A quick intro: #chillwritingtips is a series about making sure we don’t lose our love of writing in the process of trying to get it published.
The whole time I was querying, I wanted it to be OVER. I was not a fan of the waiting and uncertainty and dealing with my own writerly neuroses about whether my request statistics were good enough and whether the form rejection was really just a form (protip: it’s just a form). I wanted to move on to the next stage as quickly as possible, because I had done the work and I was ready to be validated for it, dammit. I was sure that once I struggled my way over Query Mountain and tumbled down into Agented Valley and changed my Twitter bio and became fancy, everything was going to be different and easy.
Then I finally found my way into Agented Valley. And that meant I got to say the hallowed words that every writer spends all their time waiting to say: “I have news!” And yes indeed, my agent had the equipment I needed to begin the climb up the much bigger, somehow even scarier Book Deal Mountain. And yes indeed, she was the best! But guess who else had also followed me into Agented Valley?
Waiting, uncertainty, and writerly neuroses. And they didn’t look like they were going away anytime soon.
When your goal is eventually to be published, it’s understandable to want to move from one stage to the next as soon as possible. It’s supposed to be a straightforward path: write a manuscript, get an agent, get a book deal. But for most of us, it’s not going to be simple, and it’s certainly not going to be quick. So unless we want to be miserable 90% of the time, it’s worth remembering that there are things to appreciate about each stage of this process. Even the stages that nobody ever talks about as being one of the “good parts.” Especially those ones.
This post is for anyone who hasn’t made it to the top of Book Deal Mountain yet. Here’s a reminder of a few things that are great about this (possibly long, possibly meandering) stage of the journey.
#1) YOUR MANUSCRIPT IS IMMORTAL AND ITS POTENTIAL IS ENDLESS, AND YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY LET YOURSELF RIDE THAT HIGH
Great news! Currently, the 90,000-word, un-submitted monstrosity on your hard drive is a NYT bestseller! Unfortunately, it’s also a massive flop, but we don’t have to dwell on that part, because your manuscript is everything at once. It’s Schrodinger’s book! Not only is it theoretically the greatest thing ever written, but also, it can’t be killed. Because even if you query it everywhere and it doesn’t get picked up, you can always come back to it when you get agented in the future. No mourners, no funerals!
Once a manuscript starts crossing the desks of editors, it starts to feel a lot more mortal. The more real things get, the more real the danger that some irreparable damage is going to happen that means it will be done forever–everybody’s seen it and nobody wants it, somebody picked it up but the sales tanked, etcetera etcetera. Obviously, this is a risk we take in publishing. Obviously, we have more than one manuscript in us. But why not enjoy the feeling that your book has limitless potential when you’re trying to convince yourself that all the late nights in front of your computer are worth it? Your unkillable manuscript is totally gonna be a NYT bestseller.
#2) THERE’S NOTHING ELSE QUITE LIKE PITCH CONTESTS, AND YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY INDULGE IN THE GOOD PARTS
This one is specifically for writers who haven’t made it into Agented Valley yet. I’m gonna hazard a guess that most of us like being validated. You know what’s really validating? When you post a 140-character pitch or a 250-word contest snippet, and folks go wild for it. People you don’t even know are tweeting you and saying it sounds great! People are excited! People actually want to read it! And wait–is that an agent request? Or two? OR TWENTY?
You know what else is super fun? Checking your email and discovering that the big name agent you thought wouldn’t even read your query requested a full! They actually read your words with their own two big-agent eyes! And then they said they want more!
These are the moments when nobody is rejecting you and nobody is giving you critical but necessary feedback. These moments are pure potential and excitement. And they’re great, and they should be shamelessly enjoyed. But it’s not only that! There are hundreds of other writers doing contests right alongside you and querying right alongside you. And it’s so easy to find them. All you have to do is say “whoa, I love your pitch!” This is a great time to find friends who get what you’re doing. It’s a great time to amass an entire army of them.
#3) YOU’RE IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT, AND THAT MEANS YOU CAN DRIVE SLOWLY, AND YOU SHOULD DEFINITELY NOT FEEL BAD ABOUT IT
Writing a novel is taking 80,000 words out of thin air and trying to put them in the exact right order. It takes time to do it well. I know, I know–literally everybody else on Twitter is writing faster than you, and they’re all getting book deals, so that means you need to be faster, too. Literally everybody’s writing faster than you! Well, good for them. Publishing is still going to be there when you’re done in a year, and maybe you need that year to polish your manuscript into something truly great.
We all want to create well-crafted books with characters and emotions that feel real, and that’s very hard to do if we don’t take the time to study our craft. But we also need time to consume other peoples’ stories and live our lives as human beings. Sometimes it feels like every moment that life gets in the way is wasted time that would have made all the difference in querying. But I’m willing to bet that more writers have ruined their chances by throwing their half-baked manuscript at agents too soon than by taking their sweet time.
#4) JUST DON’T FORGET…NOBODY CARES WHAT YOU DO
If nobody’s paying you to deliver a book to them by a certain date, then nobody cares what you do! It’s not as depressing as I made it sound, I promise. Consider the fact that right now, you can literally write whatever you want, at whatever pace you want. You can revise it to your own satisfaction and query it whenever you like. You can stop querying for six months and rewrite it and change the whole thing to second person present tense. You can send 100 queries in one night. You can take a year off from writing entirely. You can halt all progress in its tracks because you realized your plot is all wrong and you need several good months of thinking to fix it–and you don’t have to explain to anyone why you’re missing your deadline. You can churn out 30,000 words of fan fiction. You can write a coffee shop AU of your own fantasy novel so that you can finally write all the non-plot-relevant fluff your little heart desires (What? I have literally never done this in my life. How dare you suggest that). I’m not saying you can’t do any of this after you’re published. But right now, there’s nobody else’s voice in your head except your own–no agent, no editor, no reviewers–and there’s something to be said for that.
Sure, we don’t want to be in this stage of the publishing game forever. But that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy it while it lasts. People repeat it so often that it feels like a tiresome cliche, but it’s true: it’s always worth holding out for the right agent and the right editor. It’s worth taking the time to polish your craft and produce the best manuscript you can. Because I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty sure that even if I climb all the way to the summit of Publishing Mountain, waiting and uncertainty and writerly neuroses are still going to be there. So maybe I can’t outrun them. But I can make sure they don’t get to take up all the space in my head.