We give a lot of glory to the big milestones in this business. Finishing a draft, getting an agent, going on sub, announcing a book deal. The smaller wins get love too– things like writing each day, starting a new book on craft, or meeting a reading goal are celebrated. But sometimes what we fail to talk about as a community are those moments when we come close to giving up. The gritty underbelly of all of the good things tends to get glazed over with a pretty dollop of success. When you do see somebody’s good news, you rarely think about what happened for that person to get to that point. You don’t see the near-misses or the almosts, the messy drafts that go nowhere or the tears. I share a lot of my own good news on social media– book deal announcements, photos of my neat and organized writing space, snippets from what I’m working on. But today, I felt compelled to talk about the side I don’t show as often. My own gritty underbelly, in the form of the day I almost quit writing entirely.
It was spring of 2013. I was getting married in less than a month, so needless to say, my life was incredibly busy with wedding preparation. I had been querying a New Adult manuscript since December with some interest and several requests, but no offers. I was totally convinced that it was only a matter of finding the right agent for my project. And one day, I got an email regarding one of the full requests. They wanted to set up a time to talk to me about my book. On the phone. It was THE call, I was sure of it! Much flailing ensued. This was my moment, after six months of querying. Everything was coming together for me.
But the phone call wasn’t an offer. It was an R&R, which I pretended not to be disappointed about. I tried not to get my hopes up, and I diligently set about making the changes that the agency wanted to see. I pored over my manuscript, certain that I was making it so much better. I could practically envision the book deal announcement. When it was ready, I sent it back and kept my fingers crossed for good news.
But it wasn’t good news. There was an email passing on the project less than a week later, on a Friday night when I was binging on Shark Tank in my pajamas. I’d like to say I took the news well, but I remember crying in my apartment. I had an opportunity and I fell short. What if another opportunity never came? I wasn’t good enough. My manuscript wasn’t good enough. Every single doubt I had ever cast on myself bloomed around me, sucking me into a dark cloud. I didn’t even want to look at my computer, and suddenly the dream of being a published writer was ridiculous and unfathomable. I was glad only a few people in my life knew that it was my goal to become a published author, because it was less embarrassing to only fail in front of my immediate family. With that one rejection– one person’s opinion– I convinced myself that I should just give up entirely.
And I did give up. For one week, two weeks, three weeks, a month. I didn’t open a Word doc or create anything new. I focused on all of the other good things in my life. My wedding. My mini-moon. My friends and family. My dog. Summer weather and patio season and long walks and barbeques. I think I needed that break, needed to let myself be upset over something that really hurt. I needed to let myself feel the sting instead of glossing over it the way I usually did. I needed that time away from writing.
I told myself that life was easier without the rejection and judgment that comes with being a writer, or trying to be. And it was easier. But it wasn’t me. I was happy, but I wasn’t creatively fulfilled, and for me, the two are tied together in a knot that can’t really come undone.
Picking myself up and trying again was not easy to do. But I did it, slowly at first. I sent more queries, knowing that they might end the same way, with rejection. But I also knew if I didn’t send them, my book would never see the light of day. I became more active on Twitter, despite my shyness, and I started entering contests. I worked on a different New Adult manuscript and let myself believe that it was my best work yet. I truly believe that the art of creating that book might have saved me from quitting entirely. (This is part of the reason why I believe always working on the next thing is so important!)
That new manuscript? I didn’t query it very widely before a new idea lodged itself in my head and wouldn’t leave. That book was Firsts, and I wrote it over a furious and magical three-week period. Then I heard about a contest called Pitch Wars, and my life was forever changed.
Not finding an agent with that second book really didn’t sting at all. It was a totally different experience then the first time around. All of my expectations weren’t hinged on one manuscript. I was so excited about Firsts and getting into YA writing that I felt a sense of possibility, like anything could happen. And a couple months after Pitch wars ended, my dream of getting an agent did happen, and then I dared to think even bigger and let myself believe the book would sell. After it did, I dared to believe I could keep selling books. And I have.
The truth is, my dreams didn’t change from when I wrote that first book. But my expectations did. I went from feeling like I would fail if a book didn’t get me an agent or published to being okay with any given book not being the one. Because I can always write more. The words won’t dry up if I write too many. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The more I write, the more efficient I get, and the less I get attached to any one darling. My advice? Get comfortable with whatever you’re working on not being “the one.” Don’t consider any writing you do a waste of time, because it never is. And let yourself mourn the losses. Admit that it sucks to be rejected. When you’re done grieving, I promise you’ll come out on the other side stronger than ever.
My first two books are currently trunked, but they were some of the best use of my time. Maybe I’ll go back to them someday. Maybe not. But they’re the foundation upon which everything else was built, and for that I’ll be forever grateful.