Sunday, May 22, 2011

Time to Knock Off the Pity Party

I've been hosting a gala pity party for myself over the last week or so. Among other things, I've been dealing with congested, runny-nosed children sleeping fitfully and acting fitfully; an aggravated sciatic nerve that triggers sharp pains down my leg and has brought all spring cleaning and other household projects to a screeching halt; and fourteen manuscript queries submitted without a glimmer of interest from anyone. Granted, I've received positive feedback from the folks who took the time to respond beyond a form letter (if they responded at all):

“Great title.”
“Fast pace.”
“Creepy atmosphere.”
“Strong writing.”
“Well-thought-out story.”

But the letters all end the same way. “Unfortunately, the story just didn't grab me the way I wanted it to.”

Which makes me want to reach out and grab them and demand, “But what does that MEAN?” How do you fix a story that doesn't grab someone? Are the characters at fault? Is there too much description? Not enough action? I set up teenage angst, introduce ghosts, and reveal a murder within the first twenty pages. What doesn't grab?

“Couldn't you go back to some of these folks and ask them for more specific details?” a friend asked. I smiled at the sweetness of her suggestion. Then I explained that most agents state in their submission guidelines that they’re too busy to respond to everyone, and a non-response should be interpreted as non-interest, so I didn't think any of them would take kindly to providing additional feedback on a manuscript they didn't want in the first place. I don't want to get blackballed from the literary community before I've even entered it. And so I must struggle with this question alone.

And with back pain.

And frequently interrupted sleep cycles courtesy of little congested noses.

Thus my pity party.

But, as all parties must come to an end, so shall mine. I attended a thesis reading last night spotlighting all of the new graduates from my MFA program. I watched a dear friend and amazing writer win the best thesis award while combating her intense fear of reading in public. My heart swelled for her. She wrote a magical thesis and deserved the honor without question. And she made it through without a stumble.

I also spoke with my advisor and mentor about my submission dilemma. “At what point do I need to step back and reevaluate the manuscript?” I asked her. I hoped against hope she'd tell me I just hadn't submitted to the right person yet.

“I think you've reached that point,” she said. My heart sank to the floor. Then she asked, “Would you like me to read it for you?”

And suddenly, a light at the end of the tunnel. Others have read the manuscript for me – other writers like me, who are struggling to pave their own paths into the world of publishing. But here was an actual published author – not to mention incredible woman and dear friend – offering to take time out of her summer break to read my manuscript and make suggestions.

What a gift! Naturally I'm taking her up on the offer.

The colds are clearing up. I'm icing and stretching my back regularly. And I'm using this past “down” week to remind myself that, in the big scheme of things, these problems are minuscule and temporary, and if they are my biggest problems, I am truly blessed.

And I am.

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