Occasionally, in the life of a writer, your job demands that you curl up in the fetal position and bawl your eyes out. Maybe it’s only happened to me once, but I’m pretty sure it’s not the last time.
You see, because I have only been a part-time writer (and full-time mom with a double-full-time husband), it has taken me way longer than ever imagined to finish my first book. In all honesty, I feel like the once-every-year-or-two kind of full-time author, but marriage, motherhood, even poverty, have relegated my first passion to the back burner, the crowded cubbies of my life. That said, a year and a half ago I put the last word on the rough draft of the first novel I decided to concentrate on. (I actually have several more in the works, as well as finished articles, poetry, and even a short story). Then I started shopping an agent. With a suffering economy and the advent of e-readers, it was a terrible time for that step. So after a year–and only one agent who would even read one line of my writing–and my aunt made a fateful call. She phoned me up from Michigan (my home town) and put the bug in my ear (never mind that my husband had been suggesting it for years): indy publish.
She is an aspiring writer herself, but has put it off mostly to continue her career in editing. She very much believes in me. So we agreed to look into self-printing; we both read articles, I ordered a couple books, surfed the internet. Then we decided to walk the road together. I don’t need to go into the pros and cons here, so suffice it to say I decided to go ahead. Instead of jumping in on a new book–which might have been better, who knows?–I began with the only complete novel I had going for me. I knew it was not the best book I could write, but after some deliberation, I thought I could make it much better, then market it, publish it, and make hopefully enough money to sustain writing another book, an even better book.
Fall time, my mom watched my at-home son 1-2 days a week and I worked hard those days, adding a whole story line, killing my darlings, slaying characters. In December, at the last moment of my self-imposed deadline, I put the last word (again) on the page. A longer novel. Tighter. More interesting, for sure. Maybe not my life’s work, but I have so many more things spinning around… I sent the “final” draft out to my first readers (there are six of them who have agreed to read, although not strictly to my deadlines) and asked that they return it before tomorrow, the 5th of January. My calendar includes a publication in March, and may I add, I have already spent months building an online platform and being a fledgling marketer. I even started a tiny press. Facebook. Twitter (oi!). Author photos. Business cards. And of course blogging.
My husband, Kevin, was the first one to get back to me. Last night, slightly before midnight, he walked in the room with a big grin on his face. (Let me say, even though I have been sick with nerves the past couple weeks due to the vulnerability of this stage and the ones to come, Kevin has gone from trepidatious (thinking, admittedly, that after his initial read a couple years ago, this might be the book I have to “get out of the way” to get to the next) to a dreamer. He was very pleasantly surprised by the changes the manuscript had received, leaving my special writing room to breathe in a much better plot line with more believable characters. He was excited for the end, and I tried to avoid asking him questions about the end before he got to the end.)
Back to that midnight rendezvous. He came out of the back of the house–like I said–with a big grin. “This is it!” he said. “We’re going to be rich! We’re going to be able to buy a house!” You’re making all our dreams come true! I knew I was right to invest in you! Whatever. And then a moment later, he plopped down beside me.
“You like the ending?”
“But I don’t really understand the last sentence.”
20 minutes later he was calmly brushing his teeth (I wouldn’t let him hug me) and I was balled up in the fetal position, bawling my eyes out.
Slap. In. The. Face. It’s as if my editor had sent me back my decade-in-the-making manuscript with a post-it note dotted with a smiley face: “Great story! But it’s not quite done yet.” Hold the phone! Stop the presses! Your whole life and all those crazy hopes you had about it have just been put on hold indefinitely. I mean, the reality is that I have a few places to go from here: chuck the book out the front door (I am sorely tempted); throw out the ending and spend as much time as it takes to re-write it; edit the last sentence until it makes sense and then re-evaluate the concept, again, taking as much time as it takes; take a deep breath and calm down.
The truth is, I don’t need to be a New York Times bestseller or get awesome, far-flung reviews (although I wouldn’t go kicking and screaming to either). What I do want is a readership around 10,000 (figures taken from an article and the assumption that I will put out a book every year or two) and some level or respect, or street cred (I think some sort of first novel award would do nicely). What I am terrified of is two things: not having a permanent career as a fiction writer and never getting the story right.
Ten years with no ending would be categorized as the second of those things. Then it would lead to the first.
I keep thinking this: How many darlings do I have to kill? All of them? I was CONVINCED that the last sentence–let alone the last scene–was it. I was never happy with my first ending, but this one I have been nursing for months. And that sentence! I love it! I am left with this morbid conclusion: as a writer you are SO CLOSE to your own writing that a great novel is not so much craft as it is an intuitive act, akin to tightrope walking or the blind leading the blind. Do I have the soul? I’m not kidding; I have been coming to the conclusion for many, many years that writing is what I am built for. That everything about me shouts writer, wants to write, thrives on writing. This is my best me. And am I a fool for wanting to be special?
Well, at least we know who the hero is here. My husband, who bearded the lion in its den when he came to me and said in all honesty, “I don’t get what you’re doing here.”
Cucumber pickles are often long and slender.