How to Chase Your Dreams While Still Living In Reality

I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a writer in some form or fashion, whether it was articles, novels, or (as I’d later find) screenplays. I just loved telling stories and creating characters that could practically jump off the page and come to life. I loved thinking up story ideas and then letting the story take me on a journey to a place I may have never intended it to go.

When I was a child, I started writing short stories, manageable little chunks for my young mind to explore the possibilities of creating worlds outside my own. By my teenage years, I was freelance writing for a Milwaukee magazine and working on my first novel (which I never finished). As it turned out, it was just a 100 page rant about high school – teenage angst at its finest.

By age 19, I got really into screenplays and wrote my first one titled FOUR THE MONEY. Afterwards, my older brother and I co-wrote six additional feature length screenplays. We queried and queried, and were rejected over and over.

I decided to switch gears and over the next few years, I focused on freelance writing for a number of websites and small businesses – writing everything from articles, to product descriptions, to email newsletters, to radio commercial scripts, blogs, and more. My first job out of college was as a copywriter and digital marketer. I was still doing freelance writing on the side, but it expanded from simply writing to include social media and website management.

I left that position a year later, and was earning a full-time living between several freelance writing and social media jobs. After a year of working from home doing solely freelance, I was contacted about an opening for a Social Media Manager position at a Fortune 500 company, with the opportunity to work on some of the most well-known household brands in the world; and I jumped at the opportunity. Although, I loved working from home every day with my English bulldog, Winston, setting my own hours, and being my own boss, it was lonely – and I wanted to be around other like-minded people who loved creating content, managing social media, and writing just as much as I did.

I did get the job and I loved/love it, but there was still something missing in my life. I had this burning desire to write – but not just anything… a book. I had always dreamed of writing a book (it was even on my bucket list), but I never believed I actually could. It seemed so daunting – hundreds of pages of the written word. Would it be good? Would I finish? Would it even make sense? I knew none of those questions would be answered unless I actually tried. But how would I do it? I was working full-time, I still had a freelance job, I had plans, I had friends and family, I didn’t have time. The excuses kept piling up.

However, I knew that with any dream, there would be sacrifices. Sure, I’d be tired. I’d have to give up nights and weekends. I’d have to cancel plans with friends and family. I’d probably be a bit of a recluse. But this was my dream. I wanted to write a book and I was going to do it.

I had small daily writing goals during the week – 500 words per day was pretty typical. I’d write before and after work, and then on weekends, I’d have huge goals of 5000-10,000 words. I kept at this, and when I wasn’t writing or plotting my book, I was reading – anything and everything I could get my hands on. Yes, it was tiring – working full-time during the day and then writing full-time on nights and weekends.

When working towards any dream, you still have to live in reality. You have to earn a living.  You have to work even harder. You have to struggle. You have to make sacrifices. There is no magic formula for writing a book. You sit down in front of a blank word document and you take it page by page, paragraph by paragraph, sentence by sentence, and word by word. If you love what you’re doing, it won’t feel like work – it’ll feel like you’re living your dream, while you’re working towards it.

Three months after I started writing my first book, I finished it. I finished fast, because I worked fast, putting in several 10,000 word writing days. Then, I began querying for months and months – and the rejections came pouring in. It was disheartening, but I learned that my dream wasn’t just to write a book, it was to be a published writer. And if I wanted to be a published writer, I’d have to keep writing, regardless of the amount of rejections. This realization didn’t happen overnight. It actually occurred to me about 10 months later when I was mulling over the idea of rewriting my first book, quitting altogether, or starting a second.

I ultimately decided to write my second book and began writing it as a part of National Novel Writing Month in November 2017. I pretty much stopped querying my first book and put all my effort into writing what would later be called TIL DEATH DO US PART. I completed my second book in technically 3 months (although, I took 6 weeks off of writing between December and mid-January).

By the beginning of March, I was ready to query again and thankfully, this time around wasn’t like the first. I had full requests and multiple offers of representation within two weeks. It was an incredible feeling to have others believe in my work, and I literally had to keep reminding myself that it was real, that it was actually happening.

While I wait to see where my book will end up, I’m working full-time as a Social Media Manager, and I’m writing my next book IF LOOKS COULD KILL on nights and weekends. I’m still chasing my dream of becoming a published writer, while living in reality – and I wouldn’t want it any other way. I love my job, I love my dream, and I’m lucky enough to have them both.

From Finished Manuscript to Agented Author: A 21-Day Journey… Not Quite

Landing an agent didn’t happen overnight for me. Although, when it did happen it felt that way, because it happened so fast – eighteen days to be exact, from the time I participated in Pitch Madness on Twitter to the day I signed a contract with my agent, for my manuscript TIL DEATH DO US PART.  However, TIL DEATH DO US PART was not my first novel.

In 2016, I decided that I was going to finally write a book. I didn’t know if I had the talent, the patience, or the drive to do so, but I sure as hell was going to try. This was it. I even made it my New Year’s resolution as if that would hold me more accountable. I decided my first book would be a women’s fiction dramedy: the story of a hapless 30-something single woman who wakes up in 2002 after a night of binge drinking. When she realizes what year it is, she thinks she’s been given a second chance to do things over, that is until she comes face-to-face with her reckless eighteen-year-old self. That book had so much of me in it, and it helped me tackle some of the grief I still had from losing my mother at the age of eighteen. I started writing it in August 2016 and by November 3rd, 2016 – I had completed my first draft of my first manuscript, THE GIRL I WAS.

