Keep Calm and anything doesn't really suit my nature. I mean it when I reply to people who tell me, inanely, to 'relax' that "this is me relaxed". My brain works on overdrive all the time. A situation that would bring a few questions to mind for most people, generates hundreds of questions in my head. So, as you might guess, waiting patiently is not my thing. I think maybe, in some alternate universe where I try to see the good side, having to wait for answers about my writing is a good thing for me. I'm slowly learning that everything does not need to happen RIGHT NOW. My friend sent me a beautiful quote that, oddly enough, did making me relax a little.
I always feel like I just have this short window of opportunity to start and complete something but this a self-imposed window. I box myself in by creating deadlines or telling myself that I have something to prove. This works against you in writing. There is no time limit here and this needs to be remembered. Also, it's true when you're told that this is a subjective business. So far, for my current query, I've had a few "it's not right for me" but "perhaps another agent", rejection letters. It is hard to have someone turn down something that matters to you. In fact, I sent my best friend and husband a text earlier this week that said something along the lines of:
I don't want to do this anymore. I can't keep sending my work out there.
I, with my inability to WAIT for anything, got a little down when I entered a very cool pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website and had no immediate responses. I felt that if I got some requests, I should keep going, but if I didn't, I should take a break. Here's the important thing though: I can't take a break from writing. The words and characters won't stop forming in my head so, in the end, whether I get published or not, if my work is requested or not, it's part of who I am. Keep calm? I have to write to do that. I have a tendency to obsess and need immediate results. This is not a good combo in the writing world. Fortunately, I have a strong support system that is used to me, ignores my defeatest texts, tells me to take a breath and doesn't mock me, too much, when I send a follow up text about an hour later that reads:
Disregard last text. Just got a request. Still bring pop, please.
Actually, I got three requests from the "Pitch Party" and I am thrilled and excited and feel like I'm starting at the bottom of the roller coaster, again. However, I think it was a good little learning curve for me because it reinforced what I've already said: you have to write for you. It's where your best writing comes from. You have to be willing to listen and accept feedback and critiques AND rejection. If you decide to pursue the path to being published, you have to be willing to move forward, fight for it, get your writing out there and understand that it is a subjective business. It's like anything in life, I suppose, you have to really want it and the harder it is to get, the more you'll appreciate it when the good moments come.
I've been staring at my latest manuscript for a while now. Stuck on one sentence. I type, delete, type, delete. Then the pouty part of me says, "What's the point?" The writer in me knows the point is that the story is there, waiting to be written. I've tried to walk away from it, but it keeps pulling me back.
There are days when it does seem futile but then I have to stop and remember the purpose. I didn't originally start writing just to get published. Writers write because words and stories and characters rumble around inside them and eventually, we have to listen. The only way to truly listen is to pour it onto the page and hope that it makes sense to someone else besides ourselves.
Once you've opened the door to agents, contests, publishing, and recognition, it's hard to close it. But focussing on those things is a surefire way to bring you to a standstill. When you write for something or someone other than yourself, you start building a wall, brick by brick. Every brick takes away from the writer you really are; it becomes less authentic because it's for someone else.
So what do you do when you hit the wall? I think it's different for every writer. For me, I generally try some of the following:
It's not a bad joke, I promise. Seems like a weird mix right? But, that is what I ended up with at my first workshop this weekend. Our community school offered an "Artrageous" Festival where I was asked to give a writing workshop to children. I expected mostly girls, younger kids, and nerves on my part. Instead, I ended up with a nice mix of boys and girls from ages 6-12 and easily settled into feeling comfortable.
We focused on just a few things:
We talked about writing what you know and looking at conflict and resolution. What they came up with was not only based on those things, but really creative as well.
The boy who liked science came up with a dinosaur story. The dinos were trying to find some shade but the shade turns out to be a meteor.
A boy who just spent the weekend near Lake Okanagan had the Ogopogo on his mind. The poor sea serpent was dueling with the Lochness Monster in his story.
The girl who liked giraffes wrote a cute story about a giraffe getting stuck in a tree and eating his way out only to become quite chubby.
It was very fun to listen to them come up with ideas for stories, to share with each other, and to help each other find solutions. Doing the workshop reminded me very much of being on Twitter with other writers, as well as just being a writer, for a number of reasons:
So I learned to take chances this week, made it through something I'd never tried before, and ended up with some great ideas for my own stories.
How about you? Have you done anything that intimidated you that turned out way better than you thought it would? Feel free to share.
If it was...I'd be out!
If you've been reading my posts, you know that in the last seven months, I have gone from writing just for fun, to being agented, to being on submission, to being un-agented. If you haven't been reading, then you are now joining me at the "un-agented" phase.
Now that I've been exposed to people liking my work and wanting to make it into an actual, hold-in-your-hands, turn-real-pages book, I feel this overwhelming desire for it to be so. I can't really say that I'm back to square one because I'm not sure that I started there. I think I started sort of in the middle, spun around several times, and landed, here. The benefit, for me, of having approached the writing industry in this way is that I was safely tucked away in my agented corner. I am a self-doubter to the maximum degree and so I think that if I had just started, like so many do, by sending my work out there, without knowing how to make it stronger and getting rejection after rejection, I would have buried myself away from the writing world. Instead, I felt free to explore and connect and learn. All of those things have been invaluable. I feel like I am far more prepared to query than I would have been without the last seven months of making those connections and learning about the industry.
