It's a Writer Thing: Further musings on the phenomenon of the premature query (with graphics!)
In my last It’s a Writer Thing post, I wrote about the day I finished my first book and the thought process I had when I made my deeply misguided decision to query way too soon, which of course resulted in a bunch of rejections. The worst part of this story is, I did my homework. I read all the articles that outlined what I should do, then I ignored them.
What the hell was I thinking? I'll tell you EXACTLY what I was thinking. Since I’m a visual person, I decided to represent this graphically. Here goes.
Alas, queries ensued.
My guess is this is another writer thing, so if anyone out there has been there, I’d love to hear about it; and if your experience was different, I’d love to hear about that too.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I wanted was encouragement that I could write. Not just as a fun hobby, but for real. Even if they said I had a huge amount to learn (which I did and still do), I would have just loved a, Keep it up. You’re on to something here.
There I was, on the tail end of a year of drafting. I was staring down the dark, unknown territories of another two years of rewrites, and I wanted some freakin’ guidance, someone to let me know that my past and future effort would be worth it. But what did I get instead? Agent rejections. Luckily, I got wise around that time and figured out what I really needed was a critique group, which I found (although that comes with its own treacherous waters to navigate).
Funny thing is, one of the first people who cheered me on to really go for it hadn’t even read any of my stuff. This dear friend was one of the few people I told about my endeavors in those early days, and one day, she slipped a note into a card; it said, “You can do it! You can write!” She simply believed in me. She’s gone now, and I’m heartbroken to say that I lost her note. I wish more than anything that I had it back, but I’ll never forget her words.
I know now that the only way we’ll ever fail is if we stop trying. As long as we keep working, we’ll keep getting better, and eventually, we’ll start to get those yes’s.
Our stories are worth that extra time and extra effort to make them as good as they can be. So to anyone out there who isn’t sure if it will be worth it: You can do it! You can write!
Although my serious writing days began about five years ago, I feel like the world’s most perpetual newbie. The number of writing-related things I have to Google each day is embarrassing. This last year has been the biggest whirlwind yet. Not only have I enjoyed my first successes (i.e, those holy s**t! moments when you realize it can really happen to you), I’ve also learned more than in the previous four years combined. About the craft and myself as a writer. About the business of being a professional author. And, how much I still have to learn.
The best part, I’m excited about it all the time.
Problem is, I fear my husband is getting tired of my long-winded dinnertime musings about all the knowledge I’ve gained and all the realizations I’ve had. He’s got incredible patience, but everyone had a breaking point. So, in order to preserve his sanity, I decided to start a new, regular feature on my blog where I can journal about these things and let him finally get a chance to talk about his day over our evening meal. My dear fellow writers, readers, and lovers of all things bookish and word-related, if these musings are interesting, helpful, or at least entertaining (even if that’s only of the schadenfreude variety), even better.
So, here’s my first post: On finishing the first novel and the phenomenon of premature querying.
About a month ago, I finished drafting my fifth novel, and for some reason, I keep thinking back to the day I finished my first. That day was one of the most incredible of my life. I’m not a big crier, but I kind of bawled a little. I just couldn’t believe I actually did it. It took a whole year with some weeks full of daily work, which were followed by weeks of zero productivity. I had no idea how to plot, so I pantsed the whole thing, writing whatever I had in my head, then waiting for the next bit to come to me before I hit it again.
When I finished it, I did what every first-time-novelist does. I thought my book was awesome, and I queried that baby with very little editing.
Cue the regret and red face of chagrin.
But I guess I should be kind to myself about it. Premature querying seems to be a right of passage, a total writer thing. To quote my good friend, Cristina Dos Santos, “Nothing is ever wasted or lost in this journey.”
I remember the swirl of emotions and my decision process like it was yesterday. There were definitely some thoughts like, Who wouldn’t want to read this book? It rocks!
But my predominant thought, What if this was just fluke? This book better get published because I may never be able to do that again.
