process.

Given my previous blog comments on the subject, there won’t be any surprise to learn that this “hair thing” is a huge component of chemo–at least for me. And the more women I meet at Sloan-Kettering, the “huge-er” the subject becomes. Each person handles the trauma differently. And some, amazingly enough, don’t even use the word trauma. Yet all are deeply affected by this particular side effect, which hits every part of the body, not just the head. Eyebrows, eyelashes, everything–nothing is sacred. Consequently, the manner in which women come to grips with the situation has become increasingly fascinating. And this chapter is extraordinarily important to me, because I’m hoping to offer a small measure of help to women who might be feeling alone or isolated in the midst of the decisions they have to make and those things over which they have no control.

My goal of having this book available on Kindle, etc., by the end of December seems attainable at the moment. And I’m especially motivated now that I’ve enrolled in the January Writer’s Digest Conference (https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/11/25/happy-thanksgiving-wishes-for-peace-updates/) where I’m hoping to practice pitching this new work to agents, just for the heck of it.

Meanwhile, here are a couple of photos of me and my new hair taken with my Webcam in my office tonight. Thank goodness for the blessing of this thing on my head, because without it I look like a bald man! Seriously!  🙂  (Behind me is the glass wall separating my office from my living/dining room, in case you’re wondering about the reflection.) Hope you’re all having a great week!

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Priorities

All too often, with the legions of tasks and issues filling up the minutes of our lives every day, the truly important stuff can be momentarily overlooked or even forgotten altogether for embarrassingly extended periods of time. In the crush of 2011, I know this has been true for me. So, on this Thanksgiving–and not just yesterday on the actual holiday, but at frequent intervals throughout the entire four-day weekend–I’m making a point of reminding myself of how extraordinarily grateful I am for the following:

  • Despite a somewhat challenging list of health issues with some of us, key members of my beloved family are all still here.
  • And I am still here.
  • So are my cherished friends–some going back 20, 30, 40 years or more, and others who’ve come into my life in the last decade.
  • Memories of family members and friends who’ve gone ahead remain strong and empowering.
  • In these times of heavy financial stress, all of those I love have a roof over their heads and food on their tables.
  • So do I. And given the millions of people across our country who are missing one or more of those life essentials, I am unbelievably grateful but also feel the need to do something to help those who are suffering. Each of our communities offers a range of options for any of us looking for a way to “give back.” I’m grateful for those individuals who devote their own lives to keeping such options available.
  • Personal medical challenges are being met with the awesome skills of my physician team coupled with amazing advances in science. (And I pray that the time will come soon when every single person will have equal access to the same skills and advances. No one should suffer needlessly, die prematurely, or go broke because they get sick!)
  • My writing continues to unfold, and I still have great hope for happy surprises in 2012! To all writers out there: No one is going to live our dreams for us, so we can never stop or give up. Whatever we can see in our imaginations, we can make happen. But if we stop because we’re discouraged and/or tired of the drill, the dream stops too. So, the first thing we need to say to ourselves each day is, “Write today! Write something today!
  • There’s a little voice inside my head–which can be incredibly annoying–that is never silent and keeps saying, “Get up! Keep going!” And, in those moments when I feel like saying, “Why don’t you get up, if you think it’s so easy,” I somehow discover that my feet are on the floor and I’m moving forward. Such strength comes from a different source or place for each of us, depending upon our individual beliefs. Acknowledging that strength and power will not only keep us going as writers but as participants in life as well. I’m very grateful for that realization and immeasurably humbled as well!

Happy Thanksgiving once again to each of you and to those close to you as we now move officially into the holiday season!

NEWS FLASH! 2012 Writer’s Digest Conference Scheduled in New York City January 20-22!

Those of you who’ve been following this blog for awhile know that the first Writer’s Digest Conference held independently from Book Expo America took place in New York City in September 2009 and was the source of my original epiphany. The entire direction for publishing my second novel changed as a result of that conference, and this blog was launched on November 4, 2009 as a direct consequence of what I learned there.

If you’d like more detail on that epiphany, please check out the Blog Launch Posting at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2009/11/04/hello-world/.

During last year’s conference (WD‘s second), I blogged while I was there. If you’re interested in my bird’s eye view and perspective, you can find those details beginning at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/01/21/writers-digest-conference-day-1/ and then in the eight consecutive posts thereafter.

Is your interest peaked? I honestly believe that this is one of the best, if not the best, conferences for all writers, but especially for writers in search of both the truth about the publishing business as well as guidance. Here are some links for you to explore about the highlights of the 2012 conference coming up this January:

Despite the fact that I will still have one chemo round left to go and might not be feeling at the top of my game, I wouldn’t miss this event! And I’m already registered! So, if you decide to attend, please let me know. I’d love to meet you while we’re there!