I knew from when I started that book that it may never be published, it probably wouldn’t get me an agent, but it would be proof to myself that I can in fact write a book. I knew it would be a hard sell, since it’s falls between several genres, but I needed to write that manuscript – not for anyone else, but for me.

After a couple of edits and drafts, I began querying in January 2017. I would face eight months of rejection, 70+ to be exact. By September, I thought about rewriting the book. I thought about quitting. I thought about self-publishing. But then I thought, I wrote one, I can write another.

In October 2017, I decided that I was going to participate in National Novel Writing Month. I had this idea for a psychological thriller that had been in the back of my head for years and years and years. I thought of it back in 2010 when I was co-writing screenplays with my older brother, Austin. We had typically worked on comedies, but had also dabbled with a horror script and an action script – but I wanted to write a THRILLER. I loved thrillers. As I was mulling over ideas, this premise came to me and it was truly the beginning of this book, even though I had initially thought of it as a film, and didn’t begin working on it for another seven years.

A light bulb went off in my head as I wrote down the idea for the story that would one day become TIL DEATH DO US PART. “Picture this,” I said to Austin. “Criminal defense attorney, Rachel Sanford, faces her most challenging case when she must defend her husband, a man accused of murdering his mistress,” I continued. His brow furrowed, and then he informed me that was the plot of The Fugitive. I remember being so disappointed, because I thought I had this grand idea. I had never seen The Fugitive, but I took my brother’s word for it, and I put it on the back burner.

While dabbling with my notebook of ideas and trying to prep for National Novel Writing Month, I saw the one I had come up with back in 2010 – The Fugitive idea. I had never done NaNoWriMo before, but I thought it was just the motivation I needed to push myself through a second book (especially, after all the rejection I faced with my first). At this point, I was struggling to hone in on a single idea for my project, but that thriller I had come up with was still stuck in my head. I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I wanted to write it. I needed to write it. But there was one thing I had to do first.

It was a Friday night in October 2017, I went over to Family Video and I finally picked up a copy of The Fugitive. I needed to know. WAS THIS MY BOOK? I had read a synopsis of the film and it didn’t sound anything like my book, but my brother was adamant that my idea had been done. I popped in the disc and of course, it was skipping and freezing – a standard of old DVD’s rented from Family Video. So, I switched over to Amazon and rented the film for $4.99. I know what you’re thinking. Five dollars for a film from 1993? I thought the exact same thing, but I was determined to watch it.

After two hours and ten minutes, I had learned the truth. The Fugitive had zero similarities to my book idea. I called up my brother and was like, “What the heck? The Fugitive is nothing like that thriller idea I had about the criminal defense attorney.” He shrugged it off saying something along the lines of, “Oh, my mistake, but was it good?” I replied, “Yes, it was a good movie. But that’s not the point.”

I ended that call in a fit of determination. I began plotting, picking out character names, putting together character descriptions, figuring out a setting, and getting prepped for NaNoWriMo. I was going to write this book – and I knew that if I could write this book the way I envisioned it, it could change my life.

At the end of November 2017, I completed NaNoWriMo, writing just over 50,000 words. I was exhausted, having been working full time as social media manager, writing at night and on weekends, and still keeping up with a freelance job on the side. I took six weeks off from my book and during that time, I spent time with friends and family, I read nine books, and I traveled for the holidays as well as took a trip to San Francisco.

At the end of January 2018, I jumped back into my book. I figured I had 30,000 words left to finish that story, and I was determined to complete it and have time to edit it before #PitMad on March 8th.

I wrote, drank copious amounts of coffee, spent far too much money and time at a local coffee shop called Seth’s Coffee in Little Chute, WI (highly recommend by the way), but by February 20th, I had completed a first draft of TIL DEATH DO US PART. I had sixteen days to edit, which I accomplished with the help of my fiance, Andrew, who pushed me when I wanted to quit and believed in me, even when I stopped believing in myself. I finished my edits on March 5th, 2018 – just in time. On March 8th, I put out three pitches on Twitter for #PitMad for my manuscript (I’ll cover those in a future blog), and at the end of the day, I had ten requests.

On March 12th, I fulfilled those query requests and I waited. I didn’t think anything would come out of it. I had gone through this before with THE GIRL I WAS. But on March 13th, I had a full manuscript request. Once again, I didn’t think anything would come out of it. I had had a partial request with THE GIRL I WAS six months into querying that ultimately was rejected. So, on March 14th after doing another read through, I sent out the full, and went about my life.

I forgot that I even had a full request out there, until I received an email on March 18th (just 4 days later) offering me representation. This agent had read my book during a St. Patty’s day party and couldn’t put it down. I read the email several times ensuring I was reading it right, and then I cried, I jumped up and down, I drank wine, I called friends and family, and then I got down to business. I googled what to do when you have an agent offer. I googled how to handle it. These were things I never ever thought I’d have to google. I couldn’t believe it!

I informed all agents that had chapters that I had received an offer of representation and I told them I could give them a week with the full. This is what google told me to do, and google hadn’t failed me yet.

Over the next few days, I had two more full requests and then all of a sudden, I had multiple offers of representation. I had to resort back to google, asking what do you do when you have multiple offers of representation? I compiled questions to ask the agents. I scheduled “The Calls.” I listened, I talked, and I thoroughly evaluated each offer.

In the end, one agent stood out to me. She was on the same page with me as far as revisions and submission strategy. She had so much passion for the story and she believed in me and my book. So, I knew that she was the perfect agent to represent myself and my manuscript, TIL DEATH DO US PART.

On March 26th, 2018, I signed with Stacey Donaghy of Donaghy Literary Group. And thus our journey has just begun…