What I Know

Here’s what I know about the business of writing.

You work and work and work and work and work and work and work.

And work and work and work and work – and wait and wait and wait.

And wait and wait and wait.

And work and wait.  And wait.  And WAIT AND WAIT.  And keep working.

And then, maybe, if you worked hard enough and waited long enough, and if you actively kept working the entire time you were waiting…

Good things happen.

I’m excited.  Good things are happening.  Nothing that I can say anything about yet.  But good, good things. 


Because my book has vanished into the unfathomable forest of the acquisitions process, and because I am a person who likes to know the details, I did some research and found this article by Harold Underdown.  It helped me understand things better, as did this one, by the same author.  I followed many of Underdown’s suggested links, and I read those pages too.  Finally, I looked over a sample acquisitions proposal, to see what’s involved on the editor’s end.  What is this editor doing, exactly?  What might be happening, while I wait? 

As it turns out, lots of things are happening.  If these posts are accurate, and they certainly seem to be when I compare them against a few other similar posts, then the editor who has my book has done a tremendous amount of work already, and is continuing to do work on behalf of my book – and this is all before there’s even a contract.  I’m floored.  I’m also humbled.  Really?  All that work to get people in-house excited about my book, before there’s any guarantee of anything? 

I’m touched.  I’m terrified.  The editor must really believe in it.  To sink that kind of preparation into something of mine?  I’m grateful.  So grateful, no matter what happens.  I’m incredibly fortunate to have made it to this point and to have someone championing my work.  Whether this month brings me an offer or not, I can only be proud of myself and appreciative of the editor who is taking a chance on me. 

I will not think about the whether or nots.  I will live in the moment.  I will listen to Dory.  Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming.  Just keep swimming, swimming, swimming…

In Like A Lion

Just because it’s a Sunday doesn’t mean I can’t still hope, every time I check my e-mail, that something magical will have happened, right?

Actually, I’m not even doing that.  The tension is getting a little easier to take.  Maybe it’s just that I barely had a chance to touch Tyme this weekend, because I had to spend most of my “free” time working on stuff for my actual job.  The teaching one.  I try to keep work at work, but it’s not always possible.  Luckily, this time, most of my job was to write.  Every so often, I create monologues, scenes, and short plays for my students, and this weekend was one of those times.  I enjoy writing for the kids, and they always like reading the work out loud.  I don’t ask them for feedback, because the work is for them, not me – but I don’t have to ask.  Their criticism comes free.  They’re brutal, and their comments are generally spot on. Middle-school kids are the masters of identifying false and faulty dialogue.  “Can I say this instead?  Because nobody would say that.” 

The weekend was also sunny and beautiful, and we spent a lot of it with family and playing outdoors.  It was like getting a chilly taste of summer.  Three and a half months until summer.  Not that I am counting.

Next Month

“When I think something nice is going to happen I seem to fly right up on the wings of anticipation; and then the first thing I realize I drop down to earth with a thud. But really, Marilla, the flying part is glorious as long as it lasts. . .it’s like soaring through a sunset. I think it almost pays for the thud.” 
Anne of Avonlea, L.M. Montgomery

The book is going to acquisitions next month.  It’s really happening.  I knew that a yes or no would come fairly soon, but now I know it’s coming SOON.

March is the month.  Good things about March.  One of my favorite people on Earth, Kristin Brown, was born in March.  March is the last name of the awesome family in Little Women.  March is one month closer to summer than February is. 

On the other hand, Caesar didn’t have such a great March.

While I wait for March, I pretend things are normal.  I cook the dinners, read to the boy, plan the lessons, keep the house from becoming a den of filth.  And I write, on weekends.  As much as I can.   But no matter what I’m doing, I’m waiting.  Waiting, waiting, waiting – and wanting.  Like Penelope. 

I feel like I’ve never wanted anything so much in my life, but that’s not true.  It’s just that it’s been a very long time since I’ve allowed myself to want something this much, creatively. 

When I decided that theatre was no longer the right path for me, I became pretty careful about letting myself dream big. The part of me that’s freaking out right now, all fear and hope and mayhem, is a part that’s been long dormant. Now it’s awake, as much as when I was 21 and first moved to New York with a backpack and a couple hundred bucks and no idea what I was getting myself into.  I feel like Sweeney Todd.  “At last, my arm is complete again!”  (But, you know.  Without all the throat slitting and people eating.)

March is the month.

I’ll keep you posted.

