Monday, July 30, 2012

Dear Rocky: Nearly (Un)done

Dear Rocky,

I am nearing a moment I never thought would arrive: querying agents. I've finally completed multiple drafts of the novel-I've-incessantly-talked-about-for-years. I've had volunteer readers go over it with permission to shred. I've given it to family members; I've pitched it to complete strangers on subways and beaches. I've even signed up for a pitch appointment with an agent at the upcoming Colorado Gold conference! In other words, I've never made it this far. Not even close. Countless other stories and novels sit in drawers around the house. But this one has gone the distance. And I thought I knew how this moment would feel. I'm supposed to feel excited, exuberant, creatively sated as I lean into a Cheshire-cat smile of completion . . . right?

Um, not so much.

Instead, I'm gripped with terror, angst, sleepless nights! I've even started to resent this novelist dream that has dogged me since the age of six. Meeting with an agent? Facing the prospect that my first novel may go nowhere? That maybe my second will be "the one." Oh, no. Or maybe the third, fourth, fifth? Or maybe none of them! Can I hold on to the joy of writing even if I never sell a word? Or is this writing-thing I've done my whole entire life been one big bark up one big wrong tree?

My question is this: Is this Completion Anxiety common? I've always heard about the fear of beginnings and middles. But ends? Any experience you have to share would be greatly appreciated.


Nearly (Un)done in Boulder


Dear Nearly (Un)done,

Years ago an agent suggested to me that every writer has to go through an apprenticeship, and that writing the equivalent of a million words wasn’t unusual before achieving that longed-for first sale. Let me further reinforce her theory by mentioning that many of my friends who’ve been published didn’t sell their first manuscript. Or their second. Often not even their fifth. I sold my third but it took years and many revisions. I mention this because it sounds as if you’ve been serving your apprenticeship, though I notice you didn’t mention whether you were in a critique group. In my experience, regular critique by writers who also study the craft of novel-writing provides an in-depth perspective, more so than beta readers.

Now to the real question at hand. Being gripped with terror is not good. Anxious? Yes. Hopeful? Absolutely. But sleepless nights? I’m concerned.

This question of angst and whether it's common leads me back to critique groups. Part of their value is the mutual support that's created by meeting regularly with your peers. You can also experience that feeling of camaraderie at conferences, though a monthly or weekly meeting is far more energizing and might alleviate some of your anxiety while also generating motivation and renewed joy in the actual writing process.

I also suggest you start writing your next book. Get those creative juices flowing so you're enjoying world-building, as opposed to fretting about whether you're this close to landing a contract. Yes, you might capture the attention of an agent or editor at Colorado Gold - a number of writers have done exactly that. I hope you would then stop and have a party, but soon after you will experience the fact that virtually every part of the business side of publication is slow-moving.

Let’s talk about rejection for a minute. I know some amazingly talented writers who’ve thrown in the submittal towel. They’re still writing, but their souls are simply too fragile to handle repeated rejection. So do your research. Make certain you’re increasing your odds by querying agents that represent your genre. Remember, rejection is part of this business and repeated rejection is the norm. While repeated rejections for similar reasons may mean you need to edit your manuscript yet again, rejection often means that your book isn't quite right for that particular agent.

Enjoy the conference. Network. Let your enthusiasm show during your pitch meeting. Remind yourself that you’re progressing on your apprenticeship and that if THIS agent doesn’t want your book that the NEXT ONE might. Hold onto the dream. There are numerous agents and many reputable presses out there. Visit and search for matches, then send out more queries. Persistence is imperative.

Keep writing and improving your craft. Send out even more queries. Attend another conference or workshop. Read, read, read. Keep writing. Join a critique group. Read some more. And keep on writing.


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The Dear Rocky column is published on the last Monday of the month.


Patricia Stoltey said...

The critique group advice is right on, and I would add the suggestion the writer enter a few contests and solicit judges' feedback. Learning to accept criticism and rejection as part of the writing life is necessary if we want to move forward.

Chiseled in Rock said...