Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reaching Out--Reaching Potential


Last week I sniffled from a stupid cold. And it was cold out—some sort of vortex, which I think means “end of the world.”
My calendar read “Rebecca Stead—Lesley—7pm.”
A half hour before I was due to leave, I felt like the best friend, Cameron, in Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.

“I’m gonna go.”
“I’m not gonna go.”
“I’m too sick to go.”
“I can suffer through it.”
“I need rest.”

One of my favorite books is When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. It’s a book I’ll often mention when people think they’re too high brow to read middle grade.

And she would be only 20 minutes down the road.

Just like Cameron, I eventually went. I just hoped I didn’t wind up wrecking a Ferrari in the end. Because I drive an Outback, I had a 50% chance of not destroying a Ferrari. (I think that’s how probability works.)

My car GPS sent me to the wrong building. No matter. I used my phone. The cold made my phone die in two seconds. No problem—I’d ask the one person walking down the street on this frigid night.

She didn’t know where it was either.

Undaunted, I continued on. I found it! And they were selling books, so I could buy more copies to have autographed.

I'm lumpy under 3 layers next to Rebecca.

Rebecca Stead was lovely. After she read from her book, she took questions. She was honest about what she sees as her writing weaknesses and she was happy to share her journey.

1)   She takes a long time to complete a rough draft. It’s a process she’s learned to come to terms with. Forcing herself to write everyday doesn’t work for her. Sometimes she takes time off in between chapters. She handwrites during the day and types at night, so she’s not tempted to keep revising what she’s already written.

2)   She’d worked in law. Then she had kids and changed the job she had at the firm. It wasn’t a good fit for her. So she quit, thinking she’d find something else in a few months. Since she liked to write in the past, she decided to pick it up again. Her favorite books had been her childhood ones. She reread them and then asked a bookstore employee for new book recommendations.
3)   While working full time, she’d taken a class at the 92nd Street Y. A woman whose day job was editor took the class too. Rebecca and the woman hit it off.

4)   When Rebecca finished her first draft a year after reading those books, she sent it to the editor. The woman advised her to find other writers to learn how to structure a book.

5)   Rebecca made this very challenging at first. She and a few writers traveled through states once in a while to critique each other’s manuscripts. The process took her two years.

6)   She sent the manuscript back to the editor.
Good news: she loved it.
Bad news: it needed another year of revision with the editor.
That was First Light.

7)   After that, she wrote When You Reach Me, which one a Newbury. Then she wrote Liar and Spy. Now she’s working on her fourth novel.


I had an epiphany when I heard Rebecca speak. She knows it was luck that started that relationship between her and this editor. But the rest of it—the two years revising—was her hard work.

I’m going to confess: I’ve never spent 2 years revising a manuscript. I write it. I revise it. I hand it to people. I revise it more. I give it to more people. When the comments seem to be few and far between, I polish and query. This usually takes 1 year or less.

When I’ve queried it some number of times (which includes making changes based on rejections), I put the manuscript away and move on.

Maybe that’s not enough.

Part of me knew this already. I’ve found a few writers who have started critiquing something newer. They’ve given me more thorough critiques than I’m used to. Now they have my middle grade. A few months ago, I queried it sort of by accident. I hadn’t planned on querying it yet, but I stuck in on a forum to get feedback and an agent requested it. Then I pitched it for a contest. That got more agent interest. I received some nice comments, but they passed.

This manuscript had great meaning for me. It’s more than just an interesting premise. I want to give it every opportunity to succeed. So I’m bracing myself for the hard feedback to find out what’s wrong with it.

So I can make it better.

If I revise based on my group’s suggestions and I still don’t land an agent, then I’ll plan another course of action. Maybe that means hiring an independent editor—something I’ve been reluctant to do.

If I don’t believe in my story enough to make it the best it can possibly be, who else is going to believe in it?

I’m glad I braved a vortex, address issues, a dead phone battery, and a stuffy nose to meet Rebecca Stead. I got to tell her how much I loved her book. I didn’t expect to walk away with an epiphany, but you can’t really plan for those, can you?


 What writing epiphany have you had? 
What did you do about it? 



42 comments:

  1. You needed to hear that. She went through a long process but it did pay off in the end. And it will pay off for you as well.

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    1. Alex, thanks for the comment. We all have a unique journey. I always learn something from other writers' experiences.

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  2. LOL! I've got books in my coffers I've been working on for 20 years. (Yes, I'm only 33.) I keep circling back to all my little loves and updating them as my writing improves. It's amazing to see how much they've grown, and how much I've learned just from reading and applying what I've learned.

    I LOVE that Rebecca takes so much time to write a book. She and I could be twins in that regard. Honestly, some of us just have to marinade in a story longer than other people. (I absolutely adored When You Reach Me!)

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    1. Crystal, wow you've been writing a long time! I've been at this for nearly 8 years. A couple of years ago, I pulled the 2nd manuscript I'd ever written and could see it with new eyes. It's amazing how we grow.

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    2. So, so true. My published novel was one I set aside a few years back and then cleaned it up/modernized it. I'd forgotten how much awesomeness and raw creativity went into it. I think we write a little differently when not suffocating under the rules, and a great story is a great story, even when it's poorly written, eh? (It's just not an easy read.)

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  3. Rebecca's journey is so inspiring. Glad you got to meet and chat with her. My favorite part: that she accepted long-term drafting was her way of writing. Her was wasn't wrong, just different. <3

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    1. SA Larsen, I agree that Rebecca's method isn't wrong--just different. I have a friend who writes that way. I told her about Rebecca, so she could feel better about her process.