I know now that I was wrong on both counts; after a few years of revisions, novel #1 became share-worthy, and I learned that I can definitely, without a doubt, do that again. My confidence grew once I understood that it’s not just the idea of being an author that fuels me, it’s that I actually love to write. I love everything about it, even when I hate everything about it. I can’t imagine not doing it.
That first book represents the first milepost for me. I’m in it for the long haul.
Now that's some wisdom.
Thoughts on the Journey
Today, I stumbled upon this blog post by Anne Allen: "Should You "Send Out" that First Novel? 9 Things to Consider First." What a great article!
Reading it now, today, I can see the truth and wisdom in every item. But I will confess, if I'd read it the day I typed "The End" for the first time, I would have hoped this stuff wasn't true or wouldn't be true for me. The excitement that comes with finishing the first big project is just huge. HUGE. Getting to the end is like a double shot of joy after all the work, doubt, and pain -Will I be able to finish it? Will I get bored? Will my umph just dwindle to nothing, and one day, I'll find this file on my hard drive and say 'oh, that was a fun thing while it lasted?' No wonder so many newbies rush out to share their work.
This process of becoming a writer takes an immense amount of time. I was talking about this with a friend of mine (you know who you are, Ghenet) after yesterday's Crazy in Love Workshop hosted by the NY chapter of The Society for Children's Book Writers and Illustrators, which was awesome by the way (more on that later). And even though many of us are writers long before we're published authors, I really do mean those words: becoming a writer takes an immense amount of time. Because it's more than just writing (although, don't get me wrong, writing is the most important part of it). So much learning takes place on so many levels from the time we type (or pen) our first words to the point when we are finally published. It all takes forever: those first steps from beginning to the middle phase, what writer and photographer Jodi Kendall calls the nearly-there stage. And, as the excellent faculty at yesterday's conference pointed out, even when you're published, there's a whole new world of learning and firsts to accomplish.
Maybe that's not bad news, but let's face it, it's not exactly heartening either.
Now, after typing "The End" on three novels and six short stories, I can definitely say that whatever spark fueled me through that first book is only bigger. HUGE. So, that's the good news for those of us early on in our writing careers. The passion won't dwindle along the way. It only gets bigger. I love all my projects. Love. Yet my excitement over each new idea is even greater than the last.
So don't worry.
It may take a long time, ridiculous amounts of patience, the ability to swallow disappointment; and we may have tons of learning and growing to do before we get there, but if we truly are writers, we've got the journey in us. It's there already, right now. We just have to walk the path to the end.
Back to Basics
A friend recently told me about Three Worlds Press and their Sea Mist Anthology, and I decided to go for it. Submissions are due on 2/15/15, which gave me almost two full weeks to work on my idea. Lucky me, a concept came to mind very quickly along with the basic plot - just enough for a plotster like me (combo of plotter with a little pantser mixed in for fun). I felt raring to go.
So why the heck did I find myself stalling only a quarter of the way through my story? And then again another twenty-five hundred words later?
I was in the midst of big time frustration. I thought maybe I'd take a break, let it simmer, but with a tight deadline, I really couldn't afford the time. I shared my angst with my trusted sisters (you know who you are, ladies), and was seriously considering dropping the whole deal. But I hated the idea of abandoning my concept. So, what to do?
Then it hit me. I had my concept, my plot, and my female main character all mapped out. But the male MC - there was the rub. My story was falling flat because I had failed to develop my male MC. The good news is, it came easy once I knew what I'd forgotten. Fast forward three days, and my draft is done.
As an author it's too easy to lose confidence, to give up, or give in to writers' block. I might have totally abandoned this project if I hadn't remembered the basics. I have no idea if my story will be accepted by Three Worlds, or if anyone will read it except me and my amazing critique partners, but I pushed through and that's something I feel really good about.
Jessica Bayliss Blogs about reading, writing, & other fun stuff