Pantsing While Plodding Toward Publication

writing journeyI started writing over four-and-a-half years ago. I had an idea for a non-fiction book, a snarky take on Boulder women. If you’re not familiar with how to assemble a book proposal, non-fiction is skiing down a gentle slope compared to fiction where the writer must plod along the desert and climb craggy mountains with blown out tennis shoes and holes in their socks. I’ll get to that later. At that time, I only needed a query letter, a table of contents, and a few sample chapters.

It took months to finish one chapter since my typing skills matched my affinity for editing. At first, I fought for every word when my husband checked over my essay. Yep. One essay. Don’t get me wrong. I wanted perfection, but it killed me to change a sentence I had slaved over. When my kids pointed out how to right-click, delete, copy, and paste, I floated into a state of nirvana. After finishing the proposal, I had an editor look it over. He liked the idea, but told me I needed to build a writer’s platform by blogging. So on April 10th, 2011, I posted for the first time on WordPress.

Here I am on my four-year blogiversary with my 400th post! Amazing.

If it was so dang easy, what happened to the non-fiction book proposal?

I joined a Friday flash fiction group and fell in love with making stuff up. I wrote the first sentence of these micro essays by using stream-of-conscious writing. In other words, I wrote the first words that popped into my tiny cranium. From there, I described the character’s world and what they wanted. Then, I would come up with the biggest twisted ending imaginable. They were great fun.

After spending months creating worlds and playing with characters no one would ever meet, I had a eureka moment. Instead of worrying about what my friends would think of my perspective on Boulder life, I picked out one of the more popular flash fictions and decided to transform it into a book. How hard could it be? I thought I could simply extend the story. In a year, I would be a published author!

And from here we enter the desert.

I had no idea what I was doing. Instead of a few sample chapters, the entire book would have to be complete before querying. I still had my heart set on landing an agent and being traditionally published.

Little did I know there were rules to this enormous genre. My expanded flash fiction only encompassed the first two chapters of what would become a 50 chapter book. I remember writing to chapter 30 and not knowing how the story would end. I had loved writing in this “pantsing” way, but not know where I was going, proved to be grueling and all uphill with lots of crevices and cliffs to sidestep.

During the first year of writing the book, I continued to write flash fiction. It confused my pea-brain to handle sets of characters while switching back and forth between stories. I finally had to commit to the book and stop writing short stories. It was taking forever.

Why didn’t you just whip it out and e-book it?

I don’t believe in wasting reader’s time because of unpolished writing. I figure an author’s work is like a meal at a fine restaurant. One bad dinner and the patrons will never come back. Regardless of whether I e-booked or not, I wanted my book to be the best it could be. By the time I finished the first draft, I had fallen in love with my characters and story. It would be worth the time to do those 376 edits, I always joke about. I’m probably close to that number now! 

Chuck Wendig and me

I met Chuck Wendig at the Pike’s Peak Writer’s Conference.

Getting back to the rules, I learned a ton throughout this journey. I scoured the internet. I bought and devoured books. I went to writer’s conferences and chatted up other writers, authors, agents, and editors. I blogged about writing and asked for opinions.

Exciting and nerve-wracking, I gave my first chapter to a few writers, they felt it didn’t start in the right place and they couldn’t connect with my character. The stakes weren’t high enough. GAH! I had arrived at the end of a long tenuous journey with one foot bruised and the other blistered only to find I had a few more miles to go. I couldn’t give up when I was so close.

I rewrote and rewrote and rewrote for months, until one day, I looked up from my computer and smiled. I knew my story finally started in the right place. My main character came to life on page one and her stakes would give most people nightmares. I was finished.NaNoWriMo2014 1

My first book took three and a half years. Ironically, I wrote the second in the series in three weeks, but I knew the main plot points and ending before I started. I have the third all “tent-poled” and ready to write. Now that I know the rules, it is so much easier.

So what does this have to do with your 400th post and blogiversary?

Writing blog posts stretched me as a writer. It was the practice I needed to finish the final mile. Every one of those 400 essays contributed to the book and the writer I have become.

After many long hard days the terrain became less rocky. The mountain face I had scaled became a gentle slope in the foothills I could ski. I will continue to work hard on my craft and will sit down to darn socks and replace worn out shoes when need be and will keep on trekking.

If I knew it would take me this long, I would have started the journey anyway. It’s not just about the book anymore. Ultimately, it’s about writing. The blogging and the book are intertwined. I’ve learned by taking the road less traveled.

skiing down mountain

Why do you blog? If you don’t have one, would you ever consider blogging?

