Posted by Johanna Harness on Nov 23, 2011
I’ve been writing every day for four years. I’ve written five novels and bunches of short stories, articles, and blog posts. I’ve had some of the short stuff published—enough of it that my heart doesn’t thump wildly about it anymore.
I’m a writer of my time, still learning my craft. I blog, I tweet, I facebook, and I tumble. I created the #amwriting hashtag where I hang out with other writers. I brave the occasional podcast and youtube video. I have a circle of writer friends with whom I share my earliest drafts and I feel honored when they share theirs with me. I’m a member of three professional writing groups. I attend meetings and workshops and conferences. I can pitch my books in my sleep.
I signed with my agent almost a year ago, but it was not one of those OMG-Look-At-Her-Talent kind of signings. I met an agent at a conference. We hit it off. I sent my book. She gave it to her colleague. The colleague gave me honest, detailed notes about why she couldn’t represent it—and she offered to talk with me. I jumped at the chance and we set up a phone call. I listened. Her suggestions required a whole new approach to the story.
I kid you not. The amount of work she suggested should have broken me. The amount of things wrong with my story should have reduced me to a little pool of tears formerly known as writer. Instead? Something freakishly weird happened: her advice made my brain light up in new ways. She read my characters and she loved them and she knew what I could do to make them better.
Yes. I’d finally found someone who loved my story.
To be clear, loving a story does not mean gushing over all the details and finding no fault. Loving the work means seeing the story as it is and feeling emotionally invested in making it all it can be. Finding a professional who shared my vision changed everything.
I did not put myself through that grueling revision because I thought I’d secure representation from a brilliant agent (although I hoped with all my heart I would). I revised because I saw clearly how my characters and my story could transcend that draft and become something better.
Revision, comments, another revision, lots of work, contract signing, and my book went out on a first round of subs. After a flurry of activity, we waited. It took eight months to hear back from that first round of publishers. In the meantime? I wrote another book.
The bad news: I don’t have a sale yet.
The good news: we have enough interest for a second round of subs. And? I received some great feedback from really smart editors. And? My agent is willing to give me time to revise before we sub again. And? I wrote another book.
Honestly, I hoped beyond reason that the new book would be ready to go out on sub while I was busy preparing for Book One, Round Two. So I was disappointed when my agent wrote back and said it wasn’t ready.
And then I read her comments. And my brain started lighting up in new patterns. Yes, it was the same thing again. I knew how to make the book better, so I no longer wanted to submit it as it was. But there was something more. Those last comments, combined with the editor comments, illuminated a pattern in my writing that I had never noticed before.
The feedback I received on my last book changes my revision of the first and the editor feedback I’m receiving on the first changes my revision of the last. The process is dynamic. One improvement makes way for another.
And that brings me back to where I started this post: I am really surprised by where I am in my writing career. I’m four years in. I’ve written five novels. None of them have been published yet. And I’m happy.
When people talk about writers paying their dues, learning their craft, putting in their years without getting paid, they never mention the thrill of forward progress. I know the external publishing world moves slowly, but the rate my brain cells light up matters more.
This happiness surprises me and the journey surprises me. I really love being a writer.