15 May 2013

pep talk iii: coping with (writerly) homesickness

May Submit-O-Rama: Coping with (Writerly) Homesickness
We are now about halfway through the month of May, and I’ll bet some of you are beginning to feel it: that little itch of writerly homesickness.

Writerly homesickness is not like traditional homesickness. It’s not longing for the familiarity of family and friends. It’s not really a sense of loneliness or isolation. Writerly homesickness is the pang you get as you send off another emailed submission and glance longingly at the pages of your manuscript that you forced yourself to tuck away on May 1st. It’s having a fellow writer boast about their latest piece of writing and realizing you haven’t actually written anything new in almost three weeks. It’s the temptation to put the submission process on hold so you can do what you’re sure is the real work of a writer: write something!

I’m guessing some of you are feeling it, because I’m feeling it, too. So for this week’s pep talk, rather than dishing out words of wisdom about how “submitting is just as much a writer’s work as writing,” let’s take a look at some of the most common advice for dealing with traditional homesickness and readjust it to fit our particular and peculiar brand of that all-too-common camper affliction.

camper tip #1: you’re not alone

I’ve worked with 11-year-olds for the past several summers at a residential academic camp that, for many if not most of them, was their first time away from home … ever. In those late hours when a soft knock came at my door and I opened it to see a teary-eyed, snotty-nosed child looking for comfort, one of the first things I told them was, “You know you’re not the only one feeling this way, right?” The next day we’d all have a talk about what we missed about home. I’d tell them about how I’d bawled the most disgusting cry in history when I first left home for college. We’d talk about how proud our families were of us for being away, and how proud we were of ourselves for making it. When it comes to writerly homesickness, tell yourself the same thing: First, that you’re not the only one feeling this way, and second, that you should be proud of yourself for stepping up and being both a writer and a submitter! Look at you go! You're making your manuscript so proud.

camper tip #2: have a reminder of home

Most kids will bring their favorite toy or family photo or even pillow from home to serve as a reminder of what they left behind, and what they always have with them no matter how far away it feels. As writers, I don’t think having a picture of our laptops will ease the pain of not writing as regularly when we’re submitting. But reminding ourselves that the work we’re panging for is only being furthered, not forgotten, by the work of submitting is helpful. Remind yourself that you haven’t abandoned your manuscript, or pens and paints and cameras and keyboards … you’re giving them a temporary rest while you further the mission all those things have prepared you for!

camper tip #3: stay active

Know when most kids feel the worst at camp? During downtime. I once dealt with a kid who was fine all day, every day. She would go to class, eat meals and joke with her friends, and have an absolute blast every day … until study hall. Once study hall came around, she literally fell apart. She would finish her homework, sit quietly for a few minutes, and then burst into tears. Why? Because it was the first chance she had all day to remember how much she missed her family. Maybe you’re starting to feel near that “burst into tears” moment. You’ve been steadily submitting, running errands, and then, in one quiet moment you realize you haven’t written anything new in days … and it feels awful. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but keep working. Acknowledge the hunger pains for your pen, and then ... press on.

camper tip #4: find your inner “leon”

I had a stuffed lion I took to camp with me each year to serve as a silent friend to any of my girls who needed it. (Each year the girls gave him a new name: most years it was “Leon,” though one year it was “Lenny” because of one of their favorite male counselors, and once it was "Marques" because that was my male co-counselor's name and my girls wanted us to get married.) If they needed to sit and cry a little, Leon would let them cry into his mane until it became too wet and he needed a break to dry out. If they were having a circle talk, Leon was the Great Decider of who could talk. Leon came with his own story, too. One night, when all my girls were sobbing with homesickness, we pulled out Leon to talk it out; in the midst of the talk, one of the girls read his tag and learned he came from Taiwan. We pulled out my computer and found Taiwan on a map, and traced Leon’s journey from Taiwan to America. One of the girls shouted, “He’s so BRAVE!” and proceeded to burst into tears again. To tell the truth, it was one of the most hilarious things I’d ever seen. But, struggling to keep my laughter in, I also made it our group’s lesson: if Leon could make it from Taiwan to America, they could make it, too. Think of the journey your favorite authors have gone through. Most likely, they spent years, maybe even decades, submitting and getting rejected, enduring long periods without writing new things, to focus on getting that one great book published. You, too, can find your inner Leon. You, too, can be cross-the-oceans brave.

camper tip #5: write letters

Probably the number one tip to homesick campers is to write home. It’s great to get all the feelings out on paper. The problem, of course, is when the feelings express themselves in “Come get me or I’m going to die” letters. But one of my favorite camper memories was a girl who I got to write a letter home during a particularly bad bout of homesickness. She wrote the most heart-wrenchingly morose letter I’d ever read: I mean it was so sad it made me cry. But then, the next morning, she came to me and told me not to send it. “It’s embarrassing,” she said, and confessed that she’d been thinking late into the night what her mom would think of her if that letter got read. Tearing it up wasn’t good enough, so later that night we burned it together and flushed the charred remains down a toilet. I’m not recommending that you do exactly that. I am recommending, though … that you write. That’s right: take a day and write something! Just get it out! Don’t starve yourself of writing just because you’re focusing on submitting; you can do both. Submit six days a week and write for the seventh. Submit once a week and write the other six. Find what works for you and feed that hunger before it overwhelms you!

The bottom line is: You can do this. You are stronger than a stuffed lion.

And you are a writer: don’t deny it. Be who you are. Do both.

Find room.

Be strong. 

And win.


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  1. even though i haven't started submitting yet and am more than ready to get started, i just had to comment that i loved this. your camp experience references are so cute and refreshing. well played. and i am one of those people that starts to feel bad when i see everyone else getting acceptances and i'm still sitting on the bench so thank you.

    1. Thanks, Bolton! I learned a lot of life-lessons from those kids. And the fact is, there are some things we don't grow out of--those types of worries are among them!

  2. I've been a wreck since the beginning of May.( I had my last request for a full manuscript followed up with a 'no thank you.'). After a little boo-hoo but no real tears I set out to write a synopsis-oh my gatos, a b*tch to write but I did and then sent it out to Writer's Digest to be torn apart for $39.99.
    Anyways, I read your post early this morning and focused on the Be Strong. Today I made four submissions with a query letter, synopsis, and sample pages attached. Thanks to you and everyone in Submit-O-Rama and Wordsmith for the encouragement.

    1. Great, Monica! Kudos on having the bravery it takes to keep going (as I told you elsewhere, even I haven't built up to the actual book query/synopsis stage). And thanks for the scoop on the Writer's Digest critique; sounds like a great resource!

  3. The camp theme has been great for this SOR and today's post may be the topper. I love the Leon story. Thanks for the pep talks, Khara.

    1. Thank you, Michelle! (Leon the lion will always be a favorite memory/story!) :)


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