Throw Your Spaghetti

Parents are known for their one-liners, and mine were no exception. “Do it once, do it right, then forget about it.” Wise words tattooed on my heart as my military father explained how to mop the kitchen floor.

Now, with four children of my own, I’ve discovered there are a few one-liners I’ve batted around long enough to stick with my four kids as well. My personal favorite?

Throw your spaghetti!

I use these three words to encourage family and friends. Inspiring them to knock on every door in their path and walk through and follow-thru when that door opens.

This saying originates from the traditional Italian way of testing pasta. The cook throws a handful of spaghetti noodles against the wall and if a few strands stick the pasta’s ready. If the noodles fall to the ground—the pasta remains in the boiling water.

Here are a few life examples of what “Throw Your Spaghetti” looks like:

While attending a writer’s conference, I was surrounded by hundreds of wannabee-authors like myself who dreamed of a coveted publishing contract. When I had the chance to talk with some of them, I was amazed by their talent, awed by their creative ideas, and immediately anxious about ever being good enough.

One of those gifted writers spoke with me, “I just got back my edited manuscript. It’s full of red ink. The editor suggested I talk with another publisher.” She moped.

“So, what are you waiting for? There are lots of publishers here you could talk to.” I reminded her.

“I don’t know. I really had hoped this editor would want it for her publishing house. I’m thinking it’s not meant to be for me.” She mumbled.

“Are you kidding? You have a gift, and you’re going to let a rejection from one publisher hold you back from your dream? C’mon get out there and meet with everyone you can. Throw your spaghetti!”

And then there was the time my college-aged daughter called to share:

“Mom, I just found out about another college that offers a fellowship for creative writing. But, the problem is, I’m not sure if I should stick to my number one school choice in Iowa, or try for this one too?”

“Honey, there are no guarantees you’ll get into your first choice, so I’d apply for both. Throw your spaghetti!”

“Throw your spaghetti” is my own silent mantra from time to time. After flying cross-country to attend a women’s conference, I anticipated sharing my book idea with a few publishing houses. By divine miracle, my late registration didn’t hold me back from appointments with publishers.

I called my husband to share my progress. “Paul, I just met with a gal who taught a workshop about pitching my book idea. She said what I have isn’t good enough for a book.”

“I’m sorry, who told you? Did God personally tell you that?” Sarcasm oozed over every syllable.

“No, God did not personally tell me that!” Irritation got the best of me.

“Well then, I suggest you keep your appointments with the publishers and pitch your book idea. Throw your spaghetti!”

He was right. I kept both of my appointments. Each publisher gave me the green light to send in my full book proposal. Months later, those same publishers emailed rejections. But, I did what I do best—I threw my spaghetti and submitted my work over and over again.

What manuscript have you buried for lack of follow-thru? What gift have you ignored because you believe you aren’t good enough, smart enough, or talented enough? Start working on your follow-thru, and perseverance…then throw your spaghetti!

By the way, that book idea I was telling you about? You can find it on Amazon.

What holds you back from trying one more time?

Who encourages you to throw your spaghetti?

When Do I Give Up?

It was my very first writers conference. I waited impatiently for my critiqued manuscript from a well-known and well-respected literary agent. Sitting on a bench under a tree, I opened the large manila envelope and pulled out my crisp, white pages that now ran red with scarlet ink – each red slash a tiny cut to my heart.

It was the moment I gave up.

Deflated and discouraged, I forced myself to stuff my dead work into its paper coffin, and attend the “Turning Your Chapters into Articles” class. I decided I would dismantle my much-loved dream and try to use it still. Being overly dramatic is a literary trait, and I wondered if this was a tiny taste of how the loved one of an organ donor feels. My manuscript that I loved would be used for good, but not in the way I’d hoped.

After the class, I met with the editor who led it. She asked how I was doing. (Apparently, that afternoon, Alice Cooper and I shared the same makeup artist.) She went on to encourage me not to give up on my dream. “This is one agent’s opinion, Joanne,” she gently reminded me. Her words gave me a microscopic ray of hope. (Purchasing an article for her magazine helped my mood, too.)

The agent who sliced my work like Dexter did me a great favor. He showed me how to shape my work in a way that would be acceptable the next time. Months later, I received my first book contract.

