I am not a multi-tasker. When I teach, I teach. When I cook, I cook. When I write, I roam the moors and shires of my mind, scythe in hand.
I can only focus on one thing at a time.
So when my puff-cloud of a dream of becoming published, anchored FOR THIRTY-TWO years, left Earth and embarked on a swift ascent in a manner uncharacteristic of cumulus matter (i.e. I signed with a literary agent within three weeks of submitting my manuscript), I kept on cutting construction paper and getting band-aids and talking about the differences between a square pyramid and a triangular prism. With weird mechanical calm.
Sure I shared with friends and family and my yoga teacher, but I didn’t SCREAM AND FLAIL AND GO INTO A HAPPINESS COMA – like I imagined I would when I cracked the code of getting someone in the industry to say, hey, this might be sorta good, this two hundred page thing she’s been working on for five years.
I am still waiting for the giddy.
BECAUSE, GUYS, EVERYONE, MY-SEVENTH-GRADE-TEACHER-MS. ZULTEK-WHO-STARTED-MY-WRITERLY-OBSESSION: MY BOOK MAY HAVE A CHANCE OF BECOMING PUBLISHED!
Let us back up and trace how it is that this white puffy wonder that is my writing aspiration snapped its sail to set off. (I’ll drop the cloud metaphor now that it’s getting unmanageable, like pirates are waiting to enter stage left.)
In 2007 I decided I wanted to return to pursuing my publishing goal. The one I’d chased since I was a child and gotten a degree for in the 90’s but placed on hold to parent two children and be everything else.
In 2009, I took a year off work to write. I wrote the novel that taught me how to write beyond a short story/article. It was bad. Very bad – it even had a scene where a silverfish (yes, the insect) helped the main character of a contemporary young adult novel make the decision that would bring the story to its climax. No it wasn’t magic realism. And no, the main character wasn’t on drugs.
Still I queried this thing because, damn, I’d worked on it for FIVE MONTHS! And wonder of wonders, out of the five queries + pages I sent out, I got two full requests – and from Writers House and ICM to boot! The lovely Tina Wexler read it ALL and suggested things I needed to work on and even offered to be there for a revise and resubmit. (I still cringe on imagining her face when the pivotal silverfish crawled in.)
I went back to teaching but also came back home to work. I read about what goes wrong in novels and what makes things go right. I went on a revision retreat in Boston with writing mentors. And I saw that this first novel was a trunk novel, the kind you put in a drawer and close tight.
But one character in it, the one everyone loved without fail, crawled out of the drawer.
She wanted her own story. In early 2011, I let her start it via a private blog. When her story started to take shape and form, I plotted it a bit and teased all the threads and wove them with equity a la J.K. Rowling’s most magnificent spreadsheet. I kept doing this: micro writing and macro planning and weaving, always in bits.
I worked on it for three more years. And it was done. I had two great critique partners and six beta readers.
They loved it but I didn’t. The beginning wasn’t working for me. One of my critique partners agreed that it wasn’t as strong as the rest of the book. But she couldn’t figure out what was wrong either.
So for another year, I worked on just the beginning. I vacillated between wondering if I was just hiding my fear of failure behind this excuse and knowing with certitude that I needed my novel to be in tip-top-silverfish-free shape before I queried again.
Last year, I decided to do a query-run. Again sent out 5. No bites. I knew the query and first pages had to be strong and, frankly, they weren’t.
In December, I wondered what it would feel like to not want to be a writer. I imagined the freedom. I did that for three days before I went sobbing back to the keyboard.
And in that reaffirmation of my dream, I found a beginning that worked better for me.
During March Break, I wrote a query I liked, no double-guessing involved. I sent it out before the break ended, figuring it would take about three months to know if my book had a chance – just in time for summer vacation, when I could spend more time on my writing.
Instead, I got a steady stream of immediate requests for the full manuscript from rockstar agents I’d considered untouchable. In shock, I complied.
Then, offers of representation! I cried and wanted to jump on the first one – which was from a highly-sought after agent I’d queried after I saw my pitch was working.
That’s when experienced friends stepped in. Published people who helped me hone in on what kind of a published writer I wanted to be. With their guidance, I allowed myself to envision my career as an author.
Guys, guys, guys, I have to gush here because I’m so thankful that I took the time to think things through and ask questions. John has insight, strong sales and industry experience but more importantly, he came with resounding recommendations, has a communication style that fits my impatient-bratty-self and most most amazing, he’s a writer himself! The kindred spiritedness that springs between writers – I’ve never found that with any other human species when the topic of writing comes up and with John, I got a strong sense of his true passion for writing and writers.
That’s who I want to begin my (please God, LONG) writing career with. I am so so so excited!
Okay, cue pirates. Enter moor, stage left, sidestep crawling insect, and start your story – I’m more than ready to write it down…
photo by Oliver Dodd
P.S. Getting this far took a long time but it would have taken even longer without the many great writers out there who actively share what they’ve learned. I’m always willing to share what I’ve learned – both from them and from my experiences – so if anybody has any questions/wonderings, please do let me know. I’d love to help others with their own dream clouds.