You would think after six plus years of being relatively familiar with the publishing industry, I wouldn’t fall prey to one of the most dastardly errors a writer can face—Rushing Things. The things everyone tells you NOT TO DO at conferences. It’s truly an awful temptation. And deserves such a big shout out when you catch yourself at it.
I don’t know about you, but I prefer to get things done, quickly. Usually this doesn’t translate to my stories; I could happily pore over one of my own worlds for the rest of my natural life, probably. But when it comes to Important Things like meeting an agent at a conference—something that is scheduled to happen this very weekend—I go slightly haywire. I don’t think I’m the first writer ever to go through this, mind you. I just wanted to share my surprise and pride in being able to reverse the horrible spiral before it got too dark.
My thinking was as follows: oh God I’m meeting an agent, and must edit this darn manuscript (YA I’m working on) within an inch of its life before I meet her (never mind that in the great scope of things, this is somewhat unrealistic as the book isn’t even finished yet). How can I live with myself if I have only a ridiculously unfinished project by the time this conference happens? How could I live, period? I must remedy this! NOW!!
The result is that for this brief week I have lost all joy in the story and can hardly see straight when I look at it. The scenes have become cardboard backdrops, rather than rich with life and depth. My anxiety was such that I hardly CARED about the story anymore, while scrambling to perfect it in time. It was not until my sagacious boyfriend said, “What’s the worst that can happen? The very worst?” and I said, “Everyone will hate my story, or worse, be indifferent to it, and that will therefore prove to me that it is nowhere near ready to submit to agents, like I wanted it to be.” And he said, “OK, so what then? What would you do if all those things were true?” and I stopped, and dropped back into my body, disappointed and relieved at the same time. “I would just keep plugging away at it. For another twelve years if I have to, to make it the story it needs to be.”
And I meant it. I’m like that. This story needs to be what it needs to be.
I mention all this because I wish I’d had the sense to take a step back and remember all this before the conference, and in the event you’re in the same boat, perhaps it can be of some help to you.
I had planned on having the book ready for sub by March or so. But my story, in its wonderful unwieldy way, has changed in that it has begun to ask More of Me. It has gone from a thing that I relentlessly polished with my internal Mental Editor to something that is now ready to breathe its own life, its own soul, and is telling ME what it wants. It doesn’t give a diddly about conferences. It’s like a full circle back to the glorious moment that an idea pops out of nowhere into your head, and then you spend months/years writing and revising it, trying to keep the marriage between your heart and mind alive so they can produce the healthiest story-child possible. And you sweat and sweat and then think you’re finished, but…..now it’s different again, wild and new like in the beginning, and back to the heart of things. It’s very similar to when I’m drawing, and the drawing looks finished, but something is missing until I deepen the shadows in it. The story wants its shadows.
So it’s not done after all, or maybe not even close to done. And though I am disappointed about the timeline I’d imposed on myself and have had to abandon, I am learning the very, very hard lesson that a story will tell you when it’s finished (or at least ready to sub. I don’t know that we ever feel “finished.”) And that I can trust my story. And so now I am sitting here having to mentally adjust to this new, open-ended way of thinking about things, but so happy that my story had the heart and wisdom to speak up.
The result is that I am with the story again, it’s not a cardboard backdrop anymore, and I’m telling myself that if this story does not feel compelling to people, it is because it is not finished. And that’s OK.