Hear Marlena talk about her journey in her own words.
Celebrating Marlena Leach, Author
MARLENA: I’ve been seriously writing for the past 15 years. The things that come to me are whimsical and so I found that I liked the genre of children’s picture books. I do write some other things on the side, but primarily focus on things that inspire me. I’ve compiled a bunch of stories that I need to do something with.
Annalisa: Got it. I met you at the library in the city where I wrote my book, Storytelling for Pantsers. We had talked a bunch of times before you joined the writing program. What kinds of things were you struggling with in your writing at that point?
MARLENA: Well, I always say if you’re going to do something, do it right. I have these stories, but they’re not right, they need to be polished. But how do you get there? How do you do it? Everybody I’ve talked to, even people in my writing group, we all do the same thing. We go on the internet. That’s when I saw everything you’d have to do when you’re self publishing or taking a different avenue. So I went to this website and saw you have to write a query. Why? That’s another page in your notebook. It goes on and on and on.
Annalisa: I think a lot of writers have probably done the same thing, and finally just said, “Oh, the hell with this, I need somebody just to take me down the path so I can concentrate on the writing, not the research of how to really get published.” It is good to know about it, but there’s a lot of things to do.
MARLENA: Too much to do and not enough time. I’ve been investigating for four months. To that, some people say “four months? I’ve been doing it for a year and a half” But that’s already too much time. So I said, “I just want to do this. I’ve got the story.” And I said, “I’m going to do it” So I called you.
Annalisa: There’s a lot of wisdom in that, Marlena. Your protagonist in your story, Nora, is very emotive. If she were going to talk about how that felt for you during that time, what would she say?
MARLENA: I think Nora would have been suffocated in a box.
I think she would say “come on, this is a cute story. Get it out there. You can do this, you can do this.” One thing I’ve said to myself, “there is fear, but to be brave, you have to have fear.” If you don’t have fear, then you’re just kind of arrogant. I don’t mean that to insult anybody, I just feel like if you think you really can do all these things without anybody’s professional help, good luck.
Never in my life have I taken shortcuts because I’ve learned better. My father always said, “don’t ever take shortcuts when you’re doing something. If you’re going to do it, do it right.” It’s good wisdom, and it’s a good practice. If you’re really serious about something that you’re doing, then get the help you need.
Annalisa: When you talk about getting the help that you need there are a lot of options out there for writers in your position. So I’m curious about what appealed to you about the Writing Gym Program for you?
The Writing Gym took me through everything that it was going to take today to make my story publishable.
The Writing Gym was step-by-step. It took me through everything that it was going to take today to make my story publishable.The other programs that I’ve researched felt empty. A few people I did call and talk with, the connection wasn’t good. I was floundering, pondering and thinking, “This is crazy. This is scary.” That’s what was so scary. It didn’t feel like I knew who they were. So knowing you and following you and reading your program online, I just felt that this is the way for me.
MARLENA: It was step-by-step. It took me through everything that it was going to do today to make my story publishable.The other ones that I’ve researched, they felt empty. A few people I did call and talk with, the connection wasn’t good. The feeling wasn’t good. I was floundering, pondering and thinking, “This is crazy. This is scary.” That’s what was so scary. It didn’t feel like I knew who they were. So knowing you and following you and reading your program online, I just felt that this is the way for me.
And then when we spoke, you really pumped me up to be brave, to encourage me. It has not been a mistake. I feel that I have accomplished great strides in my book so far. It’s so different than when I started. When I read it now, it’s like, “Oh wow, I can’t believe I did this.” A children’s picture book is very difficult.
It’s very challenging.I have this feeling of pride. My daughter and my family are all supporting me too. It’s wonderful; I see my book, I see it finished, I see everything. I’m proud of what I’ve done.
Annalisa: That’s really beautiful. Thank you for sharing that. It’s been three weeks since you joined the Writing Gym. Give us a contrast from before you joined the program to now. How have things changed for you?
MARLENA: I have a lot of clarity.