Progress on My Write-a-Thon to Complete My Next Book’s Draft in 26 Days

Well … I cannot tell a lie. (This is for my nonfiction project centering around my breast cancer.) I was supposed to begin the actual writing part of the process on November 1 (see initial details on my 26-day project in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/). However, I actually began the writing-the-book portion on November 13. And I haven’t been following the “script” line for line each day.

Before I began this project/method/experiment, I had already written four chapters of this new book, and I had outlined my vision of how the chapters would flow. But the excercises in the first half of Write-a-Thon by Rochelle Melander helped me look at the work I’d already done from a different perspective. Consequently, when I began focusing on the book, I realized that a lot of organizational changes needed to be made. Some of the chapters I’d envisioned were no longer relevant (or, more importantly, interesting), while other topics emerged as significant.

For example, I had not planned to spend any time at all on treatment options, because every woman’s situation will be different and, more importantly, I’m not a doctor. (The primary target audience for this book will be woman who’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer.) However, I am now going to spend a chapter on chemo–not on the chemo itself but on the impact that the process of going through chemo can have on the woman’s life and on the lives of those around her.

Making this even more complicated is the fact that I did not have chemo for my breast cancer. Instead, I’m on a drug called Arimidex for five years (three and a half more since I’ve already been on it for almost 18 months). But I am going through chemo now for this newest cancer (see info on my weird situation in my post at https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/12/publishing-cancer-journeys-merge-in-earnest/ )–and I’ve discovered that what women go through as a result of chemo is fairly universal, regardless of the type of cancer she’s fighting.

On that note, one entire chapter of this new book will be about hair! 🙂 Without giving anything away, just let me say OMG! This entire “hair thing” has, without question, been the worst part of the whole experience for me to-date. My own hair is now completely gone, and although you’ll never see a picture of me bald, I am including at the end of this post a few photo angles of me with my “new hair.” You can compare this “updated me” with the last photo I posted of me with my real hair at  https://cherilaser.wordpress.com/2011/10/25/new-take-on-where-do-you-see-yourself-in-five-years/ (scroll to end of that post). And, in summary, the minute I was able to look at myself in the mirror and see “me,” my emotional equilibrium returned, and I felt immeasurably better. The many steps along that journey will be in the book. Just let me say at this point, though, that I had no idea how unprepared I was for that aspect of chemo–and I’m hopeful that what I’m writing will help at least one other woman navigate those steps with substantially less trauma than I put myself through over almost two months.

Another Interesting WSJ Article on Self-Publishing

On October 31, one of those cherished family members I mentioned at the beginning of this post sent me a link to “Secret of Self-Publishing: Success” by Jeffrey A. Trachtenberg in the Wall Street Journal. Any writer considering/exploring self-publishing as an option will find this of interest, whether you’re a new writer trying to decide which way to go for your first book or whether you’re an established writer who’s curious (and brave).

This is just the one more perspective now that self-publishing has become a legitimate path for authors of all genres to get their work into the hands of readers. I’ll be interested to hear what you think: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970203554104577002230413747366.html.

Okay–Here Are My “New Hair” Pictures

Keep in mind that none of this is growing out of my head!

Hope you all have a wonderful weekend! I’ll be watching “It’s A Wonderful Life” and putting up my tree! 🙂

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Write-A-Thon Presents Fresh Approach to the Familiar

As mentioned in earlier posts, I’m proceeding with Write-A-Thon–Write Your Book in 26 Days (and Live to Tell About It) by Rochelle Melander. I’m trying out this method to jump-start my nonfiction project on the subjects of mastectomy and reconstruction. The first part of the book involves “training” and includes lots of reading (underlining and highlighting), writing exercises (consolidated in the recommended dedicated journal), and preliminary organization (I’m not there yet). The second half of the book launches the 26-day write-a-thon and guides the writer through the entire process. My goal is to be at that launch point by November 1.

So far, the training portion has been more compelling than I expected. For example, one of the early writing exercises sounds familiar, on the surface, to all of us: “Write down where you envision yourself being in five years?” How many times have we heard this technique throughout high school, college, technical training classes, job interviews, etc., almost to the point of being a cliche? So, at first, I wasn’t too impressed, nor was I eager to answer the question yet again (especially given the fact that I’m currently going through chemo and am focused, at the moment, at much earlier target dates, such as losing my hair this week and my final chemo treatment next February). As I read further, however, my attitude began to change, largely due to the imaginative twist Melander applied to the question, making the exercise specifically relative to writers:

“Imagine yourself five years from now. Everything has gone as well as it possibly could. You have worked hard and succeeded at accomplishing all of your writing goals. Write about your accomplishments–what degrees you have earned, what articles and books you have written, what talk shows you have appeared on, the awards you have won. Write about your daily writing practice. What does it look like? Where and when do you write? How much are you able to accomplish each day? Envision your writing community–who do you connect with, who buys your books, who reviews them, who is interested in the ideas you are sharing and the stories you are telling? Write about anything else that is relevant: where you live, what other work you do, or how your day unfolds in addition to the writing. Use as much sensory detail as possible.”

