Blank Space

It’s been a year since I released my first novel to the query stages. It’s been five years since I began that first novel. There’s been many false starts at a second novel but, ultimately, those ideas were not novel material. This time I think I have it. A story with a plot and characters, and the question of what it means to be a compassionate human fighting for survival.

So, why haven’t I started writing it?

I sit down to write almost daily (I swear I do!) but something always distracts me. My desk is overrun with useless papers & books, my calendar is the place where to-do lists are written to be forgotten, my bookshelves… well, let’s just say I’m not as organized as I used to be.

Instead of writing, I clean. Instead of writing, I read. Instead of writing, I sleep or meal prep or exercise. All useful in living a productive adult life. Useful also to help my brain release the tight hold it has over my creative flow.

In between the moments of actively doing something, I feel the story alive and pulsing. In between worrying if my next novel has what it takes to be picked up by an agent, I feel the steady pull of these new characters as they show me deeper subtleties. Perhaps once I begin to actively write this story, the blank space won’t be so daunting and terrifying.

After all, a novel is just one word after another.

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What Querying Has Taught Me

Rejections and the struggle to not take a standard form letter as a personal attack on your words. Then there’s the elation a personalized rejection brings. Constant stress eating. Welcome to the dreaded query process.

Querying agents is a necessary evil, and one which I loathe. “The Thing That Will Not Be Named,” as it’s known in my house. But the process isn’t all bad. Just mostly. Querying these past two months has taught me a lot.

First, it’s taught me that rejection won’t kill me. I’m still alive. I’m still determined most days. Some days are hard, and that’s when I hug my cats (sometimes too tightly).

I’ve also learned that I have no patience to be patient. But I have to deal with it. I’m relying on others now, so it’s their timeline. Not mine. To cope, I began vomiting a first draft of manuscript #2 and that has helped me whittle away the time. When I don’t want to write, I find something else to occupy the daylight (and sometimes the late night) hours. Yoga (finally, after months with a broken foot I can do some basics!), cooking, and even cleaning help pass the time when I can’t find a cat to hug.

I have a great support system. I have critique partners, a circle of writer friends, a book group, not to mention my non-writing friends who support me with food, alcohol, and a shoulder to cry on. So while I’m being rejected, I’m also networking.

Finally, querying has taught me discipline. Since I’m self-employed, I sometimes need the super power to not get distracted. Did someone say squirrel? Since I know approximately how many queries I need to send per month to hit my rejection goal by the end of the year, I can block out chunks of time per week to do the The Thing That Will Not Be Named. I schedule the rest of my work around the days I query. I treat it like a job I’m on the clock for.

While the process is daunting, slow, and mostly filled with rejection, I know my agent is out there. Likewise, I know that if I can survive this process, I can survive a lot.