Tag Archive | perseverance

A Letter to my 9th Grade English Teacher… Thanks for Nothing.

Dear Mrs. Schuster,

It’s been over thirty years and I’ve thought about you often. When I first walked into your Honors English Class in ninth grade at Pomona Middle School, I was so excited. You see, we moved a lot as I grew up and we had just moved 3X over the previous two years. I was so happy to start fresh in the beginning of a class school year for the first time in years. My family was finally settled in a district where I would get the chance to live out my entire high school career without moving again. What you didn’t know was that while I was a straight “A” English student in Connecticut, where we had previously lived, those two years away we never covered grammar in my English classes. That was going to be reviewed in 9th grade and I’d already left, so when I entered your 9th grade class, I was at a distinct disadvantage since it was covered the previous years.

You see, when I met you, I was so enthusiastic about English class because I loved reading and writing. I remember introducing myself to you and telling you that I was the younger cousin of two boys you had a few years previously. Did you know a look of distaste immediately passed across your features? Had I known that my cousins were terrors to you, I wouldn’t have said anything, because from that moment on you looked and treated me with utter disdain, as if I were vermin by association. When I had problems with grammar, you never helped me. You never bothered to find out my needs, even though I clearly remember asking for help. I had no idea what those “Grammar Trees” were. To this day I am not skilled in this area, though I have tried to learn.

A simplified grammar tree, though I remember them looking like rockets.

A simplified grammar tree, though I remember them looking like rockets.

You berated me and treated me poorly for months, so let me remind you of the moment you finally crushed me. I was flummoxed why you seemed to hate me and why you were always so critical of my work. I didn’t understand. I had always enjoyed my English classes and read voraciously. So when you gave us an extra credit assignment to write a simple book report, I remember thinking, “I’m going to create something that will ‘wow’ her and be really interesting. Instead of the typical dry book report, I decided to write it like an interview and interview the main character in the novel.” I remember thinking that my idea was so cool and I was really excited. It was supposed to be just a page long, but I made it two. I remember the day you walked around the room handing students back their assignments. I remember seeing the 5+ points on all my friend’s papers. When you finally got to my desk, I remember you smiling and for a moment I thought I’d finally won you over. When I stared at the big red Zero in shock, I clearly remember you saying, “That was the worst piece of writing I ever saw” and then you walked on. I remember crumpling up the paper right in front of you and throwing it onto the floor, saying “I give up.” You crushed me that day and I gave up on you, and writing.

Mrs. Schuster, for years I never wrote anything again if I could help it. My confidence was shot. My belief in my ability to do a good job in an English class was shot. And it was because of you. I wasn’t confidant enough to dismiss your actions for whatever ulterior motive you had.

But know this. When I went to college, I had an idea in my head for a story. I grappled greatly with writing it, the indecision that it would be any good weighed heavily on my mind. I worried that someone would tell me that “it was the worst piece of writing they’d ever seen.” And then one day I honestly said “Screw you, Mrs. Schuster. I don’t care what you think, I’m going to write it.” And I did. I wrote the first draft of a fantasy novel titled, THE RUBY AMULET. Was it good? No way, it needed a ton of work. Was the grammar terrible? You bet. But you know what? I wrote the entire book and I said a ‘big kiss goodbye’ to you because I decided that no one, especially a mean, bitter, nasty old teacher, was going to dictate what I could and couldn’t do with my life.

It was not because of you that I became of writer, but I became a writer IN SPITE of you. I pushed myself, I got an editor, I learned the trade. I’ve published seven novels now and a host of short stories and not one of them is because of you.

So I leave you with this. I want you to know that you didn’t crush me, and that after thirty years of thinking of ways to tell you what I thought of what you did to me, I finally feel better. I don’t know if you’re even alive any more to read this, but you should know, for this student, you influenced me… but not in the way a teacher should. Thank God I gained enough confidence and moxie to not let you influence me for the rest of my life. My one hope is that other students you may have done this to persevered as well.

Signed Your 9th Grade Honors English Student,
Thanks for nothing,
Elyse Sussman Salpeter

You Found an Error in your Manuscript… and it’s been LIVE for a Year…

I’m going to tell you a little story. Last Friday I had a mini-meltdown. No, seriously. There was ranting and raving. I think I may have thrown something… there were even a few tears. I questioned why I even bother trying to write and publish and the sheer impossibility of ever being able to put something out that’s error-free.