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  4. My daughter and I both LOVED When You Reach Me. An amazing book. So cool you got to meet and learn from Rebecca!

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    1. Kelly, my daughter and I loved it too. I got my husband to read it and he never reads children's books. I told that to Rebecca. She told me to encourage my husband to read more MG and YA.

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  5. I just read When You Reach Me last month and LOVED it! I'm totally jealous that you got to meet Rebecca! But I'm glad you braved all those little hiccups and got to see her and have that epiphany. I have no doubt in my mind you'll get published, Theresa. It really is only a matter of time!

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    1. Nutschell, I'm sure you'll meet Rebecca eventually. You meet EVERYBODY!

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  6. I've spent almost 2 years with my manuscript now and it still needs more work. Stories like these are so inspiring. Thanks for sharing and can't wait to hear how your writing journey continues!

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    1. Saumya, I've only put that kind of time into one manuscript that I wrote years ago and worked on again a year ago. It got me some requests, but no offers. I'm still hoping for that one!

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  7. Glad you made yourself go. I can relate to sometimes not wanting to at the end of the day. Rebecca sounds so inspiring. And like her, it takes me a long time to write the first draft. And yes, I have revised my first manuscript way over 2 years. I didn't know how to write and it was a long learning curve that maybe could require another revision. Wish I could write faster.

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    1. Natalie, I write fast and the only thing it means is that I get to write "The End" faster. It's all about quality.

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  8. Everyone's process is different. Everyone's journey is different. Here's to those of us who continue to plug away...

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  9. Glad you toughed it out and went Theresa--it sounds like you were rewarded. I like suggestion #1. All to often, I see writing recipes that are supposed to be adopted by everyone. I am big on looking at what works for others and then adapting it to fit the individual.

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    1. Slamdunk, great to hear from you! I miss having time to visit everyone's blogs.

      You're so right. There's no right word count per day or even having to write each day. Each writer has to figure out what works. I love your last line.

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  10. It's when we really don't want to do something like that but we do it anyway that we get the most benefit. Hopefully hearing her speak has given you the drive to continue.

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    1. L Diane Wolfe, I'll keep your words in mind during my critique tonight.

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  11. How very interesting to see perseverance on two levels- yours at finally getting there, and hers at not giving up on that first manuscript. I'm trying not to be jealous that you got to meet her!

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  12. This is deep stuff. I used to write alone, then with a critique group, then added beta readers to the mix. I used to barely wait between revisions, then I gave my manuscripts a rest, and now I give them longer rests. My writing is better now than in the past, but I wonder if I can do more.

    What an amazing journey. Stead is one of my favorite authors. I loved WHEN YOU REACH ME and LIAR AND SPY.

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    1. Medeia, I've gone through a few transitions too. I'm sure we can always do more. I've heard of people who have agents and no longer show their manuscripts to anyone before sending them. I can't even imagine that!

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  13. What a cool story!!! I love epiphanies :-)

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  14. "...to find out what’s wrong with it. So I can make it better." We can always "make it better" but there comes a time when what is better for one isn't better for another. Many wonderful manuscripts were passed over many times before selling. It could well be that nothing is "wrong" with it. Maybe it just hasn't found the right place? I hope you find the right home for it.

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    1. Thanks, Jeff. My critique group found some problems with the manuscript. Nothing I can't fix. I've been working on it, and hope it won't be too long before it's ready to query again.

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  15. It sounds like your time with Rebecca Stead was wonderful. I loved her book, too. As far as a recent writing epiphany goes, I guess it might be the power in perseverance. I've known the importance of perseverance for some time, but recently, I seem to be seeing some of its benefits. Great post, Theresa!

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    1. Victoria, I'm sure the power of perseverance will work for you. Thanks!

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  16. Hi Theresa, just stopping by to say how delightful your blog is. Thanks so much for sharing. I have recently found your blog and am now following you, and will visit often. Please stop by my blog and perhaps you would like to follow me also. Have a wonderful day. Hugs, Chris
    http://chelencarter-retiredandlovingit.blogspot.ca/

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    1. Chris, thanks for stopping by. I enjoyed seeing the crafts on your blog.

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  17. My biggest writing epiphany was learning to just have fun with my publishing and realize that I was going to always be a nobody to the rest of the world. Accepting that has been very liberating.

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    1. Michael, that's a very good perspective to take. Of course, you don't know that you'll "always be a nobody to the rest of the world." You already aren't! But I think it's good if that's not your prize.

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  18. It's so wonderful that you were able to do this!

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    1. Thanks. I feel lucky that I got to meet Rebecca.

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  19. "If I don’t believe in my story enough to make it the best it can possibly be, who else is going to believe in it?"

    That is a great point.

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    1. Thanks, Missed Periods. Now I'll have to see if I can push the story far enough. I'm trying!

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  20. I'm glad you braved it too and shared your experience with us! I've been revising and re-revising a handful of novels for a while now. I need to take them to the next step. I'm thinking of hiring an editor...

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  21. I love When You Reach Me!!!! I would have gone to her talk in a heartbeat, but since I live WAAAAYYYYY far away I'm glad you wrote about and I stumbled on it because I need the same insight too, that there's no shame in taking a few years to get a book right.

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  22. An agent once told me, "Always write a sequel. Agents and publishers can't make money one-hit wonders."

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