Friday, January 27, 2006

Something New

One of my resolutions this year is to try something new each week that will help me grow as a writer.

So far I have:
1. A personal blog where I write at least two entries a week on writing
2. A website, which is being designed right now and should be up and running within the next few weeks. I can’t wait for you see it. I’m so excited!!
3. Be a Golden Heart judge. Done.
4. Join the best critique group around (G). And no, you guys, I wasn’t stalking you, or anything…I just loved having you as friends. Being in the critique group with you is just an added bonus.

Okay, so these are just what I wanted to do in January. Mission accomplished! What got me thinking about these ideas were all the new things I’ve tried and loved in the past three months, such as joining the Board of Directors of OCC/RWA and helping to revamp the newsletter, ORANGE BLOSSOM, to reflect a magazine format. All of this helped me kick-start my brain again (well, that and eating blueberries) and caused me to look for new ways to treat my writing as a profession.

Of course, I have other personal resolutions, such as to be in the best shape of my life in 2006. Ahem. I know THAT'S not going to happen when even as I write this the spinach dip in the refrigerator is calling my name. And it's only 8:30 in the morning. Oh, man...must...stay...strong.

I'll stick with my writing goals and maybe the rest will follow. :-)

So, what’s new with you? Tell me some of the new things that you’ve tried as a writer.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

A Darn Cool Experience

Yesterday, I finished judging my stack of entries for the RWA’s Golden Heart Contest, which is a contest known for recognizing excellence in unpublished romantic fiction. It’s one of the top competitions for unpublished writers of romance and I felt honored and excited to be asked to judge.

Wait! Before you, I’m not going to tell you what category I judged or talk about the entries and scores. LOL!

But it is a relief to have completed the task. The entries have been scored and the scores have been mailed to RWA’s national headquarters. My part is finished and I can breathe a little easier. Whew.

Believe me, I felt the weight of responsibility in getting this judging thing right—my shoulders still ache from the pressure. So many writers depend on judges to give it their best shot, and fortunately, I can sleep well at night now because I know that’s exactly what I did. And you know, I'm happy I found a way to volunteer at the national level, too.

It was such an eye-opening experience for me to do this, though. Instead of critiquing the entries (something that I’m used to doing), I had to judge them. It took some major re-thinking for me to look at a submission and decide if it was one of the best stories I’d ever read…or not. It did give me more freedom to read the story for the story’s sake, as I didn’t have to go through it and figure out how I can help this writer strengthen the story. Oh yeah, there are contests where judges critique as well, but this wasn’t one of them—thank goodness!

So, for me, it was a darn cool experience. And if you haven’t tried it already, I highly recommend you do so. Have you guys ever been a judge in a writing competition? What experiences do you want to share?

Happy Writing!

Michele Cwiertny

Monday, January 23, 2006

The Girl Who Wasn't a "Joiner"

I really can’t stress enough how important it has been for me to find friends with whom I can talk about the business of writing. Friends I know who understand the joy, the fear, and the need to write because they live it, too. Friends whom I can turn to at anytime and ask, “What would you think if I tried this?” And I know they’ll give me their honest opinions—good or bad. Friends that I look at and wonder where they’ve been all my life so well do we fit together.

But I've got to tell you--it wasn’t as if I was just strolling down the street or sipping cafĂ© mocha in a coffee house when I met them. Sigh. Nope, things just don’t come to me that easily. Wouldn’t it be nice if they did?

Hmm…now that I think about it, that’s a tough question. Life would be easier, yes, but would I grow as a human and a writer if I didn’t have to work at it? Probably not. Just catching a few, sickening moments of those spoiled rich kid reality shows tells me nobody should have it easy.

Oh, and before I forget, there’s something else you should know about me—I’ve never been a “joiner." But if I wanted to become a professional in this business, then I needed to move past the recluse stage into which I'd cornered myself and go out there into the scary unknown. So, one day I made a momentous decision: I forced myself to step outside the comfort zone of my house and join a writers’ group where I’d mingle with other writers and possibly learn more about the publishing business.

It wasn’t until I’d taken that step that I discovered a support system I never knew existed and met those friends that I mentioned above.

From the time I walked through the doors and into the first meeting, I’ve felt the good vibes envelop me. It put a spring in my step that I didn't realize had been missing. And that spring is still there almost two years later! The published writers offer advice and encouragement to the unpublished, the unpublished encourage one another, the published encourage each other, and every goal accomplished—no matter how tiny--is celebrated. It was and still is this atmosphere that reenergizes me every time I attend a meeting. This is where I belong.

Never once have I looked back and wished I’d just stayed home. Instead, I push myself even more and jump in to volunteer and become better acquainted with the members and speakers. I want to help spur and energize other writers, as well.

In becoming more involved, I’ve also met such AMAZING people! I count myself lucky that they're now my friends with whom I feel as if I’ve known my entire life. I never realized how much I needed them—and I certainly hope I have something to offer them, as well.

So, if you haven’t already tried it, think about joining a great writers group. I think you’ll be surprised where it’ll lead you. I am. As my confidence and my writing and people skills expand, I scarcely remember the girl who was not a “joiner.” I love what I’m becoming and I know I’m moving in the right direction.

Is there anything that you've done that seemed scary at first but turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to you? Tell me, tell me!

Michele Cwiertny

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Euphoria is a Business

Originally, I planned to call this site On the Hunt: the perseverance of a fiction writer, with the intention of gearing my entries toward how I’m hunting and capturing my dream of becoming a published author. I take the business of writing seriously. It’s not just a hobby or a’s a business, and I wanted the name to reflect that.

But then a few days ago, I checked out my friend Dana’s blog and she’d written an entry questioning just where the term hobby ends and the designation of a career begins when it comes to writers. It was when I read the definition of the word career--a chosen pursuit—that it all clicked for me. She and her trusty dictionary inspired me to change the name of this site to The Chosen Pursuit: the perseverance of a fiction writer. And, yes, before you ask me, I did thank her.

Okay, so how exactly do I know that this is a career and not just a hobby, you ask? Well, first it’s how others around me, like my family and friends, and I perceive it: it’s work. It’s a job I cannot ever imagine leaving and I to which I willing devote nine or more hours a day. It’s a crazy, mostly frustrating, but can be wonderfully satisfying business.

And at this point in my career, that satisfaction rushes through me at the moment when I finally get a chapter, a scene, or even just a sentence right and suddenly the characters stand not two feet in front of me, and I swear I hear them breathing, making every minute of frustration and headache worth it. Astounded, I realize have created a world into which I can disappear for hours at a time. Wow. It’s a high that has me dancing and singing around the house (Not in public, though. I wouldn’t subject you guys to that. Really.) But how could I ever give up such euphoria? I couldn’t. This is why I’ve chosen to pursue the job of writing every day.

However, what I’ve come to expect is that I have to be patient, not just patient for the words to come when crafting the story or proposal, but patient when waiting for an answer from an editor or agent and patient when receiving criticism with which I don’t agree (this usually comes from judges in a contest, but that’s a blog for another day!).

But to help me rein in my patience, I keep busy. Yes, revising the current story or moving onto the next one, researching, writing articles, networking with other writers and industry professionals, and taking on volunteer positions, such as becoming co-editor of the Orange Blossom (OCC/RWA’s newsletter) with my friend Louise Ahern, quickly swallow up the nine or more hours a day I mentioned above. All these things help me remember that writing is a business and I don’t need to be published to be a professional in my chosen pursuit.

I’m still learning, of course, and I’d love it if some of you published authors out there wouldn’t mind sharing some of your wisdom and experiences with me. Can’t wait to hear from you! And thanks again, Dana, for bringing up this subject.

Michele Cwiertny

Monday, January 16, 2006

A More Beautiful Picture

Recently, an editor who will always have my heartfelt thanks had sent me a revision letter for my historical manuscript, TO REIGN EDEN. Although the changes were hardly complicated, it took me awhile to figure out how to take apart my story like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle and put it back together to form a different, but definitely more beautiful, picture.

Now I can step back and study the new picture with all the pieces intact. And you know what I discovered? I’m more in love with the story and the characters than ever before.

I scrutinized each piece, each scene, each character, and forced myself to focus on how to make it all behave differently, how to make it all ring truer, how to put together a more complete picture. And it worked! My characters and their motivations are stronger, each scene serves its purpose in expressing the need and wants of the characters, and sparks fly between my hero and heroine.

It wasn’t easy for me to do that. No way. Writing is never “easy” for me, but that’s probably because I expect my stories and characters to convey so much to the reader. I know what I want to experience when I pick up a book and those standards apply to my writing, as well, which can very well lead to a massive headache, but I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And even though those standards of mine are high, there are always ways to raise the level of the story. Such was the case when the editor read my story. Yes, I had definitely written the story to my best ability before I’d sent the manuscript to the publishing house, but with a little guidance I managed to learn more (I’m constantly learning) about how to write a compelling novel.

No, I’m not telling you that the story is perfect and will never be revised again (don’t I wish!). Rather, I’m saying that I am open to becoming a better writer each time I sit down to the computer and visit my stories.

Now it’s time for me to polish my proposal again…

Happy writing!

Michele Cwiertny

Sunday, January 15, 2006


Is a college degree essential in order to become a great writer?

I am almost always asked that question when acquaintances, usually other writers, discover that I have a B.A. in Creative Writing: Fiction. My answer to the question: Absolutely not!

I must confess, even on that last day when I walked to the podium with my fellow classmates and shook hands with the president of the university, I was only an...okay writer. Yes, I was better than when I first pursued the degree, but I wasn’t anywhere near what I’m capable of now. Today, several years later, I can see I’ve become a better writer because I’ve kept practicing, kept writing, kept learning from craft books, and kept learning from my mistakes. I know I’ve got a loooong road ahead of me to become a great writer, but it will come with time. I also know I’ve learned more since I’ve graduated than while I was pursuing my degree.

So, why did I want a degree? Because earning one was my Everest. I wanted to be the first female on my mom’s side of the family to earn a B.A.. It was a personal choice for me—I wanted to make my family proud. And I count myself lucky that I was able to do so while pursuing my passion.

And it HAS always been a passion for me, even when I tried to stifle it by becoming a business major. Once I realized I couldn’t escape this desire to write (no matter how many mind-numbing books on business law and economics I’d studied), I felt a release, a freedom, I’d never felt before then.

This is what I HAVE to do. The thought of doing anything else other than write still makes my stomach turn sour. And I thank heaven every day that I have a loving, understanding, and creative husband who didn’t even blink twice when I told him what I was planning to do with my life. He believes in me and that means more than any B.A., M.F.A., or Ph.D.

Many successful writers have proven over and over that degrees are not essential, not even high school degrees. I hear their stories everyday. And that excites me because I know IT, meaning the mixture of creativity, need, and desire, comes from within us. If they can succeed, then so can I. And so can you. We just need to go out there and DO it.

So, no, you don’t need a degree to write. You need the IT inside you to write more than anything. You need to be willing to work at it until you find your voice. You need to be willing to learn from your mistakes. You need to make sure your skin is tough enough to take the criticism—because as you writers know, not everyone will embrace your stories and characters the way you do. And if you’re lucky like me, you’ll find amazing critique partners (I love you guys!) that will help you through the rough spots in your story, the rough spots in your career as a writer, and the rough spots in your personal life. I don’t believe you need a degree to be a great writer, but I do believe that you’ll need support whether it’s books on craft and career, critique partners, or friends who believe in you.

But first, you must believe in yourself. You CAN do it.


Michele Cwiertny