For over three years I have sat with a "finished" novel.
Meeting new writers in a new land, away from my nest of the woo-woo women writing group I called home, I was struck by how much focus seemed to be on getting published rather than writing a quality book/piece or the simple awe and hallelujah of the experience.
Running into people who had self-published, which involved having to spend thousands of dollars to buy hundreds of their own books, and go pedal them . . . something wasn't sitting quite write, er, right. Authors sentenced to carrying a huge book crate shaped ball and chain, constantly feeling the pressure to recoup their investment. Where was the love?
That bucket list book finished, I then went introspective. Who was I doing this for? Why was I doing it? Fine, I wrote it and rode a big trippy high off the experience. Maybe that's enough. Maybe the true love of the art is about fully embracing that experience. It's ego wanting to put it out in the world, right? And how much feeding of ego do I really want to engage in?
The artistic drive for this project was fed by having spent a lifetime working with people dealing with various degrees of trauma, slaves to an unpredictable mind and having a topic that I couldn't get out of my head and was compelled to write about. I always knew I would. Someday.
But it wasn't pleasant.
Through the magic of using my professional experience and immersing myself in this person's world, riding bareback on their narrative, a horribly unpalatable topic rather magically flowed into a palatable (or bittersweet) understanding of how a very "nice" person could consider committing an unthinkable violent act toward her own child-- with an ending full of exhales and redemption-- involving layers of characters and stories such as those that follow us all through life.
While writing had been my escape and my therapy since childhood, this lengthier project was such a pleasant experience of getting lost in the process, I couldn't get enough of it. I had a vague direction– a question I wanted to answer– but wrote being carried by flow and the development of characters, feeling as if I was channeling the story. It was a rush; a high. I loved every minute of it.
Then the beta-readers (who stated they loved it), the editing, the re-editing– all not as exciting as the writing but full of honouring the work– and that felt good. I wrote in first person which comes very natural to me, but from a literary context can provide its own challenge: will the reader (read agent or editor) find the writing compelling or unique or descriptive enough, while still being a believable first person narrative.
Enter Elizabeth Gilbert's Big Magic talk that she recently gave in Auckland. I had read in her book how she believes that there are only so many ideas to go around and if you sit on one too long, don't worry, someone else will snatch it up (as she described had eerily happened to her in the past). And how it is really Mr. Fear that is what stands in the way of moving forward with your creativity.
So the next day, I researched a list of agents. And the next week I started sending queries out. These queries were so much better than the drafts I had put together four years ago because I didn't just ask Mr. Fear to sit in the back seat, I asked him to get out of the car.
Yes, it is no small feat to put yourself out there with a challenging topic. I've already heard from one great agent, "honestly, I don't want to read about this topic, but I'm sure someone else will." And yes, thus far one very reputable agent has asked for a full manuscript with requests from two publishing houses as well, which I will hold on until I'm sure no agents will represent me.
For now? I'm chuffed that a reputable agent has asked to read my manuscript. Full stop. I hope to hear from more– or from her again. But what if I don't?
As Elizabeth Gilbert says, much more eloquently than this: you write. You write because it is your first love. You write because you are a writer. You write because it is your art and your creative outlet and it would be cruel to withhold that from yourself.
I write because that is when the answers come. Answers to "who am I?" "What am I really doing here?" And sometimes more pertinent and timely answers to what is going on in my life.
I write because as a mom to many and wearer of many hats– writing is when I feel most me.
I write because I can't not.
My job now is to further honour the place writing has in my life and make more consistent structured time to do so: foster the flow, gifting writing with more space. And to let go of self-judgment and allow the process of putting myself out there manifest the outcome that is meant to be.