Since becoming an official “writer,” I have quit at least six hundred times. As a matter of fact, I even titled one of my emails to my agent, Rachelle, with these very words this summer: “When do you give up?” She immediately called and talked me down from the ledge, and recently addressed this timeless writer-question very eloquently in her blog.

I thought I’d share a few ways to encourage the quitter in you:

Take a laptop sabbatical. My computer recently died, and I thought I would too. Once my laptop was up and running again, so was I! Three weeks was just the break I needed. Giving my right-brain some creative rest helped me look forward to working on my next project.

Shake a leg. Exercise and I are not the best of friends. But whenever I get outside and get my blood pumping, it seems to clear the cobwebs in my middle-aged head. I take my recorder along, just in case I get an idea I can’t ignore.

Make time for someone. Get out of your self-centered word-filled world. Go out and see a movie. Call a writer-friend and vent a bit. Have a quiet night at home with your spouse. Cuddle up on the couch and read a book to your child/grandchild.

Fake your own death. Just wanted to see if you were still reading. Please don’t do this. Definitely not a good career move.

New York Times Bestselling Author, Susy Flory, recently shared a blog post that encouraged her. Agent Steve Laube reminded his many readers and wannabe-clients to never give up.

“John Creasy the English novelist kept at it. He kept getting rejected so decided to use pen names to create a new identity. Fourteen of them! Collectively he received 753 rejection letters. But he didn’t give up. His 754th became the first of his 564 published books. What if he had quit at the 700th rejection?”

This Christmas season, take a winter break and enjoy real life moments. Try to live this life you write about. Love the ones you are blessed to have alongside you, and pray God holds these tender moments close to your heart. A true writer must experience what they wish to convey. Gather up some word-filled ammunition for the coming year.

Regardless of what you do or don’t decide to do, giving up is not an option. It’s never an option. Never.

When was the last time you quit? What encouraged you to write again?

My Greatest Nonfiction Tool

I’m a disorganized perfectionist. Creative to a fault—I run off in a multitude of directions and suffer from the attraction of distraction. My husband loves to call me “bright shiny thing.” Whatever I’m doing can be interrupted by anything, and soon I’m involved in something and accomplish nothing.

This week my husband had enough. “Your piles of papers and stray books all over the house are driving me nuts! Can you please find time to go through and get rid of what you don’t need?” For some this request is an inconsequential written task on your to-do list. For me, well, you might as well ask me to strap an oxygen tank to my back and climb Mount Everest.

While organizing, I came across something so dear to me that I had to sit a moment and take it in. My journal.

It’s misleading for me to tell you I found my journal, when really I have many journals. I was one of those little girls who kept her words in diaries, locked with tiny gold metal keys. Pre-teen angst over pimples and parents found sweet refuge on paper. As I grew in age, my journals grew in number. No longer confined to only one, as a young mother I purchased a new journal for each precious child inside of me. It was one of those journals I discovered while cleaning yesterday.

Holding the words of first-time parenting in my hands, this flowery-fabric-covered time machine transported me to the winter of 1991. As I turned the pages I felt the flutter of new life again, and could almost smell the Pampers and Desitin. Taking a deep breath, I remembered the anxiety of a twenty-something mother who worried over ear infections, allergic reactions, and kidnappers.

As a nonfiction writer, I write about marriage and parenting. What better tool is there than my journals? A smorgasbord of material—it’s a place where I can remember my fears and joys and reach my readers with real words and stories—family permission permitting. So, I thought I’d share a few ways I used my journals to author my first book, and a couple ways you can use a journal as a keepsake.

Prayer Journal – I keep my prayer journal beside my favorite leather recliner in our family room. When I have my cup of tea in the morning, I jot down a few things that are pressing or maybe a scripture verse or quote that spoke to my heart. When I wrote my book I included a prayer at the end of each chapter. This journal was a helpful tool.

Family Journal – Funny things my kids say, life experiences, favorite recipes can all find their place here. I recently laughed out loud after reading my journal entry when the kids were five and seven. Since I write with lots of humor, what a great help my kids and this journal are. I took the time to write random things I heard them say that morning. My favorite? “When smoke comes out of the hole, turn it off.”

