So, I am terrible at posting. Maybe it’s a time thing. Maybe it’s that I’m not very comfortable talking about myself. But last I posted, I’d finished a complete rewrite of my YA speculative novel and was waiting to see if that rewrite would sell to a publisher. As it goes, it has not. Yet? Ever? Who knows. But in the year since, I’ve done a lot of wallowing and doubting and growing and learning as a writer. I also did a lot of writing. Hence, the title of this post: Starting Over.
The process of writing my first book was a long one. I got the idea at twenty. Wrote (total garbage that will never see the light of day) in a bunch of notebooks. Set those notebooks aside while I finished college. Scribbled notes and ideas as often as I could in the meantime, letting the idea grow into something less garbage. Then when I graduated, I got to work. (Some magic, unicorn people have managed to write fabulous books while also in school, but alas, I have a nearly impossible time splitting my focus between big projects.) Four years later, I had a book. Yes, four. I am not a fast writer. I had no idea what I was doing. I stumbled along, researching, writing, rewriting, getting advice, rewriting again, and again and again, until I had a product I was not embarrassed by. A product I figured was good enough for other people to actually, well, read. Then came querying. Over a year and sixty rejections later, I signed with my fabulous agent. Then came revising. Then, submission. (In the meantime, life. I worked full-time, got married, bought a house, had a baby, etc.) Submission brought more rejections and finally an R & R (a revise and resubmit request) which led to the aforementioned rewrite. A rewrite that went to acquisitions, but didn’t sell.
Which catches us up to… Yep! Starting over.
Not selling a book I’d spent the better part of my twenties working on was a tough blow. Working that hard at anything only to fail is never easy. It made me question my choices. I was a 29 year-old new mom who’d devoted the time most people use for career-building to an endeavor that didn’t go anywhere. I doubted myself. A lot. Publishing a book, having a career as a novelist, these are big and sometimes impractical dreams. Failure is inevitable. Doing thousands of hours of tedious, passionate, emotionally taxing, repetitive work for zero guarantees (and zero money if it doesn’t sell) is inevitable. And I knew while writing that book that failure was a possibility. A statistically likely one. But knowing that intellectually didn’t make the reality of it hurt less. I cried. I worried. I second-guessed nearly a decade’s worth of dedication.
Then I thought, Okay. Now what?
I still had my agent. Alongside those rejections, I’d gotten some positive feedback. And, really, what was I going to do? Quit? Throw away eight-odd years of painstakingly teaching myself how to write a novel? Or, start over?
It wasn’t easy. I was still so emotionally tied to my first novel and it’s failure that falling in love with a new one felt, irresponsible? After all, what if I did it again, all that work, all that emotional and intellectual effort, spent all that irretrievable time and energy, again, only to fail again? It was a high hurdle to overcome. One I scaled and tumbled over gracelessly while concurrently researching and writing the first draft of my new book if only because to not overcome would mean those years of teaching myself to write were truly a waste of time. Maybe this sounds melodramatic. And maybe it was. But writing is inherently an emotional endeavor. If I can’t care about my own work, my own characters, what they do and/or what happens to them, how can I ask a reader to?
At first, I faked it. I had this idea, so I ran with it. I read books for research. I outlined. I did character sketches and world-built. I wrote. And wrote and wrote and wrote. And slowly but surely, I got over the failure of my first book. I let it go. And I fell in love with my new one. I’d stopped faking it. And the best part? I stopped defining who I am as a writer by my first book. I stopped feeling like a failure if only because that book failed. Instead, I started seeing it for what it is. A step. A foundation. I found my agent with that book. I built bridges with that book. I started the life-long process of learning how to write with that book, a book that took me four years to reach a place it took me just eleven months to get to the second time around.
So, moral of the story? I can’t know if my second book will sell or end up shelved with my first one. But I can know that if it doesn’t, instead of calling it a failure, I’ll call it experience. And instead of starting over afterward, I’ll simply try again.