Today was a weird day. I have to admit up front, it did not go as planned. My plan was to get up early, read read read, write write write, and go see Game of Thrones at our weekly GoT party.
That didn't happen.
Alex got up later than I thought he would, which put my schedule off, and then I tried to get through Life of Pi. This book is due on Wednesday with an annotation, and I got about halfway through it today. It started off slow. So goddam slow. I was on page 100 when the ship sank (come on, you've had years to read it and you know the ship sinks, the movie was up for an Oscar). Knowing the twist ending, it makes it really interesting to see how Martel prompts his reveal. It's totally there. It totally makes sense, and it's haunting when you see these little remarks he makes. Chilling. I started crying when the hyena was ripping the zebra apart.
It's such a rich story, and it's a different pace than what I'm used to. It reads much more like a meditation on religion than it does a narrative, which I like, but it's just a detour from where I usually go.
Richard Parker. Phew, man. Phew. And Pi himself is a likeable ... although a little pretentious ... protagonist. But you're rooting for him.
So I felt like writing something else that wasn't my main thesis. I wrote about a page of something that will probably go nowhere. It was about ghosts and stuff, which I'm still trying to decide how exactly to go about writing on. Still not there. But it was good writing. My writing is getting better, I guess.
Yesterday, I got my packet back from my mentor, Nancy Holder. Nancy said that I have a career ahead of me, which made me smile. That meant a lot to me, to hear that. She says my writing is getting stronger. My scary scene played out the way I wanted it to. So that was a good packet to get back.
She talked to me about "set pieces," which is something I'm trying to keep in mind as I read Martel's work. Martel is amazing at set pieces. As Nancy explained, set pieces are (long story short) when a scene is working in the larger framework of the story. Martel knows exactly where his story is going, and each of these scenes push forward into the larger picture. It's a masterpiece.
Now just to figure out all the other scenes in that book.
I closed my eyes and laid back on my bed, listening to the Life of Pi soundtrack, and tried to think through the scenes I'm working on right now. It helped a little, but then I got sidetracked with working on my playlist for my wedding.
We realized today that we have 102 days until our wedding. 30 of those days don't count, because I'll be out of the country. So we have a lot of work to do, and we're trying to get some headway on it. We got really excited about our music selection and sort of let all the chores go to the side.
Tomorrow, I need to keep reading Pi, and I need to get my two manuscript packets ready, because they're due on Wednesday. That means doing a lot of revision on the first chapters. I don't have a lot of time tomorrow, because I work at my contract job tomorrow for an hour, and then we have a concert to go to at night. Also, our dishwasher is broken.
So here's to Sunday! On my last note, this is the first Sunday I don't have to dread a Monday. Huzzah for me!
For those of you who don't know about the rabbit hole called #PitchWars, let me give you a real quick rundown. Brenda Drake (you can check her site out here) created an online competition to give writers faster access to agents. All summer, people got ready for the grand Pitch that happened on August 19th. Over 1200 applicants applied, putting in their query letters and first chapters to four "mentors." The 75 mentors then each picked one mentee and one alternate to work with to get ready for the Agent Round in November, when more pitching and wishing will happen.
Funny story. I didn't know about this contest until I was aimlessly wandering around my twitter feed and found it about a week before my query would be due. So not wanting to miss an opportunity, I worked my butt off for a week, getting everything ready, and submitted.
I didn't really know how big of a deal this was, or how I would actually be asked for more pages. But two days later, I was asked for twenty-five more pages. Then fifty. Then a full. The absolute fear of handing over your entire manuscript to a possible mentor is something I've never experienced before. I may be a published author with editing credentials and a fourth of an MFA and teaching Creative Writing under my belt, but this was a whole new ballpark that for some reason, I hadn't run into before.
So I submitted. I stayed up in a Nyquil-sick stupor in a pile of Kleenexes while Alex played "Under Pressure" by Queen over the speakers as the mentee/alternate list was thrown out into the world.
HostGator won all the prizes in its site crash.
But five minutes later, I saw my story listed as an alternate for Sarah Guillory.
It's a weird thing, getting validation as a writer. We're taught not to want it, and we sign on to not expect it. But such a small thing like being chosen for PitchWars --- a small thing like more than one mentor cheering you on in cryptic tweets --- it adds that little drop of magic into your story, doesn't it? "I can't stop reading your beautiful words," another mentor wrote on her twitter at the same moment she sent me a request for a full. And someone saying I had beautiful words made my year.
My little manuscript, which I see so brightly in my own head, was beautiful to someone else.
Sometimes we lose some, but sometimes ... sometimes we actually win some.
So what did I learn from PitchWars? What didn't I learn from PitchWars? I learned how to write a query, much to the chagrin of my writing group and the four hours I held them hostage to help me. I learned how to communicate with "agents." I learned what a partial and what a full is. And above learning, I am so grateful for the experience. Everyone was so kind, so supportive of each other. Everyone wanted the best for each other, because we all know what it's like. We're all writers, and although there are only so many slots for so many people, we all get it. We all are loners who don't want to be alone, and there's something wonderful and empathetic in that. Writers rock. That's what I'm trying to say.
