Quieting the Voices in my Mind: my quest to get published part 1.

Day one:

So this isn’t really day one. Not truly. I have always dreamed of being an author and breathing life into the characters that populate my inner landscape, but I have always been afraid. Up until about four years ago, I never had the courage to let another soul see my writing, despite the fact that I desperately wanted to share my words, to see the delight another might find in my prose, the same pleasure I experience when lost in a good book. But if they told me that my writing was bad, I would be devastated, and I just wasn’t prepared for that.

There was another possibility that terrified me and kept me from sharing my work. What if someone lied and told me it was terrific when it sucked? Then I would proceed self-deluded because no one had the heart to tell me to stop. I envisioned myself like one of those poor fools that gets on American Idol, tone deaf but unaware that they sound like a cat in heat because no one around them could muster the courage to tell them what they sound like when they sing. Perhaps that is part of why I can’t stomach the show, those fools mirror my greatest fear, that I only think I’m talented.

It’s not that I don’t have confidence in my writing. I do. It’s just that I recognize I can be better, and am not sure if I’m good enough. When I am lost in the moment, and the passion is burning me alive, I cannot sense good from bad; I can only feel the words bleeding out of me, onto the page.

When I reread my writing, I am no better at gauging its value, perhaps because I don’t trust myself. More fear of being the fool, I suppose. I can tell that it isn’t slop, that it is solid writing, but is it good enough?

It is hard reading authors and knowing what they’ve done is not attainable. I marvel at Woolf and Faulkner, the way they use structure and inner dialogue to shape the words and reveal their characters. It is so raw, so real, so vulnerable that it robs me of breath. Perhaps someday I will have the finesse to weave and craft such prose. And then there is Hemingway. What he does is completely unattainable. No one ever has, or ever will, write like him. No one can. He was a master at creating a surface in his writing as if the words were the placid face of a lake. But underneath that smoothness, turbulence reigns. Impressions of things felt but not seen. Perhaps a talented writer might be able to emulate that surface, but what makes Hemingway’s writing so compelling is what we sense lying in wait beneath the surface. This turbulence goes deeper than his plot or characters, for it contains his demons and scars and this is why it is unattainable, why only he could write like that.

After reading such artistry, I am once again left with Am I good enough? This has become my mantra, my incantation, my entreaty as if I might gain an answer from some divine prophet.

These thoughts all crowded my brain as I read through my second rejection letter yesterday. I know that this is a part of getting published, something all authors must endure, even Hemingway. Even Hemingway (perhaps this might become my new mantra). I know it shouldn’t hurt, but it does. I can’t help it. It is like someone has thrown a punch, knocked the wind out of me. My head spins, my heart thunders, and I’m left gasping for my breath. What if the letter I want never comes? What if my characters remain forever imprisoned in my mind. Not getting published is almost an incomprehensible outcome for me because my characters have become real to me, my friends, and I love them. Perhaps this is a sign that I am slightly unhinged, but I have a feeling I’m in good company.

As I read through the dry words of the rejection letter, I am overcome by a wild desire to set fire to my manuscripts and watch them be consumed by greedy flame. To turn away, leave the page blank, and never look back. But I know that this would be the first step in a long downward spiral that would, eventually, claim me. I was born to write, to string words together into something that has the power to make others feel. If I abandon this, I will devolve into a bitter woman full of resentment and regrets.

My niece and my son are with me, and they help to center me. They are blessings, treasures, those people who love us and believe in us. They regurgitate what I have told myself over and over, that 60 rejection letters didn’t stop Kathryn Stockett, author of The Help and Michael Shaara’s book, Killer Angels, which went on to win a Pulitzer Prize, was rejected by the first fifteen publishers who saw the manuscript. My son believes in me, and in the end, I suppose, that is all I need, the best treasure a person could ask for. God, I am amazingly blessed.

