December was a dark month in my life. Behind on my schoolwork, my responsibilities, my life, I felt like my writing had no direction and no hope of getting published. Agents had requested my full, but as time went by without a response I let doubt sink in. This niggling, pervasive doubt said, “You’ll never make it,” and I started to believe it. A horrible thing happened: I sabotaged myself.
I see it every day on the AW boards and Twitter. A rejection comes in, and a writer thinks about quitting, no longer sure this dream is worth balancing on the edge of heartache every day. Like those other dejected writers, I couldn’t write, couldn’t think, couldn’t find the joy I had when I was writing my novel. If you can relate to me at all, here’s where I tell you something you may not want to hear.
It was my own damned fault. I let the querying and the quest for publication overtake my love of spinning stories. I did that. Not the agents who rejected me, or the ones who were too busy to get back to me on my timeline. The stories didn’t go away. My confidence in my ability to tell them did.
When you are writing, the experience belongs to you. The exhilaration and obsession and frenzy to put words to screen: All yours. The experience of reading the finished work belongs to others, but you have sole and proprietary custody of the rest. Shame on you and shame on me for giving that away to others.
You might think it’s easy for me to say this now that I have an agent. Not true. My family knew my self-doubt had reached an all-time low when I went home for Christmas and basically cried for a week. My brother-in-law – a very talented musician – knows all about dreams that don’t come true. For Christmas, he had two copies of my book bound in secret – one for me and one for my greatest fan, my sister. Then he delivered me a solid lecture about having a little faith and remembering that my accomplishments are not measured on anyone’s scale but my own. Wise man and a lot of tough love.
I didn’t rediscover hope like I was in a Hallmark special. I went home, opened my new WIP and made myself write, even though it felt like pulling impacted wisdom teeth. And damn it if he wasn’t right. As soon as I let go and started writing, the worry about the queries and all the rest faded. I didn’t give up on my dream of getting published, but I let another one take higher precedence: a dream that I could fall in love with words like I had before. And then I wrote some lines that shocked me with how right and perfect they were, and I sighed, “There it is. There’s that feeling again.”
Two weeks later, I got an offer.
My friend, Kate, called me a “zen princess” recently. The truth is I’ve discovered that being a writer is like taking an upper followed by a downer and then repeat. I’m going to do my best to hold on to the joy where I can in this process. And when I begin to doubt myself, or give away what’s mine, I’m going to hope my brother-in-law delivers another swift kick to set me to rights.