Posts tagged with: volunteering

Research: Unexpected Consequences

One of the things I love the most about writing medical romances is the research. I’m a sucker for all of those not-so-common ailments and spend far more time than I should perusing medical sites and my trusty Physicians’ Desk Reference.

Tina and Dolly--stuck inside on a rainy day

Tina and Dolly–stuck inside on a rainy day

There are a couple of problems with research, though. One is that I’m not squeamish. At all. And my filter for knowing what others might find icky seems to let all kinds of things slip through. I have a friend who just had surgery on her foot. She has a long line of stitches on the side of her big toe, another line on the bottom of her foot (where a neuroma was removed) and more stitches on three of her smaller toes. Well, she posted pictures of the stitches on Facebook. I studied them, commenting about how good they looked–not much redness or puffiness–and only realized later that other people were writing things like “Ack!!” “Frankenstein’s foot!” and other similar comments. Yep. No ick filter.

There’s another side of research, though, that involves the heart and not the mind. About a year and a half ago, I began writing a story about a hippotherapist (a therapist who uses horses to treat cognitive and physical challenges).

I’ve been around horses for many years and have always loved them. In fact, several of my books have horses mentioned in them. But a strange thing happened as I was researching this newest book. It engaged something deep inside of me. So when I went with my husband to his (mumble mumble) high school reunion a couple of months ago, we were chatting with one of his friends, and hubby mentioned my love of horses. The friend stopped in her tracks. “You know horses?” It turned out she works at a nearby equine therapy stable, and they desperately needed volunteers–as in they might have to cancel one of their classes, if they couldn’t find a few more people to help out. Coincidence, anyone? It was the perfect storm–in the best sense of the term. I jumped at the opportunity! So now I’m a side-walker for a precious little girl who stares longingly at the horses as they’re led into the arena. An expression of love that I recognize from my own childhood days.

Research. Sometimes it has unexpected consequences–of the best possible kind.

Have you ever read (or written) a book where the subject matter touched you deeply or made you want to get involved in some way? I’d love to hear about it! Oh, and here’s the cover of the book that started my journey:Tina_Girl

You Are Not Alone

The following post is actually a blast from the past. On occasion, I look back and see how far I’ve come on this writing journey. Recently, I dug up this post—my first on the Ruby blog, and probably my first blog post ever—which I originally posted waaaaay back on October 6, 2009. That was before I was published, when I was still shopping my Golden Heart manuscript (which was published by Carina Press in September 2011.) I was shiny and new in so many ways, and have learned much on this journey, but I think the message of succeeding through perseverance and finding a supportive community is still relevant.

(And, as an update, I served 4 years as President of my local chapter and don’t regret a moment. During that time I sold three books. My two terms ended eight months ago, but during those years, I grew so much, and made lasting connections I treasure.)


“Lions and tigers and bears!  Oh my!”  No doubt about it, the craft of writing and the world of publishing can be a scary business.  But…

You are not alone.

I can’t tell you how many times I have to remind myself of this.  Daily?  Actually, some days it’s hourly.  Yes, my friends, we’ve chosen a career fraught with rejection, self-doubt, downswings, and loneliness.  But as I travel farther down this yellow brick path – sometimes skipping happily along, and sometimes dragging my feet with every step – I’m meeting all kinds of people.  Their paths may be different, but they intersect or even – at times – run identical to my own.

I am not alone.

I discovered this when I became more involved in my local chapter, setting up a plotting group in my home so that I could get to know people on a more personal level and making friends that I know will always be there for me when I stumble.  I rediscovered this when I finaled in the Golden Heart and found a whole group of sisters I never knew I had.

So what do you do to counteract those down periods when you’ve received a rejection, are immersed – or drowning – in self-doubt, or just feeling isolated?  Just as Dorothy had her traveling companions on her journey, we have friends, critique partners, and organizations to help us out on ours.  So…. What would Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion say about the challenges along our path?

Scarecrow, my brainy friend, scratches his head and looks at the odds.  “There are a lot of writers out there.  But you won’t succeed if you don’t continue to submit.  Persistence is the key.”