Before joining the Writing Gym, I would read my story and I was like, “Oh, this isn’t right” or “this is boring.” I said, “I’m just going to leave it.” I was afraid to change anything, but that was so wrong. It was holding me back. As we say, the story wasn’t flowing and the pace wasn’t moving forward enough because I was stuck. I didn’t want to get rid of a little cute phrase, but I’d have to get rid of it. I couldn’t see where it didn’t work, but now I can see where it didn’t work.
When I looked at the old manuscript that I wrote the first time, I tried to clean it up before joining the Writing Gym, but I didn’t want to get rid of anything. I had this fear of losing something. But it wasn’t making any sense. Now, I’m just killing things left and right. Confidence.
Annalisa: Yeah, confidence is huge.
MARLENA: Oh yeah. I’m not afraid to hit the delete button anymore. And I think that’s a big step. .
Annalisa: That’s a beautiful step. Pull the curtain back on what it looks like for people who aren’t inside the Gym. You and I have met twice a week for a one-on-one session looked at your pages. Sometimes when people think about having someone work with them on their very precious baby of a manuscript, they sort of have this vision of some past teacher in their life with a big red pen. Tell us about what the real experiences is in the Writing Gym to work with me on your manuscript.
MARLENA: It’s a lot of fun to find out that it’s okay to delete things. The trust I have is amazing. Your experience is amazing. Having somebody in my corner, not telling you “no”, but pulling the information out of me was wonderful. After our half-hour session, I was like, “she really pulled that out of me. How does she get in there and find that?” I appreciate that. Like I said, it’s been an amazing journey for me to just see how this little story has turned into something that, I’m proud of, very proud of.
Annalisa: I see so much energy coming from you, so much positivity. When we had our first call, you were excited but there was also a little bit of uncertainty, too. How does that feel now?
MARLENA: After we talked and I said yes I thought, when am I done writing? Well, it’s like a painting. When does a painting finish? Is it ever finished? You can always go back and touch something up. So about whether I was ready. What am I doing? I asked myself. But I said, “don’t be afraid. Just do it. You’ve got the story, you’ve got the idea, let’s see where it goes.” There’s a weekly writing group that I used to go to. I haven’t been in forever, but I can see all these there who have really good stories. I think if I could talk a couple of people into talking with you, it’d be amazing because they’re all wondering the same thing I was without taking the step.
You just have to take the step. Because if you’ve got a story and you feel it inside you, get that help, you need to pull it out. if I didn’t call you, I’d still be hanging around, looking through another story. That’s just not what I want to do. I feel for people that are scared to take that step. I see the progress in me for having taken this step. It’s a huge, huge progress. I mean, I’m ready to write a novel. I think I’m very inspired and I’m very motivated because I can see that I can do it. That’s a big thing.
If you have an idea, I wish people would be brave and take the step to get the help they need to get it done. Otherwise another 10 years is going to go by. That’s where I see where these people have been in my writing group. They’ve been there a long time.
Annalisa: Congratulations on that bravery. That’s a beautiful celebration. I’m really loving celebrating your progress in this way. You’ve had some beautiful celebrations that you’ve written in the group.
MARLENA: I think what it’s done for me personally is that you’re never too old. I’ve never felt that. People say, “you’re how old?” I don’t, I feel like I’m 50., I procrastinated a little bit, but when I got serious, I just decided to do it. I’m not a jump off the ledge kind of person. I did my research, but I don’t spend a lot of time on it. For me, it’s either do it or don’t do it. I pride of myself that I did it. I could see that it was the right choice.
Listening to the other writers when you’re in the salon and watching them grow is inspiring because you realize, if they can grow, I can grow. We’re all there with the same idea and we’re getting to the end. It’s very exciting for everybody.
Annalisa: Marlena, it has been such a joy to celebrate with you and hear about your wins in the Writing. Gym. I have loved being a part of this progress. I can’t wait until we’re taking the next steps and moving you even closer to publication.
MARLENA: I know I babble on, but I can’t say how happy I am. Because it’s a great joy. It’s just been wonderful.
Annalisa: Thank for being such a valued member of our community. You’re doing a great job and it’s been a joy to celebrate with you today.
MARLENA: Thank you.