Quite a few folks have asked if I’ve heard back from my agent about the book yet. I have! He got back to me last week, actually. I didn’t want to write about it during Lent since it would involve venting some frustration, but now it’s Easter so I am free to wallow in the depths of despair! (Wait. Am I doing this wrong?)
Anyway, here is the update for those of you who are interested. I realize that that is probably only a small percentage of readers, most of them who fall into the categories of:
- Fellow writing nerds
- People who enjoy watching train wrecks
- PZ Myers fans who are still mad about that one post and are now following this book project closely so that they can be the first to give it a one-star review on Amazon
- Saintly folks whose souls are so filled with love and generosity that they care about the follies of hapless internet people whom they’ve never met
(If you are not in any of those categories and have already begun to feel your eyes glaze over in mortal boredom at having read this far down the page, here is the charming blog of a teen girl who is discerning whether she is called to be a Carmelite nun, which you will find far more edifying.)
So I got the long-awaited email last Tuesday while I was stopped in a long line of traffic at a red light. Normally I don’t check email while my vehicle is running, but since I’d been waiting for this one for, oh, about four years, I gave myself a pass for a little in-transit inbox glancing. The response was long. But it looked good. Definitely good. There were lots of positive statements in the first two sentences, even words like “touching” and “interesting.” The light turned green so I had to put my smartphone down, and as I searched for a place to pull over I imagined what the rest of the email might say. I had noticed that there was a very long bulleted list at the end of it. That concerned me. But maybe I was being too negative! Maybe the list was all stuff like:
- How did you write something so amazing?
- You’re brilliant.
- Would there be copyright issues if I had the first paragraph from p. 162 calligraphied onto finest parchment and hung in a golden frame in the center of my living room?
- I’ve already hired a skywriting plane to proclaim that last sentence in Chapter 4 across the heavens.
- Two acquisitions editors at Big-6 publishing houses just got in a knife fight over who gets to buy this masterpiece.
I had somehow managed to find myself in the one part of the city where there is not a single place to stop your vehicle, and finally just turned into the first drive I saw. Which ended up being a “BUSES ONLY” road behind a local school. That was One Way. And I was going the wrong way. I pulled the car onto the grass of the surrounding field to get out of the way of any buses that my be barreling down the road, and read the rest of the email. (I note that the moment I started reading, The Decemberists’ post-apocalyptic ditty Calamity Song came on the radio.)
Alas, that very long bulleted list did not consist of superlatives about the manuscript’s perfection, but was, as I had feared, a list of problems he’d encountered. After I got myself out of the restricted bus road and safely back to my house, I gave my agent a call, and he shared yet more constructive criticism. And I have to say, it was fantastic. I mean, his ability to spot where a manuscript is weak borders on being less of a talent and more of a superpower. Also, many of the changes he suggested were relatively minor (stuff like “I was confused about how much time passed between the end of Chapter 6 and the beginning of Chapter 7”) — so, no more rewriting. All great news. And yet I still found myself sinking into a PIT O’ DESPAIR after the phone call.
My husband was baffled that I wasn’t excited about this latest step, and asked me what was wrong. (When I sighed dramatically and just stared into the distance, he made a comment that whatever literary agents get paid, it isn’t enough. Let’s just say that my husband was not called to go into a line of work that involves dealing with writer angst.) For almost a week, I didn’t even know what the problem was. It’s taken me days to be able to articulate why I’ve found this latest round of feedback so dispiriting, and a couple more to be able to admit that I’m really this lame. But here it is:
I think the root of this latest round of writer-despair is that these edits go beyond making this book “decent.” I could do a lot less work, and I feel confident that it would be good enough to begin pitching it to publishers. I see now, with more clarity than ever before, that “good enough” is not an option here. And, umm, after four years, three full drafts, and countless revisions in between…I think I was ready to go ahead and settle for good enough.
The part of me that wants to create something high quality is excited about this realization; the lazy part of me that was thinking I was mostly done with the writing process, and would have happily accepted an “A for effort,” is not quite as thrilled to hear that there’s a lot of hard work left to do.
Anyway, I know what I must do now:
Feel endlessly sorry for myself. Call my friends and complain. Blog about it. Post passive-aggressive tweets on Twitter. Read one-star reviews of classic works of literature on Amazon and be all like “See! It’s not like this book is all that good either!” Actually, I’m not going to do anything for a few days. At some point I will probably adopt a prayerful attitude and dutifully tackle the work that is ahead of me, but I think I might just take a break for a few weeks and pretend that I never got myself onto the Sisyphean Wheel of Book Writing in the first place.
I suppose there is a plus side. I’ve been almost sorry (almost) that we have not spotted any scorpions inside ever since I begged our exterminator friend to hook up a fire hose to the most poisonous chemicals he has access to and just spray it all over the house. As nice as it’s been not to be confronted by stinging arachnids at every turn, I am at my most prolific when it comes to writing about scorpions. Every time I think about my house being overrun by these creatures, it turns me into a writer’s-block-smashing, blog-post-writing machine. And when you think about it, all those same conditions are there for book edits!: the uncertainty of when they will show up in my house, the scary look of them, the potential they have to deliver intense doses of hideous pain, and the fact that I have little control over when said intense doses of hideous pain might take place and how long they will last.
So, if anyone was worried that my poor Caps Lock key was being neglected because of my friendship with a local exterminator, never fear: the book editing process has evidently just begun, and should inspire me to at least as much mental anguish as a house overrun with poisonous arachnids. (Though I should warn you that there is always a chance that the scorpions could find their way back into the house during the book editing process. Classy readers may want to unsubscribe now.)
A I-SOLEMNLY-PROMISE-TO-YOU-I-AM-NOT-MAKING-THIS-UP UPDATE: My son was just stung IN THE FACE by a scorpion while sitting on the couch. FACE! SCORPION! COUCH! This is the EXACT part of the couch that I always sit on to feed the baby! Nevermind all this book stuff. Book? What book? I will be too busy moving. Then setting the house on fire once everyone is out safely. More on this later.