I see a lot of good in my life. Good family and friends, faith, hard work, exercise, and good habits. What I'm not seeing is a boatload of success in my writing life and it's becoming a touchy subject.
I started a manuscript for a women's fiction novel a little more than six years ago. Six years is the amount of time it takes to have a baby, teach it the essentials about life as a human, and then send it off to first grade. My six year old lost both of her front teeth this week and I sat looking at my manuscript that afternoon thinking, "Now we're losing teeth? I remember when we were learning how to walk and how to sleep in a big girl bed." My book is as old as my middle child, but unfortunately one of them doesn't seem to be maturing at quite the same pace.
Earlier this year I came very, very close to securing an excellent literary agent, which is the first major leap toward the holy grail of publication. After reconsidering the agent asked me to take six months and work on my manuscript a little more. These past six weeks were the tail end of my six month re-write and I've been sprinting into the wind. Although I normally keep a regimented writing schedule these past six weeks have felt as if Hitler came to town. This is my big chance and I'm giving it everything I have.
Yesterday I finished revising the last chapter of my book. For the eight hundredth time. I saved it to my thumb drive and drove through the pouring rain to Office Max to have it printed and bound. It's a completely different experience, at least for me, reading my work on a computer screen versus reading it off a hard copy. I climbed into bed, snuggled under my covers and opened to page one. There is nothing more beautiful than the freshly printed, crisp pages of one's own manuscript. I got as far as page forty before I slammed the book closed. This is six years worth of work? This is what I came up with? I can do better than this, I nearly shrieked before throwing the malevolent thing on the floor. I turned out my lamp and went straight to sleep.
This morning I drove the manuscript to the post office and mailed it to a trusted friend. I called her on my way. It's not what I'd hoped, I warned. Help me. Tell me how to fix it.
This experience reminds me why we should not be graded according to effort, at least in our professional life. Theoretically it would be awesome if the literary agent re-read my manuscript and said, "Okay, you worked hard. I'll take you on as a client." But, that's not in my best interest. What I want is to read a hard copy of my manuscript and think, "Yes. That's exactly what I meant." There's no pride in moving on to the next level in my career if I'm not bringing my best game.
But I wish I would grow and improve my craft faster.
I wish the disappointment didn't feel so personal and wasn't six years long.
I wish I had a successful women's fiction writer living next door so that she could read my work and tell me how to fix it. I would even be willing to re-pay her with tomatoes from our garden.
In another year my child and my manuscript will turn seven. I hope to see amazing growth and progress in both of them between now and then. But right now it's time for me to go back to page one and begin revising my manuscript. Again.