Monday, September 3, 2012

Questions, questions, and not an answer in sight....

So I've been back from my vacation for two weeks (TWO WEEKS?!?!?!) and I've totally failed to get a post up. There are multiple reasons for this, some of them valid, some not.

Mostly, the reason I haven't managed to post, is because I've been really working hard on a new project (one which, in unusual fashion) doesn't even have a working title yet) and I'm having trouble fracturing myself and my time between writing and anything else. Of course, working on a new project is AWESOME. Except, at the moment, it's sort of not.

See, I've arrived at this strange point in which I find myself questioning EVERY LITTLE THING I write. I'm not talking 'oh, why would they run into the gaping mouth of a dragon, I guess I'd better come up with a good reason for that to happen' sort of questioning, either. I'm talking 'I know where this story is going, what it's going to say, who it's going to follow and what they're going to go through, but does anyone out there want to know what happens? Will anyone anywhere ever care?' sort of questioning things.

It isn't good for moral. I know that the number one piece of advice that everyone is going to give me is 'Push through it.' I KNOW THIS. I should be able to push right through. But it's not always that easy. I've always been able to laugh at myself in my life when things turned out 'differently' for me than they did for other people.

I was never asked to prom. Never really cared if I got asked or not. Went with a friend one year. Went with my dad (yeah, you heard that right, I am SUCH a Daddy's girl, so he walked me down the 'Senior Walk' for my senior prom. And believe it or not, I've had girls tell me since, that they wish they'd gotten their dads to do it too) And both at the time, and looking back, I always laughed. Made jokes that I'd be that I'd be 'that girl' who carried her man over the threshold. Etc and so forth.

I didn't go to college, and I still live at home. When I chose not to go (and instead to work here on the farm) and never moved out, I had to deal with the stigmas that went with having no college education and living with ones parents. I laughed at all the associated jokes and even made up some (when my dad introduces me to a stranger and they ask where I live, he tells them that I'm the loyal daughter who's going to push him around in his wheelchair, to which I always add 'and maybe down the stairs') Fast forward to now, and more than one friend has graduated college, gotten 'good, real' jobs that they've hated and quite and several have moved back home to save money while others have lost parents and wish they'd stayed longer and enjoyed them while they could.

In short, there are a lot of things I've done in life that most people don't consider 'successful' but that I don't regret because I'm happy and those around me are happy. I've never cared about 'almost' making it, or 'almost' winning something or 'almost' being the best because I was always happy with what I accomplished. And, in truth, it never crossed my mind that I COULDN'T make it, or win it, or be the best. Eventually.

Which leads me to now. And my ever-growing list of agents who have told me that my writing is 'almost' good enough for them to offer, 'almost' different enough to be super catchy and marketable 'almost' awesome enough to be snapped up. I understand how great it is to get any personal feedback. I really REALLY do. But it doesn't turn something that's 'almost' good enough into something that 'IS' good enough. I don't want this to come across as a ranty, whiny post. I'm just trying to articulate my very convoluted feelings on where I am in my writing journey at the moment.

When I first started getting 'almost' rejections, I was elated. People liked my writing enough to comment on it. And I squirreled away every single word, analyzed it and utilized it (sometimes getting second opinions to be sure it was sound info, not personal tastes) and my writing improved by leaps and bounds. I kept writing new stuff. Stuff that was better than the first project that garnered so much attention. Aaaand, I got almost (in comparison) no interest. Lots of form rejections. I stopped querying everything, and went to work revising, both projects, entirely rewriting a lot of the first one. I started querying again. Got several requests for the first (dystopian) and several requests for the second (contemporary) all of which ended in rejections.

The thing is, except for one rejection from an editor, which listed several issues concisely, all of the rejections listed things like 'dystopian is a hard sell right now' (right after glowing compliments on my writing) and 'Nineteen is older than I like for YA' (which must be code for something other issue because I could (and would) change a guy from 19 to 18 with only minor tweaking if it meant a possible agent, and that agent didn't offer that suggestion) or 'insert reason that doesn't have anything to do with the quality/marketability of my writing' rather than reasons that I can understand and utilize to continue improving my writing.

