28 January 2020
Note From Rochelle
How are you doing with your resolutions? If you’re procrastinating—and who isn’t?—you might find help at my workshop: Procrastination Proof Your Writing Life. I will be teaching it again in Monday, February 3 at 5:00 PM CT. And here’s the exciting bit: if you attend live, you don’t have to pay a thing. Visit the workshop page to sign up. (And note: the sign up tool is a little wonky! Once you click schedule appointment, you will need to set your time zone, then click on the date (February 3), and choose “continue” before you can enter your information. And if you can’t attend live, you can purchase the workshop.
Today, I’m delighted to welcome my colleague Amanda Zieba, who has written a review of Wendelin Van Draanen’s brand new book Hope in the Mail: Reflections on Writing and Life. Zieeba is a writing teacher and the author of several books including the bookstore novel, Close Quarters.
Hope in the Mail
Will Inspire You to Write & Submit
By Amanda Zieba
As a writer who has many words under her belt, but who has yet to cross the chasm into the traditionally published world, I occasionally feel lost. The publishing industry can sometimes feel like an elusive and exclusive realm. And even though it can seem a scary and uncertain place, it is a world I want desperately to be a part of. I attempt to reach my writing goals a variety of ways. I write every day. I surround myself with writing friends. I ask questions. I join organizations. I take leaps and risks. I work hard. But some days it feels like I’ll never make it… that no matter how far I travel, I am still not arriving at my desired destination.
Sound at all familiar?
What I really want when I’m down in the depressive dumps of “I’ll never make it,” is for someone who has already arrived to reach out a hand and say, “Here, follow me”.
In the absence of an actual hand to hold, Hope in the Mail: Reflections on Writing and Life, is a great stand in. Through this book, no matter where you might geographically reside or who your circle of writing fellows includes, you can get a good look at a way forward, at a way towards achieving your writing goals.
Here are three lessons I learned from Wendelin Van Draanen’s incredible new book.
Lesson #1: Become a Finisher
Becoming a finisher isn’t hard, it’s just habit.
-Wendelin Van Draanen
If you label yourself a creative, it is also very possible that you subscribe to the title dreamer as well. While dreams are all well and good, it is important to put your butt in the chair and get the work done too. “If you’re tackling a big job, divide it into manageable tasks. Finishing each step gets the job closer to done, and it doesn’t feel so overwhelming.” (p. 118) Wendelin gives writers several gentle, but firm, reminders that if writing a book is really what they want to do, then it will take time, energy, sacrifices, and honest to goodness work. This lesson helped me to narrow my focus to what writing tasks were really important and to direct my attention there, thus helping me to make better and faster progress on projects.
Lesson #2: Keep Putting Hope in the Mail
It took Wendelin ten years to get her first book published. She said, “If I had known it was going to take ten years to get published, I almost certainly wouldn’t have made it.” For ten years she sent out queries and manuscripts. Every day she told herself, today could be the day. And that hope got her through. This sentiment, taken from a three-page chapter early on in the book, was so impactful that it influenced me to choose HOPE as my 2020 word of the year.
Lesson #3: It’s Okay to Talk About Money
We are often taught not to talk about money, that it’s rude. But how are writers supposed to successfully create a career (and pay their bills) if they have no idea how the system works? In the final section of the book, entitled A Peek Behind the Curtain, Wendelin shares the honest truth about publication schedules and payments and editors and agents and all the nitty gritty behind the scenes goings on that previously had been a mystery to me. This information is what I usually struggle to find in my ongoing game of hide and seek in the writing industry. But in this book, from the trusted source of a woman who has built a twenty-year-long career as an author, I was finally granted the answers I’d been searching for.
Hope in the Mail is slated for grades seven and up, and while I agree that middle school and high school students will be able to pull a lot of wisdom from these pages, I can’t help but feel like adults who’d like to write for children are the real target market. I think writers like myself will benefit most from these reflections and advice because we are hoping to follow in Wendelin’s footsteps. We are not reading this book so that we can write an outstanding narrative fiction piece for 3rd period English, we are reading it because we are trying to write stories that connect to the kids who are.
I’ll conclude this review with a final piece of wisdom from Wendelin because I am that writer, the one whose book deal fell through. And as I’ve sifted through the pieces of resentment and disappointment, it has been the words from this book, along with a healthy dose of self-confidence and persistence, that will see me through. To anyone else who has felt the same or who would really just like to sit down for a friendly chat about the writing life, do yourself a favor and put this piece of hope in your hands very, very soon.
About Amanda Zieba. Do you want to know the best thing about a story? Everyone has one to tell. And that’s why, as a word nerd, Amanda has the best job in the world. In addition to writing nine books for children and adults, she works to help other writers tell their own stories through classes, workshops and retreats. Amanda is a critique leader and board member of the Mississippi Valley Writers Guild, and also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators. She lives in Wisconsin, with her husband and two sons. Visit her online at AmandaZieba.com
Write Now! Coach Rochelle Melander is a certified professional coach and experienced publishing strategist. She is the author of eleven books, including Level Up: Quests to Master Mindset, Overcome Procrastination and Increase Productivity. She provides solutions for people who feel stuck, overwhelmed or confused by the writing and publishing process. She is the founder of Dream Keepers, a writing workshop that supports teens in finding their voice and sharing their stories.
A note on the links: Yup, some of them are affiliate links. And I encourage you to buy your next book from your local independent bookstore!