You see, when you’re indie-published, you have this overwhelming need to make sure everything you do is “perfect.” We don’t have the resources of a huge publishing house, their personnel list of umpteen copy editors, proofers, etc… we must do everything ourselves, we must hire our own editors and proofers, then work with beta readers, then possibly even beg and plead with friends, to help proof our books. I sometimes feel like it’s all just too overwhelming, to be honest.

So, back to the meltdown… It all started with me trying to figure out what makes people want to buy my novels. I’m on a lot of social media outlets and trying different things on different sites. I tackled instagram this month and started a hashtag contest for readers to upload my novel THE HUNT FOR XANADU with the hashtag #xanaduquest, and they will be entered to win one of five signed hard covers of the next novel in the series, THE QUEST OF THE EMPTY TOMB. It’s been going well so far and I made a “Fan Shout-Out” page on my website at http://www.elysesalpeter.com if you’d like to check it out.

So, on Friday, I copy/pasted the first two paragraphs of Chapter One of THE HUNT FOR XANADU, loaded it to Paint, adjusted it and put it on instagram. I was thinking it would be a cool way to entice people to read the first part of the novel and maybe interest them enough to want to read more. Here’s what I posted:

xanaduinstagram

I then promoted it on twitter, google+ and then to my author groups on FB. Well, lo and behold “eagle-eye” editing/proofer friend, Bob Nailor, side emailed me and told me laughingly that I had a few edit problems with this paragraph. I went “stone cold.” Edit problems? How can there possibly be any edit problems? I’ve had this book out for over a year and it’s been scanned through meticulously. He HAD TO BE WRONG.

But he wasn’t. Can you see the errors above? I couldn’t. It actually took me THREE reads to find what Bob was talking about – and he even told me what they were. Apparently there should be a comma after the word “drugged” but more importantly, there should be the word “be” after “reckoning it would” – which I obviously missed. Not to mention I see a spacing issue, too, between “an impressive.” But you know what kills me? What made me have my mini-meltdown? I published this book December of 2013. I had an editor, a proofer and six people sifted through it before it went live. I read it myself easily fifteen times. I had six updates I put on both Kindle and Createspace because people kept finding errors. But no one found this… until Friday. No one found this error IN THE FIRST CHAPTER, until Friday. The mini-meltdown happened for about twenty-five minutes where I decided I was going to quit writing, that I was an utter hack and maybe the books hadn’t gotten traction because they are “riddled” with mistakes.

And then my writing friends talked me down. My book isn’t RIDDLED with mistakes. It’s missing a “be” and it’s one of those words the mind actually adds as you’re reading the copy. Most people probably never even noticed. (well, unless you’re Bob Nailor). I’ve calmed down, fixed the document and re-uploaded the fixed document to both kindle and createspace – I’ll have to figure out how to fix the copy on ibooks.

What I learned? You can’t be perfect. I can’t tell you how many errors I find in mainstream published books coming out of big publishing houses, but yet as Indie Authors, we feel this need for perfection and I wonder if I simply have to stop expecting myself to be perfect, because I obviously am not. I may be putting too much stress on myself. Mistakes happen, and we are all human. The good news is since I am indie-published, I have the control to be able to fix these errors when I find them. If I had a mainstream published book, it would not be as easy. In less than 25 minutes I re-uploaded the novel without these mistakes and I moved on with my life… (of course, I try not to cringe, knowing how many people purchased my novel with this mistake, and the hard copies sitting in my closet that I use for book signings have this mistake, but what’s done is done)

FYI – Do you need another pair of eyeballs to proof your work? Maybe give Bob a call – he’s also a proof-reader, author and editor by trade, and obviously a good one. You can reach him here and he’s very reasonable: http://www.bobnailor.com/index_b.php?type=b

And, if you’d like a copy of the novel WITHOUT THESE ERRORS, (sigh), feel free to get it here: http://amzn.to/1JXHtul and hey, come join the contest – I’m giving away five signed hard copies of THE QUEST OF THE EMPTY TOMB. It’s at the formatter right now. Launch date: 2/28. I’m trying not to obsess what mistakes I possibly missed in THAT. Sigh…

Perseverance – How Long is “Too Long” to Keep Reaching For Your Dream?

perseveranceI sometimes wonder if I’m just a glutton for punishment. My auspicious start to writing wasn’t good. After a very difficult 9th grade honors English teacher, who shall remain forever nameless, insulted me and my skills in a deplorably embarrassing and public manner, I stopped writing until my second year of college. At that point, something happened. Maybe I finally matured or got guts, but I remember the moment I said “I don’t care what that horrible lady thinks” and I wrote my first fantasy novel.

