This month’s ISWG question is – What was your very first piece of writing as an aspiring writer? Where is it now? Collecting dust or has it been published?
I’m not sure how to answer this one. It depends on how you look at it. It feels glib to say that the first big project I started ended up being published by a small press in 2014 as How To Climb The Eiffel Tower. That statement doesn’t adequately reflect the long circuitous route that project took. Since many of my fellow Insecure Writers are closer to the beginning of their writing paths, I thought it might be useful to relate the different bricks I had to lay in my path to the publication of that project. It’s certainly been instructive to look back at how that project changed over time. I think I’ve been blocking out how discouraged I felt at different points along the way. Once a book is published, it is easy to forget how arduous the path was. Luckily, I can attest that it gets easier with each successive book.
My timeline –
2004-2005: I pulled together my thoughts on the year I lost to cancer in a series of essays/memoir. I had various journals filled with rants about the American medical system and the isolation I felt. When I was finished, I had a polemic about the nature of suffering and the concept of illness. It was awful. So awful that I chose to forget what I wrote until I looked at it again to write this post. Wow, was I ever in a dark place at that point.
2006 : I decided that my story was too bleak for anyone to read so I decided to try my hand at fiction. I had always been an avid reader and could express my ideas relatively well. I thought I could take my experiences and have my characters live them out on the page. How hard could it be? Right? [hint: really, really, super-duper hard]
The story was told in 4 POV’s (Lara, Jane, Kitty, and Beth) and was about four women that meet in a cancer center waiting room and how they experience cancer differently. I still think that could have been a good book if I had any idea what I was doing at the time. I didn’t know the first thing about writing a book. Luckily, I knew that. I started reading books on how to write a book. I took classes on how to write a book. I joined critique groups and learned how to give and take criticism, as well as how to know when to take your pages and go home.
2007: I cut Kitty and Beth’s POV’s out of the manuscript and wrote Kitty’s as a stand alone novel about a woman dealing with a cancer scare. I also rewrote Lara and Jane’s story. Then, I rewrote it again. I read another dozen or so books about writing and started to feel more confident.
2008: I took Kitty’s story to an intensive writer’s retreat. The leader ripped it apart and said that no one wanted to read about cancer. I was devastated and couldn’t write for months. Eventually, I picked myself up and wrote several short stories that were accepted by some small literary magazines. Those little successes restored some of my confidence. My critique groups helped me to keep going. I started a book about a group of women all trying to lose weight. I abandoned that project. Frankly, people want to think about fat people even less than they want to think about people with cancer. I was also homeschooling my eldest daughter at this point which took up a large chunk of my days.
2009: I rewrote Lara’s story again to be in two POV’s (Lara and Jane). Then I edited and edited and edited. What I didn’t know then was that I really needed to hire an editor. Big mistake. I wasted at least a year banging my head against my desk with no tangible results. I wrote a few more short stories that never got submitted anywhere. They were truly terrible.
2010: I queried 68 agents about Lara’s story, got 3 requests for full manuscripts, and ultimately 68 rejections. Still, the querying experience was invaluable. I learned how to write a synopsis, how to write a query letter, and how the whole agenting process works. I also learned that professionalism means a lot to me. I received a few detailed helpful rejection letters that helped me in my future rewrites of the novel and some very polite automated rejections. Unfortunately, the vast majority of agents did not respond at all. In the age of automated email responses and bots this is really unprofessional. It takes two keystrokes to send a response to a query that took a writer years to prepare.
2010-2012: I put Lara’s story in a filing box and set out to rewrite Kitty’s story as a light-hearted novel about gossipy mom’s in an upscale neighborhood. I tried to do that, I really did. I ended up writing a somewhat dark but funny novel about female friendships, secrets, and what can happen when a woman is really bad at expressing anger. That story became Overlook. I went the indie publishing route with that novel and learned a ton about the industry through that experience.
2013: I did a complete rewrite of Lara. Not an edit, a complete rewrite. Instead of two POV’s, the whole book is told from Lara’s perspective in the first person. Major sections got cut. The funny parts were played up and some of the more graphic parts were cut. I also ran the novel through three critique groups and six beta readers before I felt it was ready to be pitched to agents or publishers again.
2013: I met Elizabeth Turnbull, my editor at Light Messages Publishing, at a writers conference and struck up a conversation. I told her about my books and I liked her style. A few days later, I sent her the first 50 pages of the novel. A few weeks later, she asked for the whole thing and then offered me a contract. They had a space in their publishing schedule for late 2014, so we hustled to get the book out in October 2014.
As you can see, saying that the first thing I wrote got published is an oversimplification of what actually happened. I look forward to reading the other responses today.
Today’s post is part of the Insecure Writers Support Group. The purpose of the group is to share and encourage each other to express our doubts and concerns without fear of appearing foolish or weak. Those who have been through the fire can offer assistance and guidance. It’s a safe haven for insecure writers of all kinds, so consider joining the group.