If you ask me, the writing journey is like a cruise whose destination is publication. Some “cruise directors” are helpful; some will push you off the ship. I’ve been cruising for 10 years. Here is the story of the day I almost went overboard.
All hopes were high when my agent submitted my manuscript to editors. Confident, I drove east to wait it out in the Smoky Mountains, camping with girlfriends and our children. Outwardly, I pitched tents and hiked, but inwardly I spent the whole week imagining editors reading my manuscript and submitting bids. The mountain air and exercise were uplifting, but I was already high on the idea of rising to the next level with a publishing house. I’d spent seven years in a self-directed-fiction-writing apprenticeship, stoically shelving my first novel and studying craft before completing the second. At my agent’s suggestion, I ripped out the middle 150 pages and started over. I revised and revised, pushing my imagination until I was unable to imagine further revisions, telling myself that publication would justify the energy I’d lavished on writing. A published book would also sanction the messy house, the take-out dinners, and the perpetual pile of unmatched socks. The sale of my manuscript was the only thing that could redeem me with the PTA and justify the thousands of hours I’d spent living in my head while in the company of family and friends.
It rained on our campground for a solid week.
Emerging from the wilderness with wet sleeping bags and a week’s worth of dirty clothes, my first thought was not the closest shower, but an internet connection. I didn’t rush because the harsh light of civilization, after seven days of rain, illuminated the high stakes riding on the submissions. Not until we stopped at a motel for the night did I check my email.
The news was disastrous. Most editors had responded, all passing on my book. My agent urged me not to be too discouraged. I don’t remember feeling discouraged. I felt shunned and mortified. What had made me think I could write? Too shocked to cry, I sat in a motel room in a strange city, the corpse of a dead dream in my arms. At 3:30 AM, I woke to brief oblivion before my new reality punched me in the gut: the future I had planned for myself as a published author didn’t exist.
And yet, failure was not acceptable.
Children still asleep in the motel room, I turned on my computer, studied the editors’ emails for a pattern, and found one. I applied the criticism to my novel and decided the flat middle was still a problem. By the time we checked out of the motel, I had ripped out the middle 150 pages again and emailed my writing teacher for advice. Driving from Nashville to Amarillo, writing on the steering wheel, I made a list of every type of stepmother conflict I could think of. I consolidated six characters into three and moved the action forward. My agent said there were enough editors for another round of submissions.
- You can hop on my cruise by joining My Jane Austen Summer’s facebook page or subscribing to my personal blog, First Draft.
- I have one advanced reader copy of My Jane Austen Summer in my possession. I will give it away in a random drawing to someone who leaves a comment by midnight 12/15/10.