Posts Tagged ‘giving up’


There comes a time in just about every endeavor when enough is enough and you realize it’s time to throw in the towel. I am not especially proud to admit that I recently reached that point a few weeks ago with a book I was working on.

It was over a year ago when I got the idea for this story. At the time, I was right in the middle of Beautiful Monster, a novel I co-wrote with Kim Williams-Justesen, (author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey Ranger! series, and co-author of Love and Loathing ~ in case I haven’t mentioned her before!) and I wasn’t looking to get started on anything new for several months. Like many stories though, this one gnawed and picked at me, demanding precedence over all else, making me anxious to finish Beautiful Monster so I could get right on it. I took down notes about the new storyline as the ideas came to me, saved them in my “writing” file, and assumed that as soon as we wrapped up the current project, I’d sit down and pound the novel out with the speed of a sugar-buzzed Quarter horse and the light-hearted glee of  a Keebler elf on sixty milligrams of Paxil per day.

That isn’t what happened. I started the story, stopped the story, revised the story, re-wrote the story and ultimately, renounced the story. At first, I was proud of my stick-to-it-ive-ness. I figured I’d hit a rough patch and instead of giving up, I’d see it through, and in the end, be able to say it was a great accomplishment. As the months rolled by and I realized I’d never made it past the five chapter mark though, I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t time to move on to something else. After all, in the interim, another storyline (one that I liked much better) was beginning to form. But still I persisted, fearing that by abandoning this story, I might be cultivating the very bad habit of cutting all my projects short and thus becoming one of those authors that I’ve vowed never to become who has drawers full of half-written novels but no complete product.

There were a lot of reasons I had trouble with this novel. First, I ended up hating the town I set the story in, not to mention its entire population. Second, I couldn’t pin down the main character’s voice and I seemed to be at a perpetual loss as to how this kid would react to anything. Third, every time I thought I had the plot down, another layer presented itself, negating the previous concept, and as hard as I tried to stick to main frame of the storyline, I found myself constantly wavering in a different direction. Finally (and perhaps worst of all), I developed a powerful dislike for my main character.  I chalked this up to the notion that my writing voice is not that of a small-town, nineteen year-old kid and I even thought I’d been foolish to believe I could extend my creative writing abilities enough to convincingly portray one. But, while it’s true that my natural voice is older than nineteen, the reality is that I stopped caring about this story.

After attempt number five at chapter one (and seven months of frustration), I suspended the story and began something new. It had been a long while since I’d had that kind of writer’s block, and in my experience, this often indicates a (sometimes unconscious) germinating of a different story that needs to get out before any progress can be made. I am certain that one day I’ll go back to this story, and it’s my hope that by then it will have worked out its issues on its own, and I will be able to write it with my usual, natural flow.

 

I’m still hell-bent on not becoming a writer who half-writes their books. I’m still not willing to give up because the writing isn’t easy. But I have come to understand that sometimes, a story just isn’t ready to be told yet. It’s occurred to me that in the case of this recently abandoned project, I had been approaching it all wrong, and that maybe my efforts to write it in the first person were in error. Whatever the cause or causes, the story just wasn’t working and for now, that’s okay.

I am currently trying to recover from the self-doubt that this insubordinate last novel has inflicted on me, and the best way I know to do that is to keep writing. I’ve gone ahead with the concept which came to life in my mind as I was muddling through the other one, and so far, it’s coming off well. I am passionate about this story. I am excited about the upcoming adventures of my main character, I’m a little bit in love with each of the players, and most of all, I’m doing something I haven’t been able to do for far too long: I am enjoying writing again~ and these things have convinced me that (sometimes) it’s not only okay to give up, but it’s the best thing for you.

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I live my life these days according to an ongoing list of weekly to-do‘s that I design every Sunday night; each day of the upcoming week containing a set of challenging-yet-reasonable objectives that I cross off the list as they are accomplished. I’ve found that otherwise, my life loses direction and time passes by until one day I wake up and wonder what happened to the last week, month, year, etc. I’ve lost enough time this way to take my little to-do list very seriously at this point in my life.

It’s taken many years of soul-searching to pin down my real priorities and learn that I need to focus on those and let go of the little time-wasters that hinder me. This is, for me, the only effective way I’ve found to live. Future-based goal setting is great, but the trouble I have with that is the excuse I will invariably make: “I have plenty of time.” I’ve learned that I’m the kind of person who needs to not only set goals for the future, but also smaller goals that I need to do today which will ultimately lead me to the accomplishment of the bigger goals.