Once the fog of rejection clears, I realize that it isn’t the story they are rejecting, but my query letter. Man, I suck at this! I have written all my life, but I can’t craft a query letter to save my ass. So I spent the better part of the day trying to improve it. Still, I am dissatisfied and overwhelmed, partly because once I’ve nailed the query letter (if that is even possible) I will need to turn my attention to my synopsis. Crap on a cracker. I’m pretty sure that the synopsis will be the next thing to earn me a rejection letter. How do you reduce 76,000 words into a page? To me, it feels like trying to summarize my entire life in one sentence, and that thought terrifies me because the only sentence that comes to mind is, is it good enough?

I guess I got sick of not knowing the answer to that question about four years ago because I decided to share my work with someone. I don’t know what it was about Jenny, but something made me want to share my soul with the fiery Italian, and I never share that with anyone. Ever. It’s pretty dark in there, and there are some demons I’d rather not face. Jenny was different from everyone else, and I knew she wouldn’t sugar coat things, wouldn’t tell me it was good if it wasn’t. So I handed her the first couple of chapters to a manuscript I was working on, and she liked it, so I finished the story, something that I’d never done before. The problem is, if you finish a manuscript then you have to do something about it, let it be judged, and so I’d gone about my life never finishing anything because then no one could tell me it was crap.

So I finished my first book and then became terrified. For the first time I had nothing to say, nothing to write about, at least that is what I convinced myself. How could I pursue getting this published if I had nothing else to write about? So I went four long years without creating another character. It was the loneliest four years of my life. During this winter of words, I began to realize just how broken I was. One day, sick of not being able to accomplish anything without a struggle, I went to a psychiatrist to finally get treated for the ADD that has been a constant companion all my life. I blamed the loss of my voice on my chaotic, unfocused brain. Before this point, I had refused any help. There was nothing wrong with me. I liked the way my mind worked. Somehow, I knew that the best parts of my creativity and intelligence were linked to my nonlinear brain, and I was afraid of losing those parts of me. My psychiatrist reassured me that the medication would just take the edge off the chaos and give me the ability to choose. He also pointed out that my failure to write anything probably stemmed more from a fear of trying to get it published, of putting myself out there for others to see. I knew he was right.

Still, I did not immediately return to writing. The characters returned, however, and I let them play in my head, keeping me company once more. I found out I was pregnant, a surprise that was unexpected but one which caused elation to sing through me. When, at 12 weeks, there was no longer a heartbeat, my whole world shifted. I fell into a darkness I have only glimpsed a few times prior, and I did not fully recover until almost two years later, with the birth of my baby girl. This last year has been full of dirty diapers, tender crying and an unimaginable amount of love, but little writing. And then March came, with blossoms budding on the trees and verdant shoots poking up out of the dead ground, and something began to bloom inside of me. I wrote like a woman possessed and did not come up for air until July. When I did surface, I had three finished manuscripts and an overwhelming desire to answer that damned question, is it good enough? Am I good enough?

I am hell-bent on getting published, and I will not give up, even if those rejection letters haunt me. Time to buckle down and master that query letter.

If you are at the same point as I, here are some resources I found helpful:

  1.  This first one comes from Writer’s Digest. In the article, agents share the query letters that got books published. You can find query letters in your genre which are super helpful! http://www.writersdigest.com/editor-blogs/guide-to-literary-agents/successful-queries.
  2. This article gives you a formula for writing a query letter: http://nybookeditors.com/2015/12/how-to-write-a-darn-good-query-letter/.
  3. The blurb part of the query is what I found most difficult. Here is an article on blurbs that I found useful: http://authorsociety.com/17-tips-how-write-blurb-sells.
  4. Finally, I found it useful to look up blurbs from my genre and similar books to mine and use those as a formula too.

I will be taking a weekend course through Reader’s Digest to get some feedback and further hone my query later in August. I will report back with my thoughts on this course later!

Also, don’t be a stranger! This process can be lonely. Let me know if you need a voice to whisper: it is good enough; you are good enough.