DEFINING MOMENTS & LESSONS LEARNT by James Robinson
A number of defining moments have shaped my life such as my marriage, the births of my children and grandchildren. Equally important are the defining moments of my writing life. The moments that “I chose (this path) and that’s what’s made all the difference.” (Robert Frost)
One such moment happened when-after our family’s annual trek to Hilton Head Island in 1994. I promised myself to begin writing in earnest. I began by writing about mid-life. I had a lot to write about. My body, at the tender age of 40, was starting to betray me. My buttocks sagged. My favorite pair of jeans became ill fitting overnight and so on. I had a book’s worth of material. I tentatively titled the book Fighting Mr. Gravity. Pretty silly, right?
I queried to agents arming them with SASA. Back then there was no e-mail, or text messaging, or Internet for that matter. I finally found an agent willing to take the book but for a price–$425. Immediately following that the agent recommended an edit of the manuscript from a firm he suggested. Editing fee was even steeper–$925. It was hard for me to come up with that much money. Later I discovered the agent received a referral fee from the editor but he never sold the book.
Lesson #1: new writers get taken. Never pay fee to an agent.
I continued to struggle on the writer’s path. I found three agents willing to take on my manuscript without a fee but none could sell it. In the meantime, Fighting Mr. Gravity was revised and matured and morphed into, Fighting the Effects of Gravity. It also had a subtitle–A Bittersweet Journey Into Middle Life.
My second defining moment came in 2010 when I investigated a self-publishing house called iUniverse. A lot of time had passed since I had investigated getting Gravity published. I was getting interested in the world of self-publishing. My first book was as good as it could get and I wanted to get it digitally published. iUniverse Publishing gave me much more than I had bargained for. They provided me with an evaluation of my book that not only highlighted its strengths but also spelled out its weaknesses. They suggested a thorough edit including content and development edits. The cost was .06 a word. Fortunately an old family friend offered to pay the money I needed. I gratefully accepted her offer to pay for the edits.
iUniverse outsourced the book to a professional editor who kept the concept of Fighting the Effects of Gravity intact but had me pretty much re-work the entire book. I was told that the introduction wasn’t an introduction. So I took parts from that long front piece and rewrote them into four chapters. I doubled the size of one existing chapter and axed another chapter that I loved but that had nothing to do with middle age. I learnt punctuation and mechanics of writing. I learned what an em dash was for, what his little brother a dash did, and what a semi-colon’s job really was-important information I was ignorant of. I wrote a new introduction. Fighting the Effects of Gravity took fifteen years to publish.
Lesson # 2: Get your manuscript edited. The editing process not only changed my writing life but also my life in general.
My final defining moment occurred when I met Kathie Shoop, (See her post “Life Transformed,” March, 2013) a skilled author and a member of the Mindful Writing Group. Kathie is my mentor in the world of self-publishing and for two years now, a great editor for my writing. She invited me to join the Mindful Writers Group. When she first mentioned Meditative Writing-I was skeptical. The name sounded like some sort of transcendental, chanting, incense burning endeavor. How do you meditate and write at the same time? I wondered. Must you not focus on one or the other? But I couldn’t help but notice that Kathie was always scurrying to get to these sessions every Wednesday. She got very anxious when she thought that she might miss one. So I also attended one Mindful Writers meeting. I have not left since.
Having attended the Mindful Writing Group meetings for a year. Now, I understand how the meditating and the writing work together. I also know why Kathie didn’t want to miss any of these wonderful sessions. Writing alone can be wrought with distractions-distractions of our own making and distractions that we can’t control. Mindful Writing is a time when I have four hours set aside to meditate, write, think and eat Super Burgers with a roomful of people of the similar mindset as me. I have a group of writing friends that I would have never had if I had not joined the group. I drive 32 miles every Wednesday to write in their company as we sit in silence.
Lesson #3: Search a group you would like to write with and become increasingly productive.
Fighting the Effects of Gravity is about as good as it can be. So what if it took years! I thank Kathie for urging me to write fiction. And I thank the Mindful Writers Group for letting me write with them. Thank you, Madhu and thank you Mindful Writers.