There are two kinds of goals on my list: those things that need to be done daily: exercise, eat right, read, write, make some kind of spiritual contact and go to work (on work days). Then there are the things that are more sporadic: meet with my critique group, clean the house, write a blog, query a few literary agents, meet with friends, etc. In both cases of the daily and the more intermittent to-do‘s, it becomes mind-numbingly monotonous after a while, and eventually you reach a point when you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

I suppose that all of us reaches a kind of breaking point at one time or another, no matter what path we’ve chosen – and today, I hit a big one. I have the day off work, which means my to-do list is going to be extra long. I woke up and looked at the list, thinking I was ready to tackle the day. But when I saw “query five agents” at the top of the list, my heart plummeted, my spirit sank, and for the first time, I considered putting a big black X on the page and going back to bed.

Instead, I made some coffee, played with the dogs and argued with myself in silence. It’s been several weeks since I queried any agents and I know the rules: do not “query-bomb” (meaning don’t contact every agent under the sun in one blow – they know each other, they talk with each other, and they don’t like it when authors clearly don’t even know who they’re querying.) I know the rules, I respect the rules and I play by the rules.  The point is, it’s been several weeks since I queried anyone, and today it needed to be done. So in the end, I lost the argument with myself and sat down to query some agents.

Here’s what querying agents means for me: first, I need to block out a good hour or two (sometimes more) of my day. Second, I need to locate the agent, (which can be terribly tedious in and  of itself) then research what genres they accept, what kind of writers they’re looking for, and find out if they accept e-mail submissions, snail mail only, or both. Then I need to learn as much as I can about the agent and what he or she represents, and contact them according to their personal guidelines, which varies from agent to agent. Some want just a query letter. Others want a query letter with a synopsis. Some want a query letter, a synopsis and a specific amount of sample writing. Some want all of this, plus a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Some want all of this in the body of an e-mail (if they accept e-mail submissions). Others want sample chapters as an attachment. Some want you to include not only your bio and platform, but your marketing strategy plans as well. Needless to say, every agent has different guidelines – and that’s okay. The point is that this can be a very challenging process for authors, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s just part of my job. But there comes a point in which you just can’t help but feel exhausted by it all, and that’s where I am today.

I queried the five agents today over the course of about two hours. I followed all of their rules and was a professional through and through. But I was less than enthused about doing it. Counting the five I queried today, I have been through this process 135 times. Of the 135 agents I have queried, one asked to see my entire manuscript, and three asked to see the first five or six chapters. That means 131 literary agents have looked my query letter over and passed without asking to see any of my actual writing. And here’s the best part: this is not only normal, it’s expected. Statistically, I have a good seven to nine more years of this before someone takes an interest in my work. Every writer I’ve ever talked to went through this part of the process too, and they all tell me the same thing: “It’s not personal. Just keep writing.” So I do. And I do so with an unshakable determination to get better and better at my craft.

But… today… I’m creatively bankrupt and void of all inspiration.

As The White Room treks the globe, accumulating endless rejections, my other manuscript, Gallery of Dolls, is several thousand miles away being revised and polished by Kim Williams-Justesen, co-author of the novel. Also, I am at the beginning of chapter five of Alejandro (working title). The plan is to have Gallery ready for submission by the end of January 2012, and Alejandro ready by May of the same year. Under normal circumstances, thinking of the future of these books (and the ones that have yet to be written) gives me a shot of optimism and boosts my spirits. But today… just for today… I’m going to allow myself to dread my future as a writer. I’m going to accept where I am rather than fawning over where I wish I were.  Today, I wish that I wanted something simpler. Today, I wish that all I wanted from life was to get a good job, have a couple kids and settle into the comfort of a nine to five job. Today… I wish I was someone else because I know without a doubt that I will never be happy with any of those things. Today… I surrender.

But tomorrow is another day and I won’t give up on it. I never wanted a simple life. I never expected this to be easy. I had the luxury of walking into this business with my eyes wide open. As Kim told me over a year ago, “writing the book is the easy part.” And she was right. There isn’t much room for pity and there are no shortcuts. Nothing worth having ever comes easy and despite the rejections, I’ve had some wonderful experiences. I’ve met many of my heroes. I’ve had agents tell me some wonderful things and point me in some good directions. And above all, I’ve been able to do what I love: write… and I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of help along the way.

No, I won’t give up. The people who love me wouldn’t let me and more importantly, I would never forgive myself if I did. I’ve worked too hard for this and I’ve spent too much time to justify walking away. But more than all of that, I don’t want to give up. Today is a bad day and that’s okay… but overall, this is what makes me happy, despite all the heartache along the way.

