Last night I started thinking about where I was this time last year and how much has changed since then.
We were in Vieques, on the only real and true vacation we've ever taken (thanks to Kim O'Donnel and Russ Walker for that, and a fabulous trip). I was just about to finish up a major revision of the novel that's now called Blackwood, and I was feeling a bit at sea about where I might be headed. Would I ever sell a book? I wasn't sure, but I knew I'd keep writing them regardless. I already had a little bit of a beginning of a new book to work on next, but I wasn't sure about it. And so, mostly, I was just trying to make that book–then called Strange Alchemy–as good as I possibly could at the time.
I'd been on my own with the dogs for the week before and hadn't slept much and had developed a theory that maybe I didn't need to sleep anymore, or only a couple of hours a night, something I refer to as "becoming Bill Clinton" (get your mind out of the gutter: this was because he famously didn't need much sleep; I envy people with this evolutionary advantage). Luckily, this insomniac mania wore off after a day at the beach on island time and I did not go insane and start believing I was Bill Clinton.
Anyway, my birthday was the following week, and I'm coming up on a birthday this week (Thursday, to be exact), so maybe that accounts for the stock-taking. But, also, sometimes I have a tendency to just keep working nonstop, which means not pausing to appreciate Something Big Happened.
It's hard not to notice, though, comparing this year and last year. I did sell a book (thank you thank you again to superagent Jenn and supereditor Amanda), and it will be out in two months. I'd be spending a lot more time worrying about whether or not people will like it (yes, okay, I'm still spending too much time doing that), but I have a second book to turn in soon. And I'm just about to start revising it, so that will happen. I love this book and it's sooo scary trying to make it what I want it to be and believe it can be (and on time). Both the love and the fear are necessary, and planning. Pause for gratuitous shot of desk prepped for revising (click through for annotated photo):
Anyway, long way of saying, I'm in a much different place this year…in some ways.
But the main thing I'm worried about now is the same thing I was worried about then. The focus is exactly the same: on making the book the best I can at this time, and then once that's done, writing another one. The focus is on the writing.
And when I think about the future and what I want for my career, sure, there are more specific things I'd like to happen. But mainly I just hope that I will be able to keep telling stories and that some of you (and some people who aren't you! total strangers who don't know I exist!) will get something valuable out of those stories through that magical collaboration of writer and reader.
I also want to say to those of you still in the query and/or submission stage that you know as well as I do the important thing is to keep working, because you never know. The imprint I'm being published by didn't exist yet at this time last year, but I feel SO incredibly lucky to have landed there. I pinch myself daily. And when I think, Hey, I sold a book and it will be in bookstores! Holy crap, Something Big Happened! what I also think is that it wasn't magic. It was something I worked really hard for, for a really long time. And, honestly? That feels like the biggest achievement. Giving up is easy. But it's not for writers, mostly. Writers risk failure and rejection every single day. It's not for cowards.
And at the end of the day I truly believe what matters most* is the same for all of us, sold and unsold, beginners and those well into their careers**: one word in front of the other. Keep moving. Keep writing. Keep trying our hardest to get better.
Meanwhile, I hope the surprises this year has in store are as good as last year's.
*'What matters most' is chosen carefully here. Obviously, we all have lots of concerns based on our careers and individual circumstances, but from my vantage this is nearly universal. It's the only part we truly have control over, so it better be.
**Although I could be wrong about this. It's entirely possible once you get further into your career you worry about bears or clown attacks.
4 thoughts on “Wrangling the Wild Year”
So true. The writing is the thing.
So how many years was it for you between finishing your first novel and selling one?
So funny, I had to search blog entries to figure it out. Looks like the first novel I finished was in 2005 (trunked!), and in a post in 2006 I first mention the Roanoke book. Though I only managed to write about 50 pages of it before I set it aside, and didn’t really go back to it until 2010-11. There were at least a couple of other full novel drafts in there in the meantime though, both of which also got major overhauls…
I didn’t make much of an effort toward querying or selling any of these until I signed with the fabulous Jenn in 2009–I did what you’re not supposed to do, as you know, and immediately said yes to the first agent who offered. Something I regret not at all! It was entirely the right decision. (I took off the entire time I was in grad school from trying to sell things–so late 2008 before I even thought about really querying a novel in a focused way, though I was lucky to get some great feedback from one of the two agents I sent my not-ready first book to back in 2005.)
And remember I was writing scripts before that for several years, so yes, took a long time.
So six years between finish of first novel and sale of first novel?
I claim 20 years, which is the gap as between finishing first thing I sent out to a pro market: short stories when I was 15, and my first pro sale of my trilogy at 34. So, yeah, I round 19 up to 20 because it’s more dramatic.
My gap between finish of first novel and sale of first novel is only four years, which makes my story much less impressive. 🙂 But I had been sending out short stories for years and years without success to pro markets. (My sale to Strange Horizons happened before it was classified as pro.)
My point really is that it didn’t actually take you that long. And as you point out there was a lot of stuff going on during those six years, which included you getting better and better and better with each novel.
How many novels have you written now? Must be at least five by now? Right including trunk novels.
(Yes, like you, my blog has become a fantastic tool for figuring out what I was writing when and where I was when.)
(Okay, a little more verbose since we’re extending this!)
Well, if you get to count your short story time, then I get to count my script time–which would make it closer to ten or twelve years. I think at the beginning of all that I was much more worried about time and how long it *should* take, but actually not selling right off was a benefit in many ways (though it didn’t feel like it while it was happening, of course). I feel like I have a lot more perspective now, and learned so much during those years and from every single thing I wrote–finished, unfinished, sold, unsold–that I wouldn’t give any of it up. It also makes me appreciate this fun first book release part more. I would be so disappointed in myself if I was too uptight to enjoy something I worked that hard to achieve. (Not that it’s not also stressful, but I am determined to have fun.)
Actually, Blackwood is the fourth full novel I wrote. I have two that are trunked, essentially–the Seattle undercity novel, the first one I wrote, and my Medea book, Greek to Me. The first one of those never really went out on submission; I showed it to a few friends and a couple of agents, got lots of feedback, rewrote it, realized it still wasn’t good enough…put it away. I tried a couple of reboots for workshop things while I was in grad school, so it’s possible I might return to it someday. The Medea book was the book I worked on mostly at Vermont and the book that got me a (fabulous) agent, though it didn’t sell. And I didn’t have the heart to keep reworking it once it didn’t, because I needed to move on. (But I do have about 50 pages of it done in a completely different approach, so I might go back to it at some point too.)
Then I wrote a book that I loved but which also didn’t sell, something I’m VERY relieved about, actually. Because I basically scrapped everything except the kernel of the idea and my main character and a few other things and completely rebooted it and now it will be a completely different book that I’m sooo excited about, which will come out next year from Strange Chemistry. I probably did two overhaul rewrites of it in the earlier versions, but the world-building just wasn’t working and so neither was the story. I had put too much crap on top of the premise. So I decided to break it down *completely* with friends in Mexico on a retreat and they helped me fix the main problems with the world over a two hour or so dinner session, and it became an utterly different book. And one that has way more of my own weird obsessions in it.
So, after the earlier versions of what’s now The Woken Gods, was Blackwood, my fourth full novel completed. And I do have a fifth (or sixth?) secret novel that I’m just getting ready to start revising. I finished a draft of it back in the spring.
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