Guest blogger: Amy Atwell

Amy AtwellThanks to the Magical Musings team for inviting me back to discuss my writing journey. I hope my story inspires others, especially those who are stalled, struggling, or hide a closet full of doubts.

BELIEVE

Hi, my name is Amy, and I’m a Pisces.

Yeah, okay, I know you were all waiting to tune into the blog today for THAT piece of writing nirvana. But this is important. Each zodiac sign has a key phrase that defines it.

Pisces are defined by the phrase, “I believe.”

Take a moment to consider the strength of those two words. They’re the basis of hope. They sustain us through every effort we undertake.

Because if we don’t believe, why should we try to do anything?

I began writing seriously in 2000, but I’d had a rough time of it since my mother passed away suddenly in 2005. In spring 2007, I made the commitment to start writing again. Really. Just as soon as I could clear some time. To reinforce my renewed desire, I surrounded myself with positive quotes. Writer J.M. Sabel sent me a great one: “At the moment of commitment, the universe conspires to assist us.” –Goethe

I was primed. I thought about all the things I would write. I imagined myself at the computer, typing away. The actual fiction writing would start any day. I couldn’t wait to start. Yet, words didn’t come.

That July, our 14-year-old cat passed away. I was devastated. Losing Banjo was a gut-wrenching reminder of losing my mom. But, tough as it was, Banjo’s death helped me pinpoint WHY I’d stopped writing. Since my mother’s death, I was afraid to try, afraid to hope, afraid to believe.

And then it struck me: At 44 years old, was I ready to surrender all my dreams? Was I going to slog through the rest of my years being satisfied with mere existence? How could I face looking back over my life thinking, “Golly, I really wish I’d tried writing one more time.” And somewhere within me, I found the strength to believe in possibility again. Because if failure was possible, it meant success was also possible.

I returned to that Goethe quote and thought specifically, “I want to love writing again. Help me.” Feeling rather positive, I printed the quote and posted it on my computer where I could look at it daily.

During the fall, I took what steps I thought would improve my writing ability. I signed up for online writing classes, entered writing contests, reconnected with my critique partners, and I dropped close to 20 Yahoo loops to downsize my writing world to a close-knit circle of contacts.

Mind you, I run three (soon to be four) goals loops with nearly 150 participants. These loops generate a lot of email, and require significant time and effort on my part. But the people on these loops are the ones who buoyed me through my darkest times, who believed in my talent and drive when I felt both had deserted me. Because I realized they were a vital part of my writing identity, I quit worrying about the time and effort spent. Here was one thing I was doing that felt like I was making a difference–maybe not for myself, but for other writers. Their successes became my successes.

They also make me laugh. Never underestimate the power of laughter.

In January 2008, I took an online course taught by the amazing Margie Lawson: “Defeating Self-Defeating Behaviors.” The course was time-consuming, soul-searching, and hard. With the help of a classmate, I spent hours on the homework exercises, peeling back the behaviors that undermined me and envisioning my potential. Before, I had thought success in general was possible. Now, I began to believe my success was possible.

Remember that Goethe quote? I feared the universe had abandoned me. Still, I kept doing what I could. Critiquing for others, running the goals loops, writing those 100 words per day. By the end of February, I’d renewed work on a barely started manuscript. Lo and behold, I was writing a new story, and it was good. I was having FUN writing.

Then the tide turned. I started to get calls from contest coordinators. Not one or two, but over a dozen. Of 19 individual contest entries I sent out between Oct. 2007 and June 2008, I finaled or placed with 14. One of those entries was a 2008 Golden Heart® finalist. The overwhelming contest success led one of my critique partners to mention me to her literary agent, Kevan Lyon. Kevan offered to look over my various manuscripts. Scared to death, but willing to try, I sent her four partials.

She loved them. Oh, they weren’t perfect, we’re still working on that. But she recognized my talent and loved my characters, and she believes in me so much, she signed me as a client last month.
Okay, here’s the magic moment. One Margie Lawson assignment had us write a list of “miracles,” or things we wanted to happen with our writing careers. Things that seemed impossible at the moment. I chose a notebook I’d found among my mom’s belongings, wrote my miracles and set it aside. Frankly, with all I’ve had going on the past few months, I didn’t even think about it.

The other day, I reviewed the pages. And here are two of the miracles I wrote last winter:

“Wouldn’t it be a miracle if I finaled in the G.H.”

“Wouldn’t it be a miracle if I impressed Kevan Lyon so much that she offered representation.”

Goethe knew his stuff. The universe had conspired to assist me. Yeah, there was a little lag time, but I think the universe was waiting for me to find the strength to believe in myself and to confront my fears of failure and try. Frankly, if all these little successes had piled on me a year ago, I couldn’t have handled it. Now, I’m able to embrace the challenge, and I look forward to taking it to the next level.

To all of you out there struggling, I’ve been there. When events or situations in our lives stop our writing, it can take months to turn it back around. If you don’t have a positive support network, find one. My experience over the past two years has taught me how valuable it is to “pay it forward,” and I intend to do just that in any small way I can.

Remember, Pisces or not, your potential starts with two words: I believe.

About Michelle Diener

Michelle Diener writes historical fiction and fantasy. To find out more about her and her novels, you can visit her website.
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57 Responses to Guest blogger: Amy Atwell

  1. Amy had been an inspiration since the day she invited me to join one of her groups! I am so grateful to her for connecting me with such a caring and talented group of woman.
    You never fail to amaze me, Amy, girl.

  2. Oops, Amy has been an inspiration to me, still is!

  3. Zoe Winters says:

    hehe Amy, yeah both Aries and Leos really have to be careful not to step on people. If it’s any consolation, most of the time we don’t do it on purpose.

  4. Amy Atwell says:

    Theresa,

    Thanks for believing with me. I think that’s part of the karma. Not only am I ready to pull for myself, but I’m open to letting others spread their positive vibes my way. And I spread them back. And the more energy I spread, it feels like the more energy I gain.

  5. Amy Atwell says:

    Karin,

    You’re such a sweetie to even swing by here, but now that you’re here, I’ve gotta confess some things:

    Karin taught me TONS about what it means to be a hardworking professional in this business. She pours herself into her stories, yet she manages to keep tabs on dozens of struggling writers and give advice, encouragement and empathy. She is ALWAYS positive and diplomatic–even when she’s being blunt. Last month, she was named RWA’s PRO Mentor of the Year. And she deserved it.

    Karin taught me by example to pay it forward. Oh, and she shared with me another of my favorite quotes: “There is a special place in hell for women who don’t help other women.” –Madeleine Albright I couldn’t agree with Karin and Madeleine more.

  6. Amy Atwell says:

    Michelle,

    You analyzing Virgo, you. It’s tough being a writer, because you have to work even harder to turn off your internal editor. Now you know to watch out for it.

    So glad you found the post (and comments) inspirational.

  7. Amy Atwell says:

    Mary,

    So glad you love the GIAM loop. It’s the feedback I get from you and others that the loop has changed not just your writing but your LIFE that still astonishes me. It also makes me determined to reach out and try to build that for more and more writers.

    The concept has always been simple: gather a manageable number of people to participate on the loop. Post our goals and accomplishments weekly. Share high and low moments throughout the week as necessary. Get to know each other a little (it adds up over the months and years), get to recognize where everyone is at in their writing career. Share industry and inspiration on an ongoing basis.

    They say it takes a village, and that’s what GIAM has become for me–my own special neighborhoods.

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