Here is an update in Lindsay’s Journey of Achieving Her Dreams.
Navigating this road to getting published is like driving a tiny clown car with stick shift on a busy highway loaded with semi-trucks. I have no idea how to drive stick shift, and I do feel like a clown sometimes.
In winter of last year, I turned to my husband one evening after a day of frustration and said, “I think I’m going to hang it up. Writing. I shouldn’t feel so anxious and uncertain before writing. I should skip to the keyboard with butterflies floating behind me.”
I thought that if God made me to be a writer, the writing should come easy every time. I should be excited every time. I should have sweet words flow out of my fingertips like nectar.
I’m not sure why or where I got this notion. But in my angst and frustration, I went looking for nuggets of inspiration–-quotes, tweets, blogs, anything—from other authors via social media. My search led me to this important conclusion:
All (if not most) authors and writers feel this same self-doubt and uncertainty at one point or another.
This realization was a huge game changer for me.
I thought I was the only one who often felt anxious and nervous to write, who dragged myself to the laptop, questioning if I could do this and the quality of my writing. But lucky for me, I saw amazing young adult authors and others I admire like Sarah Dessen and Emery Lord and and Jessi Kirby and Elizabeth Gilbert (she even wrote an amazing book called BIG MAGIC that addresses those anxious feelings) share their frustrations and uncertainties about their craft. They were honest and lighthearted about their difficulties.
I realized I wasn’t alone, and when you realize you aren’t alone in your feelings or situation, you often become empowered. Relieved. Inspired.
I continued to drag myself out of bed in the mornings or go to coffee shops on weekends, plugging away at the story and soothing myself with self-talk on days when the doubt tried to creep in. I’m grateful for other authors who shared their vulnerabilities because their vulnerabilities allowed me to feel more secure in mine.
The truth is this: I have anxious writing days more than I don’t have those days.
But then there are days—or moments, honestly—when it’s not as hard and it doesn’t feel like I’m in a clown car and I do think my story has potential. I love those days. Those days give me gas for the engine. Shonda Rhimes, the creator of hit shows like Scandal and Grey's Anatomy, recently did a TED Talk (it’s amazing; watch it here) and calls that feeling “the hum.”
And so, I press on and find the hum and remember that this is my dream and writing is one of my favorite things. Anxiety and uncertainty are just parts of the process for me. It is what it is.
Nowadays, I am in the editing stage with my manuscript, getting it in the absolute best shape I can so it is ready to go out to literary agents. A literary agent is an agent who represents writers. Their main objective is to sell a writer’s written work to publishing houses (nationally and globally), as well as to producers and film studios if possible.
Honestly, I’ve been in the editing stage for quite awhile. To give you context, the first time I had a finished manuscript (meaning I had completed the first draft of the story from beginning to end and held the entire printing manuscript in my hands) was Memorial Day Weekend 2015. I took some time away from my manuscript after that (borrowing Stephen King’s advice) to give myself distance in order to gain perspective.
I picked the manuscript back up after getting married in November, and I’ve been full-steam ahead ever since. From the first draft I printed on Memorial Day weekend to now, I’ve created six to eight drafts. The core of the manuscript and the story has remained the same, but the first draft involved a lot of cutting and editing and re-wording.
I have never tried to get published nor completed a novel before, so I am taking my cues from writers I admire. Stephen King’s advice to writers is “Write with the door closed, edit with the door open.” Darcy Patterson wrote, “The function of the first draft is to help you figure out your story. The function of every draft after that is to figure out the most dramatic way to tell that story.”
The quote that I often repeated in my head as I wrote my first draft was by Shannon Hale: “I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build sandcastles.”
So right now, I am trying my best to create and smooth out these sand castles.
Often in journalism and the publishing world, word count > number of pages. My original manuscript was over 81,000 words (300-some pages) and the target "sweet spot" word count for a young adult manuscript (according to literary agent Jennifer Laughran in her very useful blog post here) is 45,000-75,000 words.
So I cut 11,000 words from my manuscript, sifting through scenes, asking myself, “Is this scene needed? Can I say this in a more efficient way? How does this add to the story?” Like a hair stylist, I clipped and cut, smoothed and straightened, fluffed and finished until my manuscript was in a the 68,000 word count range (about 245 pages).
I haven’t edited alone. Another tip I’ve picked up along the way from successful writers (and once again Stephen King’s book/autobiography titled ON WRITING) is to give your book to beta readers once you feel you’ve gotten your manuscript in the best place you can. Beta readers are non-professional readers who “pre-read” written work specifically to look for errors or confusions and to provide feedback.
When novelists write, often times they become so immersed in the story, they don’t see the forest for the trees. Beta readers offer a fresh perspective, finding those trees and showing them to the writer.
I’ve been fortunate enough to have a handful of amazing people with diverse and different perspectives who have provided helpful feedback and insight on my story. There were several mistakes with my manuscripts that the beta readers identified so far, and I am very grateful for each of them (THANK YOU, BETA READERS!) They are helping me smooth my sandcastles.
Once I gather all of the beta reader feedback, I will make edits accordingly. Then it will be time to send out to literary agents, an intense process I will outline in another blog post.
It’s surreal for me to even be at this point. I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Book publishing is an intense process that involves many steps and many people. There’s room for error. There’s room for doubt. There’s room for subjectivity. Good writing doesn’t mean it will get published.
But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to try.