75 thoughts on “Pantsing While Plodding Toward Publication

  1. Fascinating journey you’ve been on. Always love to read about what someone learns along the way, especially when it has to do with writing. Congrats on your four-year blogiversary. That’s an achievement worthy of note.

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    • Thanks Ally! This post started out as a, “Hey! It’s my blogiversary and this is my 400th post!” and it quickly became a ramble about how I thought this process to publication would be a piece of cake. Here I am 4 years later! Ha! Who knew it would be such an arduous process. Wow.

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  2. Blogging certainly helps improve ones writing. I know it did me. I look back on my first posts from 4 years ago and cringe. LOL I am so impressed you are pursuing all those writing avenues. Your book will be awesome.

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    • Awww! Thanks Mary! I’lll work on it until it goes to a publisher… 🙂
      I looked back on mine and I took blogging and writing so seriously back in the day. I spent days on each post. Back then I was sooooo sloooooowww. Ha!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Understand exactly what you write of here, Susie. Writing a book is an enormous and daunting task. As is short story writing. But when you get in that pocket — and there are days like that — it makes it all worthwhile. Congrats!!!

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    • Thanks Brigitte!
      I’m on the downhill side of the book and can’t wait to get it published. Luckily, I really enjoy the process, now that I know what the heck I’m doing! Ha!

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  4. Usually when someone starts a blog as a way to drum up support for the book they’re writing/wrote, you can tell. That turns me off -why do I want to devote my attention to what is, in essence, one big commercial? You obviously put effort into making THIS place interesting by itself, Susie, and that makes all the difference.

    Happy Blogaversary!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Awwww! Thank you so much. You made my whole day Peg! You have no idea how I have struggled about this very topic.
      I had heard bloggers should only write related posts, but it would be so boring to only write about ghosts. I use this as my playground. I have a lot more in the works anyway. I collaborated on a rom-com that we’re trying to sell right now, and I wrote a magical realism screenplay. I just love to write! We’ll see where it takes me!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much Gail! I look at it like homework, but a ton more fun. It has the added endorphin rush benefit of instant gratification and keeps the writing juices flowing while working on a big project.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I write to stay positive.. not to think of the bad things in my life. It recently pulled me out of a 3 month depression sans drugs. Good, bad, I do what I love and know how it makes me feel. Happy.. Therefore I write.

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    • I agree that it is the BEST way to pull myself out of a funk. I can only think about one thing at a time, so it’s amazing therapy! I’m glad to hear you are feeling better. I think a lot of people had a tough winter this year.

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  6. I wanted to say, “Oh my gosh, that’s so LONG!” but I don’t know why on Goddess’s green earth I would…it took me SEVEN YEARS to finish the first draft of my first novel! I kept writing fanfic and starting over on the manuscript, because I wanted it to be absolutely perfect. I’m thankful for Lulu and CreateSpace…I gave birth to my first novel without having to have a traditional publisher! (You make choosing the ebook option sound like it’s lazy and it’s not. Yes, there’s a hair less effort, but there’s still proper formatting and cover design to worry about. Not every publisher has the same formatting requirements–I learned that I can’t submit my KDP manuscript to Lulu without changes. And forget Smashwords–they may be popular, but they are SO FUSSY!)

    Maybe if I had a bigger blog crowd, I’d actually be selling my work, but I just don’t seem to be attracting readers. Even my effort of “read Freshly Pressed, comment and see if I can get readers” didn’t work out too well. (Except for you! I don’t think we would’ve met without it!)

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    • What I meant by e-booking was that many people don’t proof their work before publishing, They’re too anxious to get it out there. I have several ebooks in my Kindle that have huge typos on the first page! Ugh! Most don’t hire a pro editor.

      The difference in time is enormous. I may query for a while before finding an agent. Then they will attempt to sell it to a publisher. There is a ton of editing throughout the whole process. I would guess that it would take a year.

      Blogging is tough. Four years ago, there were a quarter of the bloggers there are now. There was a lot less competition. Now there are zillions of online distractions.
      Hang in there, Daya! Most bloggers burn out eventually.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. Even before I blogged, I feel like I blogged in my head. Now I have a place to put some of the stuff rattling away in my skull. I’m with you on the years to finish a story too. I can do a first draft fast, like via NaNoWriMo, but getting to the actual finish line takes a long time! 🙂 Happy 4 years–glad we connected, Susie!

