Twelve Steps for Writers

I’ve been writing on and off for as long as I can remember. I vividly remember the first story I wrote on my own. It was in first grade and titled “The Lost Dog.” The plot focused on the narrator’s discovery of a lost dog with *gasp* no tags, so a journey began to try and find the dog’s home. My narrator eventually traversed across the world, and in the much awaited sequel, even took a space ship to the other planets to find the dog’s owner. (Apparently I was a bit naive about stray animals.)

I wrote my first novel in middle school. Quality-wise, it probably wasn’t any better than the Lost Dog. Rosewater Creek looked at my life running a horse ranch in Texas (neither of which I knew anything about.) My friends were the main characters, and I even wrote a letter to a famous, and very hot, country singer asking if he’d come film the movie with us. (Oh yes. I thought it was good enough to make a movie.) I never did hear back. Through all of my life, writing has been one constant for me, so it makes sense that it’s what I’m returning to now.

That being said, I was not prepared for the way writing would arrest every bit of my mind when I started writing my latest novel. I started work on Plan B for NanoWrimo. For those of you who don’t know (and if you haven’t done it, that’s probably you) November is National Novel Writing Month. To acknowledge that, a non-profit holds a contest every November. The goal is to write 50,000 words in a month. They want you to let go of your inner editor and just let the words flow. I’d heard of Nano before, but I had always forgotten about it until it was too late. Last year, I was reminded of it on November 3. I was hesitant to jump in, because I was already a couple of days behind with no idea what I was going to write about. Then it came to me, and I started to write. It was amazing the way the words flowed onto the page, and the story morphed and took shape. I’ve heard people talk about their characters as though they were real living, breathing people, and I never got it. Until now.

Since November, my mind is never far from my writing. I finished the first draft of my novel, then buckled down on a fresh rewrite. When that rewrite was through, I found beta readers and then I started editing again. In the meantime, my mind has been working constantly on trying to find the next idea. The next novel. Because, honestly, I can’t wait to start writing again.

I read a recent interview with R.L. Stine. He described being an author as being addicted to writing. And he’s right. Writing, publishing, editing . . . It’s on my mind constantly. I fall asleep at night thinking about what I can change, what can be fixed, what to do next. That being said, I decided I needed to develop a 12 step program for all of us writers out there.

Step 1- Admit that you have a problem. (That’s what I’m doing right now.)

Step 2- Believe that turning your manuscript over to a higher power (agent, editor or publisher) will help with your problem.

Step 3- Write a query letter.

Step 4- Rewrite the query letter.

Step 5- Rewrite the query letter again.

Step 6- Force yourself to hit send.

Step 7- Check your email immediately after sending. Just in case.

Step 8- Pee a little when you get an immediate response.

Step 9- Realize that it was only an automated response. Change your pants.

Step 10- Try not to get excited every time you check your email.

Step 11- Get a response.

Step 12- Start the whole process again.

The beauty of the process is the fact that it doesn’t matter what the response in step 11 is. If they say no, you’re going to keep trying. It’s going to keep eating at you. If they say yes, well, chances are good that once the dust settles, you’re going to be right back at the computer, pounding out the next manuscript.

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The sweet taste of rejection

I don’t handle rejection well. I mean, honestly, who does? It’s not like anyone out there really enjoys being told that whatever they’re trying to share with the world isn’t good enough. But I really, really don’t handle it well. To the point that I get nervous and start to sweat when it’s time to call my eye doctor to order more contacts. Doesn’t really make sense, but I do it just the same. I’ve never really handled it well. I ended up giving up on my dreams of being a musician because anytime I played solo, I was afraid that people wouldn’t like it. That they would reject my abilities because I wasn’t good enough.

For someone who hates rejection as strongly as I do, I sure picked the wrong line of work. Being a writer is all about rejection. Even if you’re a good writer, there’s a chance that you’re going to suffer dozens of rejections before finding someone who is willing to give your work a chance. But I love writing so much that I allow it to overpower my fear.
I recently finished writing, rewriting and editing a novel. After having a few beta readers run through it and give me opinions (strangely I wasn’t concerned about rejection during this time) I decided that it was time to step up my game. So I wrote a brief query letter to an agent who sounded like the perfect fit for my manuscript. I sent it out, and I waited. Within 36 hours I had a reply sitting in my inbox. Now anytime you see an email like that, your heart starts to race, your mouth goes dry and you cease to think logically. I had my first response.

Imagine my surprise when the preview of the email read, “Thank you so much for your query. We’d like to . . .” And then it cut off. For one brief but glorious moment I allowed myself to believe that the rest of the sentence read, “offer to represent your novel, and we already have a signed six figure book deal.” Okay. So I didn’t go quite that overboard. But I’d be lying if I didn’t at least briefly think that it might have ended, “read your manuscript.” Hand shaking, I opened the email. My not-so-mighty ego deflated slightly at the sight of the words, “We’d like to apologize for this form rejection letter.” Ouch baby! Very ouch. Way to get a girl’s hopes up.

But you know what? It’s okay. I’ve been here before, and I’m sure that I’ll be here again. It may take me dozens of emails before I find someone that will work with me. But I have faith that it will happen. For once, I’m not that afraid of rejection, because I’ve learned that it’s just another part of the process.