F is for Foreword

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FThey say that for every promotional tweet you send, you have to send nine boring ones that aren’t about self-promotion.

I think I’m going to see what happens if you reverse that ratio.

OH! The anthology! The child I wanted to leave at the fire station but ended up letting it live rent-free in the garage. Today’s tidbit is about the Foreword, since foreword starts with “F.”

I thought it would be a great idea to write about the foreword for today’s letter until I realized that there isn’t much to write. I mean, I can tell you who wrote it (Kate Hopper.) And I can tell you that she edited our pieces and helped us find the deeper stories within our essays. And that she’s the perfect person for this job because her other job (besides being a wonderful writer) is helping women (mothers) tell their stories. Who better to write the foreword to our stories?

But once I started writing I realized that there’s not much you can say about a foreword. It basically just tells you nice stuff about the book and the people who wrote it and then tells you that you should read it and find out for yourself. Kate’s foreword is no exception. So what should I say?

That Kate said some nice stuff about us and wants you read our book?

Ohhhhhhhhh… this is going to be a long month.

D is for Don’t Do It Yourself

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DIt takes about 36 seconds’ worth of research to realize that self-publishing is not DIY publishing. It can be, just like you could calk your own bathroom or bake your own wedding cake. But if quality matters, you might want some professional help.

We outsourced a lot of the work on Mamas Write, starting with the editing.

Originally we tried peer editing our own essays. We’re smart cookies, right? We broke into four groups of five writers and each group was in charge of editing its participants’ essays. It didn’t work out so well.

For starters, not everyone has the time to read and respond to four essays while revising her own. And not everyone is comfortable in the editor’s chair. And we didn’t yet have a theme. Well, we thought we did—why we write—but that’s such a broad question and we (read: me) was just discovering that broad answers are hard to write and they aren’t so interesting to read. Oh, wait. Should that be “(read: I)?” See what I mean about editing? It’s hard!

So we got ourselves a professional developmental editor. I know I talk so much about Kate Hopper it looks as if I get special brownie points for doing so. (I don’t —not yet, anyway.)

I’m not sure what it was like for other people to send their work off to a person they’d never met and then receive feedback on how to make their pieces stronger (although many of us had met Kate before). I won’t presume to speak about anyone else’s process, but I can talk about the results—tighter, brighter prose from what was already pretty good. Like wiping the fingerprints off a mirror. You can still see your reflection in a smudgy mirror, but cleaner is better.

Kate was just the first pro we hired. We also outsourced copyediting (who among us has the time to read The Chicago Manual of Style?), graphic design (although WoM and professional photographer Allison Tierney took our cover photo), layout and probably something else that I’ve forgotten because it’s not my job to remember.

Was it worth it? We think so, but don’t you want to judge for yourself by purchasing your own copy? (See, if I had a professional PR person, she could tell me if those last two lines will be effective or not).

A is for Anthology

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AThe other night I had a dream. Someone from our writing group said to me, “I think I have an essay for the anthology. Is it too late to contribute?” In the dream I said, “It’s not too late at all!”

And then a dragon with a head that looked just like me came over and bit off the head of the person who’d told the other person, “Yes.”

I have no idea what that could mean.

The idea to put together an anthology came from the desire to kill a flock of birds with a single stone. Our writing group had just reformed with a new name and a new yet-to-be-determined home.

It would be nice to have a project that pulled the group together, I thought.

Many of our members were writing overviews or bios or applying for grants and wrote about the stories behind their memoirs or novels. The stories were riveting.

I want to read a whole book of these! I thought.

And of course, our members who were writing memoirs and novels were also building platforms.

Publishing a book is daunting, I thought. Wouldn’t it be great if we pooled our work?

So I said, “We should self-publish an anthology.”

That was two years ago. I realize now that what I really said was, “I’m going put together an anthology! And I’m going to bug all y’all until it happens.”

The moral of the story is that you need to be careful what you propose. You might end up with 29 essays and 25 contributors, a fabulous foreword from Kate Hopper, the gentle-but-anal copyediting services of Cary Tennis (that was weird to type but I suppose that all that is anal might as well be gentle, too). You might end up with a really close editorial team. Your writing might get a lot better from reading the writing of others’. You might learn about publishing industry and Kirkus reviews and how to read the fine print at Amazon.

And you might end up with dreams that you could still do a little bit better.

Look for our book Mamas Write, out soon available for purchase at a website near you.

Writing Retreat Aftershocks

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(the main room at faith’s lodge courtesy of faithslodge.org)

Ah! The luxury of a writing retreat! February’s retreat was a biggie: Kate Hopper’s Motherhood and Words retreat at Faith’s Lodge.

I could give you the background on the Lodge (it’s a bereavement center for families who have lost a child.)

I could give you the backstory on how I first heard of it (from my high school friend Kara Thom.)

Or how Kara and I reconnected after our 20-year high school reunion (because I discovered I was pregnant with twins and Kara is a Super Twin Mama of the highest degree).

Or how through Kara I met my dear friend Mary.

I could tell you how I write in Mary’s living room every Wednesday and how much of my stuff is born there.

Or how Mary is one of the editors of our writing group’s book Mamas Write due out in April. (Actually I should be telling you a lot about this—you know, the whole “platform-building thing.”

I could tell you how remarkable it is to write with a group of women who write and share and belt it out.

Or I could just sum up the whole weekend with a fancy emoticon.

<3

You know, ‘cause what’s better than going to a writing retreat where you crack open your soul and scribble the stuff that leaks out and then coming home to write in symbols?

Guess it means I need another writing retreat.  :-)

Writing Combat

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I’m not afraid of mountain lions in the abstract. But when I saw the handout over the sink outdoors with a list of “How-tos” in the event of meeting a mountain lion, say, at the sink outdoors, it gave me pause.

mount madonna

As a city girl, I battle the urban jungle every day—the would-be muggers hiding in the parking lot of the BART station, the aggressive panhandlers lurking near the espresso cart on Market street, the crazed driver who doesn’t look for pedestrians as she zooms down my street and onto Highway 24—but I don’t have a lot of contact with animals (other than my own children) until I go away on a quiet writing retreat.

I’m no stranger when it comes to battling with wild animals. In Squaw Valley two summers ago I learned how to shame a bear into leaving the property (You say, “Bad bear! Bad bear!”) The bear I saw was actually a baby bear. (I thought it was a monkey at first but I figured it out.)

In Wisconsin last winter I learned what to do when there are hornets coming out of the walls in the dead of winter. (You leave the room). That was at Faith’s Lodge at Kate Hopper’s winter Motherhood & Words retreat.

Last summer on Madeline Island (at Kate’s summer retreat) I learned how to pick wood ticks off your jeans. And today I’ve learned that the best thing to do when approached by a mountain lion is to make yourself as big as possible, pick up small children, and if the mountain lion attacks, fight back.

All writing retreats. So it turns out that writing can be a dangerous endeavor. And not just to your ego and your 401k plan. Wish me luck this weekend. I’m going to need it.

(I’m happy to report that I didn’t see any wild animals at Green Gulch unless you count those Zen Buddhists who are always frothing at the mouth. And none at Lit Camp other than the those party animals in the hot tub. But those guys were harmless.)