Divine Dissatisfaction

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased.  There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.” – Martha Graham to Agnes DeMille

I first came across this quote in theatre school, and it hangs on the wall in my classroom for any kid who might be ready to read it – except for that very last bit.  I don’t know that I’m any more “alive” than anybody else; I don’t think that the great highs and lows of the human experience are the sole province of artists*, and I think that creative people who think their creativity renders them superior are really just self-important jerks (sorry, Martha). 

But the rest of this quote rings true, at least for me.  Where the creative process is concerned, I don’t have to believe in myself or my work (if I did, then I’d have to stop working on the days when I don’t believe, and there are lots of those).  And if I try to compare my writing with other work (which is hard not to do), or place a value on it, then I’ll drive myself insane.  It’s not my job to be Salinger and Austen, Christie and Tolkien, Lewis and Rowling, Alcott and Barry, all wrapped up in a bow.  All I am charged with is responding to the urges that motivate me, showing up to the keyboard, and working in the best way I know how, even when I don’t feel like I’m good enough.  Good enough is for someone else to judge.

I am usually dissatisfied with what I write, even when I’m having a good time and feeling great about my progress, because I always know it can be better.  Sometimes, I have to step away from the writing for many weeks to allow it to crystallize before I come back to it.  When I was younger, I completely misunderstood this part of my process.  I thought I was stepping away out of laziness, perhaps, or out of fear, and then I stayed away from the work for too long, because I was ashamed of myself – in rather the same way that a person might neglect to e-mail a friend, say, and then a year goes by, and then it’s so terribly awkward that even though the friend would be happy to get that e-mail, one still doesn’t send it, out of fear.  Now that I’m a little older, I understand myself better: I need the think time as much as I need the writing time.  When I allow myself to have it, without beating up on myself for taking it, I come up with solutions that elevate the story.  I also get to experience the rush I’ve had, for the past four days, careening ahead with the revision and blasting through sixty pages because suddenly it all makes sense.

*Editing to add: I also don’t like the term artist very much, because it’s generally used to describe only those who belong to the few overcrowded, underpaid disciplines known as the arts.  But anything may be done creatively, with artistry.

Hulk Smash!

BLAM! I just punched a giant hole in the wall that’s been blocking me from getting deeper into this revision, and 20 pages later, it FEELS SO GOOD.

Oh, man.  Thinking and tinkering… thinking and tinkering… it’s important, I know I have to do it, but it’s not as fun as just WRITING.  Writing is a rush.  It’s intoxicating.  It’s great.  I’m sitting in one place and typing on a keyboard; to the untrained eye, it looks like I’m doing practically nothing, but I’m going EVERYWHERE and having a GREAT DAY.

Getting to Know You

Lately, the bulk of my writing has been exploratory, an effort to understand things better rather than to move forward with the storyline.  As part of the revision process, I drew up a list of side characters who appear in the first draft but whom I don’t know very well.  I sat down and wrote their back stories.  It was a good exercise: entertaining, relaxing, and ultimately illuminating.  During this exercise, two characters who served identical purposes became one character, and her internal life became clear to me, and then she just sort of slipped into the foreground of the story and said, “I’m here now, and I’m staying.”  And so I started the revision process again, to establish her more clearly, because now she’ll be closer to the center of the action.  I’ve now written the first chapter of the second book for the third time. 

The other writing I’ve been doing lately has felt a lot like writing fanfic, though it’s all within Tyme.  To clear up some muddy character motivations for myself, I’ve written some short stories; scenes that don’t take place within the actual books, but that lead to important character decisions.  Most of these scenes have been at least somewhat romantic in nature, so that’s been fun, and again, really relaxing.  I enjoy knowing that I’m writing something that doesn’t have to “perform” in any way, for anyone other than me.

I’ve also been doing a lot of mental work that doesn’t feel like work (although right now it does, because I am stuck and need to take a long walk and get myself unstuck).  Most of the mental work happens either when I’m walking and talking, or when I’m driving and listening to music.  Driving and listening to music might be my favorite way to think.  I see the stories happen in my head, like music video montages.  I can’t actually write to music – it gets in the way.  But prewriting, it opens up my brain and provides an emotional underscore, and things just spring to life that way.  I got so excited the other day, listening to Radioactive, because I suddenly saw an action sequence in the final book playing out, in my head, and it was awesome.  I love stuff like that.

My son is clambering all over me now, making it very difficult to type.  “Take a snuggle with me.  Watch Mama type!  Take a tiny rest on Mama.”  Time to put work away, for now, and enjoy some Saturday snuggles.  Who knows?  Maybe the snuggles will help me come unstuck.  Either way, I win.

A thing happened!