Now we get onto the second part of this blog post, which is what can we do when we get sick? This is still one that I'm trying to figure out. A few years ago, I got really sick. Like really sick. A procedure didn't go as planned. In the middle of a routine checkup, they found a tumor. Not only did that tumor throw a wrench into everyone's plans, but it also gave the doctors cause to just chuck as much anesthesia they could find at my IV drip. I had to be completely out in order for them to try to remove the sucker, and that meant a split-second decision to pump me to sleep.
I'd never recovered from surgery before, and lemme tell you, it's not like how it is in the Disney movies. You don't just flutter awake and go, "Oh my, did it go well?" and then go home and everything is peachy keen. It took a good month and a half for me to feel normal again. And that's not even talking about the lifestyle changes I had to make in order to keep myself cancer-free.
Did I write during that time? No. Do I wish I had? Yes.
I always think about that lost month and a half when I get sick now. Now when I say get sick now, I mean when I get an awful cold and can't go outside for a day or so. When you feel like crud, what can you do? This morning I woke up, and my sinuses pressed up against the back of my eye, and I couldn't even see the words on my laptop screen. This is a frustrating experience. But I grabbed some gauze, taped it to my bad eye, and kept typing. Because sometimes you just have to be Patchy the Pirate to do what you need to do.
But what can you do? Anything you can do. Audiobooks. Music playlists. Mental planning. Phone calls. Notebooks. Drawing. Or hell, writing. Walt Disney plotted out a good amount of his revisions to Disney World's blueprints from his deathbed. They say he "drew it on the hospital ceiling." I don't think he literally did this, because the man was dying and did not have Stretch Armstrong arms, but you get the gist. If you are a writer, you need to write.
If you want to be a published writer, you need to submit your work.
Keep going. Keep fighting. Keep writing.
And come November, check out the #PitchWars Alternate Showcase. I'll see you there. (I Write For Apples hosts this year)
I started writing one of my books in 1999. While other books have been completed, I am still revising this particular manuscript even today.
You have probably been in a similar position with something you’ve written or are still writing or will always be writing. You have your friends go from being excited about your magnum opus to being sad because they think you’re stuck like a crazy person in a padded room. “You think maybe you can send it off now? No? Okay.”
But hey, how long did it take to write Gone with the Wind? A long time; ten years to be exact. So maybe sometimes it takes a while to get something right.
But hey, how long can you wait until the earth has passed on and your book is no longer relevant? So maybe you need to just give up or get it out there.
The thing about writing is that there’s no one sitting there telling you when it’s ready. There’s no real deadline except for the one you set for yourself. So you can keep pushing it back. You keep learning, so your manuscript can keep growing, right?
When is it time to let go? That’s what we’re going to focus on today. In answering this question, maybe you should first answer these questions:
Why am I still writing this book?
Do you still get something out of writing this book? There is definitely a script or two that I just gave up on because it didn’t matter to me or the world anymore. One of these was a play that was a thinly-veiled metaphor for the 2008 Election (and also my pining after a young man who broke up with me a month prior to me writing said play). But a year ago, I went and looked back at this poor play and decided never to work on it again. Why? Well, because I can barely remember what that heartbreaker looks like, and the 2008 Election was in 2008. So I’m not really getting anything out of it, and neither would the world. It’s best to let it lie and let go.
However, the best manuscripts are timeless, to both ourselves and the world. Genres and hot-topics come and go, but we will always enjoy reading something like Lovely Bones or The Color Purple. Pieces about the universal human condition have a little longer shelf life. But don't ride on that one comforting fact; if the reason you're still writing this book is because you're scared, you need to let it flutter its wings and fly.
Is it worth it?
Do you love this book enough to keep going? If you’ve grown a lot as a writer over the years, you may have to start over from scratch. Are you willing to do that to make it the best it can be? Or is it best to just let it be what it is? I know this is an issue for a lot of graduate students who grow exponentially after starting their studies. Honestly, I have no answer. I've revised many an old manuscript if I love it enough, but that brings us back to the question at hand. Is it worth it?
Is the clock ticking?
Ah, the shelf life again. If you were writing a vampire novel, your ship has sailed by this point. Breaking Dawn II premiered two years ago, and how many successful vampire movies have there been since? Even the dystopian schooner is breaking off in the distance. We’re now looking at alternative historical novels. So are you running out of time? Is the pot boiling over and the chicken over cooking? Is the insert another colloquialism here? If so, then maybe it’s just time to let it breathe and have agents see it before the agents don’t want to see it anymore?
Why haven’t you sent it off yet?
Nothing is ever going to be perfect. Your manuscript is never going to be what you want it to be. Are you holding your manuscript hostage because it has holes and issues you need to fix … or are you just scared? If you’re just scared, get over it and just send it out!
If you still believe in a project, don’t give up on it. But make sure that you’re willing to put in those ten years to make it what it should be. And if you lose interest, it’s totally okay to let go. Sometimes we have projects that just need to die. Sometimes projects are nothing more than stepping stones to better projects.
What’s the longest time you’ve spent on a manuscript? When do you think it’s time to quit? When do you think it’s time to send?
What is this?
Dawson is an editor and writer and MFA student at Stonecoast. She writes stuff.