WellI really liked the part about everything going “as well as it possibly could” over the five-year period. 🙂 Sort of started me off in an exceptionally happy mood. But the big surprise showed up when I started answering all of the individual sub-questions. Apparently, my subconscious must have been working on some of this stuff during the years I’ve spent writing and publishing two novels because I had no problem identifying immediately where I would be in five years, complete with all of the surrounding details. According to me, by then I will have written three additional novels plus three nonfiction books. Some of them will have been self-published and some will have been picked up by mainstream houses. My talk show appearances, which I was totally making up in my imagination, were of particular interest to me. Surprisingly, I did not have myself on Oprah but instead logged appearances on all of the national morning shows, in addition to local affiliates. And, with five novels and four nonfiction books under my belt at that point, I wrote that my very first novel–The Truth about Cinnamon–was “the one garnering the most attention” five years out. Interesting

Keep in mind that my writing in the prescribed journal just poured out of me, without the slightest hesitation or pause to think things over. And, as I wrote, I didn’t feel as if I were projecting into the future. Instead, the words felt more like reality being captured, making the exercise fascinating on one hand and hysterically funny on the other.

The instructions recommend repeating the journal entries a total of four times over a week’s period of time, with each round focusing on a slightly different visual of the situation in five years. Three examples of the variances include:

  • Write book jacket copy about yourself.
  • Write an acceptance speech for a major literary award.
  • Write an introduction for yourself and tell what sort of an event it is for.

I haven’t completed all four entries yet. But one thing I have learned is that my speaking engagements will have become a really big deal and a major source of revenue for me by then. That will certainly be something to look forward to! 🙂

Even if you’re not interested in trying to write a book in 26 days, I highly recommend going through this exercise for every aspiring author (or even authors who’ve already experienced some level of publishing success). All of the details–and I mean down to the tiniest morsel–of what I want to do, where I want to be, and what I want my life to look like in five years are now being captured in this unique journal. And since I believe in the maxim that “luck is where preparation meets opportunity,” I’ll be all set in the preparation category, if I accomplish even half of what I’ve written down! So, when the opportunity shows up, the journal will be transformed into a self-fulfilling prophecy. Yay!

Meanwhile … back to reality … the launch of my 26-day write-a-thon (for the third of nine books I’m supposed to have written in five years) is now only seven days away. Guess I’d been get my head out of that journal and the future, and back to work instead! Will definitely keep you posted on my progress.

Chemo/Hair Update

Last Saturday, I managed to attend a wedding with all of my own hair. There wasn’t even a large of amount of thinning evident at that point, and I was beginning to imagine that I would be the lone exception out of millions who would get through this process without becoming bald. However … I was told that the hair loss would happen during the first cycle–and now that I’m on day 13 (of 21) in that cycle, the thinning is increasing on a dramatic scale each day. My suspicion is that I will be calling my hair salon for the buzz cut appointment before this week is over.

Although I realize that I’m at the front end of this chemotherapy process–with plenty of side effect surprises undoubtedly ahead of me between now and February 2012–I’m doing remarkably well to-date. There was a sunburn-like flush on my chest, neck, and face from days 2-4, and I experienced a lot of dizziness (no blonde jokes, please) and fatigue for about a week. But other than that, I’ve been surprised by the absence of issues. The one exception to that has been the unrelenting trauma associated with the prospect of losing my hair. And I’m honestly beginning to believe that, once the hair is gone (and I’m able to open my eyes when looking in a mirror), I will be over the biggest hump of this whole eighteen-week thing. Anticipating the “event” is consuming an unbelievable amount of energy and focus, an irritating distraction that may very well accelerate my decision about when to finally face the music.

As I told you in an earlier post, I had originally scheduled myself to have my hair buzzed off on Saturday, October 15. But I chickened out and opted instead to just have my two new wigs cut and styled. Now I’m really glad that I was such a wimp, and I’m hoping this confession will be helpful to any women who might be a little earlier in the process than I am when they stumble upon this blog. Lots of people will suggest that you take a proactive approach and have your hair taken off before the follicles starting withering away and the strands start coming out in your hands as you brush or in the shower. Others will suggest that you wait, letting the process unfold gradually. One way or another–if you’re on a drug protocol that results in hair loss–your hair will be gone within three weeks of your first treatment anyway. So, how you decide to handle the difficult situation will depend on lots of personal variables.