“Yes, but how long must I persist?” I ask.  (Okay, it was more of a whine, but still…)

“As long as it takes,” he says simply, that drawn-on smile never faltering.  “You never know when your manuscript will land on the RIGHT desk at the RIGHT time.  In the meantime, keep developing your craft, editing your work, and sending it out.  And listen to your writing friends when they say, ‘Don’t give up!’”

Tin Man, my sensitive friend, smiles at me softly with a sympathetic tilt of his head.  “You have a lot to give as a writer.  It’s a calling, otherwise you’d be able to set it down and walk away.  Besides, you’re writing the book of your heart, right?”

“Psshaw,” I say, jaded.  “That was four manuscripts ago.  Now I’m searching for the book of my dream editor’s heart.”

“But there’s no way of knowing what that will be,” Tin Man points out, taking my hand as we continue down the yellow brick path.  “Don’t lose the love for your craft.  If you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, why do it?  And,” he adds, “I suggest you join a writers group, where you can give back to others.  There’s joy in that, and the passion of others is addictive.”

Tin Man was right.  It was in joining my local chapter, and stepping forward to be their president when they needed one, that I found deeper and lasting friendships and found a common passion.  I rediscovered the “heart” of romance writing.  And I started to enjoy my craft again.

“Cowardly Lion, I know you feel my pain,” I say to the next friend along my path.  “Every time I lick that envelope to send away a submission, my heart quakes.  Can I stand the rejection this time?”

He straightens to his full, furry height, hands on his hips and stares me down.  “You know the answer to that.  If you are rejected, you will survive.  You always do.  Be brave.”  He leans down and grins.  “Chocolate helps.  And friends do, too.”

And finally, there’s Toto.  Can’t forget him.  I carry him with me everywhere in my little basket, my constant reminder of the quiet love and comfort that’s waiting for me at home.  Not everyone has a Toto to turn to when times are scary and confusing.  When the people who should love and support you the most step on your dreams, who do you turn to?  It’s my hope that you’ll find a group of like-minded people – writers, critique partners, Ruby Sisters – or that you start one of your own.  Trust me, there are others out there like you, sometimes lost in Kansas, twisting in the wind and just looking for home.

You are not alone.

If you find yourself feeling alone, join your local RWA group (or if you already belong, volunteer for a position to become more active and get to know your fellow chapter mates).  Or, offer to help judge a writing contest.  Cruise the internet for writer resources or loops you can join.  Or, just take your writing with you and get out of your lonely surroundings and into a bustling coffee shop or library, where you can see that other people exist.

One of the best things I ever did was say “yes” when my local chapter asked me to be their next president.  Was I worried about the additional workload and the fact that I’d never (ever!) served on a board before, let alone as president?  Heck, yeah.  At the same time, I’d volunteered to help my online chapter with their annual contest.  I didn’t know what I was in for there, either.  But saying “yes” opened so many doors for me.  I’ve met so many amazing writers, discovered several new resources, and discovered I am not alone.  (And, if you happen to believe in karma, I must say that my career has grown by leaps and bounds this year – my first request for a full from an agent led to signing with that agent, and was followed soon after by a Golden Heart nomination and win.  I’ve been very blessed, and can’t help but wonder if what I put out into the universe is coming back to me in some way.)

You are not alone.  We are on this twisty, winding path together, and the emotions at the peaks and dips are universal.  Am I scared?  Yes. Thrilled?  Yes! Confused?  Oh, yeah, sometimes. But I’m still going forward, one step at a time, and I hope you are, too.

Are you feeling alone on your path?  Who (or what) have you encountered along the way that helps push you to take that next step when you need a gentle shove?  Tell me about your journey, and your traveling companions.

AnneMarieBeckerAnne Marie has always been fascinated by people—inside and out—which led to degrees in Biology, Chemistry, Psychology, and Counseling.  Her passion for understanding the human race is now satisfied by her roles as mother, wife, daughter, sister, and award-winning author of romantic suspense.
She writes to reclaim her sanity.
Anne Marie publishes the Mindhunters series with Carina Press and is currently hard at work on some new projects. Find ways to connect with her at

More Than You Bargained For

I’m a huge fan of getting more than I bargained for when it comes to shopping. I adore a sale. Who doesn’t like the thought of Buy One Get One Free? Or 50% off? In fact, when I’m super-stressed, my favorite way to relax is to head to Target, grab a coffee, and hit the sale endcaps in the back of the store. I’m sure that’s some kind of illness, but whatever works, right?