Which leaves me where I am. Questioning everything. Again, I know I'm not suppose to do that. But seriously, it's hard not to. And it's getting to be like a worn out joke. That girl who's ALMOST gotten an agent like two dozen times. That girl who writes stories that are ALMOST good enough to get published. So every time I write something, I find myself looking at it and thinking 'But is it worth my time? Will other people care about these characters? Will readers like a girl with red hair? Will they like characters who's name starts with 'R'? Will they think my bad guy is bad enough? Will they be repulsed if he's TOO bad?' because, honestly, some small region in my brain keeps telling me that it has to be something that insignificant that got me rejected, and even though I try to squash such notion, another part of my brain knows it really is possible that some rejections are just that silly. Which is where that infuriating term 'subjective' comes in.

Agents get SO many submissions, I have no doubt that if they read one which is good on all fronts but who has a mc who snorts when they laugh which the agent finds SUPER annoying, and then they read another one which is GREAT in some areas, but needs work in others, but has the BEST SIDEKICK EVER whom the agent adores, and the agent is forced to choose between the two manuscripts, they're going to choose the second one. Because hey, you can fix spelling and word count, but who can pass up a sidekick like that? Clearly the world needs to meet that sidekick. Meanwhile, the first ms is 'right' and likeable, but... well, if you find yourself saying 'but' then obviously, your heart is with that sidekick even though the ms needs work.

Does any of this make sense? I'm not eloquent like Kristin Cashore. She can write a post about something she's struggling with and it's just so damn pretty you want to read it over and over. I blather. In this case, there are so many things flying around my brain about this subject that I if I stood up right now, I'd probably walk into a plate glass window like a bird who's direction has been garbled.

The end result to all of this frustrated questioning and evaluating and hair rending is that I'm afraid now, that if I don't keep writing in every spare moment, I'm going to convince myself that this story is destined to be just 'almost' good enough and I'll stop writing on it. Already I've got several WIPs in varying states which I've temporarily abandoned for this very reason (one dystopian, one contemporary with fantasy elements and one contemporary) and I'm afraid this newest WIP will suffer the same.

Here's some parting questions though: If you got many 'almost' rejections on two vastly different works, with no definitive reason that you can address, how do you change your writing so that it surpasses 'almost'? Do you try to write something entirely different? Do you try to rework those 'almost' stories over and over? Do you push the boundaries of acceptable subjects and go for something way 'out there' in subject matter? Do you just keep writing exactly as you have been and just hope that the two dozen 'almost' rejections were all coincidences and there's no way all of those agents were bothered by something about your writing that they couldn't articulate?


  1. Have you thought about lining up a critique partner or getting beta readers before submitting? Don't give up! Just enlarge the circle around you. Good luck! You've got it in you - whether you went to college or not!

  2. Oh, I've got some GREAT beta readers and critique partners! That's half of what's so frustrating, as everyone has been in agreement that things were as good as they could be. Then we've been scratching our heads over just what exactly made things almost rather than spot on.

  3. A,

    Someone very wise (you!) once pointed me toward the most valuable writing tip ever...the moment in the opening scene of "Throw Momma From the Train" when Billy Crystal's character throws up his hands and says "F*&K it!" and just writes.

    To this day, when I'm getting bogged down by all the information out there, when I'm doubting myself, when the "What If" monster is having a field day making me question every single WORD I type, I go back to that advice.

    In other words, toss aside all your worries, your angst, and your self-doubt and get back to the place where writing was fun, thrilling, and just being able to put words to paper was the bestest feeling evah!

    And I'll leave you with the advice that reigns supreme in the Corbett household..."Never Give Up. Keep trying."

    And, when all the above blathering fails...there's always whiskey and chocolate and ranting emails to me :)

    Christi Corbett

  4. Christi you made me laugh SO FREAKING HARD!!! I love that movie ridiculously. And I just happen to have chocolate cake, and whiskey on hand at this very moment! I'm also quite sure that at some point I will also be sending you ranty emails... ranty about what, remains to be seen. Although I will tell you that linky you sent me got used to send the Thornbriar query off, so now I'm back picking at that manuscript while writing this new one and I might end up wanting opinions on something :)