A little over three years ago, I finished writing what we'll call my second novel. We'll call it that because I've written other novels, but I don't care to number them because they were not that good. They were my practice novels.
Anyhoo, I finished this one that I thought was pretty okay. And I queried it, fell flat, went to grad school, and now am rewriting it.
It's been a long time since I first finished it... a lot has happened since then. I mean, I still have the same husband and the same three kids, and I still live in the same house, so maybe nothing quite life-altering, but I did go to grad school, and that was pretty significant. And my kids turned into teenagers, which is a little like not having the same three kids. Also, I got a job that didn't involve my own children, laundry, or making up scenarios in which I need to google things like interrogation techniques and the genetic susceptibility of certain diseases. And I've written about 800 other pages. It seems like a long three years, anyway.
Last year, I started this novel from scratch, a new blank document, new plot twists, new scene development. I've pecked on it for the last eight months or so, going full-throttle at times but mostly fitting it in between my other obligations. There has been this sense of failure hanging over it, I think, that's made it feel like I am more finishing it for myself, to say I've done it well, than with the thought that anyone would want it. After all, I did query it once.
But today I was wondering about all those queries. I couldn't really remember anything about the responses except for two of them, and one of those I remember specifically responding to the material. So I went back to find that email, to find out what she didn't like about it, wondering, I suppose, whether or not I'd fixed that element.
The folder contains all the lit mag submissions from last year, so I was flying past them, and suddenly I was back in 2009 and my Some Kind of Normal queries, and I though, Wait a minute! Where are all the queries for this book?? It turns out there were only six. SIX! I only queried six agents. And then... I gave up?
It's funny how time has changed my memory of all that. I remember the querying as a colossal failure, when in reality, I knew the book wasn't as good as I wanted it to be, and I took the six rejections to be confirmation of that.
But as I look back - three years past - I'm encouraged. Three of the six said outright they were very impressed by my writing... writing which I hope is so, so much stronger now. One gave a very detailed explanation of why she was passing, which mostly went to the motivation of the main character coming back to her hometown, ending with this: "You really write so well, and I hope you will revise."
This is all good news on several fronts. First, it means possibly I don't stink as a writer. Secondly, it means possibly this book doesn't stink. Thirdly, it means I have not already saturated the agency world with a past manuscript of this same basic story.
Which over all adds up to the fact that it might be worth finishing this, not just for me, but to see if there is hope out there for it. And there is the tiniest part of that makes me feel like a writer again, and not just a person who writes.
I know a lot of you are in this same boat... wrangling a book that feels like it will not come under submission - is either not finished or you feel is just "pretty okay" but not great - or fighting your way out from under "submission/query hell."
Do not let doubt steal your motivation.
Do not let the lack of time dictate whether or not you will finish.
Do not let the rejections of part of the world keep you from stampeding the other part of the world.
Do not let yourself be your own worst enemy to success.
And when you feel like giving up, remind yourself that there is someone out there saying, "You really write so well..." Let that be the voice you listen to.