Anita's Haven

books, thoughts, stories, poetry, interviews, writing

Exiting the Cocoon

on 06/07/2015

You probably all know the story about The Very Hungry Caterpillar. Well, this is kind of similar, although my journey didn’t take only a week but a year, and my growth was not caused by food, but by acquiring knowledge.

Important note: Yes, I know this post is long. Yes, I know you are busy. It’s a free world:)

CATERPILLAR

It took me quite a while to recognise how happy it makes me to write, to create worlds and characters. Funny, because I am usually not a slow learner, at least I tend to think so. Actually, I have always loved to write, ever since I first learned to, but, just as so many of us often do, I put away my childish dreams and became a serious adult, a teacher, a wife, a mother, not in order of importance, but chronologically.

Anyway, timid and careful, I started using my own texts in teaching English, even daring to wander into poetry. Why do I write in English, since it is not my mother tongue? I have spent most of my adulthood using English in my studies, and now my work, so my brain has grown accustomed to it, I guess. Perhaps it is precisely due to the fact that it is not my native language that I relish in its possibilities so much.

But I am straying off my topic. The topic of writing.

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COCOON

After having my stories accepted wonderfully by my students, who had no idea I was the author, and later on, by my colleagues who even adopted some in their own lesson plans, I felt sort of encouraged to write more. This was before I ever started thinking of myself as a writer.

Time allowed for my cocoon to start forming though, as my friends’ and colleagues’ encouragement got me to start a blog where I posted my stories, poetry and essays. Blog was an entirely new concept in my repertoire, and I feared its consequences, just as much as I was looking forward to finally shring my work semi-publicly.

Quite unaware of this, I began to think of myself as a writer. As a beginner writer, that is. A rookie, an apprentice, with lost of friendly encouragement, but not much of a master to teach me the ropes. As a writer, I was still a teacher, a wife and a mother, and writing represented a mere hobby. Eventually, as my characters and plots kept building my cocoon and it reached my waist, I allowed myself to try a step further. I told myself I had nothing to lose, and I’d hate to wake up one day and tell my grandkids I never really tried to do something about my writing.

So I searched forums, websites, links, asked for advice from friends, and started sending out my submissions. Still a writer, I had no idea how to write a query letter or even what it was; how an effective, professional e-mail is written, what the proper manuscript format is… Basically, all I did know was that I love writing and people told me I was good at it. It didn’t take long for me to start getting no-thank-yous from major publishers (those who did answer), and ‘only accepting solicited manuscripts’ (I had to look up ‘solicited’ in a thesaurus, because it sounded a bit like another ancient human profession, unrelated to writing, but related to streets). I was a bit disappointed, but I am proud to say I had prepared myself for that and my cocoon also meant growing thicker skin than I could ever have hoped for. I even looked up some agents to see if I could get ‘solicitation’, but my budget was a painful reminder of how far I still was from my dream of getting published.

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A much more painful experience was learning about what vanity publishing is. Actually getting an e-mail telling you are being considered for publication, asking for more samples of your work…. Whoosh, that can really go into one’s head, especially when you are a dreamer! Ego helps them, too – no wonder they are called vanity publishers. I got sent contracts, which I paid to have printed so I could read all the fine print (it is ALL in fine print, btw), I even paid to send paper copies of my manuscripts to ‘serious publishers’ who only dealt with ‘seriously considered clients’, and with each dime spent, my hopes rose and my heart sank.

You see, as many of you already know, the fine print of vanity publishers ALWAYS asks you for financial participation. The devilish trick is, being a mere beginner writer, you feel humbled by the merciless market and actually believe they are being fair to you. So, despite having no idea where to get the ‘participation fee’, you find yourself thinking of loans, extra jobs and visiting banks or an installment plan. You are even offered a discount when you kindly reply you are simply unable to pay your share. Despair leads you to more forums, more research, more friendly advice, and you realize that you have learned a valuable lesson and you now know what vanity publishing is. You kindly decline, get spammed by their constant e-mails offering you this and that, still demanding payment and offering no guarantees or clear explanations of their own responsibilities towards you.

