Tuesday, February 9, 2010


“The great thing in the world is not so much where we stand, as in what direction we are moving.”

- Oliver Wendell Holmes

I knew I’d been requested for a weeklong sub job, but didn’t know if I’d actually get the assignment from the GATE KEEPER. Since I didn’t get the call by Friday afternoon, I knew I wouldn’t hear anything until Sunday, maybe Monday.

Still without a call, I left my house for a Super Bowl party on Sunday. During the game, I checked my messages and had an assignment to report to the high school for learning community S for a teacher I’ve subbed for a couple of times*. They were all AP classes, with lovely, diligent students, but it meant the rest of my week would be less certain. You’d think I’d be used to it by now, but waiting for the phone to ring first thing in the morning, and then holding my breath just before I hear where I’ll be and what grade or subject I’ll be teaching hasn’t changed.

What has changed is the tension I used to live with before I started the school day. Now I go to each job with a measure of ease, especially if it’s a repeat. I’m just over a month away from my one-year anniversary. Has it been that long? I don’t feel like an expert in subbing and I don’t see any end in sight. The upside is that I’m gifted time to work on my passion: writing.

Even though there haven’t been jobs to apply for or offers of representation from agents, I’ve been busy on the writing front. Since I’ve received feedback that my two manuscripts may need more work, I’ve stopped submissions. But I’ve entered a few contests, joined a writers critique group for one manuscript, and have an exchange partner for another manuscript.

One of the contests I entered took place at noon yesterday. Well, I was supposed to enter at noon. It was for the first 250 words to be e-mailed to a mystery agent from The Authoress’s blog “Miss Snark’s First Victim” (Her information is on my blogroll to the right). It was limited to the first fifty participants, so I didn’t want to miss the opportunity. I hit the “send” button when my computer clock hit noon, but the e-mail said 11:59am. Aack! Would it count or be disqualified? I set up the e-mail again and sent it at 12:01pm, hoping I didn’t look like an idiot for sending it twice. I was number twenty-nine. Whew!

Today I’m entering the “Dear Lucky Agent” Contest, which I learned about from the February 7th post at http://www.guidetoliteraryagents.com/blog/ (It’s also on my blogroll). If your manuscripts meets the criteria, you should enter too.

Reading other people’s writing and getting feedback on my chapters is probably as valuable as the last few months I’ve spent writing this blog and reading about the craft of writing. The first thing I noticed was that I know things. Not only has my grammar improved, but also I have a better understanding of what agents are looking for (Not dangling participles). My feedback to other writers is better than I was previously able to provide. More than that, my comments to them make me view my manuscripts with new eyes. A previous post listed some of what I’d learned**, but I already feel light years ahead in my understanding about writing and submitting.

Even better (for me), when I get feedback, I get it. I know that sounds odd, but when I’d hear “show and not tell”, I was unclear on how to fix the sections, or when I made grammatical errors, I didn’t always understand why they were wrong. Yes, I’m aware of how sad that sounds – I’ve been writing for almost four years, and the bulb has only recently begun to burn in my brain.

On Friday, when the mail came I received a postcard about the NESCBWI Spring Conference for mid-May***. Since I hadn’t been on the website in a while and the conference is a month later than it had been in previous years, I hadn’t been expecting it. Registration was to begin on Monday. Normally I pour over the workshops, and hem and haw about which ones to take. I’m so indecisive that last year, at the conference, I asked to switch into a “Sex in YA Literature” workshop on the day it was held. In all fairness, when I signed up for the conference, I hadn’t gotten into the muddy waters of writing a teen sex scene. By the time the conference came around, I realized that I needed help.

This year, on Saturday there’s a two-part workshop on self-promotion. I don’t know if having “Substitute Teacher’s Saga” counts as building a platform before I actually have anything published, but I guess I’ll find out in May. With all the changes in publishing (some good, some not so much), I want to be prepared. I just hope they don’t make me Twitter. I’m also going to attend an agent panel, where we may ask questions (Now I just need to think of some good ones). The Sunday workshop will be about effectively using dialogue.

But the parts of the conference I’m most excited about aren’t workshop related, taking place on Friday. I’ll do a two-hour peer critique, which, for the first time since I’ve been attending, doesn’t interfere with the evening party. This year, I’m also doing an agent query meeting for the first time, in hope that this agent will tell me what to do to make my vampire fantasy sound unique, since I think it’s different but agents have yet to agree with me. I’m also taking part in my yearly ten-page manuscript critique with an editor or agent, which has given me invaluable advice, if not a coveted contract. The conference has a few new opportunities this year, but the one I’m excited about is a period of time to meet with other writers based on shared interests.