I started this blog to document my adventures in the world of writing. I’ve always told the truth but I’ve never really said much about the strains and pains of this business because I never wanted to discourage anyone. But to maintain the dignity of my blog’s overall purpose, I can’t really forfeit the darker side, either. The truth is that being a writer has a hell of a lot more to do with sitting down, writing and maintaining a smile while the world tells you you’re not good enough than anything else. It has more to do with working than playing. It’s about getting good at your craft and playing the game. It’s about accepting that there are no shortcuts and loving the process in its entirety, despite its flaws. It’s about understanding that the dream is always preceded by the nightmare. Your job is to write and let the business of getting published take care of itself. In the interim, hold tight to the little things that happen along the way which propel you in a forward direction and prove to you that your path is true.

In New Orleans this summer, I spent some time with my best friend from childhood. He said something that I hold onto. He said, “You’re a writer. You’ve always been a writer and one day you’ll be published. You always had a way of setting your mind to something and getting it. You will get this too.”

And I will. But not today… and that’s okay.


     So, after four long months of feeling much like I was being frisked by a police officer, I finally heard back from the New York agent yesterday.  Of course, after that amount of time, I was certain she wasn’t going to choose to take me, so it wasn’t as hard of a blow as it could have been when she told me she was sorry that she wasn’t going to offer to represent me.  Her greatest concern was that The White Room was caught somewhere between commercial and literary fiction.  I assume this means that she felt marketing the book would be difficult.  Otherwise, she said very kind things about the manuscript, and admitting she could be wrong about it, encouraged me to continue seeking other agents.

     I expected to be shattered, but strangely, I’m okay.  I am lucky, I suppose, to have the luxury of understanding how this business works a little.  I didn’t expect to write one book, meet one agent and become a an all-time famous novelist.  In fact, if I follow along the same statistical lines as the majority, I can expect an average of six or seven more years of rejections before one of them chooses to represent me.  The sad fact is, unpublished authors are a high risk.  It’s similar to a college graduate who has a hard time getting a job because they lack experience.  But how can you get experience if no one hires you?  The writing business is much the same way.  This goes to show that in any field, competition is stiff and one must always begin at the beginning, which unfortunately, is at the bottom.

     Needless to say, about a month ago, it was clear to me that this wasn’t going to happen with the New York agent, so I began querying other representatives.  This week alone, I’ve gotten three rejections and have more coming to be sure.  Thankfully, I have yet to receive any of the scathing reviews I’ve heard so many horror stories about.  The agents who have replied to me have been kind, supportive, and encouraging.  In one case, I was simply told, “I’m not the right agent for this.”  In another, I was asked to send the first five pages so the agent could get a feel for my voice.  After a day or two, she wrote back saying thanks but no thanks.  And,of course, the New York agent.

     So, what is the next step?  From conferences, my mentor, and listening to other writers, I’ve learned that it’s too early on to start thinking about revamping the story.  If I receive twelve or fifteen rejections, all pointing out the same troubles, then it’s time to revisit and revise.  But until then, a writer must keep in mind that one, or even a few agents’ opinions are not law.  They’re generally looking for a book that speaks powerfully to them and leaves them with little doubt about it’s possibilities in the market.  Some agents will read your manuscript and get a strong vision for it… and other will not.  So for now… I will keep writing, because that is my only weapon against the rejection.

     From what I have learned, one of the biggest (and most common) mistakes a writer can make is to write one book and place all of their hope into it, not realizing that it may never be published.  After having one book rejected a few times, they throw their hands in the air, call this an impossible business, and bow out of it.  I’m not going to do that.  If it takes me ten years to get published, then the way I see it is, I will have ten to fifteen novels written by then, which will create a great back log of material when my agent asks, “what else have you got?”  This is an incredibly tough, rigid business and, as I’ve been repeatedly and earnestly warned, it is not for the weak.   Times like these, writers must simply remind themselves that all the great writers have taken some pretty tough punches to  the gut in this business.  Laurell K. Hamilton was told she didn’t fit into a genre tightly enough to ever be published.  “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance”, by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected one hundred and sixteen times before it caught the right person’s eye… and poor Stephen King was rejected several times a month for almost fifteen years before he published “Carrie.”  So you can’t quit because someone says you’re not good enough.  This is simply that part of the process which separates the hobbyists from the lifers and, on the bright side, weeds out your competition. 

     I am lucky.  I have a vast network of supporters; people who have read my work and love my work.  These people keep me in perspective and remind me of the realities of this world that I, for some masochistic reason, insist so vehemently on one day penetrating.  So, I will let myself feel this.  I will feel bad for myself for an hour or two and then I will sit down and keep working on the next story while The White Room makes it rounds among the agents I have sent it to and the agents I will continue to send it to. The truth is, I believe in The White Room- as it is right now.  If I need to make some changes later on in order to find it a home, I will, but for now… I still believe in it and will continue believing in it until the time comes that I no longer can.  But… in the meantime, I have about a hundred more books to write…  so that’s what I’ll be doing.