This week, a rainbow glows above the house where I live with the man of my dreams and the World’s Greatest Dog. The sun is shining. My children have called every day to tell me
how much they love me. Godot showed up to ask if I’d been waiting for him, as did Mr. Goodbar.
Why? Because my agent loves my current WIP (not to be confused with he thinks it’s perfect), the one I spent 14.8 years re-writing, the last time in blood.
Life wasn’t always like this. Fifteen years ago, I had no idea it would take me so f*** long to achieve one scrawny, measly dream, or that I’d go through so many prequels to what would finally be The Book. The question that intrigues most writer friends (and the one I ask each time one of them launches their book) is how did I get here? What’s the good and bad that made my writing work–and not work? I hate analyzing myself–for me, introspection is as much fun as going to the opera. I write. I edit. I rewrite. I don’t think deep thoughts about who I am or where my existential self is going. Sure, I’ve been told by my toxic critique group and a few well-meaning friends that I don’t ramp up the drama fast enough for a thriller (my chosen genre). My characters’ motivations aren’t believable. The stakes aren’t high enough even after the thirteenth rewrite. Or the fourteenth.
Or the fifteenth.
Many times, I felt like a violin in a marching band.
But what I do well as a writer is I never give up. I don’t know the meaning of that phrase. How does one ‘give up’? I tried to after the failure of Book #1, the soul-seering paleo-historic biography of pregnant Lucy, trying to survive in a world that had stacked the deck against her. No one–I mean no one–found it appealing. Not agents, not my family, and most pointedly, not my annoying critique group (though they’ve never liked a thing I wrote). Since I took up writing to tell Lucy’s story, I decided to quit.
That didn’t work. How does one put down the pen after experiencing the exhilaration of finishing an entire novel? I read forty-six books, cleaned my house, even tried shopping, but eventually ended up back in my office, in front of my computer, peering out the 8×8 window my husband had installed precisely so I could ruminate while the waterfall in our backyard tumbled endlessly downward. I started a cathartic blog on the doomed Lucy, then one on writing, wrote a few ebooks (they are doing nicely) and a few more, and stumbled on some ezines that wanted me to write for them (like Write Anything).
And found a new twist on man’s timeless struggle to survive despite daunting odds. Thoughts buzzed like dive bombers. Characters bloomed and withered. A dramatic piece of a friend’s life fit perfectly into a new plot line and my first thriller was born. No one liked it, but that didn’t stop me. I was on a roll. Isn’t the myth it takes three books to make it? I wrote my third novel.
Which everyone liked, including an agent. That’s cool. I like having someone believe in me besides my husband and my tail-wagging, ear-flopping dog.
Now I take up residence in my office every day after work, write until 9ish with a thirty minute dinner break, go to bed, wake up, go to work and start over. Weekends, too, except not the ‘go to work’ part. I never get tired or tongue tied or washed out. If I get depressed, I throw a trauma at my main character and let her be depressed.
I have learned a few things along the way.
- When push comes to shove, push back.
- Reality is a word that has no place in fiction.
- Sometimes my plot passes the middle of nowhere hours before I notice I’m lost. That’s OK. I pull my outline out.
- Life has lots of bombshells and few foxholes.
- Verbize or (fill in the blank–we’re authors. We’re allowed to be neologists) is a word the world’s been crying out for.
- The only thing Vince Flynn and I have in common is neither of us were raised by wolves and both of us were unpublished at one point.
- When I can barely hear the whistle on my train of thought, I take a break.
- Editing is like walking through the Sahara in the middle of summer in tight shoes without a hat, or water.
- Though I’ve been told my writing is lousy, not by anyone of consequence
- When I realize my story arc belongs on a milk carton, it’s time to re-evaluate.
- I channel my muse when my hero’s motivation disappears as though sucked up by a Hoover. That happens at least once a week.
- Sometimes I write my best scenes when I feel lousy. Go figure.
