At various times over the past five years, I have alternated between eagerly anticipating my first agent queries and curling up in the corner with handfuls of chocolate at the mere thought of approaching The Gatekeepers of the Publishing Realm. My calculator says that’s 1,825 days …. 43,800 hours … over two-and-a-half million minutes. Yeah, it’s a long time, no matter how you slice or dice it. A long time to be see-sawing between anxious and confident, uncertain and proud, scared and cocky, despairing and elated. We all suffer from this brand of writer’s schizophrenia, but no one ever tells you this when you’re starting out.
So, on September 30, 2018, no one was more surprised than me by the reckless abandon with which I finally hit that SEND button, hurtling my precious baby off into cyberspace to an uncertain future with a stranger, a stranger who may not ever tell me how they felt about it … or me … or my prospects as a writer. It was a feeling like no other. I felt …
It’s true. Pardon my French–in fact, sensitive eyes need to avert NOW– but I had no fucks left to give. For five years I had read and heard all the horror stories about agents who couldn’t even find three seconds in their day to shoot off a pre-written, generic “No thanks” email. I’d done all the sweating a human can do over verb choices, dialogue tags, beats, colloquialisms, exposition, and backstories–when? how much? where?–because (as was beaten into my head) one misstep could result in your manuscript being flung from an agent’s hands into the round file. And the writers who’d wallpapered their writing space with rejection letters, gone on drinking binges or long stretches of not writing, even giving up altogether? Those were legion.
I had long since ceased to care about all that. I had written a novel–a damn good one–and was–am!–determined to get it out into the world. My letter is professional and businesslike. My manuscript has been critiqued, revised, edited, and polished. What have I to fear? My feeling is: I’ve done my best. I hope you like it.
A not insignificant amount of time was also spent researching the agents on my long list and crossing off those whom I didn’t feel were a good fit for me, including those with a painfully neglected (since the turn of the millennium) website and one with NO website. (Why would I want to be in a long-term business relationship with someone who hadn’t a clue about technology and web presence?) Those who seemed constitutionally unable to understand a Jersey girl sense of humor or an appreciation for the absurdities of life–a worldview I share, by the way, with my protagonist–well, they had to go, too. There were other criteria, of course, and I worked my way through the list, painstakingly researching every agent on it. When my whittling was complete, I began by sending out my first five queries.
The first and only response thus far came at right around the 48-hour mark. The agent couldn’t have been nicer or her reply any more thoughtful. While my story wasn’t for her, she encouraged me to take a second look at some of the other agents at her agency for the right fit. She closed with this:
“Publishing is a long game, keep writing and persevering. I wish you nothing but the greatest success.”
What a lovely letter with which to begin wallpapering my writing space. May they all be thus (although I know they won’t).
P.S. If you’re a writer struggling with rejection, here’s another blog post you’ll want to read. Just be sure to put down your beverage first. Laptops are notoriously averse to the forceful application of spraying liquid.
Q: So, how did you become interested in writing?
A: A nun. With a yard stick. And a mean streak.
Just kidding. No one wants to believe me, but I had the most wonderful nuns when I attended Catholic school. This is my first grade class. One nun, one room, 63 kids. No teacher’s assistant, no room mother. Perfect order at (almost) all times. And, yes, Sister Georgine did instill in me a love of reading and writing.
I am dead center in the second row from bottom. Because … teacher’s pet.
From the day in March when I learned that Tim and I were going to become grandparents … through the turmoil of keeping our townhouse “show-ready” and searching for a new home, essentially erasing any thought of relaxation throughout the summer and early fall … and then the eventual need to acknowledge that not one but both of my writers’ groups were no longer viable … well, much of this year has been one long series of writer’s distractions.
Not that there haven’t been moments of surprise and delight and pure joy along the way. My brother and his family came to spend a real old-fashioned Fourth of July with us here in Bar Harbor — the first of my four siblings to visit. At a local conference last month, I had the opportunity to meet up with a bunch of writer friends I hadn’t seen since the last conference almost a year ago. There I also made a couple of new friends who were looking for a group of kindred spirits with whom to gather regularly to discuss their work, and we have already enjoyed our first rendezvous. Even the house-hunting process delivered a happy accident: after losing out on a house we thought was perfect, we have now designed an even better version of that home to be built for us on a positively gorgeous piece of property. And the buyers of our current home have agreed to allow us to stay on as tenants through the spring, until our new place is ready.
And somehow, at last, it is November.
Our granddaughter is poised to enter this world and inject such joy into our lives that none of us will ever be able to remember what life was like before her arrival.
The fun and exciting task of selecting the finishes for a brand new home is about to begin.
With the Halloween decorations already giving way to red and green and glitter, we are staring down the barrel at Holiday Madness 2016.
Did I say this writer’s distractions were over? Oh no, not by a long shot, my friend.
So how is it that I’m actually contemplating participation in NaNoWriMo amidst this craziness?
The truth, I now know without any doubt, is that a writer’s distractions are not temporary. They are ongoing and continuous, like waves lapping over one another in their race to reach the shore.
There will always be something: babies turn to toddlers, they have birthdays, they learn to walk, then run, then dance. There’s always something to work on in a house, new or otherwise. There will be joys and sorrows and days when it feels like too much effort to make it any farther than the coffeemaker. But I’m a writer. What can I do but push fearlessly, relentlessly against the incoming tide of distractions-without-end and just write?
So, to November … and getting back to being a writer again!
I had every intention of finishing my manuscript in 2015. After all, when I made the decision to dedicate myself to writing full-time, ten months still remained in the new year.
And yet here I sit, at the beginning of 2016, with a draft that is five, maybe six, chapters shy of being a completed story. The bones — and then some — are all there. The beginning has been polished to a fare-thee-well. The climactic scene, in one final twist of (what I hope is) shock and irony, is followed by a logical and satisfying denouement. Between the two lie twists and turns, subplots, clues, and red herrings. What’s missing are the last bits of connective tissue that will tie all that bone and flesh together into the recognizable shape that is a COMPLETED MANUSCRIPT.
Somewhere along the way I realized it. I should have (more…)
For Lent, I gave up excuses.
I decided to buckle down and write 500 words a day for 40 days. This would result in my manuscript reaching 28,000 words by Easter.
Here’s how that turned out…
There were nights (I write almost exclusively after dark) I would write 1,500 to 2,000 words and keep almost all of them. I would also write 1,000 words and keep just 800 – or fewer – of them. One night I wrote the most perfect 283 words – so perfect, in fact, that I shut down my computer and went straight to bed, denying my inner editor the chance to mess with such heartbreaking beauty. The next day, miracle of miracles, they were still perfect.
This morning, I looked over all I had made, and I saw that it was good.
But I did not see 28,000 words.
Maybe it’s because I’m a lapsed Catholic and not very good at giving up stuff.
But here’s the thing. (more…)