I am not the woman you ask for advice on how to succeed. I mean, you can ask and I will answer. But it's probably not the answer you'll be expecting.
There are no five steps from blogger to columnist tutorials. Especially since I actually went from Community Newspaper City Editor to Unemployed due to downsizing to Cops/Courts/Business Beat Reporter for another community paper back to City Editor at the original paper to Fired when my Bitch of an Editor decided to make me choose between breaking the confidence of an unnamed source and my job to Unemployment Checks Again to Editorial Assistant with the Chance to Write Features and the Coveted Byline at the Detroit News...
And then I got pregnant, went on bed rest, had the baby, did the math weighing my income vs. full-time daycare for a newborn in the city of Detroit, laughed with The Husband, waited out maternity leave and then showed up at the office to show off the baby and announce I wouldn't be returning because Real Life Math sucks. (No one argued.)
I Floated Aimlessly for a while. Mind you, I still hadn't even discovered the joys of arguing with my family and pm-ing my friend on Facebook yet, so I'm not quite sure how I didn't lose my ever-lovin' mind. I wanted to write. But I didn't. Not until we moved 2,500 miles away from family and friends and I suddenly felt less like a fish in a Spanglish Bowl being watched by my owners, Judgment and 'Aye, M'ja! I woke up one night about 3 a.m. and jumped out of bed, ran over to my computer, powered up, dug my credit card out of my purse, and bought my second URL -- www.aspiringmama.com, thank you very much -- before I opened up a new Word doc and wrote the words "BabyFat: Adventures in Motherhood, Weight Loss, & Trying to Stay Sane" by Pauline Campos, bolded the title, smiled at the blinking cursor, and climbed back into bed.
We will not discuss the first URL because it involved product reviews for baby gear and then I'd have to explain how I couldn't sell a glass of water to a man dying in the desert if the glass was sponsored because OBJECTIVITY MATTERS, DAMMIT without feeling like a Word Whore because Journalism 101 tends to do that to you.
I finished the book a year later, had my ego shit on and out by roughly 43 agents who all had nice ways of telling me glittery vampires were the train I should have been riding and if I wanted to write non-fiction, that I either needed a reality show, a spray tan, and a bump-it, or at the very least, the fucking decency to not bother them again until I had a platform like The Bloggess.
Uh-huh. Lemme just get on that for you because OHMYGAWDIDON'TSTANDASNOWBALLSCHANCEINHELL, do I?
New Mexico seemed like a good place to visit to pick myself up again, so I flew out to a Latino writing conference where I met Rick Najera, who critiqued the first 15 pages of BabyFat. He'll tell you he has no recollection of this and I'll tell you that Rick once tweeted me his phone number when I asked him to direct message it because I had a new phone and forgot to write down the newer contacts before switching over. Anyway, Rick told me I had a voice and the very real chance to go mainstream, if I kept at it. He said I was snarky and also suggested stand-up, but I decided against trying for something Fate hadn't deemed me ready for. You see, I was starting to figure out how this whole road to success was entirely paved with bricks I hadn't meant to include. Probably because I lose my keys all the fucking time and realized that I wasn't going to find them until I stopped looking for them because that's how it always happens.
Or the witch hazel in the freezer.
Either way, that's when I also realized I was trying too hard to begin with because I didn't see them right in front of me until I relaxed, let go of the self-induced manic stress fest, and just took a freaking breath.
I attended Bloggy Bootcamp in Phoenix - my first ever blogging conference with the encouragement of Becca Ludlum, whom I met, of course, through twitter after learning we lived relatively close to each other at the time. After telling Tiffany Romero that she is pretty and how her new bra made her boobs look fabulous -- stop looking at me like that because if you know Tiffany, this makes total sense -- she decided I was a fabulous writer and recommended me to an agent who told me I didn't suck but wasn't ready but she'd be waiting for me to try again.
Girl Body Pride made it's first attempt to secure a foothold in the ever growing sea of Web Sites Trying to Make a Difference. I loved it. But I was also never sleeping.
I revised the manuscript three times with Brooke Warner over the course of the next year (one of the principals behind She Writes Press) and tried again, of course, and got my agent. There was much celebrating, of course, and then two years later, we amicably parted ways because that just happens sometimes. Meanwhile, I'd signed on as Latina Magazine's advice columnist (and I got the job only because I was so convinced I had no chance in hell that I didn't waste time over-thinking my submission and writing test...think about that for a minute because it's important). It was after signing with Latina that I had to set Girl Body Pride on hold, and realized I had to start taking my own blog photos for fear of Getting Sued if I screwed up and grabbed the wrong image off of the internet, even if I thought it was a safe one to use. That meant I had to up my game because, just like when I ran my own community papers, I wanted what was published to be the be the best reflection of my capabilities. That meant everything from the front-page story to any photos I took myself when our freelancer was tied up elsewhere.
No, and thank you for asking, but I don't count my penchant for typos. Like the time I applied for a Public Relations position and dropped the "L" in the word pubLic and couldn't figure out why they never followed up seeing as I sandwiched the word between "Experienced" and "Professional."
There was only that one photography class back in college, y'all. The rest was downloading a billion photography and editing apps until I found the ones I liked best, taking entirely too many photos during every waking moment, deleting 99 percent of the photos I had taken because they sucked, and playing with filters and contrast and exposure on the few I deemed worthy of keeping. It's not rocket science and I have no method. I kinda just throw it all up in the air and see what sticks to the ceiling.
Like the time I congratulated Sara Fader when she announced the upcoming publication of her Stigma Fighters anthology -- named for the website and non-profit fighting the stigma of mental illness -- thanked her for including one of my essays in it, and fired off a quick email to her publisher. They told me to submit.
Then they told me yes.
So then I drew an owl on tree branch for a homeschooling project with Eliana and The Husband said It Didn't Actually Suck and I beamed and said REALLY DO YOU THINK SO and he said Totally and I spent my next column check on art supplies because High Praise like that from The Husband makes me all Inspire-y. Not six months later, I sold my first watercolor to my sixth grade elementary teacher, Jean Grabner, and just a few months after that, had a photograph of my daughter accepted into a juried art show in LA. Then I spent an entire night digging up blog links to submit to the BlogHer'15 VOTY and maybe 5 minutes on my instagram account before choosing a few photos I thought were kinda submission worthy for Photo of the Year consideration and well, I had Something Incredible to celebrate again. But it wasn't the Something Incredible I had been expecting.
Forty-three agents. Three web sites. Wait...make that four. I forgot about the one I started before the product review disaster. That one was written from my dog's point of view before dogs were ruling the internet with Instagram accounts, so I figure my genius was just ahead of its time. No matter. So...43 agents, four websites, one year writing the manuscript, one year revising it, five years since I finished the first draft, and finally...FINALLY I can say I have a fucking book deal.
You have no idea how amazing it is to type these words. Or maybe you do. Or you don't yet, but you will because you know that you can't stop believing that, ever, if you want to keep moving forward. I decided at eight years old that I would be a writer and at 37 I am validated because my goal has always been to become a published BOOK author and it's finally happening because Blood, Sweat, Tears, and Life-Long Dreams are all parts of what I share today.
Forty-three agents. Five years. That's a lot of time to devote to any single Anything. But I stuck to it. And I'm just as proud as I an annoyed with myself for getting the first photo I ever submitted anywhere selected for a juried art show and the second photo submitted earning me a PHOTY (Photo of the Year) BlogHer'15 recognition. I can't even begin to express how grateful I am.
So go ahead. Ask me how I made it from point A to wherever the hell it is I am standing right now. I am incapable of bullshit. Ask me, pull up a chair, and kick back. Because I've got a story to tell you.
I think I'll call it Accidentally on Purpose.