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    • I am so glad we connected too, Coleen!
      Hahaha! I know what you mean about drafts. It can be a frustrating process. After writing a few books, don’t you think it gets easier? I do. Now they have structure and I know a little bit more about writing a book. I’m sure I’ll keep learning throughout my life!!!

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  8. Congrats on 4 years! That seems like forever to me (I just started). I blog to capture what I would consider the best part of my life thus far. It’s the little things with my kid that makes it so awesome and I know I won’t remember when she’s older. In my blog I write letters to her that she can’t read for 20 years. I hope I can get 4 years under my belt so thanks for the inspiration!

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    • Thank you!
      Wow! I LOVE your idea of journaling your life. What a gift that will be for your daughter. I have two kids who would have loved that. I started with they were 19 and 21 and have captured some moments. I always ask before mentioning them in a story and they have always agreed.
      Good luck to you! Thanks for stopping by the Wild Ride!

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Nice to hear about your writing background. Like you, I thought I’d start with a nonfiction book–the odds at getting published are a bit better–but I enjoyed fiction writing too much! Glad you reached the point where you wanted your book to be. Good luck with it, whichever route you choose to take. 🙂

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    • Thanks Carrie! I bet you have your own story to tell!
      I’m going to try traditional publishing first. If I exhaust that route, I’ll try smaller publishers directly. E-booking and self-publishing would be a last resort only because I don’t want to have to do ALL the marketing myself. We’ll see how it goes! I have a lot of projects to get out there! Ha! In the meantime, writing sure keeps me out of trouble. 🙂

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    • Hahahaha! You made me LOL really! 🙂
      Thanks so much, Jessica! It’s pretty crazy when I think about it. I have a couple of screenwriting projects I’ve worked on as well. I just absolutely LOVE to write!!

      Liked by 1 person

  10. A huge congratulations to you, Susie! I’m so excited for you on both counts.

    I was a pantser when writing my first novel and it was a bit difficult in the end to wrap up all the finer details. For my second novel, I’ve been plotting. It’s made a big difference so far!

    It sounds like you’re well on your way to publication! Are your novels part of a series?

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    • Thank you and congratulations to you! Wow.
      The second book I wrote is part of a three book series. I have the third plotted out. I seeded clues in the 1st and 2nd book, so the 3rd will hopefully have the “Are you kidding me?” twisted ending. They will work as stand-alones as well.
      I am planning on pitching agents at a conference in two weeks. I have one interested publisher and will send out a 1st chapter and a summary this week. We’ll see how it goes! It’s like being struck by lightning… Oh strike me, PLEASE!!!

      Did you publish your first novel? Are you writing a series?

      Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, good luck, Susie! I will keep my fingers crossed for you.

        I’m always impressed with writers like you who can develop a plot that spans three books, yet have each book stand on its own merits. My novels are mainstream historical fiction. They are separate topics. I’m not sure if people are interested in this kind of genre anymore. If I could only develop the next vampire/zombie/paranormal genre, I’d be on the cutting edge. 🙂

        May lightning strike at your conference! 🙂

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  11. A great writing journey! I have a half-started non-fiction book, I got to the stage of sending it to a couple of publishers – chapter outlines, two full chapters I think, and I got some encouraging comments back, but with “buts” in there. Then I got sidetracked and haven’t gone back to it. I also have a few half started fiction novels. I’m such a starter but not so much a finisher!

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    • Thanks Vanessa-Jane!
      I guess I’m pretty driven, meaning it has driven me nuts not to have this published by now! Ha! It’s been a really great learning process. At this point, I’m pretty confident with the important parts, so it will be interesting to get professional feedback. I’m going to pitch at a writer’s conference in two weeks!! I’m nervous already….. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  12. When your book hits the stands we will all feel like we had a personal stake in it because you have shared so much of yourself with us. I can’t wait to read it. Congratulations on your 400th post! As always it is a privilege to read you.

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  13. First of all, happy belated birthday, Susie!
    I came to blogging first, with no real book ideas under my belt. Only after I received lots of positive feedback on my collection of posts about dating the alphabet, did I begin contemplating a book. I’m working on that book now.
    Good luck with the next leg of the treacherous fiction journey!

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    • Thanks Sally! It was fantastic. Planning my birthday is the only way to go.
      Congrats on your book! Dating the alphabet. Hmmm… Does that mean 26 guys? Ha! I have thought about posting some of my favorite life stories. I’ve shared a few, but there are still some very crazy ones. Then someday, I could compile them for a memoir. I would imagine I would ebook it for family, but you never know! I have a friend who has written four books through her blog. It makes a lot of sense!