I recently (about a month ago) sent the beginning of the book to an agent with whom I would truly love to work, not only because she’s top notch, but because of the sense of community she fosters amongst her clients.  Last night, she e-mailed that she “loves it” and wants the full manuscript, as well as synopses for the rest of the books in the series.  This is the most positive response I’ve received from an agent, and this is a marvelous agent, so I’m thrilled she enjoyed the first few pages as much as all that.  I always worry that the beginning of the book isn’t strong enough, but apparently it’s doing its job, at least for now.  I sucked up the agent’s praise like it was my last hit of oxygen, sent off what she asked for, and am now full of what is probably ill-advised hope. 

Hope for the best; expect the worst.  I was a kid the first time someone offered me that little pearl of wisdom.  I didn’t like it then, and I don’t like it now.  Is anyone capable of reveling in the spectacular lightness of hope, while at the same time preparing to bear up under the weight of disappointment? Maybe some people are, but not me. I can’t do both at once. I ping-pong between the poles of anticipation until I’m exhausted.  And the truth is that no matter how stern I try to be with myself, hope is always there, fluttering away and making it impossible for me to be realistic. 

My friend Kathy, who has an agent and whose book will soon go out on submission, says that this process makes her feel a little like she’s in junior high again, with a massive crush.  “I hope he likes me!  Do you think he likes me?  Did he say he likes me?  What did he say?”  Every little thing matters so much, and the heart is so tender and open and ready to be smashed.  My friend Melissa, whose book is published, says that even after success arrives, hurtful things still happen out there in the public eye, and that pretending to have a thicker skin is just part of the job.  But she also says that if she ever stopped feeling the hurt, or the fear, then she’d worry she’d lost something that’s important to her humanity and her writing.  I think there’s a lot of truth in that. 

Tick… Tock…

This process will make a patient woman of me yet.

I’m waiting again.  This time for an answer.  A final answer, at least from one publisher.  It may be a few weeks, or a couple of months, but the answer will come soon, or so I have been told.  I’ve done everything I can do, controlled everything over which I have control.  I finished my revision and resubmitted the manuscript.  Now I wait.  And while I wait, I attempt to armor myself against disappointment.  Which is, of course, impossible. 

As I’ve mentioned, my first creative world was the world of theatre, not literature.  I was an actress.  A real one!  With an Equity card and everything.  I worked in New York.  I never made it to Broadway or anything, but I did work off Broadway, and I toured, and I often worked downtown where the work itself is a delight but the pay is not.  I used to get up at four in the morning to go to auditions on freezing New York winter mornings.  I’d sit outside the Equity building in the long line, singing my sixteen bars to keep me warm, but I almost never got the job I was there to get.  I learned to survive the clipped dismissal from the other side of the casting table.  “Thank you,” they’d say, that little phrase that masks so many brutal truths.  “No.  Not right for us.  Thanks for trying.  Maybe next year.  If you were shorter.  If you lost weight.  If you were blonde.  If your resume were better.  If you were more of a dancer.  If we were in a better mood.  If you weren’t so much like that girl we already hired.  Just not what we had in mind.” 

I can’t armor myself against the sting.  The sting of failure, of rejection, is a horrible, hissing pain that gets in all the grooves and burns like acid.  Even so, I do know how to survive being turned away.  Personally and creatively.  I’ve learned that lesson repeatedly.  I know how to get up, dust off, and keep working.

Here’s hoping that, this time, I get to learn something new.

One Step Closer

I haven’t written much about writing lately.  That’s mainly because I’ve been revising, which is slow, nit-picky, painstaking work, where I look at the big picture of the second book and start moving around all the little puzzle pieces until they fit properly, discarding many pieces along the way and creating new ones when necessary.  Poor old first draft.  It’s in tatters.

In other news, I have nothing to report.  The first book hasn’t been acquired.  But it’s on its way.  Without getting into details, I’ve been asked (by the editor who believes in it enough to keep pushing it forward) to make a major revision at this point, and I’m working on that now.  It’s a tough one, because it’s a scene that’s been in my head for nigh on a decade, so it’s hard to envision how it can possibly change.  But it’s important that I learn how to do this.  This is not the first time I will be asked to look at my work with new eyes and try something that’s very different from my original approach.  I wonder if it gets easier as one does it more. 

So.  Nothing official.  But things have taken a big enough step forward that I am feeling sicker than ever.  How is that possible?  The closer I get to what I want to achieve, the more rattled and nauseated I become.  How scary is this?  Either this is really going to happen – which, terrifying – or it’s going to fall apart and I’m going to have to start over.  Which I expect.  Because that’s how things go.  But the more serious and real it all gets, the more painful it will be to have that happen.

Everything is going to be okay.  Either way.  Isn’t it?  Yes.  It is.  Right?  Of course.  I think so.  Maybe. 


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