Monday, July 29, 2013

The Waiting Game

Trying to get a novel or short story published is a waiting game. Patience is rewarded. Impulsiveness is not. And the waiting game doesn't end, even after people in the field start showing an interest.

Let me give you an idea:

I started writing with the intention to publish in college. But really, ignoring semantics, I started writing with the intention to publish in high school. But really I started in grade school, when I set out to write the longest story in my third grade class -- an epic eight-part adventure with swords and monsters that was a thinly veiled attempt to novelize Zelda II for the NES. I never finished it, but the idea and the inspiration were there!

Whichever starting point you pick, I've been "writing with the intention to publish" for anywhere from 10-25 years. Granted I went multiple years where I didn't write a thing and lost all sense of my writing voice, but that's still a long time, and it seems like more and more people look at writing as a means to have one's genius discovered rather than a craft to practice and polish.

As a teacher, I tell my students to practice things like math facts, orchestra instruments, and their writing, reading, and proofreading skills. Almost everyone agrees an instrument takes time, but aspiring writers often falsely believe that writing is born solely in the minds of prodigies.

Okay, maybe I'm overgeneralizing.

What I really wanted to get at is that every step you take in the process of becoming a published writer requires waiting. When you finish a story, you have to wait several weeks (at a minimum) so you can read it with fresh eyes. Once it's polished, you have to submit it to an agent (novel) or editor (short story) and wait for a response. Then you have to spend years collecting form rejection letters and waiting for your first personalized rejection (these can be brutal, but put on your rhino skin and take their advice -- they read a lot more than you do) that actually gives you some ideas on how to not suck. Then, you finally get someone who thinks your writing might be worth putting out there. But you're still not done.

Then your work gets shared with others, and someone else finds something wrong with it (they're right).

Then you find a group of people who like it, but they still think it can be improved (they're right, too).

Then you wait for a confirmation that says yes, your work will be published.

Then you wait for the day, far in the future, when your work is finally published.

So yeah, writing means waiting. A lot of it. If you're getting anxious because you're collecting rejection letters, you're already a part of a pretty cool club. There's a lot of frustration and self doubt involved, but if you can stand the heat you'll eventually become part of an even better club of people who worked, improved, and set their ego aside and risked judgment of their most vulnerable side.

Even now I'm waiting. Not on nabbing an agent (DONE!) or on finding people who believe in my work (also done, and isn't this what we all really want, more than money or fame?). I'm now waiting on a submission list of editors my excellent agent put together. Waiting for them to get back to us with what I hope is an offer is the scariest part yet. It's entirely possible that still, after all this work, every editor will say no, and I'll be back to square one. That's a lot more waiting.

The only thing you can't wait for is time to write.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Writing Goals

As I write this, the final touches are being made to my pitch letter. Once that goes out to editors, I have to prepare myself for another round of the waiting game while focusing on writing goals that will generate a new project.

Last summer, I had half a manuscript completed and a lot of positive feelings about it. I made my writing goal to complete a rough draft of my current submission. It wasn't easy with an eight month old at home, but I made great use of nights and nap time and had a completed first draft by the time I went back to work in mid-August.

At the beginning of this summer, on the other hand, I had less to work with. I had ideas floating around in my head and a couple botched attempts at finding my main character's voice. I knew I wasn't going to finish a whole draft by the end of summer, but I figured I could at least start nailing down the manuscript's voice and have a solid grasp at what I might be writing.

This idea is tricky, though. I am not an outliner. I hate them, in fact. I want to discover the story and characters as I work. I want things to happen that I wasn't expecting, as those are usually the most realistic moments in my work. This makes it hard, however, to define whether or not I've made my goal. How much do I have to have done on the page versus done in my head? Case in point, I'm not sure whether or not the five-six thousand words of workable scenes I've completed and not pitched in the trash constitute "nailing down the manuscript's voice."

Either way, I do have the early rumblings of a new manuscript. It's just weird to be building on what worked previously rather than correcting what agents told me didn't work last time. When I let go of the pressure to keep my imagination flowing, it can be a really good feeling.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Jumping Back Into Blogging

I am the type of person who benefits quite a bit from a blog. What's odd is this idea runs contrary to the fact that I feel silly about blogging -- it takes a great leap of faith to assume that electronic journal entries are worthy of going public.

So why start one now?

Writing has always been a part of my personal life, and now it may become a part of my professional life as well. I've shopped around a handful of novels for the past eight years, and over these past few months I've joined up with a genuine literary agency with a vast amount of knowledge on how to sell my work. That means I might really be on my way to doing this writing thing for people other than myself and a handful of friends and family.

That also means, more than ever, that writing regularly will become mandatory (not to say it ever wasn't). With a year-and-a-half old at home, finding time to explore my latest work can get pushed to the side when he requires thirty hours of attention in each twenty-four hour day. Blogging can be spur of the moment, and while there will certainly be overarching themes, I am not required to start where I left off. If I feel the desire to blog about komodo dragons, I can do just that.

There's another side, of course -- tracking my own path towards (hopefully) publishing my current book will keep me writing in some form or another, even if it's just to reflect on where things are going.

So that's where things are at. If I do this right, there will be more posts to come, preferably before the end of the week. Setting goals is more important than ever now.