When it was complete, I was so proud of myself. Was it good? Um… no. Was it a little good? Well, probably not. It was my first novel, the first draft, and I really didn’t know a thing about POV, structure, grammar, character development, or well, anything. But, I had the ideas in my head and just decided to get them out. I grabbed onto a great editor and latched myself tight to a wonderful group of writing friends and started to learn the craft. The fact is, it’s been twenty long years learning the craft and trying to get published. But, I persevered and now I can say I just signed my first literary agent. My YA books, FLYING TO THE LIGHT and FLYING TO THE FIRE (which had been with a small pub company first and who folded) are now being represented by Pete Riva from International Transactions.

So, what makes us persevere? What makes us keep putting ourselves out there? What motivates you day in and day out to keep pushing? I’m self motivated to achieve – some compulsive goal oriented personality disorder I’m sure, but what do other authors think? So I asked Bob Nailor and Kevin Rau this very question. (you might find the answers alternately frank and surprisingly funny)

Question #1) WHAT MOTIVATES YOU TO KEEP WRITING?

Kevin Rau: An obsessive personality! I’m fortunate that I didn’t also gain a quirk of being compulsive, but my obsessive nature has allowed me to lock onto my H.E.R.O. series and really grow it into something far beyond what even I imagined years ago.

Q #2) What have you learned over the years?

Kevin: That it takes a lot of effort to write, it isn’t fun and games. Giving up so many hours every week to write is hard at times as well, and often we have to choose to sacrifice time with friends and family (or from watching TV, etc.) and it can be rough. Advertising/promotion is just plain not enjoyable for me, and it takes away from the time writing/editing. Overall, though, I’ve learned that if we put in the time (and a lot of it), we can accomplish things.

Q #1) What Motivates You to Keep Writing?

Bob Nailor: Back in college Psych class we were taught about strokes. Good stroke aka praise.
Bad stroke aka punishment. We learned that everyone wants to receive a stroke, whether it be good or bad. No stroke was equivalent to being ignored and not acceptable. We are humans and we want acceptance. So, we would rather receive a bad stroke in place of no stroke. For me, motivation is reaching that next goal whether it be through praise – good stroking, or via criticism – bad stroking. If I am praised, I am ramped and ready to move forward. If I am criticized, I know I must work harder and better. Without either, I struggle, lost with no goal. So, I must reach that next step, that goal, no matter what stroke.

Q #2) What have you learned over the years?

Bob: Blame the publisher for any punctuation, grammatical, fact, spelling etc. errors found in your work after it is published. No matter how hard you try, there will be flaws in the story.  Get over yourself and get writing the next project. Oh! And no matter what you do — submit! Repeatedly.

So there you have it. A writer is at their core goal-oriented and self motivated. You have to be or why would you take the sheer amount of hours out of your day to do this, or the risk of negative criticism, if you didn’t love it?

I want to thank Bob and Kevin for sharing some of their thoughts and experiences with me. To learn more about them (whose books I have read and are amazing) please check them out here:

Kevin Rau is the author of the massive 13-book (1.2 million word) H.E.R.O. series of superhero novels. The first ebook in the series is provided free at most major ebook vendors. Links can be found at http://www.kevinrau.com/books.asp. You can also reach him at his author page at http://www.facebook.com/herobooks

Bob Nailor is an author of several books. His writing genre is somewhat non-specific with science fiction, fantasy, and horror but he also delves into romance, adventure, thriller, action, mystery and now Christian. He loves to write, cook, travel and enjoys the opportunities of doing conference and workshop sessions where he can interact with other writers. Visit him at http://www.bobnailor.com or follow him on twitter at http://www.twitter.com/bobnailor