For me, waiting has proven to be the right decision. So was the decision to get those wigs in advance and have them cut and styled to match me. As I brushed my hair this morning (I have a lot of long and thick but fine hair), watching my scalp become increasingly visible, I was comforted as I looked at those wigs on my vanity. I realize now that I’m going to look a lot better once I start wearing them than I’m going to by tomorrow (probably), as my disappearing hair makes me look older and less vibrant each day. With a wig on–one that’s been chosen to make me look like myself–I will, in fact, look just like myself. What a concept! So … to other women in the same situation … decide on whichever approach feels most comfortable to you (recognizing that no approach will really feel comfortable as you anticipate your first view of yourself with a bald head)–but do have other hair options ready to go right at the beginning of your chemo. I have the two wigs, and I have also ordered two items called “halos,” which are hair pieces on sort of headbands that stick out when you wear hats, softening your face and the unmistakable look of no hair, regardless of what kind of hat you’re wearing. Knowing that those hair options are there for me is going to make the trip to my salon this week a lot easier–although I’m guessing that won’t be the best day of my life, no matter what I do to prepare.

Attached is a photo I took of myself yesterday. You won’t notice the thinning, but that was the day the loss first became really obvious to me. So, I decided to capture the moment. You probably won’t ever see my bald head (although maybe I’ll become more courageous as time goes on). But I will definitely post a picture of me in my new hair on whichever upcoming day turns out to be Buzz-Day for me.

In the interim, as I said earlier in this post, I need to get back to work! Hope you’re all having a great week!

Cheri's Lingering Hair on October 24, 2011

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Four Primary Cancers, and Lots of Pending Books, All Inside One Person …

… And the messages, stories, tips, suggestions, mysteries, suspense, and intriguing characters found in both my publishing and cancer journeys can no longer be separated, even temporarily. So, my posts will now include both, in order to remain authentic as well as informative.

In short, members of the medical community at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City are finding me “interesting,” to say the least. My non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma–first diagnosed twenty-four years ago in 1987–has been in remission (I’m knocking on wood right now) for around ten years. That part of the journey, all by itself, is fascinating enough. But what has really taken me into uncharted waters (uncharted for the professionals as well as for me) is the saga of three additional primary cancers (each unrelated in any way to any of the others) over the past seventeen months, starting with the breast cancer diagnosis in April 2010.

Seven surgeries and a round of radiation later, I am heading tomorrow (October 13) into an 18-week course of chemo to obliterate this latest surprise. The apprehension I’m feeling in advance of the chemo is very real but frankly pales in comparison to the scary days preceding the gigantic surgery four weeks ago to get this thing out of me. Everything is now gone except the microscopic stuff that we need to wipe out because, unlike all of my other cancers (that sounds like such a strange thing for someone to say), this latest bad boy is sort of aggressive. The good news is that, according to my guru oncologist who specializes in this particular cancer (and also according to my breast oncologist who has seen all of the tests and pathology), this “remains a very curable situation.” For that, I’m unbelievably grateful.

But I’m not going to lie. The past seventeen months have been a little rough. And yet, in the midst of all the turmoil, I’ve been surprised to realize that the coping skills required to survive cancer with a smile are not all that different from what’s required of writers trying to find their way to successful outcomes on their various publishing journeys. “You can’t be serious,” you might be saying. Well, yes I am. Serious, that is. Totally. Just think about it for a minute …

For example: First and foremost (other than being equipped with at least a modicum of writing knowledge and talent), writers need to maintain a positive outlook–to believe that “this is really possible,” a belief enhanced by the ability to visualize a happy outcome (a published book; a CT scan free of cancer). And the “positive outlook” needs to apply to the person’s entire life, not just to a singular task or challenge. Some people have more trouble with this concept than others, typically complaining about issues or people they have to deal with in their daily lives and then attempting to turn positive when they’re focusing on their writing/publishing objectives. Generally–at least from my own experience–that dichotomy doesn’t work out very well. Whatever outlook surfaces as most dominant in a person’s life–consistently positive versus pessimistic/cynical/complaining–tends to spill over into a person’s view of the publishing journey at hand (and sometimes into the writing as well). And, just as a negative outlook can affect, as one example, the impression a writer makes on publishing professionals (or even potential readers), I believe that those same gloomy characteristics can actually affect a person’s health, including things like cancer recovery. Our minds and bodies are interconnected in ways we don’t fully understand–and there is true power available to us through training ourselves to “think positive.”

