In my latest post for Jane Friedman, I wrote about the writerly quality of grit, and three ways that it’s critical to getting over the finish line with publishing—which is something I’ve experienced myself recently, in a deeply personal way.
Last week, I sent my novel-in-progress off to my fellow book coach and Julie Artz for a manuscript evaluation. And friends, though it pains me to admit it, when I got her feedback, I went through what I can only characterize as a dark night of the soul.
I’ve worked on this novel FOREVER—for over ten years, on and off. I’ve almost given up on it many times, but at last, I felt like I’d broken through to the novel’s final form, and could finally see the finish line with it.
Julie’s feedback told me otherwise, pointing out structural issues that, as a book coach myself, I felt I really should have seen. But that’s why even book coaches need book coaches, and editors need editors: It can be nearly impossible to read your own work the way a reader will, especially when you’ve been working on it for such a long time.
I had a day or two there when I felt not only like it was time to just give up on this novel, but like maybe everything in my life as a writer up to that point had just been some sort of fluke.
It made me feel crazy, honestly, to think of how much time and energy I had devoted to this business of being a writer, and how little I actually had to show for it.
Fortunately, my husband was here to point out that what I was feeling wasn’t…you know, all that based in reality. Given the fact that I’m an award-winning novelist—that I have a short story collection in progress, from which nearly half of the stories have been published in paying markets—that I’ve written professionally for magazines since I was in my midtwenties—etcetera and so forth.
It’s amazing how easy it is to lose sight of little details like that when a qualified professional tells you that the novel you’ve spent a bizillion hours on isn’t nearly as far along as you thought it was.
After a few days, though, the shock wore off—and the work that Julie was pointing out needed to be done didn’t seem so impossible any more. I began to see ways I could restructure the novel’s opening to address those issues. That was the grit kicking in.
I’ve still decided to turn my attention back to my short story collection, for the time being—in part because this work feels fresher, more in tune with where I am now.
But I know, in time, I’ll return to this novel manuscript. I’ll dig in and do what needs to be done.
Because that’s who I am as a person: Someone who’s serious enough about my work to get qualified feedback on it, and to put that feedback to work in revision.
Someone who cares enough about this whole endeavor of making art, of making meaning, to do what it takes to bring it into the world.
Wherever you are with your work-in-progress, I hope this little confession of mine helps you to feel a little more compassion for yourself in your darker hours, and a little more grit when it comes to sharing your work with others, and doing the work that needs to be done.
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