If you follow my blog, you’ve likely noticed that I’ve only been posting once a week as of late, instead of maintaining my regular twice a-week schedule.
I assure you, it’s not the start of a long, downward slide into a static webpage, but rather the outward sign of me taking things easy for a bit while I wait for feedback on my most recent draft of the novel.
When I finished the last version and handed it off to a few trusted friends, I really just needed to rest. I needed to sleep in past my 5am writing date, and go to a few of my girl’s soccer games on the weekend (instead of locking myself up to write, write, write). That was early April, and I told myself then that I would not stress about writing until after my birthday.
Well guess what. I am now officially in my late thirties (though I maintain that 36 is late-mid thirties), and it’s time to get back to it. I already got feedback from two of my readers, and I’m waiting on word from four more. It’s time to reach out and set up dates for feedback sessions.
In the meantime, I got a lovely rejection letter for my most recent short story submission yesterday. It’s rare that editors take the time to actually send notes, and she was very flattering – saying how she really liked it, but it was a little too grounded in reality for their publication (which surprised me, as I submitted to them because I thought the journal would be a good match for my story) – but it was a rejection nonetheless.
Oh well, onward and upward. I’ve already sent the story to the next journal on my list. I’m still in my top ten, so I’m not feeling too down about it.
An acceptance letter would certainly be a nice ego boost as I head into the next round of work on the novel.
I heard someone say once that you can tell a lot about any given line of work by the verbs used to describe how people find it. Actors audition, sales clerks apply, executives are head-hunted, and writers submit.
This weekend, I wrapped up a short story that I plan to submit to journals. It’s a story I wrote in grad school, and as soon as it was done I started sending it out to the best of the best journals (or at least my favorites): AGNI, Glimmer Train, One Story, and more. Sadly, the story wasn’t ready. Back then I had this attitude of “good enough.” I knew there were holes in the narrative, but I figured no one else would notice. Rookie mistake.
After 32 rejections I stopped submitting it and put it aside for a while.
Then, a couple weeks ago, when I decided to take a break from the novel, I went back to it. What I’ve learned, since I last worked on it, is that readers will notice holes that I as the writer will never see. So I reworked it until I honestly thought it was perfect, then I had my writing group review it, patched up the holes they found, then I had my guy take one last pass, and was excited when he only had a couple minor notes.
So tonight I will begin the submission process again. Sadly, I have ruined any shot of acceptance at the fancier journals, as they have already rejected it, but the good news is there are hundreds, if not thousands, of journals out there. By searching online I have found another 30 that seem to be good matches for my particular narrative – lovely journals, with totally respectable distributions. I’m going to follow the same process I did last time. I will submit to the top five on my list, then, as rejections come in, as rejections will, I will just send it out to the next journal on the list.
If I get through another 30 submissions without an acceptance, well, then, I’ll have to do some serious reassessing. And I think that’s why the word submission seems so apt. This process feels like groveling. Like crawling forward on my knees with pages in my out-stretched hands, head lowered.
Well, here goes nothing.
I was chatting with an old friend the other day about my story. You guys know him as Steve the Pirate. He’s a DJ, and as I’ve written a DJ into my novel, I wanted to get his input, and he asked why, in all the time we knew each other back in the day, did I never mention that I was a writer?
I made a crack about being too dense to realize it. Sometimes I feel like it takes me a really long time to figure out the simplest things. Mitochondrial DNA and the Krebs cycle – no problem, but figuring out what I wanted to do with my life – that one took me a while.
Anyhow, he wasn’t buying the density argument, and it got me thinking that even though that’s what I fall back on as a canned response at cocktail parties, it’s not entirely true. I think the truth was that I was so afraid I would never figure out what I wanted to do that I was trying to test out every possibility, and never gave myself the time to see what was right in front of me.
So what changed that? What made me see the light?
Getting pregnant. Kind of.
What happened was that I got pregnant right as I finished a big film project, and by the time I was ready to take interviews anywhere I was bulging around the middle in a way that was hard to hide and the truth is, no matter what the laws say, no one is going to hire a pregnant lady and spend three months training her just so they can pay her to take maternity leave. So after a few frustrating tries, I gave up.
Daniel was in grad school at Stanford and we were living in student housing, so I just settled in and embraced my lazy self. And after about two days, a pattern began to emerge. I would take long walks, cook, read, and write. Left with no demands on my time, those were the activities I took up.
I wrote the first half of a terrible novel. I wrote a few short stories (and even submitted them to journals). I read Writer’s Digest. Not because I was on some mission to become a writer, but because those were just the things I felt like doing when I woke up in the morning. I had always loved writing, but because it came easy I never gave myself credit for being pretty good at, and I certainly never took the time to develop fiction writing as a skill.
That was when I decided I would apply to grad school, and really work at being a writer. And here I am. Five years later, a working writer.
It was being forced to slow down that finally opened my eyes. It reminds me of something a Buddhist teacher of mine used to say: “don’t just do something, sit there.” Sometimes you have to sit really still for a while before you know what you’re supposed to do next.
I’m very thankful I had that experience, because now, with two kids running around, and a full time job, I don’t think I’ll have time for any extended meditations for oh, about 16 years.
It’s been a downright crazy couple of days.
