An Amateur Who Didn't Quit: What I Learned from Women's Best Travel Writing

“A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t quit.” –Richard Bach

Last week on my lifestyle blog, Generation Cake, I wrote about what I learned from working at Victoria’s Secret in college. My point was we take away so much for our experiences, whether we realize it or not. Last October on the suggestion of my friend, Katie, I submitted a non-fiction piece to writer/editor Lavinia Spalding for consideration in the upcoming Travelers’ Tales anthology, The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 8. Last week, roughly 10 months later, the book was published with my work included, representing my first major (and paying) publication. The experience taught me much, especially how to put into practice the things I’ve been told about being a professional writer.

  1. Always be writing. The story I submitted did not just burst into existence as soon as I heard about the project. Earlier in the summer, I had done a series on Generation Cake (back before I started this blog to focus on writing) transcribing some of my travel journals. One of those pieces seemed right for the project and required revision rather than starting from scratch, making me feel more confident about submitting it.
  2. Know your potential publication. Although I had read Spalding’s Writing Away several times, I had never read any of the Women’s Travel anthologies she edits. Reading the most recent one (quickly) was my first course of action. It gave me a clear feeling of the level of diction, point of view, and tense that seemed common throughout the work. Because I was preparing my story for this publication, I needed to keep that in mind in revising. I played with tense and diction to make it a better fit.
  3. Revise, take two, and revise in the morning. It was roughly a week from the time I found about about the project to the time I submitted. The night before I sent it off, I was pretty certain I had a clean, articulate, and strong piece. But I let myself sleep on it. The next morning I did a final once over and found a few other minor errors that I was able to fix. Certainly there were some things I missed, but overall it was a something of which I could be proud.
  4. Sometimes you beat the odds. I honestly did not think the piece would even be considered. Past volumes contained stories from professional journalists and travel writers, university professors and women who sat on boards of literary magazines. Their stories were about things like spelunking into previously undiscovered South American caves. I’m a nobody with a few minor writing credits and some blogs who wrote a story about climbing the Great Wall of China with her grandfather. My story was one of hundreds read and, I figured, forgotten. When I received an email from Lavinia Spalding in mid-November, I assumed it was a rejection.
  5. Be open, flexible, and receptive to constructive criticism. Lavinia’s email was obviously not a rejection; it was an email telling me how much she liked the story. Attached was an edited version for me to correct before she submitted it to the publisher. Over the next 72 hours, Lavinia and I shot emails back and forth. Most things were minor things easily fixed (a missing hyphen, an overlooked comma). Two images were tweaked for clarity. The crux of the matter became a single metaphor. Lavinia saw it as a mixed metaphor; I understood her perspective, but I also saw it as a different reference. I could have argued the point, explained why it wasn’t really a mixed metaphor, and dug in my heels. But I knew that I had apply Stephen King’s advice and kill my darling because even though it made sense to me, it wasn’t obvious to everyone. She wasn’t asking me to change my story, my theme, or my style. Thus about 48 hours of those emails were us literally volleying verbs back and forth.
  6. Be patient. In mid-November I signed off on my final draft and was told I would be informed in about six weeks if it was accepted. I counted out the weeks and then tried to forget about it. Six weeks came and nothing. Eight weeks came. Ten weeks. Nothing. Katie occasionally asked for updates. I told her it was probably a no go because it had been so long. It never crossed my mind to contact Lavinia or the publisher, badgering them for an update–I thought of how many things I had read telling writers not to contact agents/editors/publishers demanding an answer. Then in mid-March I received an email from the publisher with a contract attached. I gleefully faxed my contract and approved final draft. Silence resumed. The book became available for pre-order on Amazon. Katie and I thrilled at the vague mention of my story in the promotional information (“Climb the Great Wall with a 9-month-old and a 91-year-old”). In July, I received an invitation to a contributors group and launch party along with some promotional materials. I pestered my Twitter followers and Facebook friends with coming soon teasers. Now, with the official release last week, I am checking my mail daily for my contributor’s copy. It may seem silly, but I want to hold it in my hand.
  7. Keep an eye to the future. This is something I have wanted since I was a little girl. As thrilling as it is, it is one story, one credit. I have to keep writing, keep challenging myself, keep submitting, and keep putting myself out there. Who knows? I might just beat the odds again.

I feel somewhat weird plugging my own work, but it is my own blog, so why not? The Best Women’s Travel Writing Volume 8 is now available for purchase. Buy it, read it, love it.

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