I had two big goals for the week of the 4th of July. The first was to buy and install a new scanner, and the second was to land a life-changing, preferably-six-figure-but-I’d-settle-for-five book deal.
My dream for a new scanner was born sometime around mid-June, when I stood by my old trusty scanner’s side for the last time as it took off for that big open warehouse in the sky.
My dream for a book deal was born sometime in the early 90’s, when I spent my afternoons lying face-down in the hallway outside the upstairs bathroom (I loved the smell of carpeting) and imagined overly dramatic plots for my future bestsellers.
More recently, it was re-born last summer while I was working furiously on what I hoped to be the final draft of the book I’d been working on for years. I was so determined that summer. I had a critique partner, a professional editor, and enough gumption to email my girlfriends to say I had to sit out on that season of The Bachelorette so I could write. (I even read the spoilers, which I never do, so I wouldn’t be tempted.) I had momentum. It felt like my book could go places, fast.
On the 4th of July last summer I sat under the fireworks with friends in LA and thought, “I wonder where my book will be by the next 4th of July.”
Between January and June I sent letters to many literary agents. And I got five of them to request to read my manuscript! By late June, it was starting to seem quite feasible that I could get news by the 4th. (Once an agent requests your manuscript, the average time span for them to get back to you is between one day and never. That’s one of the worst things about this process: you often don’t even know when you’ve been eliminated from the game. It’s the worst. Even Bachelorette rejects get an awkward ceremony and a limo ride to the airport.)
So I’ve continued life and work as usual.
A few weeks ago I bought and installed a new all-in-one scanner/copier/printer. I was feeling quite pleased and surprised by my success at installing it myself. Until I realized the scan function wasn’t working. (That’s the only function I actually need. How else am I going to u
pload supplementary documentation for my patient assessments share my pornographic self-portraits with the world wide web?)
So I called HP support, where I screen-shared/phone chatted with a Filipina woman named Faith who tried to fix my problems. For three freaking hours.
We progressed through the three typical conversation phases of screen-sharing/phone chatting with a HP support professional as they try to fix your problems from the Philippines.
Phase 1: Friendly banter about the weather patterns in your respective countries as you ride off your excitement at the prospect of your problem being easily fixed.
Phase 2: Conversation becomes significantly more forced now that you have run out of obvious discussion topics and are coming to grips with the reality that this process might take a long while. (“My friends say in your country there is… Bigfoot?” Faith asked as we waited for a painfully slow re-install progress bar to make its way across my screen at roughly the speed of elderly buffalo with cinderblocks tied to their ankles.)
Phase 3: Frustration so palpable you can taste it as you both sigh heavily into the receiver until Faith suggests she just call you back after the software finishes re-installing for the fifth time.
Now I’m no computer science major, but I couldn’t help but notice that all Faith was doing was uninstalling and reinstalling the software over and over again. Which leads to my theory that HP support people aren’t allowed to just throw their hands up and say, “Screw it! This thing is just a broken, effed-up piece of shit!” but are instead required to go through the motions repeatedly until you, the customer, have to eventually proclaim that you have to pee or eat or return to life on planet Earth. (Or maybe, true to her name, she really was just that hopeful.)
It was surprisingly difficult to cut Faith off between installations/uninstallations, and when I did she was very insistent that I speak to her supervisor so he could send me a new scanner, which I did not want to do because I’d already decided I’d just return it to Walmart and get a Canon PIXMA. But I didn’t have the heart to tell her that, so I just said I’d just call back if I decided I wanted to pursue that. But she wouldn’t let me get off the phone until I at least gave her a time that her supervisor could call me, so I said 5:00 on Tuesday. (Because I would have just gotten off work but not yet headed over to my friend’s house to watch The Bachelorette, leaving just enough time to quickly tell her supervisor thanks but no thanks.)
He didn’t call 5:00 on Tuesday. He called 2:00 on Monday. And 12:00 on Tuesday. And 9:00 on Wednesday. And 1:00 on Thursday. I never answered because I was always working. The calls always came up as UNKNOWN, and he always left a message. It was the week before the 4th of July.
When you’re a writer trying to find an agent, you read a lot of stories about how writers got their agents. Partly because you have to keep reminding yourself it is something that actually happens despite all evidence to the contrary, and partly because you have become a professional fantasizer— always dreaming of the day your writing ship will come in. Stories of writers landing agents are random and spectacular. Writers get that call when they least expect it. At the grocery store. At the bus stop. In the dentist’s chair. That’s how life changes.
When you are a writer whose manuscript is supposedly being read by five agents, you become hyper aware of your phone activity. Any call from an unfamiliar or unidentified number, and you instantly leap into OMG-I’M-QUITTING-MY-JOB-AND-GOING-ON-BOOK-TOUR mode.
