Sunday, January 6, 2013

The hardest thing I've ever done

I've been thinking about this for a few days now. Apparently motivating myself to write it all down is harder than I thought, but it's still far from the hardest thing I've ever done. And I've done some pretty difficult things. I'll leave those for other posts, though.

When I first sat down to write, my intention was to write a short story. Maybe ten pages. That was it. Once I got started and realized I had more than a short story's worth of plot, I decided to attempt a novel. I never, ever, in a bazillion years, thought I could write an entire novel. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done. At least, that's what I thought at the time.



When I reached the end of the story a month or so later, I was amazed. Shocked. Gobsmacked, even. I'd done it, and you know what? It hadn't been that hard.

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So I figured I'd test myself. I guessed I'd never be able to repeat that amazing feat. I'd never be able to write another entire novel. Even suggesting to myself that it was a possibility sounded like so much crazy talk. But then again, I'm famous for crazy talk, and some of it is grounded in actual, verifiable fact.



And you know what? I wrote a second novel. It almost felt like cheating, because it was about the same characters, and sort of a continuation of the story from the first novel. I didn't have to make up a whole other cast of characters, nor invent a new world for them to inhabit. Sure, there were a few new characters, and they wandered a little further afield in their world than they had in the first novel, but still, I felt like a cheater.

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I assumed I'd never have another original idea for a novel, and I'd be doomed to revising that original idea forever. So I knew I had to challenge myself, and set out to write a third novel. This one had to be in a completely unique world, with entirely new characters. They couldn't have the same talents or history as the original characters from the first two novels. They had to be entirely new. This was the hardest thing I ever tried to do. Well, up until that point, anyway.

Right around that time, I decided to learn about the World of Publishing. I figured if I wanted to keep trying to write, I'd best educate myself about it a bit. I learned about agents, queries, submissions, editing, critique partners, writing contests, and the Joys and Perils of Twitter. I devoured all of this. And that's when I realized the real hardest thing I'd ever do was send my precious word babies out into the world to be torn to shreds by people I'd never met before.

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After I actually went ahead and wrote that entirely new, completely original third novel, I put myself out into the crazy world of querying agents. I read the advice on writing websites that advised getting your writer friends to read and critique your work. My first thought was, "HAH! I don't have any writer friends." And then I stumbled into a MEGATON OF AWESOME WRITER FRIENDS on Twitter, through contests, and just by putting myself out into the world.

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Despite feeling entirely inadequate and having absolutely NO experience offering critique on anyone's writing EVER, I decided to take a chance. I closed my eyes, held my breath, and hit SEND. And then I waited. Someone was going to read my book, and in all likelihood tear it to shreds. They were surely going to hate it and tell me to go home and never write anything ever again, for the good of humanity. It was just about the hardest thing I'd ever done. Except for maybe reading their manuscripts in return, and offering critique.

I thought they'd likely hate me after reading the notes I made. I mean, who the hell was I to point out grammar mistakes or confusing sentences?! NOBODY! I tried to enjoy the experience while I could, because I knew nobody would ever offer their manuscripts to me again once word got out that I was a nincompoop who knew nothing about writing or editing.

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But all that stress was for naught. Turns out, there is no one correct way to critique someone's work. Everyone has a unique perspective and new insights to share. The critiques I got back on my own work were FABULOUS and ENCOURAGING, and strangely enough, the notes I made for others seemed to be received in a similar fashion!

So I started querying agents. I knew I'd be rejected over and over again. I knew this would probably be the hardest thing I'd ever done. I mean, rejection sucks, right? But in the world of publishing, it's pretty much a given. You go into it expecting rejection at every turn. All the writing blogs and advice sites hammer it home again and again. TOUGHEN UP THAT SKIN, OH WRITER! REJECTION IS NIGH!

And that's the truth. Rejection is inevitable. There is no way to please all of the people all of the time. But you know what? You only have to please ONE. Yup. That's it. Just one.

So the rejections rolled in. And you know what? It didn't suck nearly as bad as I expected it to. Strangely, sometimes it even helped! I was shocked! Agents were NICE PEOPLE who WISHED ME LUCK and told me I DIDN'T COMPLETELY STINK AT WRITING! They were, in general, ENCOURAGING! It's hard to feel bad about that! At least, not for very long...

And then I got a request for more pages, a request for THE ENTIRE MANUSCRIPT!!! When I finished dancing around like an idiot (and mind you, I was in the produce department of the grocery store when I got the email, so first I had to convince the other shoppers that I wasn't a lunatic), I realized what was going to happen. It really sank in when I got home and composed the cover letter, obsessively rechecked the formatting on my manuscript, and prepared to hit send. This was the moment.

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The agent liked those first pages enough to make a request. I couldn't believe it, but I finally worked up the nerve to send it in. And then I sat and waited. It was so hard. It was completely out of my hands now. My words had to stand on their own. A few weeks later, I got the news that the agent was going to pass. She gave some very good reasons, and a totally new insight into some of the problems in my novel. You know what? That rejection was one of the best things ever to happen to me. Truth.

But you know what the hardest thing I've ever REALLY done was? Continuing to try. Refusing to give up. Sitting down every day and writing my heart out onto the page, with no certainty that anyone else will ever think anything I write will ever be worthy of printing out onto paper. Ever. I just don't know what will happen next, but I trust in myself, in my growing ability to keep putting words on the page in an order that is pleasing to others. I haven't thrown in the towel. And you know what? Deciding to keep doing these hard things has been the easiest choice I've ever had to make.

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Will I ever find an agent? Will I ever be published? Will people want to read what I've written? Maybe. But it doesn't really matter to me anymore. I keep writing to prove to myself that I can. That I will not give up on my dream. I will keep testing myself every day, writing the next word, the next sentence, the next story. And that's the hardest thing I've ever done.

15 comments:

  1. Love this! So wonderfully honest and inspiring too. Keep on keepin' on, baby! That's really all we can ever do!

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  2. Wonderful post! I think you're 100% right. Perseverance can be sooo hard, but always worth it! :)

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  3. Fabulous! The journey IS hard at times - and also amazingly rewarding. It's hugely discouraging, then tremendously uplifting. Hurrah for staying the course!

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    1. Thanks! I'd never be able to give up the hard parts. The rewards are so worth it!

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  4. I agree. Just sticking to it can be the absolute hardest part. You can do it though!! And, eventually you will be rewarded for your perseverance!!

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  5. Great post. I'm just coming up on the CP stage for my FIRST novel. Frankly, it has me terrified! This was so honest, and open about what each step meant to you it I almost feel guilty having read it. Thank you for sharing, I know it can't have been easy to put this out there, and I hope I can be as strong as you have.

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  6. You are so awesome. It is hard and you have to keep trying - that's the difference in making it or not.

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  7. You're an awesome writer, and your notes are hilarious. I'm SO GLAD we connected, though I can't remember exactly how it happened. :D <3

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  8. Yes yes yes! Can I get an amen and a hallelujah?

    Keep it up. You know you're about to jump over that fence when you're getting good personal feedback and requests. Almost there!

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  9. I. love. this. post. It's very encouraging that you've come so close (closer than I have). Right now I'm writing the sequel to the story I'm querying. It's coming out like water and I'm hoping to have it done by the end of the month. It's probably not the smartest to write a sequel to a book that hasn't sold. But I've made my peace with it in the same way you have--maybe I'll get published, maybe not. But I'm writing. And that's what matters.

    So keep at it! If nothing else, you'll make other people's day just by showing that you're trying. I know it's made mine.

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  10. I heart this post so much! It is wonderful and R E A L! So keeping it and making sure others read it.

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