So, yeah, I love getting more than I bargained for when it comes to good stuff.

The Benefits of Volunteering

I’ve been a member of RWA since 2001. Aside from serving as a judge twice over the course of those years, I didn’t volunteer. There were lots of reasons not to: a demanding full-time job that required 50-60 hours a week, a baby, the belief that it might be nice to spend time with my husband occasionally. I was already stretched thin–I work through lunch, I watch virtually no television. I do get to see a movie in the theaters once a year.

What little spare time I had was saved for my writing. I don’t regret that choice–I think there are moments when we all need to choose what our priorities will be and it can’t always include volunteer work. Some women have trouble saying “no.” I’m not one of them. I said “no” repeatedly.

Nevertheless, this year I was on sabbatical and for the first time in more than a decade, I knew I was going to have some spare time. So I volunteered to judge in three contests. And when one of my critique partners, who was in charge of organizing the Washington Romance Writer’s annual chapter retreat in 2010, asked if I would help, I said “yes.” More than that, I told her she could assign me to whatever task she needed. With a gleam in her eye, she said, “Great! Why don’t you serve as the VIP liaison?”

I’m a classic “Type A” personality. I’m good with details, organized, and efficient. That made me good at sending out letters detailing our chapter’s financial commitments to its guests, ensuring that anyone with food allergies was taken care of, figuring out the A/V needs of the guest speakers, and then coordinating travel arrangements to and from the retreat for seventeen guest. Later, I found out that the work I did for that retreat had been done by three people in years past. I definitely put some time in.

And I’ll be doing it again next year. Yup, that’s right. My sabbatical year will be over (hear the sound of my weeping?), I’ll be just as busy as I was in preceding years, but I’m going to do it all again–although I’ll be splitting the work with one other person, this time. The benefits to that volunteer work were enormous–enough to make it well worth doing again, even though it means something else will have to give come next April.

The most obvious benefit to my particular volunteer position was getting to chat via email and then in person with editors, agents, and nationally-acclaimed writers.

But the more important benefit was one that I didn’t discover until I was actually at the retreat. I’m shy. Not deathly-afraid-of-meeting-new-people, but shy enough that after almost ten years with my chapter, I only knew a small handful of people. But I couldn’t be shy at this retreat. It was my job to reach out to our seventeen guests, to make certain they had everything they needed, and to make sure they felt welcome and at ease. I made the conscious decision to speak with every single one of our seventeen guests. At other retreats, I had been tongue-tied when an editor or agent sat at my table during a meal. This year? I don’t think a meal went by when I wasn’t sitting next to an editor or agent and doing my best to make them feel comfortable.

Volunteering pushed me to put on my “hostess” persona. And since I was in “hostess” mode, I not only met our seventeen VIPs, but I also reached out to retreat first-timers AND folks I’d been seeing around for years, but never really met or talked to. I walked into that retreat only knowing about six people. I walked out knowing WAY more than that. I would have had fun at the retreat without volunteering. But volunteering made the retreat much more than fun–it was phenomenal.

The other volunteer work that I took on this year was judging in three contests. As a judge, I put a lot of effort into the comments I give, so this was a big time commitment for me. One of the main benefits of judging is that you get to see a lot of first chapters (or first fifty pages). It’s a bit like sitting in an editor’s seat: once you’ve seen a lot of entries, you start to see patterns. You start to see what works well and what doesn’t. I left my judging with ideas about how to go back and strengthen my own writing.

Have you tried volunteering with your local RWA chapter? Or are you at a point where you don’t have the time, if you’re going to keep writing? Is saying “no” easy or hard for you? And what are some of the benefits you’ve found to volunteering for your local chapter or RWA? For those of you heading to Nationals, will you be volunteering there?

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