That’s how it was all week before this 4th of July. Each time I saw that missed call and Voicemail from UNKNOWN, I became elated with hope all over again. Even though I knew it was almost definitely Hewlett Packard—there was always still that chance. I am a professional fantasizer, after all.
I’d even wait two hours before listening to each message just so I could live briefly in the possibility, semi-believing my ship had come in. There’s something beautiful to be enjoyed about those moments when something could still go either way. It’s the closest we ever get to some dreams.
This 4th of July I sat with a friend under the fireworks in Nashville and thought of the eager hopefulness I’d had last year. I wasn’t depressed or torn up about it—I was genuinely having a good night—but my book was not where I’d hoped it would be, and I had to say that to myself.
There are things I could say here for the positive spin. At least I completed a major revision! At least I got multiple agent requests! At least the 4th of July always finds me traveling with good friends!
Yes, yes, and yes. But that’s not the point. There has been a loss here, and it deserves to be felt. It needs to be acknowledged so I can figure out where to go from here.
I haven’t given up, per say. I’m quite aware that it takes most writers years and years to get published and that most never publish their first book. It’s just so hard to tell in this business when your big break is right around the corner, and when you’re essentially just installing and uninstalling the same scanner software over and over again.
Over the course of writing and attempting publication of my book, I have gradually done all the things I didn’t want to do but that all the writing sites told me I must do:
I built a following.
I found a critique partner.
I executed major revisions.
I got on Twitter (this one was the most painful for me).
I followed each of these steps one by one, as I gradually accepted that I wasn’t going to be the exception to the rules.
I followed all of them except for one. Except for the last step that all the writers say you must do after you have done all the others:
Move on. Write the second book.
I’ve resisted this. I’ve been afraid of giving up and of plunging in. I’ve made several half-hearted attempts.
But I can’t even tell you how hard I’ve been running from writing this next book. Every few days or so for the past year, I’ve gotten this feeling like something is missing from my life. So I tell myself that I need to make more friends. Or volunteer. Or take up that new version of surfing where machines blast you fifty feet into the air.
But it’s none of those things, and I know it. What’s missing is that I need to be writing a book again. It’s my thing. It’s my only thing.
So why do I resist it?
Writing a book is a lot like being in love. It’s nice to be in love, but it’s also nice not to be in love.
The pros are that it’s exciting and all-consuming and dangerous and teaches you things about the world and yourself.
The cons are that it’s exciting and all-consuming and dangerous and teaches you things about the world and yourself.
Last week, just for fun, I wrote out the query letter for this hypothetical second book. Then I sat back in my chair and thought, “Whoa. Now that’s a book agents would want.”
I know there’s something big there, waiting for me, if I can just make myself reach for it.
This week, I started my next book. For real this time.
I also asked Hewlett Packard to stop calling, and I bought a new scanner.
I’m Lou and I live in England and the is the first time I have ever been motivated to leave a comment on any blog post so you should count yourself very lucky!! I’ve been reading your blog all year and it’s the only blog I subscribe to because i’m very discerning/lazy and it makes me laugh. I really look forward to the email popping up in my inbox. My actual friends abroad never seem to have time to write long emails about what they’re up to, so it sort of fills a friendship gap for me!
I’m an aspiring writer with motivational issues which was what drew me your blog in the first place – the aspiring writer part not the motivation. You have had a very productive year and I’m sure your book will get published eventually as you write with such a natural voice and yet great structure. I’ve been inspired to comment for the first time because I have found myself caring about what happens to your writing career and wanted to say well done for starting the second book. I feel your pain but it’s the right move. ‘The only way through is through.’
So whoever suggested you acquire a following was right and you’ve proved you can engage an audience because I have very little free time but I make time to read what you write.
Wishing you well as you take the plunge again. I know you’re going to get there.
Thank you so much for chiming in! I have been riding high off of this comment for the past couple days. You have reminded me why it is that I have wished to write in the first place– not for fame or publication, but to reach the people who can truly connect with what I have to say. I think it’s so cool that you’ve been connecting with my writing all the way from England, without me even knowing about it. I’m glad to know now that you have been part of this journey with me- thank you for that, and thanks for speaking up.
Do you have a blog or site where I could check out some of your writing? I’d love to see it. Staying motivated as a writer is tough! I definitely feel you on that. This new book is moving at a snail’s pace, but it still feels good to be making SOME progress versus none.
I hope to communicate with you more in the future!