Of course, none of this makes me an expert, which is proved by the three rejection emails I've received in the last week. It has, however, made it easier to get back up. Now that I've spent time connecting with other writers, I realize that querying is, thankfully, not like sports. If one player gets ahead, it doesn't mean the other player loses. There's no keeping score, you can always improve your 'game', and if you get older, it doesn't affect your performance negatively. Most importantly, when you feel like you're on a "losing streak", it's not always as bad as you think.
When I mentioned to my friend and reader, Lauren (visit her site for great information and help on writing and editing) that I'd received 3 rejections, she said "that's not so bad". Well, it's not so good either. However, the big thing for me is that by having Carly sign me, even though it didn't work out the way I hoped, it was like I was front-end loaded with confidence. It's waning a bit but not enough to stop.
The desire to keep going is fueled by the kindness that accompanies the rejection emails. They have encouraged me to keep writing, send to other agents, and apologized for not being interested at this time. Yes, I know it's a form letter but it could also say: "No", "No thanks", "Not for us". It speaks to the kind of people that writers, agents, publishers, editors, and readers are. When you fall in love with a book, it's already been loved by others, numerous times (I'm sorry to say you weren't its first). To make it through the long journey that is the book industry, the people fighting for you have to believe in you and your words one hundred percent. Or more. I appreciate that someone has taken the time to create a form letter that says, "This isn't for me but it's a subjective business. Keep trying."
In sports, when you have a bad game, you watch playbacks to see where you could improve. In writing, you count on people to be honest with you about what works in your writing and what doesn't. What I have learned, for sure, is that if you are at the point where you want to share your writing, you want to be certain that it stands out. I am learning, slowly, that to stand out, to stay in the game, takes patience, revision, more patience, and an understanding that three outs don't necessarily mean it's over.
I should note that I do not play any sports at all, unless you count online shopping or being able to stand on a paddle board for longer than one minute without falling. Therefore, I think this adds strength to my sports metaphor. Or undermines it. I'm not sure which.
That call? The one that makes you feel like you haven't been wasting your time and fooling yourself? It came in an email first, for me anyway. In the email, Carly said she really liked The Princess and the Please and thought it had great commercial potential. She asked what I wanted in an agent and could she phone me? Um, YES! So she did.
You think it went like this: once we went through edits and revisions, Carly sends off the manuscript, editors and publishers loved it, and Carly phones to tell me I have to decide which book deal I want to take. That's a lovely ending. But it's not the one that happened.
We did go through revisions and Carly did send it out to editors and publishers. They did not love it as we did. They did not offer any such deal but they did offer us best wishes. While this was happening and I was at home wondering, every single day, if today would be the day, I began writing more and more. I sent some of that writing to my agent who responded with feedback. Still, I waited. I wrote. Waited, wrote, waited, wrote.
What's the worst thing that can happen? This book isn't going to work so you and your agent get the next project ready to go and try again, right? Maybe. In a lot of cases, I'm sure it does. For me, I got another email asking about a good time to phone. I thought (hoped, prayed, and wished) that it would be to talk about my contemporary romance novel that I had sent her a couple of months prior. It wasn't.
For me, this part of the story ended like this: Carly phoned to say that while I was professional to work with and had done nothing wrong, Princess wasn't getting picked up and she wasn't in love with any of the writing I had sent her in the mean time. She felt that she was no longer the best agent to represent me and this would be the end of our journey together.
Questions and thoughts that jump around like mini madmen in your mind:
"It's me, isn't it?", "Will I ever get another agent?", "Is this a sign?", "Did I make this happen?", "Do I actually have talent or was this a fluke?" All of those questions, and more, looped through my brain and still do. Really though, it's just a matter of it no longer being the best fit. No hard feelings, unpleasant words, or mixed messages. I suppose it could have gone down differently but in the end, it's the most civilized "break-up" I've ever had and we didn't even have to give each other back our stuff. She didn't unfriend me on Goodreads or block me on Twitter. In fact, she said she'd give me some advice on the last thing I sent her and if I had questions, I knew she was always around on Twitter.
Was it easy? No. Was I sad? Yes. Can I do anything about it? Yes and No. I can't make her take me back but we parted ways gracefully so I can only hope that it means new things will come. I've spoken of the writing community many times in the past year and once again, they are this amazing group of people that don't hate you if you succeed and don't pretend not to know you if you don't. I emailed Tanya, spoke to Carolyn (storytime), and reached out to new friends made on Twitter. They offered regret on my behalf, words of wisdom, and positive encouragement. How much more can you ask for than that?
It's not the ending I wanted or any author wants. I doubt it's the phone call or ending Carly wanted either. So what now? Well, I still have the Children's Festival next week, which I thought I should cancel because I was feeling like a 'fraud'. Then I decided no, I still have things to offer, things that made Carly notice my work in the first place. I'll do that. I'll keep getting to know the writing community. I'll keep writing and reading. I'll keep hoping it wasn't a fluke.
Five things that wouldn't have happened if I had not gone to the writer's conference that weekend: