I've never been so happy to receive a rejection. And I've received tons of them, trust me. When the thin envelope from the literary magazine arrived in the mail today, I was at first disheartened. I didn't have to even open it to know what it said. It would be a single page: a form rejection. Or so I thought.
But for the first time in my life, it was not. Sure, it was a rejection. But it was an encouraging rejection. The gist of it was that my Chapter One of RoboNomics 'has merit' but is 'not suitable' for that particular publication (which I read as my chapter is a little more sci fi, a little less literary). If that was all, it would have been little better than a form letter. But that wasn't it.
Also included were some of the comments that one of their reviewers had of the chapter. I won't quote it word for word here. But I will tell you that the reviewer liked it. Good set up, strong voice, compelling setting and characters. And to top it off, they would love to read more from me! SQUEEEEEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I might have actually made that noise when I read the letter. I took the thing, highlighted all the awesome comments quoted of my writing, and stuck it on my fridge.
Delusions of Grandeur
I think I've mentioned on this blog that in my early life, I didn't have any appropriate role models or mentors. Eventually, I took a couple poetry courses. During those times I had poetry instructors. But until this year, I didn't have an instructor, mentor or role model in the realm of fiction writing at all. Although I've been writing stories since I was nine years old, all I had was a beat up copy of "Emily of New Moon" and the feeling, deep down and unshakeable, that I have talent for my chosen vocation. That writing fiction is what I was made for, was my destiny, was (and is) the reason I am alive.
So it was and is, even now, still so easy for me to believe the doubters in my life. And it's not exactly easy to put my butt in the chair every day and do what I love with no external recognition or reward whatsoever. But I've come up with my own cure for the doubts or rather, my own elixir against self-doubt: delusion. I tell myself that I can do it. I tell myself that I have talent. I convince myself that I am a professional, published author already and that I am already in the midst of an established career. I listen to my motivational songs over and over again until I think that I am the most talented sci fi/fantasy writer the world has ever known. And it works. It's a strange little trick of the imagination but it gives me the strength to keep going without anyone having to tell me that what I am doing is worthwhile.
And so it's been a bit overwhelming for me over the past seven months or so. First, with the constant stream of comments from my writing instructor about how I have talent -- I'm not actually delusional about that -- and now this: the nicest, happiest, most encouraging rejection letter I've ever received. I knew I wasn't wrong, I knew I wasn't just some silly amateur who one day randomly turned her mind to writing a sci fi novel. I knew all along that this manuscript is something that people would actually want to read. It is a small thing. It is such a tiny, minuscule professional accomplishment. But to me, it feels giant. To come out of this lonesome state of being the only one who knows that I have talent for this into the company of a few others who agree with me. To know that I am not wrong about it all. :)
Soooo....I may have jumped the gun a little bit with this whole "time to look for a literary agent" thing. Not to worry too much. It'll definitely be happening within the next few months. But just not right this second.
See, like a good little girl I decided to follow the advice in this article: specifically, step #10. I opened up a fresh new spread sheet and labeled the columns appropriately. Then I got out my copy of Writer's Market Guide to Literary Agents and supplemented that with a Publishers Marketplace search for literary agents and an Agent Query search. Specifically, I started looking for agents who were on the lookout for fresh sci fi with an interesting, unique main character. Someone who would be as intrigued by a sci fi novel as they are by mainstream or women's literature. And so I began to fill in my fields.
But something began to happen along the way. I looked up agents websites and read them carefully. And I realized that this couldn't happen yet. Sure, I could send off my first 10, 25, 50, even 100 pages to a prospective agent. But then what if they love that polished work and reply in a month or less that they want to read the rest?
The problem is, in the course of my writing work with Humber College, my instructor and I didn't quite make it to the end of my novel. We went far enough for me to know exactly what I need to do in order to make the ending pop. But I am going to be an amateur about this. I am not about to send off any of my work until the entire manuscript is perfectly polished. And so.
And so the work continues. If I had to make a projection, I'd say that I would be ready to send out queries to agents by the time the winter is over. So....let's say by March. I'll write it here, dear blog reader, so that you can hold me to it. No being lazy for me. Lots to do. At least in this city, where they don't plow the roads properly and it's damn cold, there isn't much else to do but work. And work. And work some more. All right, then. Let's go.
Who doesn't love Christmas, right? It's fun, there's music and presents and Christmas baking and you get to see all those loved folks you haven't seen in a dog's age, right? Yup, that's what I get told every year. And yet every year I have less and less of a desire to celebrate this nonsense holiday. Bah. Humbug.
Okay, so that last statement was a bit of a joke. It's not that I'm a scrooge, I swear. But every year seems to be getting worse. Walking through the grocery store trying to pick up the few items of food I need for the week while all along inane jingles piped through the speaker system on repeat. Or not realizing that it's Black Friday and having to stand in an insanely long line for a half hour just to get hubby's coffee before he comes home for the weekend. Did someone forget to tell these people that it's still November???!!
This all has to do with me. I can see that my need to be a speculative novelist no matter what comes is behind this Holiday Season ennui. It seems like a stretch but hear me out.
A while back, after a long time of cogs turning in my brain (sometimes it takes me a long time to come to conclusions about my life), I decided that if I really want to become a novelist -- and I do -- then I can't just be in. I have to be all in. I have to commit to it and to myself in a way that I never have before. And so I decided, with my RoboNomics manuscript as the object, that if I could not get a literary agent interested in it then I would publish the book myself. It had to be published.
I've done tons of research in regards to self-publishing ebooks. And from what I gather, self-publishing takes some cash layout on things like book covers, et cetera, if it's going to be done right. Call it a ROI system -- return on (initial) investment. So if it comes to that, I've been working away for the past few months on collecting a little nest egg: an investment in my future. Trying hard not to spend any more money than I absolutely have to.
So it's frustrating for me to go pick up necessities and see tons of people who presumably have much, much better paying day jobs than I do standing in line like so many cattle to the slaughter (though for them it is the slaughter of their bank accounts) in order to buy some ornaments for their lawn. Really? Do you seriously not have enough Christmas ornaments at home?
No doubt I'll buy a pack of Christmas cards to send to family and friends. I'll make up my little list of special friends and family members who I want to buy gifts for. But isn't Christmas supposed to be about sharing time off of work with loved ones? Since when is it about what your house looks like or mountains of crap no one needs? For me, this year and every year, I want to have a restrained Christmas. I don't want to go crazy buying stuff. I don't want to break the bank on stuff to keep the darkness away -- if you know I mean.
Again, it's a side effect of my growing ambition. When I see people in line buying tons of gifts or worse yet tons of decorations that in ten years they'll probably have long forgotten they even own, I see a sad cycle of consumption. Get a job you hate to pay for crap you don't need. Repeat. I think I'd just rather save what tiny bits of money I have so that I can carve out a path for a future vocation and use my free time on that avocation in the meantime.
It's the same lesson I've learnt while I work on my art. I don't need expensive paper, notebooks, or pens to create an amazing novel. Similarly, I don't need all those decorations and gifts to have an amazing time over the Christmas holidays. It's not the appearance that makes it great. It's what you do with what you already have! :)
Yesterday, I submitted my last package of writing for my fiction course. The official end date is November 29, but yesterday was the deadline for submitting writing. Man, did it ever speed by like crazy!
And so I've been thinking about all that I've learned during these past seven months. Overall, I learned how to edit a piece of my writing honesty and openly.
You see, when I first entered this course I was extremely resistant to editing my work in any way that "disrupted its integrity." Which, for a beginning fiction writer, can have a broad definition. So before I had any professional input, I had a tendency to think of 'editing' as copy/line editing: correcting the typos and grammatical errors.
Perhaps some of this also had to do with laziness. Having spend so long in school, writing essay after essay and editing them, I suppose it was a chore that I was not prepared to do. But the consequence of my resistance is that work on the manuscript ground nearly to a halt. I didn't want to edit and I didn't even realize what it was to edit, really.
