In 2007 I enrolled in a two semester novel-writing workshop at Virginia Commonwealth University with a terrific professor named Clint McCown. I had decided that it would be easier to study with an instructor than to stay cooped up in my study with books entitled How Fiction Works and Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft. Furthermore, I was required to write 10 to 35 pages by the end of each month, as well as critique my fellow students’ work and read an assigned novel each week; the calendar forced me to produce a first draft by May. A bad first draft, but a first draft nonetheless.
A few months later, the manuscript was all polished and ready to go so I began querying agents through my contacts. The date was October 6, 2008.
The rest is history. As the economy tanked, so did my chances as an unknown writer in finding an agent much less a publisher. I was rejected by about 70 agents, probably more, I lost count, and a year later, I tweaked the novel and sent it out again to avail. I had some big names read my work or at least a portion of it, but as my husband always says, blah, blah, blah, “that will get you a cup of coffee.” And he’s right. Someone reading your manuscript is a very long trip from buying your manuscript. The novel sat on my computer for the next six years and I remember it took me about a year and a half to get over being depressed by the mere thought. Hearing people say, “You should be proud of yourself for writing a novel,” didn’t mean much to me. I didn’t like that I’d written something that may not be publishable, a bitter pill indeed for a writer.
Last month, I decided to send the manuscript out again after meeting several editors and agents at a writers’ conference. The marketplace has changed so much with e-books, etc. this time I may be successful.
So, it’s time to try again. I’m allowing myself another week holed up in my office so I can read how to books to give me confidence, this time choosing a hip pop culture writer’s book and a long deceased murder mystery writer as my instructors. I’ll reread my notes from my long ago VCU class, review the professor and students’ comments on my old novel, and then I’ll clean off my desk and click on Word. Hello, Blank Page.
I have to admit I am scared to death. Do I outline? Just wing it? The year 2007 was a long time ago! I’m going to have to review a lot before I feel comfortable writing fiction again. I haven’t written any in seven years. Will it be like riding a bike? You just never forget? We’ll see.
On the up side, I’m kind of excited. I’ve decided to explore a whole new world so I’m doing a little research and I’m filling up a royal blue Walmart spiral with notes on characters, how to, style, scenes, details, vocabulary words to look up, and novels to glance at for structure examples and point of view (for me a nightmare). I’m going to try and finish a first draft within a year.
As I start to write, I’ll do the same I did in 2007: I’ll cut pictures of different kinds of people out of magazines and catalogues, tack them up on my bulletin board and name them. Then, I’ll make up a story; I already have the story arc: it popped in my head while driving down the interstate from the writers’ conference. (Guess I should have been paying more attention to the traffic.) I recently found my characters from the novel I’d written while at VCU and I was pleased to gaze at them again after all these years. Old friends I knew so well. And I felt like each person had the right look for the character in my book; I used to spend a lot of time just staring at the photos while I thought about my story. Of course, it didn’t help when my young daughter came into my office one day and colored black moustaches and scratched out their teeth and eyes which made writing the end of the book a bit challenging. There just wasn’t the same aura when I stared at these photos for inspiration, but that is motherhood for you.
While I work on a new novel, I will continue to blog about writing, but my weekly entries will be shorter. I thought about keeping a diary of how I write my novel, then changed my mind – sometimes when you’re working on something it’s just easier not to talk about it. I used to always hate telling people about my last novel because I thought it was a good story, though inevitably when I recited the plot, their eyes would glaze over and they’d look over my shoulder. As you can imagine, this does not do much for your confidence.
So, Godspeed. Wish me luck. And I hope the ghosts of my favorite writers are looking down with a smile – Edith, Jane, Colette, Somerset, and Gustave – say a little prayer for me.
On a dark and stormy night. . .