The slime of your caterpillar body acquires that awful stench of depression and you feel filthy. But your cocoon still grows, until it closes, slowly and without mercy. The only mercy left to you is that your creativity remains within the cocoon with you, your characters insisting on you writing them out of your head. Whether you want to give up, or you stubbornly want to persist, makes no difference to your stories. They want to be voiced, come rain or shine. So you hibernate.

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STASIS

Re-thinking, over-thinking, thinking… Stasis gives you time for this. Not much, but perhaps just enough. Time to catch up on some reading, research and discovery. So you learn a new word – self-publishing! Ooooh, the allure and challenge of that word! I was horrified by it and drawn to it, as I always am to Stephen King’s and Edgar Allan Poe’s stories. And just like that, I couldn’t resist. I tried. Clicking ‘publish’ still sends shivers down my spine. I hope the memory always will.

And suddenly, you are published. Author, it says. Ha-ha-ha… Will anybody buy it? Sure they will! It’s good, right? I wrote it with so much love, right? Readers will recognise that. Hmmm…. Days go by and they don’t, unless you count your friends and family, but only up to a point.

So your eyes keep wandering to those little buttons representing social networks. And you give in. Having no idea what you are doing, you set up a Facebook blog, a Twitter account, and start researching Pinterest. It is all so foggy to you that you could never call it misty. Misty has a nice ring to it, announcing imminent dissipation and a nice, clear day to follow. Nah, this is a fully-fledged fog, as thick as the London one in the time of Sherlock Holmes.

Then your eye catches something – a sort of a support group. Authors Anonymous, it may as well read,  but it doesn’t. It says BooksGoSocial. So I join. Let’s see what on Earth that is all about! The founder is Irish. Good. Apparently, people from Croatia and Ireland have a lot in common, and I have always liked Celtic music. Lo and behold! So many people there, all nice and friendly, an endless ocean of writers and authors, all eager to learn and help each other. I like oceans, so I get into the shallows and start checking the waters. Bit by bit, the fog is gone, and the sky is clearer.

The learning curve is often so steep that I get dizzy, but there is always someone there to give me support or even a push. I now know so many things I should know, especially how much I really don’t know about being an author.

And the cocoon cracks.

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BUTTERFLY OR MONSTER MOTH?

Now, don’t get all biological on me and start looking for scientific evidence to my metaphor. Indulge me, please. Because thismisnwhat I was getting at.

The other day I was thinking up teasers for my WIP, well, one of 3 or 4 (but who is counting, right?), happy that I had just had two perfect ideas of what I wanted for the covers on my 2 novels, one of which is in the hands of my beta readers, and the other one is not even a finished first draft. I am actually looking forward to editing, now that I know what needs to be done, and am already planning my budget to see if I am able to hire a professional cover designer this time or not.

I have downloaded several different format readers to my tablet, write reviews on a regular basis, get offered ARCs to review, interview authors, run guest blog posts and get interviewed as well. I create teaser cards for author friends, and in the not-so-distant future, am planning to tackle video-promos as well. I missed this year’s BGS authors’ conference by the inches of my budget, but followed them on Periscope. If I need advice or a shoulder to cry on, I know where to turn. If pep-talk or a kick in the derriere is needed, the authors and team from BooksGoSocial provide all, and I try to reciprocate.

It is quite plausible to say that I have started thinking of myself as an author. Well, an apprentice author, till I implement all those plans into action, some of which I already am doing. Mind you, I am still and always mother, a wife and a teacher, and time management is still one of my pet peeves. But several months ago, I was trapped in a cocoon, clueless to what WIP was, what to post on fb, how to tag on twitter, I had cold sweat showers for my first interview, and editing or planning a novel seemed like a heavy trail for me.

But take a look at me now… (you’re singing along with Phil Collins now, right? Admit it!)
So, a butterfly or just a monster moth? Well, time will tell. But I have definitely evolved and exited the cocoon.

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