I want to talk about discipline and patience in this industry (writing), and how both pay high dividends. Recently I finished yet another round of rewriting for my current novel, which I’ve been working on for roughly 3 years now. This is a big deal. Those of you who’ve been paying attention to my progress therein know that I sent the book out to agents a few months back and, though I received some requests for more material, all ended in rejections. This, of course, is very common and is part of the package of “being a writer.”
At first, I’ll admit, it was tough to face the rejection and move forward. When so many people tell you, “Unfortunately…” you start to get down about things. But, not long after these rejections occurred, and I stopped submitting to agents, two things happened, and both changed my perspective. The first is that I found out I’m getting two nonfiction stories published in “aaduna” magazine, which has a pretty huge following. That is exciting. What better validation than to have some of your work, even in a small press, published, after having gone through the [emotional] wringer a la rejections from agents while seeking representation for your book?
Seeking representation for your book, whether nonfiction or fiction, is a really big deal. It means that you’re feeling fairly certain that you’ve achieved a particular level of writing craft and storytelling ability, and that, furthermore, you feel ready at this given time and place and point in your career, to show the world what that craft and story is. Even simply being at that spot as a writer is a big deal. But then, of course, there is the not-so-subtle reality that follows: It is freaking tough to get an agent in the 2015 writing world. Real tough.
But it’s possible, and I know, personally, that I am going to get my book out there. It’s just a matter of time; waiting. And of having discipline and patience.
The second thing that happened after the rejections, besides publication from a small press for those two stories, is that I decided, finally, to hire an editor. Actually, I hired two editors; one a younger female and one an older male. I wanted two different perspectives. This turned out to be a blessing, and it gave me more to think about in terms of my own book editing clients, seeing as I am a freelance book editor. (If you want to read an excellent, powerful memoir, read my client Christian Picciolini’s book: Romantic Violence: Memoirs of an American Skinhead, about his experience falling into and then out of the first wave of white power skinheads in America in the late 80s. He redeems himself, don’t worry. You won’t regret the read.)
One editor—the male one—basically liked the book (well, the first 50 pages, which I hired him to look at). He had some more technical comments, which I did find mildly helpful, but he didn’t really criticize the book in any way that I could hook into and say, “Ah-ha! That’s the problem!” He praised the pages, saying he had enjoyed the read, was invested in the characters, and wanted to read more and do the full edit.
The woman, however, struck literary gold. She pissed me off, which is always a good thing. She struck a vein and was right on the money. She said my characters were flat, that there was “no emotion,” that the voice was weak, that there was too much “info dumping,” that I was “telling and not showing,” and that I needed to use more action and dialogue and less summary. In short, she bummed me out. Big time.
But it wasn’t long, as is my process, before I came around to her side of thinking. She was right. No doubt about it. So there was only one thing to be done. I waited for a bit, got busy with other stuff, took a deep breath, and dove back in. After all was said and done, I had rewritten the entire book for the 2nd time, believe it or not. And I think this version is MUCH stronger. I added emotion to the characters. I had them talk and argue more, creating relevant tension. I had the characters DOING things more instead of telling the reader and summarizing. I allowed the reader to EXPERIENCE the story as the characters lived it, instead of constantly trying to directly fill the reader in, which insults their intelligence and isn’t useful. In short, the characters began to bloom and become more interesting, and the plot thickened. I asked a published writer friend to read it and they started the first few chapters, immediately commenting on how much stronger it was.
So, in essence, this has been a learning experience for me. I know that I do the best when I let go and stop getting neurotic about my writing or my need to control the outcomes (will an agent like it?), and to simply do the next right thing, take the simple action required to write the best book I can write. I still have a ways to go in terms of tightening and editing, cutting, adding, etc, but I can see that this version is much stronger. It’s only because I have cultivated the hard discipline over the years to be able to write daily, while also working on clients’ books at the same time (not literally), that I have arrived at this attitude. That’s a tough balancing act. Then again, the rejection no doubt takes its toll. But I think, at the end of the day, it’s all about letting go and being patient; cultivating a regular routine. Some of you are in weekly writing workshops; that’s great. Others get up at 5 A.M. to pump out that 2,000 words per day. Some only write three times per week, but they do it every week without fail.
Keep at it. I never thought I’d ever get anything published. I have about 15/16 stories published now. The novel is coming soon, I can feel it. First I have to nail an agent. I know how they work; I used to work for one. My time will come. So will yours. Don’t give up. Unite and fight. Keep going, past the rejections.
We’ll do it together, if only in spirit. I hope to see you all at the San Francisco Writers Conference, Feb 12-15 at the Mark Hopkins Hotel.
(If you’re interested in my editing, please email me: firstname.lastname@example.org)