“I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter.” James Michener
I have a love-hate relationship with writers’ conferences. Since I began writing, I’ve attended four children’s book writing conferences – one in Manhattan and three in New Hampshire. I simultaneously look forward and dread these conferences. First, is that I often get critiques by editors when I go, which is nerve-wracking. Second, while the speakers and workshops inspire me, it’s intimidating to meet people that have already published, and it reiterates how much more they’ve accomplished. Each year, this feeling gets worse. Sometimes I just want to give up.
But I do get glimmers of hope. At a conference last year, the keynote speaker, Laurie Halse Anderson said that she had a great idea for her first book, but still had to learn how to write. She showed us her impressive pile of rejections (Making me feel better about my stack). Once Laurie Halse Anderson learned to write, she got the coveted contract. In the book, Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell, he asserts that if someone has talent, s/he needs to put in 10,000 hours to perfect it. He sites several examples of people who put in that amount of time in order to be at the tops of their fields. This idea has recently given me hope because I haven’t worked on my craft for nearly that many hours. My husband recently said that for those who get published quickly, they probably spent years developing their writing before submitting their first manuscripts.
I began writing about three years ago. We had an author, Melissa Glenn Haber speak to our fifth-graders, and something about her talk sparked something in me. She spoke about writing whole books in secret, and tucking them into drawers. It took years for her to gain the courage to share her work. Her story was similar to mine. For years, I’d get an idea for a story, begin writing it, but then remind myself, “I’m not a writer,” and abandon the piece. After all, except for a creative writing class in high school and one in college, I hadn’t focused on writing, but instead History. Historians may write non-fiction, but that’s it.
After the talk, I wrote the first story that popped into my head, which was cathartic. I began sending it out without doing enough editing. Then, I didn’t understand how much editing a manuscript entails. When the manuscript didn’t go anywhere, I got a manuscript exchange partner and wrote another story. The more I wrote and edited, the better my pieces became. One manuscript was considered by two publishers (those were nerve-wracking weeks while I waited), but was eventually rejected by both. One of my problems is that I write and edit a piece, send it out, and after the rejections come in, I forget about it and begin a new manuscript as soon as the itch begins again.
When I worked part-time, I’d squeeze writing in when I could (sometimes with the chaos of kids around me), but especially when my daughter was young, I didn’t have as much time as I would’ve liked. I’d often write at night, when I was more prone to errors. But once I began subbing, my periods off became periods to edit instead of prepping for classes. And on the days I had free, I sometimes spent the whole time just writing and editing. In fact, the depression I had over giving up my job gave me a lot of emotion to transfer to paper, and made me more prolific than ever.
My manuscripts have improved as I continue to log in writing hours. While I have this free time on the days I don’t get called to sub, I want to continue to use it wisely. I’ve dusted off the manuscript that got the most positive feedback, and I now read aloud to hear where it flows and where it needs improvement, which has probably helped the most. When I’m done perfecting this piece, I’ll send it out again. Writing, editing, and submitting, is the life of an unpublished writer. I just have to keep putting myself out there and have faith that one day I’ll get it right.