I’ve booked a room at the hotel in Fitchburg, MA for two days. If you’re attending this conference and need a roommate, let me know.

If you’re an aspiring writer, I highly recommend these conferences, even though they can be intimidating. In a past post**** I’ve mentioned my love-hate relationship with conferences, but that has more to do with my confidence about my writing ability than about what they offer. This will be my fourth year attending this conference. At first, I took writing basics, like “How to Write a Query Letter”, but now I’ve moved on to more advanced topics. Sunday afternoon had a two-part workshop on school presentations, which I was tempted to take because Cynthia Lord***** is one of the instructors. But since I don’t have an agent or a contract, no book of mine is hitting the shelves any time soon.

Signing up for this conference has made me realize that I’m making progress, but I still have more to learn.

*Previous posts from the same AP Biology class:



** Post about what I’ve learned about writing and submitting:


*** Past conferences post:


****Conference Information:


***** A post that talks about Cynthia Lord’s book, Rules:



  1. I totally know what you mean about *getting* it. I feel like in this journey of writing, sometimes I am on my own and just slogging though. But other times - usually when I am actively in critique groups, sharing my work, in other words, putting myself out there - everything seems to line up and I am on a blissful roll! Meaning, I can I tell I am improving, the critique's don't hurt because I am learning from them and my writing is getting better.

    Good luck with contests!

  2. Thanks, Rebecca. At this point, I just entered the contests with a glimmer of hope that I'll get some feedback. It would be nice to win one some day so I could put it on a query letter.

    Good luck with your writing too!

  3. Hi

    Goodness - what a busy time ahead for you! So, so glad you are really focused on your writing and getting published. There's so much you've planned, I'm impressed! There's nothing like exposing your writing to good constructive critical feedback and actually admitting that "yes, I need help so please help me people who are in the know thanks very much". And arming yourself with knowledge of the current publishing trends, do's and don't's is such a plus to. Research is always good.

    Go for it is what I say.

    And you never let on you were writing a vampire fantasy novel, you tease you!

    I'm very very excited for you!

    Take care

  4. Good luck with your contests, Theresa! Keep writing!

  5. Hi Theresa, I'm really glad I stumbled upon your blog. I am also a substitute teacher/novelist-trying-to-get-published (what a combination) and I can relate to a lot of what you've posted about.
    I wish you best of luck with the contests, and I'll be following along!

  6. Old Kitty, I really didn't want to write this manuscript after the success of a certain series (cough), but my idea was too compelling (To me). I just have to convince an agent of that.

    Edie, thanks for the encouragement!

    Shelley, you're the first substitute teacher/aspiring writer I've come across. Thanks for following.

  7. Have fun at the conference, and I'm looking forward to reading all the entries in the Secret Agent Contest! I entered back in Nov, and really appreciated the feedback. Good luck!

  8. Thank you, Empty Refrigerator. I'm a bit nervous, but am looking forward to the feedback.

  9. A big thanks for posting that link for the "Dear Lucky Agent," contest. I am definitely going to look into it. Btw, your blog rocks!

  10. Thanks, Rejection Queen. Good luck with the contest.

  11. Hi Theresa, thanks for visiting my blog! It sounds like you've got a lot going on and are making progress. I've gone to several conferences, but the best one I've ever gone to was the Highlights Workshop in Chautauqua, NY. I really can't say enough good things about it. It's pricey, but they offer scholarships. I'll be checking back in with your blog soon!

  12. Thanks, Susan. I'm on the e-mail list for the Highlights Workshop, which always sounds wonderful but it's too expensive. I know it's a whole week and meals, but 2k is too much, and I don't know how much a scholarship would offset. For two hotels nights (with a roommate), plus all offerings I want on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday, NESCBWI will cost me less than $400.

  13. I know it's a lot of money, but it truly was a writing-life changing experience for me. If I hadn't gone, I wouldn't have met wonderful and very serious writing friends (two of whom are now awaiting publication of their first books), they wouldn't have encouraged me to start my own blog (among many other encouragements), and I wouldn't be writing on your blog right now. Though I'm still not published, I think I'm much, much closer right now than I would have been had I not attended. If you can ever swing it, I highly recommend it.

  14. Susan, you make some excellent arguments. If I have a "real" job, next time around, I'll consider it.

  15. Yes, I was very blessed to be able to go, and I doubt I'll ever get that lucky again. Definitely something to shoot for, though. Thanks for joining my blog - it's great to have you aboard!