- I have moments I wonder if God has invented the day I’ll finish my novel
And you never forget your first rejection.
Jacqui Murray is the editor of a technology curriculum for K-fifth grade and creator of two technology training books for middle school. She is the author of Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy midshipman. She is webmaster for five blogs, an Amazon Vine Voice book reviewer, a columnist for Examiner.com, Editorial Review Board member for Journal for Computing Teachers, IMS tech expert, and a weekly contributor to Write Anything and Technology in Education. Currently, she’s editing a thriller for her agent that should be be out to publishers this summer. Contact Jacqui at her writing office or her tech lab, Ask a Tech Teacher.
Pingback: How do I convince my parents to adopt another dog?
It’s more me than anything else, Shari. Don’t own this failure of mine. I often came home, teetering on the edge of quitting, but know I’d just heard some hard truths.
That’s writing, isn’t it?
On another subject–you made the ABNA cut! ohwowohwowohwow. You’re off and running!
Jacqui, I remember the very first time I read the Lucy book, the first one that you submitted to the crit group. I felt like I was reading the work of someone who could write – well – very well in fact. And someone who was writing a story that I enjoyed reading – a lot. I looked forward to every submission and would still like to read more of Lucy’s story. I looked forward every time you submitted a chapter for review, no matter which book it was. I won’t go on and on about how well you write, but you do, and I knew it then as now.
I know that we are a tough crit group, especially ironic since none of us are really published (I know, a bit of self publishing, not the same) – except for you! And I don’t think any of us works as hard as you do at your writing. Not even me and I do write a lot, and rewrite and revise and cut and reconsider and try again. Still, you take the prize for work ethic.
The crit group is tough and maybe even toxic as you say. You know that I’m no longer submitting my work, for a number of reasons, one perhaps being that I’m also thin skinned. If I ever gave you the impression that I hated your work, I sincerely apologize. That was never intended. My mouth (and my critiques) goes a long way to killing my reputation as a compassionate and supportive reviewer. In other words, it’s gotten me in trouble before and I’ve lost friends when what I thought I was doing was helping to build writers.
Your agent seems to be a person who makes gentle suggestions rather than lashing criticisms. If an agent can be that constructive, certainly the rest of us should be at least as kind.
Please accept my apologies for appearing or being negative. Looking back I know I was, toward your work and that of many others. Was not intended to be cruel. I’m not an expert on writing. I’m taking your comments here to heart and will apply them with more sensitivity when reviewing the writing of other people.
Best wishes as you continue to work on your book. I am so excited for you and can’t wait to purchase it so I can get an autographed copy! And I will finally know how it all comes out!
Shari *: )
I don’t remember your toxic writing critique group hating your writing. I remember them liking it and working to make it even better. If they had hated it, they wouldn’t have bothered. Keep up the good work.
Ah, you would know. You were there. In the fullness of time, I actually write it off to my thin skin. I got a lot out of those critiques or I wouldn’t have continued submitting to them. Hey–I acknowledge them in my (now-agented) book. He often couches suggestions in phrases like, “I may be way off the mark” or “Please know I want to help you…” Are all writers thin skinned? I don’t think Bill was.
Thanks for slapping me, Nanette. It’s good to remind readers that progress often requires pain.
I love your “never say die attitude”, Jacqui! It is the hallmark of a great “anything”! If you believe you won’t do it, you will be right. And likewise if you believe you can!
I just realized I hadn’t seen any of your WordDreams posts in ages. I’ve been so busy, I’m having a hard time juggling everything, and my blogging and blog reading have suffered because they’re at the top of my wish list, but not my triage list! I’m happy being busy though! No complaints there.
Hope you are well.
Thanks! I’ve had a huge number of hits on this post, though my statistics would indicate they’re coming for the Cute Puppy Picture rather than my pithy observations. How do I know? I posted a different article about how to describe dogs–months ago. It still generates a fourth of my hits.
People love their dogs.,