On Friday morning I was up in Napa to act as secretary for a client, taking notes for the organization’s quarterly board meeting. Then, before I really had a chance to take advantage of anything Napa has to offer, I rushed south again to get home in time to put the kiddos to bed, and head out to a party in the Mojave. It’s a yearly event some DJ friends of mine put on, and it was a banner year.
Great music, great friends, even a keg of micro-brew from San Diego, and the moon was just a sliver, which meant the stars were out in a mind-boggling display of lights the likes of which I hadn’t seen in a long time. Rather than go through the trouble of setting up the tent, I did something I’d been wanting to do since we bought our big family-mobile (a Honda Pilot). I flipped the back seats flat and inflated our air mattress so that it filled the space. It was so easy, and so comfortable (when I finally crashed out around 4). I woke briefly to watch the sun rise, then went back to sleep until some rowdy friends with a megaphone woke me around seven, insisting I come dance some more. How could I argue? It was nice to spend some time out in the desert and remember that I chose to set my novel there because I freaking LOVE it.
I left that party early (they go all weekend) to get back home for another friend’s 40th birthday party on Saturday night. It was a costume party where everyone was supposed to dress as a literary character, and folks went all out. I met Nancy Drew, Lenny (from Of Mice and Men), a couple Harry Potters. I went as the Mad Hatter. It was a great crowd (right down to the guy who tweaked the theme a bit to come as David Foster Wallace, who held a copy of Infinite Jest with laminated strips of paper (each with a Wallace quote) sticking out of it, which he invited everyone to chose from) and I had a fabulous time.
I talked a for a long time with a woman who might be the most well-read person I’ve ever met. She was throwing out titles and authors with an ease that had me feeling like a right idiot. Her dad used to interview authors for a living, and I guess she was paying attention from a very young age. It was such a treat to talk books with her. She invited me to join her book club. She said they intentionally choose difficult books, the kind of novels that you have to discuss to truly understand, and they only meet a few times a year, so as to give each other plenty of time to read. I’ll admit, I’m a little intimidated, but I’m also super excited. If their book club is anything like the conversation she and I had Saturday night, it’ll be great.
Yesterday morning I took the kids to the farmer’s market, then plunked them in front of a movie while I took a much needed nap. I’m still trying to catch up, but what is a little sleep derivation compared to a wonderful weekend like that?
After reading my horoscope at the coffee shop on Sunday, and blogging about how I needed to take a step back from the novel, guess what I did. I decided to work on an excerpt of the novel, because somehow in my brain, that seemed completely removed from the novel. I swear, sometimes, I can be really dense.
It’s the same damn thing. I mean literally – the same pages that were making me crazy in the novel, just fewer of them.
My justification was that I had planned on submitting some short pieces to journals, and one of the things I wanted to send out was an excerpt of the novel. It would seem that getting an excerpt published would be a nice thing to put in a cover letter to a potential agent, and I still think that’s true, but when I opened the file and looked at those words, those terribly familiar words, I actually thought I might throw up – right there in the coffee shop.
It was a first for me.
So I pulled up another short story, thinking I just had to look at something else, but by then I think I was having a minor panic attack, because I couldn’t even read the draft. It sucked, everything sucked. Everything I’ve ever written was a piece of shit and I should just give up.
Needless to say I got the hell out of there as fast as I could.
I went home and printed out a few copies of the sucky novel. I’ve given them to a few trusted readers and requested that they not hurry. I need to step away from it for a while. Seriously. I’m not working on the excerpt. I’m not editing the ending. Most of all, I will NOT re-read the first thirty pages, which have been so overworked at this point that they suck more than any other part.
Part of me thinks the past five year were just good practice, for my REAL first novel – the one I will write next. Just let this one go. Like a balloon in the wind.
I’m hoping that, with a little perspective from my readers, I’ll be able to face Tallulah Jones again. I know, somewhere deep down in my heart, that it’s worth saving, even if it actually ends up being my second novel.
I’m giving myself until my birthday (May 7th) to completely ignore it. I’m still writing every day, in my journal, toying with an idea for a story that has been slowly taking shape in my brain for years. I’m really excited about it, and just having that feeling, of loving a story idea, is reminding me why I write in the first place.
File under: writing is hard.
I went to the coffee shop to write yesterday (because I'm a God-less heathen like that), and while I was waiting for my drink, I was watching one of those TVs that coffee shops have now a days. You know the ones, where they flash the latest news, mixed in with bits of trivia and celebrity gossip. Well, this one has horoscopes in the rotation, and when mine came up it said: Taurus, you have been focusing too hard on your goal lately. You must take a step back.
I had to laugh.
I've been making myself nuts over the novel. It's too long, it's too short, it's not good enough. It's done and I should stop obsessing and send it out already. It will never be done, ever. I feel like I can't see the forest for the trees anymore.
Last Wednesday my writing group had to talk me down off a metaphorical ledge. We went out for drinks and they helped me put it all in perspective, but the next morning I was right back to my crazy carousel brain. Round and round.
One thing my friend Amy said stuck with me though. She's a New York transplant and knows a lot of editors and agents and such, and she reminded me that whatever agent I go with will likely have changes they will want me to make, so I shouldn't make myself crazy setting the damn thing in stone. Her advice was to finish this pass, make it as good as I can, and move along in the process of getting it out into the world.
Maybe I just need to take a step back.