New Life Journal – When I discovered I was pregnant with each of my four children, I ran out and purchased a new journal. My words of love, joy, and their own baby milestones grace the pages. Now I try to write something each year around their birthdays. When they are married and expecting their first child, I plan on gifting them with this book from my heart, along with their very own blank journal to continue the tradition.

Gratitude Journal – This season is the perfect time to write what you’re thankful for. Pass a gratitude journal around to your family and ask them to write something down and sign it. Are you hosting Thanksgiving? Leave it by the spinach dip where your guests can see it and add their own thoughts of thankfulness. What a precious keepsake.

As an author, I take great joy in hearing from my readers. When my words have helped bring a laugh, comfort or teach, I am elated. But, my first love is my family. I’ve always believed as a writer I’m cutting a path for my children. This gift of writing is for them first. When my last day on earth draws to a close, my legacy remains. My journals are a part of that legacy. My words on paper are the fingerprints of my heart, left behind to remind them how much they were loved.

What about you? Did you keep a diary as a child? Do you write in a journal today? If so, what do you record on its pages?

Police Work and Writing

For the past twenty years, I’ve worked as a 911 dispatcher. In the beginning of my career, I worked the graveyard shift at a busy California Bay Area police department. I cut my teeth on everything from stabbings to suicidal callers. My husband and I first met over a homicide. I dispatched him to the call; a drug deal gone bad. I know, not your average boy meets girl story.

Over my career, I’ve taken thousands of emergency calls and each one has molded and shaped my dark sense of humor and often cynical-quick-to-judge personality. After all, I get paid to judge in a matter of seconds, type-coding a call that will determine the response of police/fire/ambulance.

As an author, the road to publication twisted and shaped the writer I am as well. I can’t help but see clear parallels between a writer and police work.

It’s not always what it seems. A detective is trained to look for what the untrained eye doesn’t see—things like blood patterns, fingerprints, and previous cell phone activity. A writer’s path isn’t always an obvious three-step plan either. The craft must be studied, worked on, and almost never is how we dreamed it would turn out, with twists and turns taking you places you never thought you’d be. My two-page personal essay became a nonfiction book for moms—who knew?

Friends matter. Whether you’re the suspect or the victim of a crime, who you’ve associated with always comes into play. As a writer, who do you hang out with? Do you network with other writers/authors? Or, do you think your work is so good you’ll be miraculously discovered? If you truly believe this way, you couldn’t be more wrong. Trust me when I say: it’s only a matter of time before you’re a victim of un-success. Writing can be very solitary. Having someone come alongside who understands the ups and downs can make all the difference.

Word of mouth. Home invasions are almost always drug-related, a targeted place where the suspect has planned to regain their lost monies or steal drugs from someone they know. Occasionally, it’s a friend of a friend who bragged to the wrong person about their parents jewelry and non-belief in banks. As a writer, your reputation begins as soon as you share, “I’m a writer.” Once your words are published via blog, articles, or any other venue, your branding begins. Conferences, retreats, writer’s groups, and online relations are where your reputation is formed. Use every connection as an opportunity for helping other writers as well. I like to remind myself, no matter how well I write, I will never rise above the reputation my family, colleagues, and readers have of me.

Are you a victim?  I hate to break it to you…there aren’t as many victims as you think. Tough to hear? It’s true. The media loves to play on viewers emotions. As a writer, are you a victim? Do you suffer from itshouldbeme-syndrome? Do you believe every agent/publisher/editor just doesn’t understand your talent? Are you giving up the writer-ghost while complaining to everyone who will listen? Writer-victims aren’t as common as you’d like to think either. If your work is really that good and you are actively putting it in front of the right people, it will eventually be recognized. So, hang in there!

Writing and police work have a lot in common. After twenty years, my heart still races when I handle a hot call. There’s nothing like calming a woman who’s hiding from an intruder downstairs, encouraging someone to live another day, soothing a child who’s called an ambulance for their sick grandma, or the sound of a baby being born. The same can be said about writing. My heart still races when I submit an article, or speak before a crowd. There have been sleepless nights, anxious calls to writer-friends, and though my first published book is far from the New York Times best seller list—it’s been the ride of my life.

What about YOU? Does your writing journey have anything in common with your paying job?

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