During this course, the lessons I learned were related mainly to revision. The two things that helped the most were the fact that I worked on packets of 25 pages at a time thereby greatly reducing the anxiety I had when I looked at the shear amount of words there were to be dealt with. There was also the fact that I had someone else -- a professional set of eyes who would be looking at the work in short order. Knowing that helped me strive for perfection. Or, at least, the version of perfection as I knew it.
To break down the major lessons I learned about writing through this course:
1. You don't have to make one sentence do everything. Pretty basic stuff, I know. But I now realize that long sentences do not necessarily good writing make. I've learned the value of sentence length and structure variety.
2. Don't forget your setting. As I've discussed here in the past, I learned a lot about the about the value of setting description. I've learned that I don't always need to rush forward to the next plot point. That it's okay to enjoy describing small details and that such details enhance story rather than slow it down.
3. But you don't have to describe everything. I also had the opposite problem: when trying to infuse my manuscript with setting details, I would go overboard. I would describe everything about a certain setting. In that case, description actually does slow story. I've learned the value of a single, well-chosen metaphor.
4. I don't need fancy diction to be an author. Words like 'amongst', as much as I am in the habit of using them, have no place in modern writing. Perhaps this is not an axiom that any other author needs, but I sure do. I had the bad habit of using this weirdly old-fashioned diction in all my writing since I thought it would make the work more high-brow, or something. Now I am developing the habit of dropping all that window-dressing. It's like when you visit a house and it has those newsprint-stuffed puffs at the top of the curtains. Yeesh!
Well, I actually think that's it. The next steps for this manuscript are the final edit, and then pitching to agents. Am I there already?! Excitement! :)
So here we are, smack dab in the middle of my busiest month of the year. And what do I go and do? Why, start another blog, that's what!
But not to fear, dear Readers. (It seems there's more than one of you now! How splendid!) I will not be neglecting this -- my first and most important blog. Would never do that. Blog #2 -- Inspirational Music for Writers -- is going to be more of a weekly endeavour while this blog will continue to be chatty and journaly and sometimes offer something of substance, if my brain tends that way.
In the meantime I wanted to share with you another one of the random wisdom nuggets that periodically come to me. In particular, I remember when I gave my Master's defense. At least with a master's defense -- at least in education at that particular institution -- the defense was closed door. Lucky for me it wasn't open door as Ph.D. defenses tend to be, since facing three professors: my thesis advisor and two others on my defense panel, was nearly enough for me to lose my lunch. It was after the term was over, and so I took a room at a hotel.
That morning my stomach was in complete turmoil. I can remember going down to the hotel restaurant and ordering just like a soup and a bun for lunch. I couldn't think of stomaching anything else. I was just that nervous.
The defense itself was a bit of a blur, to be honest. I had power point slides, I gave my presentation. I answered a barrage of questions and then I waited outside the room while they debated the decision. And then my advisor emerged from the classroom we had occupied and told me the news: I had done it! I had successful defended my Master's thesis and it was going to be published.
Afterwards, there was a fluffy of activity as I rushed around campus, tending to the last of the paperwork associated with taking my project from a thing on sheets of printer paper to an actual bound book that would be forever stored in the University's library. By the time I had time to sit down, it was on the train across Ontario that would carry me to my hometown. I felt exhausted, but strangely exhilarated. And as the train pulled into Union Station in Toronto, the site of what would be my next (mis)adventure, I looked up at that spike of a building called the CN Tower and I felt like I had really accomplished something. I had done something that not everyone gets to do in their lives and it made me feel as if I could do anything.
The day job plods on, as boring as ever. I wake up at 6 a.m. and have to find snippets of ten or fifteen minutes to actually work on my novel. But, you know, it's an important lesson for me to remember from time to time: the one big thing that I learnt from completing a Master's degree in Curriculum Studies. I have been tested by fire. Like the intellectual equivalent of walking over hot coals, if I can do that, I can do anything I set my mind to. Including making myself into a novelist.