Every time I finish a book—at least to the point where I feel like I’m ready to send it off to my agent (or, in the past, begin querying)—I think I’ve got a handle on this whole writing process. I’ve written something, and I think it’s pretty darn good.
What happens after I send it off is not so pretty or darn good. First, there’s that worry about whether I’m completely wrong about how good it is. Sure, my CPs liked it, but does that mean it’s good enough to get published? I linger in this moment of mingled hope and dread. Will this be the book an editor falls in love with? That plants me on the New York Times bestseller list and turns me into the next J.K. Rowling? Or will this be yet another outpouring of my soul that gets nothing more than a small amount of interest, followed by polite rejections that include lovely but unhelpful comments about my talent?
And, of course, since this is the snail-paced publishing business, I won’t know for months which category this manuscript falls into. It’s enough to make an insecure writer consider setting aside the metaphorical pen and settling for a career as an actuary.
For me, the dread of querying or going on submission is combined with a fear of starting a new book. I love editing—not the first round or two, where I’m mostly rewriting—but the end, when it’s almost there, and I get to play around with words and sentence structure and itty-bitty details. But going from having my inner critic turned on to max volume to shutting it off and coming up with ideas and getting words on the page, no matter how awful, is tortuous. It doesn’t matter how many books on story structure I read or how much I try to plot everything out in advance. Until I get around 30% into the first draft, it feels like I’m plucking an enormous unibrow, one hair at a time. Painful. Tedious.
And every time, I wonder if my creative river has shriveled, and I should give up. Actuarial science might not be so bad.
I’m in that point right now. I’ve been struggling with my WIP for nine months, and I’ve only got a few thousands word written. I’d like to blame it on life. I’ve been mentoring. I’ve recently had a job change. I’ve had bouts of mild depression. It’s a sequel, and the first book hasn’t sold.
Those are just excuses, though.
The truth is, I’ve gotten out of the habit of writing. The inspiration isn’t going to come if I don’t try. I drafted the bulk of my last manuscript in one month during NaNoWriMo. Once I got my flow, it poured out. And, no, that’s not a sustainable pace for me. After NaNo, I crashed and couldn’t write for a few months. But I need to remember that I love writing. That drafting is hard, but the more I do it, the more joyful it becomes. I just need to keep trying through the difficult parts to get to the good parts.
So if you’re feeling discouraged because the writing is hard, or the agents or editors aren’t responding, and you’re wondering if you should bother to keep on—the answer is: keep on. Maybe you won’t ever be published, but if you give up, you’ll never know. Give yourself a break if you need one, and don’t beat yourself up if you haven’t been writing. But if you’re just making excuses, like I am, maybe you just need to let go of your expectations and rediscover the joy in writing. Write the story that’s in your heart, and keep on trucking on.