This week, the five lovely authors at the Debutante Ball blog are heading “into the dark” to talk about the times most writers would rather forget: the difficult times, when writing–and rejection–hurts the most.
In solidarity with my Deb sisters, and to encourage this year’s #PitchWars applicants, I thought I’d revisit my own darkest days — the long, dark potty break of my soul.
June 15, 2011 was my mother’s birthday. We spent it together in San Diego, right before the start of the Historical Novel Society conference. After our celebration, Mom hopped a train to her home in Malibu, and I headed off to pitch my fourth manuscript (a women’s historical novel) to the agents and editors at the HNS conference.
Like the three that came before it, my fourth manuscript earned praise, but no offers of representation. Once again, I felt my lifelong dream of publication slipping through my fingers.
I found myself caught in the worst of traps–locked into a dream that would not come true and would not let me wake. I couldn’t stop writing. That wasn’t a choice. I self-identified as a writer, and had since my early childhood. I’d worked at many other jobs, but writing owned my heart. No matter how many rejections I received (and I’d had a few…dozen…by then) surrender was not a viable option.
Instead, I prepared myself to live my life as an unpublished author and die surrounded by cats and oft-rejected manuscripts. In the darkest moments, I imagined my son erasing my hard drive, and with it the lion’s share of my existence…as if I had never truly lived at all.
Trust me, however dark and bleak your road may look … I’ve walked those very steps.
And yet, I chose to keep on walking. I kept putting words on the page. I made the decision that if it took a lifetime of trying and failing, then I’d write and fail and get up again as many times as it took until I died or saw my novels in a bookstore.
I went home from San Diego and started work on a new manuscript, in a new genre: a little book about a ninja detective and his “Watson,” a Jesuit priest, who have three days to solve a samurai’s murder and save a geisha’s life.
For those of you counting, that’s full manuscript #5 … and I wrote it during that summer of 2011, when the world seemed full of failure and rejection. Writing lifted me out of the darkness. My characters gave me joy. I clung to that novel–not as my only hope, but as the hope that would get me through those moments. Because, on the writing journey, there is no permanent failure, and any manuscript can bring redemption.
And redeem my dream it did.
In September of 2011 I pitched that novel to one agent, Sandra Bond. In October of 2011, Sandra signed me.
In February of 2012, SHINOBI, now Claws of the Cat: A Shinobi Mystery, sold to St.Martin’s Press for publication on the Minotaur imprint, as part of a three-book deal.
I’ve heard it said that the darkest hour comes just before the dawn. In writing, as in life, I’ve found this true.
Every author I know has a story of darkness, rejection, and the importance of having the courage to rise up one more time, writing one more novel, and finding the strength to persevere until the dream becomes a glorious sunrise.
Somehow I found the strength, and the words, when I could have sworn the well was empty. I’m telling the story because I believe, with all my heart, that you can find it too.
Do you have a story of courage lost, courage found, or a dream you won’t let go? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.