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Hello! I as well love your blog. I was reading it even before you reinvented to what it is now. I will be 30 in December and my plans are to lay in bed all day and reflect on my life thus far and how I have very little to show for my efforts at life. Sounds depressing I know, but I’m allowing myself the one day to really wallow. I got exited about your new blog because it really is the story of my life. I am married and both my husband and I have felt this sting of rejection, the disappointment of failure, and finally the laziness of the everyday ” let’s just get through today because hell if I knew what I should do with myself tomorrow” thing. So I applaud your banter and wish you great luck with writing! I do think that if you already have a following though you should consider self-publication. Make your first book an e-book. Sell it cheaply to e-readers, get an even bigger following, then get a book deal. It worked for Amanda Hocking. Then by then maybe you’ll have your second book done! Sell both!
Hello! Thanks so much for your kind words. This age is tough! I’ve known a lot of people to get depressed on their 30th birthdays, though honestly I’m kind of looking forward to turning 30. I’m hoping it will bring me some kind of authority, or something. Probably not. I can’t wait to tackle some of the issues of this age in future blog posts- I already have a very long list of post ideas on my phone, and it’s getting longer by the day. It’s always nice when people let me know I’m not alone in experiencing these things!
Remember how we used to always be like, “Omg we’re the same person?”
It’s because THIS. Like, right down to the whole using-July-4th-as-a-yearly-benchmark-for-book-progress, this post = me. Which I guess makes sense, given that our books literally grew up together. (Although I guess mine was born a little after, so yours is like the cool, wiser older sister and mine is the dorky/eager younger brother who’s all like, “QUERY?!” after the second vaguely readable draft despite the fact that your book was all “#BeenThere,” but totally understood because it nevertheless came from the same weekly-critique-revision-OMG-writing set of parents… which I guess, in this metaphor, means that we’ve had book-sex? You know what? This just got weird. I’m closing the parentheses now.)
Anyway. This writing game is some crazy shit, and it brings up ALL kinds of questions and issues and insecurities and existential BS and frankly, your perspective on it right now has made my morning feel so much better. Sometimes we just gotta breathe and keep on keepin’ on, and trust that it’s all working out as it should. So thank you for that!!!
Can’t wait to chat tonight!
I love that our books are siblings that have had sex! There is literally no other way to describe it. This comment made me smile so big two days ago, and our convo has me feeling so refreshed/excited for this fall! ❤
This was so heartfelt! I felt like we were having an intimate three hour lunch! You will get published someday – you’re that good. Disregard the fact that I’m your mother saying that!
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Thanks, Mom! It makes me happy that this felt lunch-intimate to you. Talk to you soon!
*arches eyebrows* And why aren’t we fantastic, snarky critique partners, HMM?
Just kidding. Kind of. The only difference between a writer who gets published and a writer who doesn’t get published is persistence.
You know, we WOULD be fantastic, snarky critique partners. I’m totally up for it if you’re serious. (Although I don’t know how useful I’d be with whatever genre you write- my speciality is memoir/teenagers falling in love).
My specialty is gay people falling in love, and I am actually writing about gay teenagers falling in love at the moment. Um, well, gay teenagers with supernatural issues.
I am FOR REAL serious! My e-mail is email@example.com. I clearly don’t check WordPress notifications too often.
Oh I 100% feel you on this post. My first two novels were soundly rejected by publishers and I’ve been editing my third one for half a year now, but my agent still doesn’t want to submit it. The only thing to do now is to move on and start the fourth, yet it’s so hard. I know I’m lucky to have an agent at all. I don’t know if this makes you feel better or worse, but I feel like being a writer never gets easier, even when you’re agented, published, etc. The only thing that can get you through all of it is your love/passion for writing itself.
If you end up writing a book that you think is good enough, but no agent will publish it, I think you should try self-publishing. That’s my plan too, but right now I don’t think I’ve written that book yet.
I wish you the best of luck! No matter what, keep writing. 🙂
Try not bringing others down. Try not being negative towards others. You are entitled to your opinion but you should also get other opinions before you write negative comments about people, places, and things. I wish I could read the post/blog I have heard so much about but you made it so only people with a password can see it. Can’t take the criticism? If you are a true writer, etc… you should be able to take it. More importantly, learn from it. Things can be said without being rude. Most people prefer to stay away from negative people. You just really need to think before you post, you could be hurting people.
Thanks for your input. The reason I hid the post is because it was never meant to be negative, but since it was being taken that way I removed it so that it wouldn’t give people the wrong impression or hurt anybody’s feelings. I thought that was the considerate thing to do. It was all a big misunderstanding- my boyfriend and I loved Lansing (if that’s the post you are referring to). We have been back to visit since then, and taken friends. We have recommended it to many. I have a very particular type of sense of humor and writing style that not everybody understands if they aren’t familiar with my writing, and this situation has made me realize I need to be more aware of that. I plan to write a new post soon, in which I will hopefully be more effective at capturing my true feelings about Lansing.