Once the positive outlook thing has been mastered, writers need to have a plan that will bring their idea(s) for their book(s) to life. In a novel, the story needs to have plot points. The characters need to have arcs. The book promotion needs to have organization and goals. And those are only the starting points. Each step along the publishing journey’s path requires a plan that acknowledges challenges and realities, and that includes ideas for circumventing and overcoming obstacles. So, too, is the case with cancer. And there are so many kinds of cancers and cancers-within-cancers (a dozen types of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma; likewise with breast cancer, etc.) that each one requires a different plan. For example, my breast cancer was not only discovered very early but the type of cancer was indolent in nature. We took a very proactive approach with a double mastectomy and reconstruction (and that process is finally, thankfully, fully complete now), and rather than chemo or radiation, I was put on a drug called Arimidex for a total of five years that is basically siphoning all remnants of estrogen out of my body forever. This new cancer, as I said, though, is more aggressive, and thus the plan this time requires chemo.

But there are other elements to “the plan” besides just the treatment options. There are issues to deal with such as the loss of hair, which has turned out to be a really big deal for me (and I’m sure for most other women as well). So, I put together a plan that I hoped would help me manage the trauma associated with the “vision” of my long hair being gone. The initial step in the plan was a “wig party” I hosted in my apartment for members of my family and close friends. A consultant from a wig company came over with several samples of potential “new hair” that were selected to look like pictures of my own hair I had emailed to the organization. We all had pizza and wine while I tried on a variety of selections, some of which were pretty hysterical. (At the end of this post, I’m including a few pictures of the “samples” for your enjoyment. Rest assured that I did not go with the “mermaid” option. 🙂 )

Two options were selected that night, and subsequently I found a second source where I found even more fun stuff and where I ordered further options so I’d have a variety. In my real, normal life, I wear my hair lots of ways–down, up, in a ponytail–and, in order to feel as much like myself as possible once my own hair is gone (within two weeks of the first treatment tomorrow, I’m told), I need to have a similiar variety. (Just like writing/publishing: acknowledge the realities and challenges and then make a plan to overcome the obstacles.) In addition, instead of waiting for my hair to come out in the shower, in clumps on my brush, or all over my sheets at night, I’ve decided to have the long locks buzzed off on Saturday (the 15th). I’m incredibly nervous about that appointment, but my replacement hair will already be in hand, and I’m hopeful that the transition will not be as traumatic as I’m sometimes imagining. (I’ll have a little champagne with me to assist with that hope.)

Writers need to remain flexible with their goals, shifting and reworking their projects and objectives as new ideas emerge or as new knowledge causes a change in approach. Similarly, my goals have shifted to accommodate the chemo’s l8-week schedule. I’m pulling back from a lot of my outside activities and will plug that time into my writing. The new goal is to have two books out of my head (the nonfiction book on breast cancer lessons, and my third novel, which will be a sequel to the now award-winning Separation of Faith http://tinyurl.com/3wk8c57 ) in at least a preliminary draft format by the time the chemo course is over in February 2012.  If I can keep my act together, I’d also like to have the nonfiction project in enough of a final draft form to give to an editor. Toward those ends, I’ve decided to try a 26-day plan for the nonfiction book and a one-month plan for the novel, the blueprints for both being found in Writer’s Digest books:

  • The nonfiction project will follow Write-A-Thon–Write your book in 26 days (and live to tell about it), by Rochelle Melander (http://writenowcoach.com/).
  • The novel will follow Book in a Month–the fool-proof system for writing a novel in 30 days, by Victoria Lynn Schmidt, Ph.D. (http://tinyurl.com/3d2umls).

Write-A-Thon can also be used for novels, by the way. The first half of the book puts the writer into “training,” and the second half launches the 26-day calendar. I’m still in training and will keep you posted on my progress. My target is to start the actual 26 days of writing no later than the first of November.

So, as I ready myself for the first chemo session tomorrow (my daughter will be going with me)–and now that this post is “on paper”–I find myself sitting here amazed at how intrinsically connected my publishing and cancer journeys have become. Both are sort of weird, frankly, and the characteristics required to survive one are remarkably applicable to the other. But I have a plan for both, and I will blog through the tough moments as well those that are easy (starting with a post I’ll write tomorrow during the chemo). Hopefully–as is always my hope–there will be something of value for others in what I write. This is especially true now that my words are intended for cancer patients as well as writers. Who knew the world could become both smaller and larger at the same time?

Have a great fall weekend ahead! Treasure the moments.

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