Three weeks into summer vacation and I’ve developed a nice little routine for myself. I wake up early, make a pot of coffee and take it out to the patio to write for a while. I’m about 13,000 words into a new novel and am trying to write at least 500 per day. At the end of the day, in the evening when the adults are reading in the office and the kids are off watching television or bathing or snacking, I type up what I wrote earlier that morning. I enjoy that process, it gives me the opportunity to read what I wrote so quickly that morning and to add to it, embellish scenes and dialogue. It’s the first revision and it’s the best part of creating a story for me.
Last week, however, I hit a wrinkle, a rift in the routine.
The week began perfectly enough with a Monday night workshop with the great Richard Bausch. He read a couple of chapters from a finished novel of mine, The Simplest Pattern, aloud and they were received well; I stayed late (too late, I would learn later), drinking brandy and espresso and listening to him talk about writing and writers. He was kind enough to refer to my future as when I am published and not if.
But then I didn’t write the next morning. In fact, I didn’t write anything new for most of the week. I’ve taken stretches before, for one reason or another, where no new words were written, whether blocked, though that is rare, or because of other obligations. The difference this time was that I didn’t really care, and that scared me. Normally, if I go a few days without writing, it plagues me and I lament that lost time. But last week, I didn’t much think about it.
To be sure, I was writing for pay, working on the River Times magazine I’ve been charged with for the organization Mississippi River Corridor-TN. It’s wrapping up and nearing press time over these next two weeks, so there’s the pressure of that, but I don’t blame it for my lack of fiction.
I even blew off the nighttime revisions. I had about 4,000 words that needed to be typed up from the previous weekend, but I would sit down at night, look at the pages, shrug, and get up to watch shitty television instead. Again, no remorse, no real care about it and it was that lack of concern that, well, concerned me. It’s not unlike me to obsess over what I’m working on and I was far from that. I didn’t want to write.
On Thursday night, though, the ladies of the house went to book club, the kids were watching their shows and I forced myself to sit at the dining room table with my laptop and notebook and, as a storm raged outside with wind that would eventually pull a large limb from a sweet gum tree out front, I typed up what I’d written the previous week. It all came back to me then – the characters, the story, the back stories. I don’t work off of an outline, but usually have a vague sense of where the story will go. This book, 5 Night Stand, however, is a bit more planned. So much so that I know already what happens, how it will end, and that it will be finished in September. All that’s left is the work. It was cathartic and inspirational to be able to sit down with my story and reacquaint myself. I was energized.
And then I woke up Friday morning and had a rejection from an agent in my in-box. I’ve received them fairly regularly at a rate of at least one a week, but this was the first agent who, after reading my query letter for The Simplest Pattern, asked to see the first three chapters. It was a couple of months ago, so I had recently sent a follow-up e-mail asking if she had had time to look at the chapters and if there is any interest. There is not. I know this is the rule rather than the exception, that there will be many, many more rejections and that The Simplest Pattern may never sell, my first novel (still unnamed, though I’m considering Life Out of Balance) may never sell and neither might 5 Night Stand, but it still sucks (Bausch told me last week that his first novel was actually his fourth).
So I took a break that afternoon and went to see Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris by myself. It’s a good story all about writers, which I guess I needed. It helped put that romanticism back into the pursuit, that thrill of making a story no matter what cost. It was a nice antidote to the business of agents and publishers and the fact that I don’t have either.
I found myself, though, taking the movie apart and asking myself why the story worked, why I was connecting with those characters (the agent had written: “While it's clear that you are a strong writer, I'm just not connecting enough with the characters to take it on.”). But this is how I find myself reading novels now. I read them asking myself why the author went into a flashback there, or came out of it here, why that character is bald, whether the author has ever been to Charleston or just Googled it to learn some details, could I get away with so many pages without dialogue, at what point in this story did an agent say “yes”? It’s an exhausting way to read. And then I think of agents reading my work that way and it becomes even more exhausting.
It was an exhausting week that way, but I did wake up Saturday morning, made a pot of coffee and took my pad and pencils outside to write. I wrote a lot and it felt good, and I think that I’m once again on track.
I also hit reply on that e-mail from the rejecting agent and sent her a query for Life Out of Balance. Might as well take advantage of those lines of communication that are open.
I’ll have good weeks and bad, I know. I’ll get a whole lot more rejections (about 20+ letters out to agents as of this writing). The thing, though, is the writing. I just enjoy it too much to let it get me down.
[Ed. note … one agent thought it would be a good Father’s Day gift to send a rejection yesterday. Thanks.]