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  14. I’m so glad you do blog, Susie! You’ve had an amazing – and yes, wild – ride these past 4 years. I’m glad I was along for the journey. I so get what you mean about the road to publication. It’s an unending learning lesson, which is both magical and inspiring and at times crippling, then magical again. Happy writing to you, Susie!

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    • Thanks so much, Jess! It has been WILD! I’m glad you came on the journey with me.

      Funny thing about blogging, I would never have continued without reader support. I wouldn’t have stayed at WordPress if I was only shouting into the abyss! “HELLO OUT THERE!!!!!”
      I was a reader before I was a writer. Our book club read two books a month. When one of my friends suggested writing some of my funny stories, it changed my life! I thought because I was a story teller it would be like cake. Ha! I had no idea how much I had to learn. WOW!

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  15. Just about every author, if they’re being honest, will say their first book took forever, and the second one weeks/months, but certainly not decades. It’s that damned steep (read, vertical) learning curve! Not that we don’t keep learning, the book/publishing world changes daily, sometimes hourly!

    And …. Happy 400 Post!!!!! 😀

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    • Thanks so much!
      I agree about that curve. There are all kinds of twist and gnarly potholes along the way. I don’t know how anything could have made it easier. I read everything, but it took time to embrace those concepts and truly understand how to incorporate it into my book.
      I’m so excited to pitch and see what happens! It all comes down to, if it’s good, it will sell. I’ll soon find out and will keep everyone posted!

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  16. Congratulations on four years and 400 posts. You are prolific. I started my blog for pretty much the same reason. Because I was writing a book. And, like you, I have found that writing blog posts has informed and shaped my writing in general. All writing is good practice if you care about it. I think the most important thing for me is that it has taught to get to the point as quickly and engagingly as possible.

    I’m also a pantser. I start with an idea and go from there. I’ve tried outlining, but it doesn’t work for me. And if it makes you feel any better, I’ve been working on my book even longer. I’ve rewritten it several times, cut thousands of words and even characters.

    So happy birthday, happy blogging milestone. Here’s to the pantsers!

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    • Thanks Mary! I have a friend who writes close to three times that number IN A YEAR!!!!
      I love my pantsing style of writing since I also am a screenwriter. I haven’t ever talked about that! Ha! I like to imagine scenes and see what my characters do in them without an outline. I DO tent pole which means I know where I have to be at certain critical parts of the story, just so it doesn’t meander off into a corner somewhere and die. 🙂 I use Post it notes on a big board. When I hit a wall, I consult it and it keeps me going!
      Good luck with your book! Where are you with it?

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      • Thanks, Susie. I’m working on the third revision. It’s a middle-grade fantasy, so I had to spend a long time “world building” before I even started working out the plot and who the characters are. I do have two editors who have seen the first several chapters and are interested in seeing the full manuscript when I’m done revising. Fingers crossed.

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    • Thanks so much!
      For all the time we put into writing, we deserve the satisfaction of finishing. The first book is insanely hard! I was willing to slash and burn chapters as well as rewrite characters to get it to a higher level. Now that it’s done and I’ve taken ALL the pros suggestions, it will be interesting to see what happens when I pitch it in two weeks at a writer’s conference. SCARY!

      Liked by 1 person

  17. First off, Susie, congratulations on your 400th post and your literary endeavors. Writing looks deceptively easy, but I find it very hard. It’s primarily endless editing and polishing. I think you get that. The reason I started blogging almost 5 1/2 years ago was simple: the recession. My pay was cut drastically (20%) in 2009, I could no longer afford the lifestyle I liked and I had a lot of time to feel real lousy. That year, to take my mind off living on crumbs, I had written a number of humor essays I submitted to The New Yorker Shouts & Murmurs. I was so naive to start at the top, but their rejections are so kind and so encouraging, you’re certain that you must be talented. My friend Milton gently urged me to see daylight and to lower my expectations. So I decided to shoot for the sewer than for the stars. The result was Lame Adventures.

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    • Thanks Maria! I’m in Wisconsin this week and am just now catching up with comments.
      It is amazing to me how long it’s been, but this comment is alongside my copyright – 2011-2015. How did that happen? This is the year I’m published, I hope…

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  18. “And from here we enter the desert.” And you probably didn’t know to pack a lunch. (or perhaps “enter the dessert” was the expectation?) You are such a great story teller – and humorists – they kinda go together even when one or the other is underwraps. Always a wild time around here – as Susie skies through the ups and downs of life – not to mention her “secret” life as a serious fiction writer. I love your comparisons of writing seriously for publishing as to preparing a meal. So true.
    Also true is the concept that writing – writing anything – improves writing. Blogging is one big playground. Hard for me to take it seriously (although I do prefer to turn out crafted posts rather than tossing a jumble out there – after all, anything people read is your calling card and represents so much about the author). Blogging was an escape from rigid serious format and topics at work. WordPress is like a country fair – it’s all there. And a great deal of fun is always right here. Congrats and write on!

