Interlude: Waiting for the next big thing
Postcards from the past, shouting into the future
Back in April, I attended and gave a session at The Muse & The Marketplace, hosted in Boston by Grub Street Inc. (where you may have noticed I often teach classes). I was actively querying my manuscript while at the conference, both via email where it sat in various agents’ inboxes, and in-person where I attended (and highly recommend) their agent-writer cocktail hour.
One of the evenings I was there, between the sessions ending and various social activities beginning, I received an email from an agent who had “liked what he read so far” in the first fifty pages of my manuscript and wanted to see the rest.
It was perhaps my third full request, in addition to some partials, a whole ton of rejections, and lots of waiting. But I distinctly remember sitting down right then and there in the hotel lobby, breaking out my laptop, and sending the full manuscript off.
Then I went back to conferencing — to networking and teaching and listening and learning. I met a ton of cool writers and several enthusiastic agents and absorbed a lot of really inspiring information from very smart faculty.
We were all struggling, no matter where we were in the process, whether it was to finish that next project or find an agent or find a publisher or market ourselves or pay for all or any of it. To handle rejection and define success while continuing to seek it, manage it, work through it. To find acceptance. To write about the hard things and the true things and the sweet things. To build believable worlds and characters and to get readers, reviewers, and publishers to believe in us too. To find ways to make art under the existential pressures of the political, social, and literal climate crises.
Marketplace Keynote 2019: The Working Writer
It was all extremely humbling and inspiring and brought me down from the high I’d felt, getting threads of interest in my work. A whisper of encouragement can sustain a writer for a long time. But it’s a long road and at every step those encouraging whispers and words are so important, especially when what we really need (and all of us deserve) is a shout.
So after the incredible send-off keynote (above) about being a working writer, after brunch and cake and final goodbyes, we were instructed to write postcards to ourselves, to be mailed later in the year. So I picked one with an indie bookstore on it (of course) and wrote myself a note.
You can see where this is going.
Last week, when I was feeling a bit down because even though I’m keeping up with the word count, I haven’t gotten a real handle on this new project yet and NaNoWriMo is a demanding mistress and sometimes it seems like other people are writing faster or hitting milestones or finding success in ways that I just haven’t yet and also everyone in my family keeps getting this damn, never-ending COLD and I just want to sleep… I received my postcard:
If you don’t have an agent yet, that’s OK. You’re not afraid of the work. You can tackle the next challenge (even if it’s another draft or another project).
If you do have an agent, GO US! Now onto the next chapter.
Stay grateful & badass,
Reader, ten days after #Muse19 finished, I received an email from that same agent. He wanted to have a call. The Call. A month after that, I signed paperwork to be represented by Evan Gregory at Ethan Ellenberg Literary Agency. A month after that, the book was sitting in the inboxes of editors.
But I didn’t know that at #Muse19. I didn’t know, when I wrote that postcard to myself, how close I was to the next big thing. It was just beyond my reach, but only just. It had seemed so impossibly far and yet it was right there, just a few days in the future. The shout was waiting.
I needed to be reminded of that last week and I need to remind myself daily, as I try to wrangle a new project into some semblance of story and convince myself I still know how to write; as Ghost Roads continues to get rejected over and over again anew. It’s why I need to keep working hard, be vigilant, hold gratitude, and support my own work and others. You cannot know how close you are to the next big thing or even what that thing might be.
It’s waiting for you, just out of sight.
Remember how far you’ve come so far this year, the big things you’ve met head on, both good and bad. Listen for the whispers of support, not the whispers of doubt.
Solidarity to my fellow NaNo writers this month, and to everyone looking down the barrel of the final months of 2019 and wondering at all they hoped (and still hope) to accomplish. You’ve got this. The shout is waiting for you too.
I’ll be back in a couple of weeks with more resources for us working writers, plus some of my favorite gifts and books for the readers and writers in your life (yourself included).
Keep being grateful & badass. Now on to the next chapter.
Allison has happily made books her life’s work. She spent four years marketing and publicizing academic titles at The MIT Press before she went to work for Wellesley Books as a children’s bookseller and event coordinator. She is now living her dream: putting her B.A. in Creative Writing to good use as a novelist and as a writing/marketing coach for authors. She enjoys science fiction, cupcakes, and a hot cup of tea.