I’ve been marinating in a certain project for the last year. It’s drained me and excited me and stretched me and driven me crazy and made me feel dead and alive and bored and moved and mostly really really tired.
The result is a draft of my first book. It’s called Backslidden and it’s a spiritual memoir about falling into–and away from–radical faith.
When people ask what draft I’m on, I can’t really say. It’s not a first draft. It might be a second draft or a seventh draft. It’s been read and revised by my exhausted eyes too many times. It’s been refined by the sharp eyes of a developmental editor and read by a few close friends. As I write this, five copies are in the hands of the USPS en route to people I’ve met via Twitter but not in real life. Beta readers, they are apparently called.
I’m terrified for people to read my book in this second/seventh draft stage. There are flaws in it that I know are there, and I’m helpless in fixing them. I’m hoping my beta reading community can point me in a direction. Then there are its many flaws I don’t see, which are the ones that truly scare me. What if it’s shallow? What if it’s scattered? What if the narrative arch is boring? What if the writing is just plain crap? I’m too close to it to know.
I attended a writers conference last month that left my head spinning. I gave a one-minute pitch my book to ten agents in a crowded, nervous room full of other aspiring writers. It was flat out rejected by six of them. One said he could sell it, if I wrote it as a novel. Another said he could sell it if I marketed it as a young adult novel. Another one said both of those guys were wrong, that I could sell it as a memoir but that my writing HAS TO BE THE MOST GRIPPING EXCEPTIONAL WRITING EVER AND THE STORY HAS TO BE SO BIZARRE AND FASCINATING THAT IT KEEPS READERS TURNING PAGES UNTIL DAWN. Because that’s not intimidating at all. The maddening thing about all this is that not one of them looked at my pages. All of this talk was based on my awkward, bumbling one-minute pitch.
Ah yes, and one agent told me I have a boring face. Well, basically that’s what she said.
“Based on the way you package yourself and your ‘look,’ I’m going to have to say you won’t engage and entice readers the way memoir writers need to in this day and age,” she said.
Then she went on to talk about platform, which I’ve heard a hundred times. I should be blogging and tweeting and booking lectures at local colleges, and while I’m at it, maybe I should also have a more interesting life or a smaller nose, or maybe a bigger nose so I could stand out more among the masses.
Publishing is rough, you guys. I have this book, this little collection of 64,000 words I’ve birthed over the past year and I want to keep it to myself, so I can breastfeed it forever and never let it go to school, where it will likely get ridiculed and hardened and eventually leave me. But then I’m also so ready for it to be read and shared, so ready for it to launch into the world where it can be be polished and refined and eventually affect people, not just fester in a Scrivener document on my computer for the rest of its life.
No matter what though, I’ve written a book. I always wanted to write a book before I turned 30, and I did that. It may never get published, it may never be read by anyone but my family and friends, but I’ve written a book, and I find great satisfaction in that alone. It’s powerful. So I’ll bust out the champagne to that tonight, because we all know that it’s not publishing that makes a person a writer. Writing makes someone a writer. And I’ve done that, nearly everyday for the last several hundred. Me and my boring face at my laptop, doing the work of telling stories, capturing moments to give them order, meaning, weight. Typing, typing, typing. Deleting, rewriting, deleting. And that is something no frowning literary agent can ever take away from me.
Your stories matter. And the act of writing them–even if no one else ever reads them–matters too. I challenge you. Write your stories.