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    • Thanks so much Phil! I somehow missed these comments. I’m in Wisconsin with family. The Wild Life continues…
      I can see that you always put time into your posts. They are amazing!
      The year I started writing, I thought I’d be published the next. I became frustrated when it stretched to three, but ironically, this fall when I upped the stakes and made it a three book series, it took the pressure off. I was discussing the twists in the third this morning. I’m really loving the process. Hopefully all the time I put into it will be worth it. At least I’ve learned A TON about writing! I’m anxious to finish since I outlined a rom-com screenplay this weekend too! I need two of me to finish all of my projects. Sheesh!

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  19. Four years, 400 posts, and success as a writer. You win! Great to hear your story. I am rather in the same boat. A manuscript ready to go and I am at the crossroad of the streets Self-Publish or Attempt to get an Agent.

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    • To me, it makes sense to reach for the stars first and then land on the moon if I can’t score an agent. My goal is to get my book into book stores, so I can do signings. I’ll exhaust that Avenue and see how it goes. I do have a nibble from a publisher who gets their books into stores, so who knows? I’m just about ready to send my first chapter and summary to them. I’ll keep everyone posted with my progress. I’ve got three other projects I’m working on, so I would love to get this one on the road!
      Good luck to you!

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  20. Well, welcome to my world. Writing fiction is kind of like chasing your tail. It gives you something to do, but it’s a never ending chore. Writing, re-writing, reading, re-reading, editing, re-editing. One day I’m going to catch my tail. I have 4 completed manuscripts and ideas for 2 more just itching to get onto the page. Having the time to devote to a manuscript is another uphill battle. Baby steps I keep telling myself.

    Good luck Susie. You’re on the right path and hard work and determination never hurt anyone. I’m right there with you.

    And I started blogging for the same reason – to build a platform. I’m not sure how high my platform has to be, but I’m still building.

    Patricia Rickrode
    w/a Jansen Schmidt

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    • Four manuscripts! Wow! Have you published any of them?
      Other than outlining my third book in the series, which is the plan for this week, I have a screenplay to finish and one I dreamed up over the weekend that I’m really excited about. I am in Wisconsin and can’t wait to get back to work! (It’s taking me a while to catch up. I’m in a hotel responding to comments.)

      I don’t think a writer’s platform makes much of a difference. If the book is good, it will sell regardless of a platform by word of mouth. 🙂

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  21. Hey, Susie. We’ve been on a bit of a hiatus with our writing, but we’ve finished the sequel to The Perfect 7, which we titled The Crazy 8 and are back on the blogosphere. 😉 So happy to be back and come on to our fave blogs like yours. We accredit our blog to molding us into the writers we are as well. Any form of written word can aid in a writer’s journey and style. All of the things you went through and to like conferences, feedback from various readers and sources, can all benefit the writer and his/her art. Writing is one of the few artistic outlets that is very technical and requires a lot of education, so the pursuit of it through knowledge and experience is (in my humble opinion) the only way to go. Mathair and I are so happy for you on your 400th blog post and know there will be many more to come.

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    • Thank you so much! I’m so happy to “see” you again! I was in Wisconsin, back home for my birthday weekend and am back in Wisconsin again. I’m catching up in a hotel. Sorry it took so long to comment!
      I think there will always be something to learn about writing. Conventions will change as will the publishing industry. I’m going to keep plugging along!
      Thanks for coming along for the Ride! Thanks for the Facebook share too!

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  22. I started blogging to build a platform too, as I was convinced my novel was ready to query. The novel didn’t make it, but I’m still blogging. I’ve learned so much from this ride that I know this decision was worth it — even though it’s been difficult to balance with life and my “real” writing.

    400 posts is fantastic!

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    • Thanks so much, Kate! I kept thinking it was 300 posts and had to double check. Ha!
      I hit a lot of walls with my first manuscript, but kept rewriting. I felt the story was unique enough to do what it took to take it to another level. After the last criticism, I changed the stakes and the whole book and characters finally came to life. I expanded it into a three book series.
      I’ll keep on blogging for practice and for the camaraderie of other friends like you! I’ll probably never reach any sort of balance. 🙂

      Like

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